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 many students will be familiar with The 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. Further, continental literature is abundant and only a small sample can be represented here.
Readers are introduced to the northern most country of the continent, Canada, through a picture book edition of the now classic story, Anne of Green Gables. Additional Canadian selections show readers Canadian children from coast to coast to coast. From the United States presidential author, Barack Obama, offers a loving tribute to his daughters and all Americans in, Of Thee I Sing, A Letter to My Daughters. Additional titles guide readers to sample diversity, geography, and history across America. From Latin America, Armando and the Blue Tarp School, celebrates Mexican Hispanic culture and introduces readers to poverty conditions, widespread throughout the region.
Additional reading titles incorporate other aspects of North America such as French and Métis 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.