Social Problems in World Cultures

Social issues include such problems as poverty, gender issues, education, race, and crime.  Here are three adult cross-over titles that are appropriate—and interesting—for high school students.

King PeggyKing Peggy : An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels. 9780385534321. 2012. Gr 10-Adult.

Imagine you’re sitting at your desk one day, working as a secretary, never imagining that you are about to get a telephone call that will change your life.  No, you haven’t won the lottery.  You’ve just been declared king!

Peggielene Bartels was born in Ghana, and then came to the United States to study. After becoming a U.S. citizen, she began working as a secretary at the Ghanaian embassy.  After the death of her uncle, a village king, the council of elders decided that she should be his successor.  After much thought, she accepted…and has since travelled back and forth between Washington and Ghana.  This amazing woman has tackled traditions, poverty, illiteracy, and other problems to make many positive changes to her village of 7000 people…and to herself.  An excellent biography about a fascinating woman.

In My Father's CountryIn My Father’s Country : An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab. 9780307884947. 2012. Gr 11-Adult.

Saima Wahab’s autobiography begins auspiciously: “I was welcomed into this world by gunshots.”  In Afghanistan, when a son is born, the father runs outside with a pistol and fires a few shots into the air.  Saima’s father had done so when his first child, a son, was born.  But he also did it after the birth of his daughter.  And he made Saima’s grandfather promise that his daughters would have a life different than the lives of other Afghan girls.  Her grandfather kept that promise.

When Saima was 15, an uncle living in America brought her to America, where she learned to speak English—and learned to stand up for herself.  She began to work as in interpreter for a defense contractor in Afghanistan—one of a few female interpreters that were native speakers of the Pashtun language.  But she was frustrated with how little the American soldiers knew about Afghan culture—especially what was acceptable in regard to the women—and how their ignorance exacerbated their relationships with the Afghan population.  Her goal became to educate the soldiers.  A meaningful look at communication issues between cultures.

Behind the Beautiful ForeversBehind the Beautiful Forevers : Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityMackin Picks by Katherine Boo. 9781400067558. 2012. Gr 10-Adult.

Next to the Mumbai International Airport and near its luxury hotels lies Annawadi, one of the city’s slums, a neighborhood of families whose situation is so dire that I almost had to stop reading about them.  Entire families live in one-room cardboard shacks with tin roofs.  During the rainy season, sewage-filled water runs down the street.  Some survive by sorting through garbage and selling it to recyclers.  Some eat scrub grass, rats, and frogs. Drug abuse, corruption, and disease run rampant throughout the slum.

Author Katherine Boo is not a native of India, but in 2001 she married an Indian citizen.  A journalist, she became interested in how the country’s global development had affected the lives of women.  She started spending time in Annawadi, just listening and taping and writing, and the residents slowly began to accept her presence there.  Katherine’s book is written so much like a story that, halfway through, I actually had to check to make sure that it really was nonfiction.  An excellent choice for students in Honors and AP classes and IB schools, and for those interested in current issues in other countries.

TraceyBlogger : Tracey L.