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

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Introduction to the Continent

South America is the fourth largest continent in area. It has fewer people than Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. The land features many spectacular natural attractions. It is home to the Amazon, the world’s second longest river, and also to a large expanse of tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin. An estimated 50% of all the world’s plant and animal species live in the Amazon Rainforest. Two thirds of the rainforest is found in Brazil, South America’s largest and most populous country. Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela are among the eight other countries where the Amazon rainforest is found.

The towering Andes mountains are the world’s longest mountain range, stretching across the continent. Rolling grasslands and arid desert can be found in the interior, and sandy beaches can be found along the coast.

The original inhabitants of South America were indigenous groups. Descendants of these traditional societies are found throughout South America, but their numbers are greatest in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru.

The first settlers to arrive in South America were from Spain and Portugal. Portuguese is the first language of Brazil, with Spanish being the dominant language throughout South America. Residents in Brazil and the Southern countries (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay) are primarily of European descent. Brazilian culture is also heavily influenced by African heritage. During the period of the 1500’s-1800’s, Europeans brought millions of Africans to South America and forced them to work on plantations. Today, their ancestors celebrate their African traditions.

Significant about South America is also the poverty of many of its people. The cities are progressive, and all countries have wealthy landowners, politicians, and factory owners. Yet, many people struggle, living in large city slums or poor rural villages.

South American literature for young people is limited in the North American market, though translation efforts seem to be on the rise. The selections included in the Micro-Library give students a taste of the rainforest, traditional folklore, multicultural Brazil, and the life of a world-famous Chilean poet.

In The Great Snake, Stories from the Amazon, a traveler shares descriptions of the welcoming people he encounters as well as the folktales they tell. In What a Party, a Brazilian neighbourhood comes alive in a spontaneous celebration of friendship, music, and food. In The Dreamer, author Pamela Munoz gives a fictional account of Pablo Neruda’s early life in Chile and his creative journey as he followed his gift for poetry.

While students will experience aspects of South America’s rich culture through the three selections, the additional titles help give a broader portrait. Rural life, poverty, and further exploration of the spectacular natural landscape are illustrated in fiction and non-fiction that students can discover independently or through shared experiences.

Recommended for Sharing

South America: Further Reading