Want to teach kids about writers from around the world?
A BU professor has created a children’s book that takes young people on a global trip to learn about famous authors!
Teaching Traveling: Let’s welcome Humanities professor, Sheila Cordner. Sheila, tell us a bit about your background.
Sheila: Hello! Two of my passions have always been traveling and reading classic literature. So when I set out to write my first children’s book, I wanted to share my excitement for both!
My book, Who’s Hiding in This Book? Meet Ten Famous Authors,(affiliate link) takes young readers on a quest across the globe to meet ten famous authors. By including a diverse range of authors, the book promotes the idea that anyone can become a great author.
I take children on a traveling adventure to learn about different cultures along with great authors as part of building background knowledge as a foundation for early literacy.
For each of the ten authors included in the book, I include a brief introduction to their life and the world in which they lived; an excerpt from their work in their original language; and a fun, action-filled scene from their stories.
I worked with the illustrator to ensure young readers get an authentic taste of what it was like to live in each author’s world, from Taha Hussein’s small Egyptian village, to Virginia Woolf’s London, to the Dragon Boat Festival described by Sui Sin Far.
In the back of the book, I provide a guide for parents and educators, which includes places to visit such as perennial New England favorites including Thoreau’s Walden and Edith Wharton’s The Mount.
TT: That book sounds great! How did you find travel opportunities in your own life?
S: I worked in publishing and taught high school before getting an English Ph.D., which landed me in my current job teaching Humanities at Boston University. I’m currently teaching a course on Children’s Literature for students in Kilachand Honors College at BU.
One of my favorite things about my current job is that I’m encouraged to present my research at international conferences. Although the travel funding isn’t endless, it’s enabled me to attend conferences in places such as Hong Kong, Venice, Florence, and Toronto. I have to admit that sometimes the location of the conference influences me as well as the topic on hand!
Closer to home, the theme of literature and travel is often on my mind because I’m in the process of developing a Boston-New England experiential learning curriculum for freshmen at Boston University.
I just visited Salem, Massachusetts, and I’m also scoping out New Bedford (one of the nation’s most diverse ports in the nineteenth century), Newport, and Martha’s Vineyard as important places with links to literature for students to visit.
For me, it’s important to impart to children from a young age this idea that literature is created by a range of real people, and to encourage college students to study how different places and cultural contexts influenced authors.
TT: So true. How have your travels impacted you?
S: I often find when I talk to people during travels abroad that the conversation turns to talking about education (perhaps I steer it in this direction subconsciously!).
I love the idea of taking something so universal and hearing about the educational systems in different countries (even cultures like Great Britain that aren’t too different from ours value early specialization, for example). These conversations provide a valuable perspective in thinking about the American idea of liberal arts education.
TT: Absolutely. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel?
S: On a practical level, I would encourage educators traveling in the summer months to consider staying in dorms at international universities. I’ve stayed in the dormitories on San Servolo in Venice, and at the University of Hong Kong and Queens College, Oxford.
Although they obviously don’t have a lot of frills, university dorms are often centrally located and offer a glimpse into the country’s culture (the full breakfast in the grand dining hall at Queens College was pretty good too!).
If we are at a moment in our lives when we can’t travel abroad ourselves, why not take the opportunity to inspire future travelers? There are so many wonderful children’s books today that open doors to different places and cultures — where we can all visit!
Feel free to reach out in the comments below, or at my website, SheilaCordner.com.
TT: Thanks so much, Sheila! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this educational children’s book author?
Want a suggestion for a great young adult book? Check out my review of Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds!