Title: If America Were a Village: A Book about the People of the United States
Author: David J. Smith
Illustrator: Shelagh Armstrong
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Concepts: allocation and distribution, child schooling and work, natural resources, poverty, producers/consumers, wants and needs
Review: There are more than 306 million people in the United States, all of whom have diverse living situations, practice different religions, speak various languages, and so on. Rather than use huge numbers to describe these differences, the author shrinks the world down into a village of 100 people (with each person in this hypothetical village representing 3 million people in the actual United States) to take a statistical snapshot of the country.
In this way, Smith takes big concepts and makes them small and simple. However, he does not talk down to his young readers, instead giving them factual information that possibly many adults do not know or understand. His 32-page picture book is filled with interesting – and sometimes surprising – statistics about the people of the United States. Often, Smith provides the corresponding statistics for the world as a whole to serve as a comparison point. In addition, he will sometimes include similar statistics from the historical United States to show how the country’s demographics have changed over time.
Several of the topics discussed and the accompanying statistics encompass economic concepts, as noted below in a few examples.
- There are only five unemployed people in the village who want to work but cannot find employment, and this number may be rising.
- Of the 47 villagers who are employed, 18 hold professional jobs, 12 are in sales, 7 are employed in service jobs, five are construction workers, and five work in manufacturing and farming.
- Only one of the 100 villagers holds more than 30 percent of the entire country’s wealth.
- Meanwhile, the 60 poorest villagers combined only hold about 4 percent of the country’s entire wealth. Many of these people live below the poverty line and do not have enough money to meet basic needs. This number is also increasing steadily.
Throughout the book, Shelagh Armstrong’s impressionistic illustrations with their vibrant colors provide beautiful visuals of the diversity of America’s people and land.
The book ends with a two-page guide of activities to help children learn more about and truly understand the United States and its diverse and complex population, geography, and culture. The author concludes by stating, “As adults, we need to encourage children’s sense of their own local community and their appreciation of the other communities to which they belong … 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.” It is a lofty goal, but this book brings us one step closer.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children