Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review - If America Were a Village

Author: David J. Smith
Illustrator: Shelagh Armstrong
Publisher: Kids Can Press (August 1, 2009)
Age Level: Grades 4 to 6 (but can extend down to 2nd grade)
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
America, with all its diversity, is not easily defined. David J. Smith's If America Were a Village takes a snapshot - past, present and future - to help define America for children. Using the same successful metaphor of the international bestseller If the World Were a Village, the book shrinks down America to a village of 100. The metaphor helps children easily understand American ethnic origins, religions, family profiles, occupations, wealth, belongings and more. Shelagh Armstrong's expansive illustrations imagine America as a classic, vibrant small town. Who are the people living in this vast and varied nation? Where did they come from? What are they like today? How do they compare with people in other countries? The book's simple statistical analysis provides a new way of learning about where people live in America, the state of their health, the shapes and sizes of families, what they use and more - forming a concise picture of a country. If America Were a Village is part of CitizenKid: A collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.

It seems it is much easier to find great fiction stories than non-fiction. Hence my passion for locating fun, creative, and well developed non-fiction. As I was cleaning up my office bookcase, I re-discovered David J. Smith's If America Were A Village. I was introduced to this book and it's predecessor If the World Were A Village at a teacher book event last September at a local indie bookstore. Smith took a difficult concept for kids - imagining 306 million Americans - and made it tangible and real. Sheer brilliance.

Smith equates the United States as a village of 100 people. Here is an example from the inside jacketflap:

In this village:
75 people are white, 12 are black, 1 is Native American, and 4 are Asian. The remaining 8 consider themselves members of some other race or mixed race.

Children have a much better chance of understanding a breakdown of 100 people than trying to explain that in terms of millions of people.

Each two page spread answers a question such as Where do we come from? What religions do we practice? How wealthy are we? or What are our families like? Once again, the percentages are broken down to the number of people who practice a particular religion or who is rich. Additionally, Smith includes a paragraph telling the reader how America compares to other countries in the world.

Now there are some questions about Smith's breakdowns. Some critics would questions Smith's inclusion of Hispanic individuals within the White people count. Others may question his statistics. Though this may keep the book from being a 5 Star for me, I do feel that there is incredible information here which can facilitate some deep discussion with children and be integrated into various curriculum standards. For this reason, and that there are several pages at the end that provide additional facts and resources for a teacher to use with his/her students, I still place it on my recommended book list.

In addition to Smith's text, Armstrong's acrylic paintings are beautiful and provide almost a dreamy back-drop to the book.

This book may be hard to locate at your local bookstore but it is readily available on various on-line book vendors. I would encourage teachers to seek out If America Were a Village and it's companion If The World Were A Village as part of their classroom collection.

1 comment:

  1. This is a book I'm definitely going to check out. What a great idea to use for school and at home. Thank you for the review.


I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~ Anna Quindlen

Good children's literature appeals not only to
the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child.
~ Anonymous ~