Book Review: If America Were a Village

Lillie Forteau's picture

What if America (the US) were a Village? Such is the premise of If America Were a Village, written by one of our very favorite authors, David J. Smith. David, with illustrator Shelagh Armstrong, also wrote If the World Were a Village. Both are extraordinary resources to think and learn about the composition of our world.

David sent us a review copy of If America Were a Village (Thank you!). It is based on the premise that if America were a village of 100 people, we can learn who we are, where we come from, where we live, what our families are like, religions, age, income, health, and more. If America were a village, 80 out of 100 people would live in the cities and suburbs. But here's an interesting fact - in 1900, only 40 people lived in cities and suburbs, while 60 lived in the country. MY how times change. As well, people like to live near each other! Of those 100 people today, 50 people live in just 9 states! - California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Georgia. The other 50 are split out between the 41 other states  - and the 5 least populated states only account for 1 person! 


What do we own? In our village of 100 people, there are 81 cars. Think, though, that if the WHOLE WORLD were in our village, there would be only 13 cars. In our village, we would have 73 cell phones and 74 tvs. No wonder we have 21.4% of the world's energy use!

Lillie says, "This is a fun book to learn from! I love it. I love thinking about how things have changed in our country. I am also surprised by how much stuff we have. We need to try harder to save our earth. You can also learn interesting things about people in our country - who they are, where they come from, what religion they are, and more. Did you know that 82 of our 100 people speak English? 10 speak Spanish, while 1 speaks Chinese, 1 French, and 1 German. But there are so many other languages in the world, we just don't speak enough of them in our village!"

We were lucky enough to sit down with David and talk about If America Were a Village, If The World Were a Village, teaching about the world, and more. Here's what he had to say...



David J Smith


WE: Please tell us about your book, If America Were a Village...

DS: Using the same metaphor as If The World Were A Village, I reduced the U.S. "village" down to 100 people, and took a careful look at what we could learn.  The structure is similar, but the content is focused on the U.S., and how the U.S. population compares to other countries and to the world.



WE: What inspired you to write this book?

DS: The new book actually came out of dozens of requests from teachers and students.  As I traveled to schools talking about If The World Were A Village I was often asked "what about the United States...", so I put a collection of data together, and my editor and I looked it over and decided it would be fun to try to make it into a "sequel".



WE: Your first book, If the World Were a Village, was so great. Why did you decide to focus on the United States?

DS: Many schools are already having students extrapolate from "If The World Were A Village" -- I've had teachers mail me "If Portsmouth, NH, Were A Village", "If Minot, ND, Were a Village", "If Vancouver Were A Village", and much more.  Add to that the complexity of the U.S., the large and growing population, the complicated role of the U.S. in the world, and the fascinating politics within the U.S. itself, and it is a rich source for a close look.



WE: What did you learn from writing this book - what would we be surprised by?

DS: There were several facts to which I said "ah ha, that's really unexpected...".  Among these: that 1 new person is added to the U.S. population every 12 seconds; that only 13 of the 100 "villagers" in the U.S. are foreign-born; that the largest foreign ancestry for Americans is German, and that the U.S. owns a higher percentage of cars than any other country.  I was also surprised that half the population lives in just 9 states, that there are almost twice as many households without children as those with children, and that while 82 of the 100 villagers in the United States consider themselves Christians, only 40 people out of 100 attend any kind of religious service on a weekly basis.  I was shocked to learn that 1 person out of the 100 people in the U.S. village is in jail or prison, and that the top 1% of the people in the U.S. have about 30% of all the wealth, while the poorest 60% share only 4% of the wealth.



WE: How can we best teach kids about geography, diversity, the world?

DS: I grew up in a family that was vitally interested in global issues.  My parents subscribed to at least 5 newspapers, they read endlessly, they had maps and atlases everywhere, and they really modeled the Global Citizen behavior that I grew up expecting of myself.  For teachers, parents, librarians, or anyone who wants to foster an interest in global issues in their children, I suggest several steps in the essay at the back of If The World Were A Village -- make sure to have good up-to-date world maps on the walls, play geography games and ask geography questions, connect children with others all over the world, ask hard questions, foster world-minded thoughts, and make sure that children see your love of maps, your curiosity about the world and its people.  More than anything else, let them see that your country, and the rest of the world, are important to you.



WE: How do you always know this stuff?

DS: Well, it may *seem* that I "know" this stuff, but it requires hours and hours of hard work, reading books, looking up data, keeping lists and graphs and charts, and looking for new and interesting ways to compare all the facts, to find ways to make sense of everything in a clear and simple way.



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

DS: These books of mine are really about being a global citizen.  And the qualities that, to me, identify a good global citizen are: empathy, patience, curiosity, and a sense of shared experience, that we all sit down together at the same table. The webwork of knowledge and humanity that holds us together sometimes seems to be fraying, and a good global citizen always goes back to the middle of that webwork:  who we are, where we live, and who others are and where they live.  As educators and parents, we need to make sure that our children have a sense of their own community, and also an appreciation of everyone else's.



WE: What's next for David Smith?

DS:  In December, 2010, or January, 2011, Kids Can Press will be publishing my next book, "One Child Every Child", which is a picture book for children about the rights of children, based on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Watch my website for details.

WE: Thanks so very much, David! We love your books and highly recommend them to our readers!


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