By Brandon Hilts
School and Youth Counselor at MAGMA-AMGM (Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area)

A little over a year ago, I started working with children and families from multiple cultural backgrounds. Having worked with children in daycares and schools, and taking early childhood education in college, I have grown to love children’s books, this new position gave me an opportunity to collect an even greater variety of children’s books that my students could relate to and enjoy. I would look at second hand stores, book sales, etc. You’d be amazed at what you can find for $1.  I started coming across books with subjects on different cultural traditions, like food and music, or families and the places they live. When I started reading these types of books to my students, I realized, and they did too, that even though we don’t all look or speak the same, many of our values and interests come from the same place.

I have this one story called “Everybody Cooks Rice”, by Norah Dooley. It’s about a girl named Carrie who is sent out to look for her brother before supper. As she goes around the neighbourhood, she interacts with the neighbours and gets a first-hand look into their daily routines. She is invited into their homes for a taste of supper and experiences what their meals and families look like. On her little journey she learns where people are from, and the many languages they speak, and the smells of the different spices they use to cook with. After the fourth house she comes to realize that every dish is prepared with rice. They eventually end up at home, and see that their mother is cooking a dish that her family has made for generations. It too, is made using rice.

Reading this story out loud helped me and my students realize that although we are visibly and culturally different, we have very similar needs and values. We all need food, shelter, clothing and a sense of safety. We gather with family, share traditions between generations, and carry out daily routines. We have interests and dislikes, and care about one another. These things create the perfect opportunity to celebrate the things that make us unique, while learning from one another the ways in which we are alike. I encourage my coworkers, and friends to enlighten themselves and read stories about others’ traditions, and values. Or better yet, meet a family and interact with someone that was raised differently than you were. It is then when we can truly understand and value the fact that regardless of where we are all from, we all have things in common, like Carrie noticed about everybody eating rice!

Below is a  a list of some of the stories I have discovered so far. Hopefully, these selections will interest and inspire you and your children in a new, yet familiar way:

Everybody Cooks Rice- Norah Dooley
Shante Keys and the New Year’s Peas – Gail Piernas-Davenport
The Thanksgiving Door – Debby Atwell
One Love – Cedella Marley, Bob Marley
When I Get Older: The Story Behind “Wavin’ Flag” – K’Naan
Under The Ramadan Moon – Sylvia Whitman