The International Children’s Digital Library is a wonder.It is a free online library of books targeted at children from preschool into early adolescence, but I could easily browse there all day. Certainly it is wonderful for children, but don’t underestimate its value to older students. And what a great place for summer browsing!
The library truly is international, with books from scores of countries and in dozens of languages. The collection can be searched by language, age of reader, type of character, genre, topic, length—even color of cover! And yes, it really is a library. You can read everything online at no cost. Are you intrigued yet?
It will take a bit of exploring to get full benefit from this amazing resource, but it is well worth it. Here are just a few thoughts to get you started. I’ve written these from the perspective of a teacher, but the library is also a great home resource for those long summer days.
- Explore the wonderful varieties of folk and fairy tales from around the world. Have students compare, contrast, and perhaps write a tale situated in their own unique time and place.
- Use international children’s books to provide multi-leveled resources around a given theme, allowing older students who struggle with reading to contribute something genuinely unique to the discussion. The search options make finding a book that suits your theme relatively simple. Be sure to preview the text, however, since some children’s books contain complex language.
- Choose a book in a language you and your students do not speak. Create new stories to accompany the pictures. For example, Dima, written in Arabic, has wonderful fantasy illustrations of a young boy exploring the heavens. It would also be fun to compare the original stories written based on the illustrations to the English version of the book, which is available for some texts.
- Of course, international books are a fine opportunity for students who do speak another language to share their language and culture with others.
- Have students who are studying world languages read children’s books in those languages. When, after many (many many!) years away from language study I had the chance to go to France, I found the most successful language practice for my rusty French was French children’s television. Children’s books can provide similar opportunities for success. Many of the books in the ICDL are available in multiple languages, allowing interesting comparisons and study.
- Use the children’s books from different eras to allow insight into both the literature and cultures of the times. There are alphabet books of all descriptions. (Wouldn’t it be fun to create one to depict a particular time/place?) Think about comparing versions of Cinderella, not just across cultures but across time. This version was published in 1880.
- Just allow your students (or your children) to explore. This is a glorious resource. Have fun with it, and please share what you find.