March 2021: International School Teacher-Librarians and the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

This month the GLLI blog will feature book recommendations and reflections on practice and curriculum connections related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs, as they are commonly referred to), written by various international school librarian friends, whose brains I have picked and arms I have twisted.

The UN 2030 Agenda (17 goals set in 2015, with specific targets and indicators, to be reached by 2030) is one of those positive campaigns that every school needs and wants to promote, whether explicitly included in the official curriculum or not. It’s the concept that we should all be united in working together to make the quality of life around the world better in 17 different ways, moving into the future. (NB: There are lots of great teaching resources out there, including TeachSDGs, The World’s Largest Lesson, SDG Academy, and the Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2020.)

Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda
(IFLA – The International Federation of Library Associations – actively supports the SDGs. See – and particularly their webpage which is collecting stories about the SDGs from around the world –

How familiar are you with the Global Goals? Can you list them off by heart?

There’s a great (free) game available online – – for younger students to test themselves on their knowledge of the goals and the issues.

Stories are an obvious choice for spreading the message to children — and UN SDG comics (free and downloadable) have been created and translated into multiple languages, e.g., French, Spanish, Indonesian, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Swahili, Welsh, Montenegrin, Kreyol, Japanese, Malay, and Hindi, available for educators and librarians to use.

I recommend printing them out and putting them in simple binders.

The United Nations also published a book in 2019 called “Frieda Makes a Difference: The Sustainable Development Goals and How You Too Can Change the World” — which you can buy an official printed copy of — or read free online in English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.

What about other books that connect to the different goals? And book clubs to promote them?

In 2019 the UN, in collaboration with the International Publishers Association (IPA), International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), and Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF), started an online children’s book club.

Every month, lists of a handful of titles — in each of the six official languages of the UN (English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish) — suitable for children ages 6-12 — are announced as part of the official book club, which is up to Goal 12 so far.

Note there is a United Nations group in Africa launching a similar book club on World Book Day this year (April 23) which will feature multilingual (English, French, Arabic, and Kiswahili) African books relating to the SDGs. For more information, click here.

The full list of English-language titles already chosen for the UN official book club can be viewed here.

Unfortunately, the official lists are fairly minimal. That’s where we librarians come in.

School librarians can promote connections between books and readers in a variety of ways, whether via physical displays or digital access points using Lists, Subject Headings, or Libguides. It’s all about making texts (i.e., other people’s thinking) “discoverable.” For example, see the blog post I wrote back in 2019 called “Slipping the SDGs into Everything”.

This month-long project by the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) is an extension of that librarian desire to make connections between readers, writers, and ideas. It’s a chance for us to share our favorite titles we think support the SDGs and deserve wider recognition, beyond picture books — and beyond the dominant, popular titles.

The assignment for each guest blogger was to pick one or more of the 17 Global Goals and to highlight some “global literature” supporting the teaching, learning, and understanding of that issue for a range of student ages.

Every day on the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) blog (except Wednesdays, which are reserved for #WorldKidLit Wednesdays) teacher-librarians will be recommending a variety of books in English — both fiction and non-fiction, both picture books and longer texts — preferably not from the dominant publishing centers of the US and UK (so Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are fair game), with #OwnVoices and books in translation as ideals.

The titles recommended will be linked back to Goodreads (for bibliographic information) and an attempt will be made to convey a CPS or “cultural positioning statement” for each work, indicating its origin and content, though the (global) audiences (and therefore Bishop’s potential “mirrors”) will vary.

As teacher-librarians working in English-language schools with a lot of “third-culture kids,” in countries where we are foreign workers, many of the books that get promoted as part of the current “diversity” wave are often #NotOurDiversity (a phenomenon I referred to on this blog in October 2019 when describing the annual book awards many of our international school library networks run).

How our catalogs define and record cultural and geographical attributes of texts and their production is an ongoing discussion — and I recommend this 2020 academic article on “Metadata for diversity: identification and implications of potential access points for diverse library resources” (though US-centric) if you are interested in the issue.

To start off the month, here are three nonfiction titles that provide a useful background in thinking about the SDGs. While ostensibly written for grown-ups, they are good additions to our secondary school libraries for young adult readers.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund (2018) / Swedish authors

Hans Rosling, the Swedish physician and professor of global health, made famous by his TED talks, is no longer with us, but his Gapminder website, his best-selling book and his enthusiasm for challenging our knowledge and especially our ignorance about the state of the world live on. Have you taken his popular little quiz? The answers reveal hope about the rate of progress in the world.

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21-Century Economist by Kate Raworth (2017) / British economics professor at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Kate Raworth’s “doughnut economics” puts the SDGs into a bigger framework, taking planetary boundaries into consideration. Watch this BBC 6-minute video (December 2020) to hear her explain what the “doughnut” represents in terms of goals for the well-being of humans as well as the planet.

Sapiens: A brief history of humankind (2011) by Yuval Noah Harari / Israeli author / Graphic version published in 2020

Yuval Harari’s best-selling narrative explores the effect of homo sapiens on the planet and argues that what has made humans successful as a species is our ability to create shared fictions (e.g., religions, nations, and money) that enable collaboration and large-scale organization. The United Nations SDG project is an example of a powerful story we need to promote and collectively act upon, and the recently published graphic novel version of the book makes Harari’s historical insights more accessible to a younger audience.

I’m excited for this month of blog posts by my friends and colleagues from around the world — as they share books related to the UN SDGs. Tomorrow Eleanor Surridge, writing from Mongolia, will be focusing on Goal #1: No Poverty.

Katie Day is an international school teacher-librarian. An American with a masters in children’s literature from the UK and a masters in library science from Australia, she has lived in Asia since 1997, including 12 years in Singapore, first at United World College of Southeast Asia and now at Tanglin Trust School.  She has also lived and worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the UK. Online​ ​she​ ​uses​ ​“The​ ​Librarian​ ​Edge”​ ​as​ ​her​ ​blog​ ​and​ ​Twitter​ ​handle (@librarianedge).

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