Notable Books for a Global Society

by Nancy Bo Flood on August 30, 2011

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Each year the International Reading Association Selection Committee for Notable Books for a Global Society selects “well written books… in which children can see themselves…bringing stories that are engaging and compelling.”   These represent books for all ages and all readers.  Selections vary from poetry, fiction, and biography with age range spans from picture book through middle grade and up to young adult.

Karen Hildebrand, Chair of the IRA Selection Committee, agreed to answer a few questions about the award and why it’s an invaluable resource for parents, teachers and librarians.

Why was this “new” award-recognition of “global books” established by an IRA group?

The list was created for teachers, students and families to suggest quality books that show readers many different groups of people who have different ways of living. We wanted the list to go beyond looking at holiday and food differences, but to actually depict cultural differences and similarities and what contemporary authors say through “story” to bring voice to a variety of cultures.

The books that are chosen as our top 25 have been read and evaluated by a 9-panel committee of professors of children’s literature, librarians, and classroom teachers.

Of the criteria described on the Books for a Global Society website, what are two or three that are especially important to you?

Our definition of “global” has broadened. A year ago two of our winners, Marcelo in the Real World and Anything But Typical, were books about autism. A recent winner, Five Flavors of Dumb, is about a strong female character who is deaf and yet is involved in the world of music. Years ago, autism and deafness may not have been considered as “global” but because we are looking at reading communities that are in a minority or have been overlooked or marginalized, we felt these were outstanding books to represent the “underrepresented” in contemporary literature for youth.

I think our most important criterion, however, is a well written book.

Another criteria is the accuracy and authenticity of the cultural representations. A beautiful example of this is last year’s winner, Blessing’s Bead by Debbie Dahl Edwardson for the older reader — or for a younger reader,  Saltypie by Tim Tingle.

Why do you encourage children to read these books?

 If children are provided with books that offer a window outside of their own communities, we hope we are broadening their view of the world.  Our list offers a variety of genres – poetry, fiction, nonfiction and picture books as well as graphic novels and biographies.

Books also address the ELL and immigrant children, or children who live in alternative parenting families.

For a young reader, Dear Primo by Duncan Tonatiuh looks at two cultures simultaneously as cousins write back and forth from Mexico to the US.

I end with this quote from Yvonne Siu-Runyan, the woman who was the initial force behind the NBGS,

“Stories are people, just as people are stories; that is, when we read or hear stories, we learn about and deepen our understanding about others and self. Stories provide a way to understand the past and present, project toward the future, and celebrate both the multiplicity and commonalities among all peoples so that humanity can evolve toward peace, acceptance, and harmony throughout the world.”

Links, Lists and further reading:

~ IRA has published Breaking Boundaries with Global Literature; Celebrating Diversity in the K-12 Classrooms edited by Nancy L. Hadaway and Marian J. McKenna (c2007).

This collection has chapters that include key themes in using global literature including teaching and classroom ideas. More book lists divided into genre, theme or author lists are available HERE.

2011 Notable Books for a Global Society (K-12)

Picture Books

Saltypie; A Choctaw journey from darkness into light  by  Tim Tingle. Illus. by Karen Clarkson. Cinco Puntos Press

Mirror  by  Jeannie Baker.  Candlewick Press

Goal  by  Mina Javaherbin.  Illus. by A.G. Ford.   Candlewick Press

Dear Primo: a letter to my cousin  by  Duncan Tonatiuh.  Abrams

Fly Free  by  Roseanne Thong.  Illus. by Eujin Kim Neilan,  Boyds Mills Press

Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace  by  Jen Cullerton Johnson. Lee and Low Books


Yummy; the last days of a Southside shorty  by  G. Neri.  Lee and Low Books

Black Jack; the ballad of Jack Johnson  by  Charles R. Smith, Jr.  Illus. by Shane W. Evans, Roaring Brook Press


8th Grade Super Zero  by  Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.  Arthur A. Levine Books.

Five Flavors of Dumb  by  Antony John.   Dial Books

Ninth Ward  by  Jewell  Parker Rhodes.  Little Brown.

A Long Walk to Water  by  Linda Sue Park.  Clarion Books.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl; escaping civil war in Sudan  by  John Bul Dau.  National Geographic

Bamboo People  by  Mitali Perkins.  Charlesbridge

Thunder Over Kandahar  by Sharon E. McKay.  Annick Press.

A Million Shades of Gray  by  Cynthia Kadohata.  Atheneum Books

Warriors in the Crossfire  by  Nancy Bo Flood.  Front Street Books

The Dreamer  by  Pam Munoz Ryan. Drawings by Peter Sis, Scholastic Press

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon.  Candlewick Press.

Heart of a Samurai; based on the true story of Nakahama Manjiro.  by Margi Preus.  Amulet Books.


The Firefly Letters; a suffragette’s journey to Cuba  by  Margarita Engle.  Henry Holt.


The Good Garden  by  Kate Smith Milway.  Illus. by Sylvie Daigneault.  Kids Can Press.

Birmingham Sunday  by Larry Dane Brimner.  Calkins Creek.

They Called Themselves the KKK  by  Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  Houghton Mifflin.

Sugar Changed the World  by  Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.  Clarion Books.

Linda Andersen September 2, 2011 at 3:21 am

Thanks Nancy for this great list of “global” titles. I am a former member of a local chapter of IRA and I loved it. I look forward to locating some of these.

Linda A.

Yvonne Siu-Runyan October 14, 2011 at 6:08 am

Thanks, Nancy. So happy that NBGS is going strong.

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