Around the World in 80 Books: A Multicultural Guide

Explore multicultural books includes pre-reading ideas and background information for use with grades 1-5.
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Imagined Worlds: Folktales

Folktales are stories from long ago, passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. No story was ever told exactly the same way twice, as storytellers were free to embellish and change each tale with each new telling. Many of our world's most popular folktales have been adapted and retold, or have inspired completely new interpretations and modern fantasies by today's publishers. While some stories are unique to a particular culture, others are found in varied forms in many countries throughout the world. No matter their origin, folktales all over the world use a narrative structure containing conventions of language, plot, and character that are easily recognized by many young listeners and readers. Using folktales that are already familiar, make students aware of these conventions. After sharing the folktales listed below, have them chart those elements present and describe how they are realized in each tale. These elements may include:

  • A setting long ago and far away ("Once upon a time...," "Once, long ago...")
  • A humble hero/heroine, whose goodness and kindness are rewarded
  • A quest to perform impossible tasks
  • The numbers 3 and/or 7
  • A magical helper or adversary
  • A trickster
  • A magical object
  • A magical transformation
  • A plot in which good triumphs over evil
  • A universal truth or lesson to be learned

Guides to Folktales

Imagined Worlds: Modern Fantasy

Drawing on its folkloric roots, heroes in modern fantasy often possess magical powers or look to a magical object to confront danger and rise to impossible challenges. Many modern fantasies allow characters to shift from a present moment in the real world to a past time in the real world, or further into an altogether imaginary realm. In these and other stories in the Time Warp Trio series, a magical book whisks Joe and his friends, Fred and Sam, back to different times and places where quick thinking and a little luck save them from the most dreadful fates.

Guides to Modern Fantasy

Real Worlds, Yesterday and Today

Worlds of Spirit and Celebration



In Katie's Wish, Katie is sent to America to escape the famine and disease plaguing Ireland. In The Color of Home, Hassan and his family flee to America to escape the ravages of war-torn Somalia. Make students aware that different peoples have emigrated from their home countries for different reasons at different times. Point out that America is a nation of immigrants - almost everyone is here because someone in his/her family emigrated from a foreign land. Ask students how many of them, their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born in another country. If they do not already know when and why their first ancestor set foot on American shores, refer them to a family member who can tell them. Using Internet and library resources, including Veronica Lawlor's I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, have students research immigration patterns from Europe, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, placing themselves or their families wherever appropriate. When and from what countries did major migrations to America occur? What personal, local, or world circumstances motivated people to leave their homelands? Were expectations always met? Praising the multicultural roots that nourish our American culture, host an "I am American/I am _____Day," in which students share information and cultural aspects, such as food, clothing, music, etc., from family homelands.


As may be seen in many of the stories listed in this guide, "family" can mean different things to different children. Little Cliff is being raised by grandparents in the absence of parents. Philipok includes both grandparents and parents in his family structure. Katie's home includes a grandparent, aunt, uncle, and cousin, while Hassan counts nine members in his extended family. Abikanile's Yao upbringing reflects the communal approach to family that is so common among tribal groups. Define and sensitively discuss terms describing different family structures, including nuclear, extended, step, single-parent, foster, and blended, emphasizing that "family" may be made up of varied individuals who love and make homes for children. Using original or scanned photos and drawings, have children create a Family Collage depicting themselves and the people they call "family."


Little Cliff went to a segregated school in a building that was once an old plantation church. Philipok went to a one-room log cabin schoolhouse, where children of different ages studies together. Hassan's school in Somalia was out of doors from early in the morning to midday. Some schools are for boys only, while others are exclusively for girls. Ask students to compare/contrast these different schools, discussing what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of each. Ask students to reflect on their own school situations and then write a letter to their principal, describing what they like about their school and what suggestions they would offer for improvement.


The onion-shaped domes in The Tale of the Firebird demonstrate how architecture is intimately tied to history and culture. Have students describe the materials, shapes, designs, purposes, and - where appropriate - the symbolism typical of other architectural structures seen throughout the stories listed in this guide (i.e., the Japanese pagoda, the Inuit igloo, the Mexican hacienda, the log cabins of Russia, the thatched-roof farmhouses of Ireland, the white stone houses of Somalia, the stick huts of the Yao). Have students compare these structures to those predominant in their home communities. Drawing on any of the architectural styles and designs discussed, have students paint a picture of My Dream House, describing to classmates what elements they have incorporated in their original home creations.

Religion / Belief Systems

As a Catholic in Ireland and a Moslem from Somalia, respectively, Katie and Hassan demonstrate that people all over the world have systems of beliefs and practices that guide their daily lives. Begin by asking if students practice a particular religion in their homes and how it influences their lives. Expand the discussion by identifying the religions in their local communities and describing the initial differences perceived among them. With the goal of fostering understanding, appreciation, and tolerance for all religious beliefs, share with children selected prayers, poems, and quotes from Jane Breskin Zalben's Let There Be Light. Have children develop a Religions of the World Matrix, drawing on personal experiences (as well as Internet and library resources) to list major religions of the world and key information (as suggested below). Any one cell may serve as the basis for an in-depth oral or written report.

Christianity Islam Judaism Buddhism Shinto
Countries of Majority Practice
Fundamental Beliefs
Basic Responsibilities/Duties
Holy Times of Year/Important Ceremonies
Places of Worship
Sacred Books
Religious Symbols
Significant Individuals in History

Note: Teachers may wish to write a Letter to Parents, stating their intention to conduct classroom activities on World Religions to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding. Offer parents the opportunity to preview materials to be used, and respect the wishes of those who may not wish to have their children participate.

"Around the World in 80 Books" was written by Rosemary B. Stimola, Ph.D., educational/editorial consultant, coordinator of an Annual Multicultural Children's Literature Festival in New York City, and an Associate Professor of Children's Literature.

Penguin Young Readers Group

Brought to you by Penguin Young Readers Group.

The Penguin Group is the second-largest English-language trade book publisher in the world. The company possesses perhaps the world's most prestigious list of best-selling authors and a backlist of unparalleled breadth, depth, and quality. Penguin Young Readers Group features books by authors and illustrators including Judy Blume, Brian Jacques, Eric Carle, and beloved characters like Winnie-the-Pooh, Madeline, The Little Engine that Could, and many, many more.
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