Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

EconKids Home New Picture Books in 2011 (First Word A-I) If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People / by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong

If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People / by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong


Title: If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People 
Author:  David J. Smith
Illustrator: Shelagh Armstrong
Publisher:  Kids Can Press
ISBN:  978-1-55453-595-8
Year:  2011

Concepts: allocation and distribution, child schooling and work, natural resources, poverty, scarcity, wants and needs

Review:  There are more than 6.9 billion people in the world as of 2010, 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 69 million people in the actual world). He states, “By learning about the villagers – who they are and how they live – perhaps we can find out more about our neighbors in the real world and the problems our planet may face in the future.”

Smith makes big concepts small and simple but without ever talking down to his young readers. Indeed, he seems to expect a lot of them, giving them factual information that possibly many adults do not know or understand. His 32-page picture book is chock full of interesting, and sometimes surprising and startling, statistics. For instance, one-fifth of the villagers are age 9 or younger and more than half are less than 30 years old. But while the overall population is growing, the pace is slower than in the past and young people may not be the largest group in the global village in the future.

Several of the topics discussed and the accompanying statistics encompass economic concepts, as noted below in a few examples.

-          Natural resources, as well as the scarcity and distribution of them, are described throughout the book. For instance, the author notes, “All in all, there is no shortage of food. If all the food were divided equally, everyone would have enough to eat … although there is enough to feed the villagers, not everyone is well fed.” Indeed, 47 people of the 100 villagers do not have food security. 

-          Only 30 of 36 school-aged villagers attend school. Of the six who don’t go to school, three work for their family (doing household chores or at a family-operated business) while three are child laborers in factories or mines.

-          Of the 63 adults who could have jobs, only 52 of them are working. Six of the employed people want to work but can’t find jobs.

-          If all the money in the village were divided equally, each person would have approximately $10,300 per year. Instead, the richest 10 have more than $87,500 per year while the poorest 10 have less than $2 per day. Half the people average about $6 per day. Meanwhile, the average cost of food and other necessities is more than $5,000 per year.

Throughout the book, Shelagh Armstrong’s cheerful illustrations with their bold, vibrant colors and strong lines help to offset the serious tone and topics by providing visuals of the simple beauties to behold in the world.

The book concludes with a two-page guide to parents and educators on activities for teaching children “world-mindedness,” which the author describes as “the sense that our planet is actually a village, and we share this small, precious village with our neighbors.” This book, and hopefully its young readers, truly embraces the “global village” concept. 

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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