Review of If America Were a Village, by David J. Smith

If America Were a Village

A Book about the People of the United States

written by David J. Smith

illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong

Kids Can Press, 2009. 32 pages.
Starred Review.

I think this is a very cool book. It makes statistics accessible and understandable to children — and to adults.

The premise of the book is this: America now has more than 306 million people, and numbers that big are hard to understand. So we are going to imagine that all the people who live here are reduced down to a village of 100 people. The author proceeds to describe that village, and also what the village would have been like in earlier times of American history. Each person in the village represents more than 3 million Americans in the real world.

The author is presenting percentages, but by talking about actual people in a village, it’s far simpler to visualize and comprehend.

The author discusses many different aspects of the village. What languages do we speak? Where do we come from? Where do we live? What are our families like? (Did you know there are almost twice as many households in our village without children as with?) What religions do we practice? What do we do? How old are we? How wealthy are we? What do we own? What do we use? How healthy are we?

For example:
“If the America of today were a village of 100: 15 would be of German ancestry, 11 would be of Irish ancestry, 9 African, 9 English, 7 Mexican, 6 Italian, 3 Polish, 3 French, 3 Native American, 2 Scottish, 2 Dutch, 2 Norwegian, 1 Scotch-Irish and 1 Swedish. The rest have other backgrounds.”

I don’t know about you, but I would never have guessed that breakdown, and there were many other surprising facts in this book.

In many of the sections, the author compares the American village to the rest of the world, or to America’s past.

It’s funny how talking about America as a village makes a huge list of facts suddenly much more interesting, because now they are in a form you can visualize.

The authors have another book, which I also recommend, called If the World Were a Village. There are nice resources at the end, and ideas for using the book in the classroom.

I like the author’s ending statement in the notes at the back:
“It is my hope that this book will enrich and improve that sense of community — not just who we are, where we live and what we do and believe, but also where others live and what they do and what they believe — and that kids will then be inspired to find ways to make their country and their world a better place.”

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