Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013: Kids' Maximum Shelf: If the World Were a Village

Kids Can: If the World Were a Village by David Smith

Kids Can: If the World Were a Village by David Smith

Kids Can: If the World Were a Village by David Smith

Kids Can: If the World Were a Village by David Smith

If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People

by David J. Smith, illus. by Shelagh Armstrong

David J. Smith's If the World Were a Village began with a question from one of his seventh-grade students. He was trying to decide between a course in French and Spanish as a foreign language: "Which one is most important?" Smith probed further to get at the root of the student's question. "Suppose our classroom represented the world, how many of us would speak English, how many would speak French, and how many would speak Spanish?" the student wondered. They went to the World Almanac to research the answer together. (The seventh-grader decided to take Spanish because it's more widely spoken than French.) This started Smith thinking: "If our world were a village of 100 people, what could we learn?"

From there, Smith and his students examined other issues at the center of society. If the World Were a Village was first published in 2002, and as it returned to press every four to six months, Smith updated the statistics, so that the global "village" continued to reflect the world's complex composition. A second edition came out in 2012, but Smith's engaging premise remains the same. By placing the population of the village at 100 people, Smith makes mathematical analysis easy.

Math, geography, social studies and, ultimately, ethics come into play, simply by stating the facts. Each topic gets a two-page spread. The numbers appear in a single column, at the left or right, and the ones and 10s columns align, enabling readers to quickly add up the figures in their heads to get to a sum of 100; draw pie diagrams to represent the composition of the village; and the like. Shelagh Armstrong's paintings dominate the other two-thirds of the spread. She so delicately layers the acrylics in her paintings that they at times resemble pastels. The cover illustration immediately telegraphs the concept that this village is a symbol of a larger whole. Armstrong's opening image works in tandem with Smith's greeting, "Welcome to the Global Village." Goats stand on a hilltop looking down into the village, where readers begin, too, with a larger perspective. The artwork brilliantly conveys concrete facts in a more abstract, representative way that continues this interplay between the specifics cited in the text and the larger landscape to which Smith refers, with varying skin tones, dress and modes of transport.

As the book progresses, Smith creates an overlay of the complexity of the issues confronting the village. A standout example involves his use of the "Welcome" page, along with the spread about the "Ages" of the villagers, and a new section for the second edition called "Health." The general statistics for "Ages" remain consistent from the first edition to the second, but Smith digs more deeply into the implications of the dramatic population growth (100,000,000) from 2008 to 2010 (extrapolated from a comparison of the numbers on the "Welcome" page entries in the two editions). "At the present rate of growth, the village will increase by 12 people every 10 years. That means that the village as a whole is slowly growing larger," he writes. Smith also raises the question of what it means to support an aging population: "[M]any countries are actually getting smaller as their populations age.... A hundred years ago, there were only 8 people over 65 in the village of that time, but by 2050 there may be as many as 16." He examines this more completely in the "Health" section, where he explains that in 1850, a newborn in the village "was only expected to live to age 38." In 1900, the life expectancy was 47. Today, "a newborn can expect to live to 68, on average."

The "Food" section will likely get readers most roused. Smith tallies the number of cows, pigs, chickens and other sources of protein (including camels and horses in some societies) and discusses alternatives, such as wheat, rice and beans. By laying out the facts, Smith lets students know about the disparity of those who have "food security" and those who do not: "Although there is enough to feed the villagers, not everyone is well fed," he writes. "30 people in the village do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry some or all of the time. 17 people are severely undernourished and are always hungry." Armstrong's illustration shows a "common ground," a penned-in grassy area in the center of town, where goats, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens graze, plus market stalls with leafy vegetables, fruits and bread loaves. Horses and bicycles carry some villagers to and fro, while others walk, carrying bags and babies.

Smith also examines energy sources, "money and possessions," "school and work," along with nationalities, languages and religions. He ends with the implications of population growth: "If there are 100 people in the year 2010, there will be more than 101 in 2011, and so on." By 2150, he points out, there will be 250 people in the village. "This is an important number, because many experts think that 250 is the maximum number of people the village can sustain." He offers a message of hope: "Fortunately, groups such as the United Nations and many governments and private organizations are working hard to make sure that the village of the future is a good home for all who live in it." Yet he implicitly suggests that readers do have a role in how things turn out.

The author closes with suggestions on how to explore these topics further in conversation with young people and an exhaustive list of sources for his statistics. Smith raises questions responsibly, by using just the facts, then suggests ways to involve young people in answering their questions through further study (with tips on how adults can help). --Jennifer M. Brown

Citizen Kid series / Kids Can Press, $18.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 8-up, 9781554535958, available now

Kids Can: Razia's Ray of Hope by Eilzabeth Suneby

David J. Smith: Worldmindedness Across the Curriculum

David J. Smith taught seventh grade for 26 years at the Shady Hills School, in Cambridge, Mass. He was born and raised in Cambridge and, yes, attended Shady Hills School himself from pre-K through ninth grade. After teaching in Oregon and Hawaii, he applied to teach at Shady Hills and remained there for more than a quarter century. He and his wife now live in Vancouver, Canada, and Smith travels around the world giving workshops based on If the World Were a Village, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong (Kids Can Press). The same team has also published If America Were a Village (also Kids Can). Both books are part of the CitizenKid series, which has sold more than 700,000 copies worldwide. North American sales of If the World Were a Village (both editions) total more than 277,000 copies. The curriculum Smith developed around his books is called "Mapping the World by Heart," an appropriate name for a subject he's passionate about.

Your book If the World Were a Village began with a question posed by one of your seventh-grade students. Are you still teaching?

I describe my day job as twofold: one is doing in-service training, helping teachers understand how best to encourage children to understand and explore their world--worldmindedness across the curriculum. Each of my books has an essay at the back: How do you talk to children about these very tough, complex issues in a way that helps them think about, deal with and address them.

The second involves my favorite kinds of events in the last two to three years: weeklong stays at interesting schools, where students and teachers have questions for me and I have activities for them.

How did the book get published?

From [that seventh-grader's] first question to the publication of If the World Were a Village took 15 years. On May 19, 1989, my student and I appeared on The Today Show with Brian Gumble. After that Today Show appearance, a Morrow editor came to the school and read 45 pages I had about If the World Were a Village. She offered a five-digit advance, and three-and-a-half years later canceled the contract because they couldn’t figure out the artist for it.

At the end of 1993, I went to Workman with the project. The same thing happened: three-and-a-half years later, they couldn't find an illustrator for it. Then Kids Can bought it. Eleven years later, they've done 18 printings of the first edition, and four of the second edition; 27 countries have bought the rights, and the latest is a Hungarian edition.

Over the years, what numbers have changed the most?

The most dramatic, since 2002, is the number of telephones. We now are at a point where there are more telephones than people. And of course it's not land lines.

Did you have any material that was not selected for publication in If the World Were a Village?

Yes, the dark side [of the global village]. For example, if the scale of land were the same, the 100 people would live in one square mile. In that one square mile, there would be two land mines.

How do you work with schools when you visit?

There's a school in Winnipeg, connected to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, where I spent a week. Winnipeg is a very cold city, and I visited in December 2012. It can reach -5 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the activities was a water walk. Every child brings a one-gallon container, walks to a source of water, fills the jug, then walks back and uses the water for something.

In Winnipeg, the water was frozen hard. So we walked to a neighborhood recreation center, a little less than a mile each way. The kids were properly dressed, and we walked there and filled the containers--I told them not to fill it too full. The water had partially frozen [by the time they got back to school]. The value of that exercise is putting yourself in the shoes of someone who has to walk a mile each way to get to a source of water--and the real value is writing about it afterwards.

You've recently returned from a school visit in Switzerland. What was that like?

I spent a week at the International School about 20 minutes outside of Geneva, La Chatagneraie School. On the first day, I met with the teachers of the seven grade levels. The second day was a shorter meeting with the classes of students. On the third day, we did our activity: 650 children, pre-K through sixth grade, and each had the opportunity to put something on a map.

On a concrete top, we created sections on a grid. Each child got one section to draw in chalk. The teachers and I "fixed" the drawing, if necessary. Afterwards, the teachers painted the chalk lines in parking lot paint. On the fourth day, the teachers and parents met to debrief, and the fifth day was a celebration.

The smallest map we ever made was 4½x7½ meters. The largest was in Winnetka, Ill., 45 feetx75 feet.

Tell us about your Website, You post a wealth of statistical information there.

I update that myself every week and create hotlinks for each article. Right now, I have a backlog of 12. If I get tied up, I can easily and quickly put a new one in, take an old one off. I registered the domain name in 1994, and that's how far back the archive goes. At that time, there were teachers that had never looked at an e-mail and never looked at a website. The world has grown geometrically more complicated.

What are you working on now?

The working title is What If?  My favorite example: if the history of the earth, starting 4.5 billion years ago, were compressed into a two-hour DVD, the first human being--the first hominid--shambles across your screen in the final second. --Jennifer M. Brown

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