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Exploring the World with Literature (Grades 4-7): North America

Introduction to the Continent

North America is a continent of contrasts. Among the twenty-four countries of the continent there are very small islands and huge landmasses. From north to south the geography ranges from barren tundra, to high mountain ranges, to wide flat prairies, to sunny sandy beaches and pockets of rainforest. So too, the weather is widely varied from below freezing much of the year to warm most of the year. Across the continent there are also many different cultures and intriguing variations in the places and ways people live. Indigenous groups were the first inhabitants of North America and students will be familiar with Inuit and First Nations people in Canada. Outside of Canada, indigenous groups usually adopt the term “Native Americans”, which includes hundreds of groups from the United States as well as Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean islands. The Aztec and Maya are probably the best-known Native American groups from Latin America.

The Latin American region of North America is primarily Spanish-speaking. The Caribbean islands are home to 43 million people and thirteen independent nations (Haiti, The Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Dominican Republic among them). Like Brazil in South America, many Africans were brought to the area and forced to work as slaves.

Most Caribbean people are of African descent. Likewise, both African-American and Hispanic heritage are influential in the United States. This already diverse mix is further complemented by the heritage of immigrants to North America, who continue to shape the cultural landscape. It is, then, not surprising that the literature representing North America exhibits wide variations in content and form.

From the far northern region of the continent and the country of Canada, Michael Kusugak entertains readers with the Inuit tale The Curse of the Shaman. From the smallest Canadian province, Prince Edward Island, readers are introduced to one very determined and mischievous redhead, Miss Anne Shirley, in the now classic story, Anne of Green Gables. From the United States, a notable African American author offers a simple tribute to both diversity and opportunity in a celebration of youth with Looking Like Me. From Latin America, Tales our Abuelita’s Told celebrates Hispanic culture with delightful storytelling representing a wide range of countries.

Additional reading incorporates other aspects of North America such as French-Canadian heritage, rural and urban lifestyles, and multiculturalism. Together, the selections offer students an appreciation for the great diversity and mixed heritage of North America.

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