End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
[Rebecca Battistoni, Nansha College Preparatory Academy, Guangzhou, China]
Current estimates are that nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 percent of the world population. The majority of the world’s undernourished – 381 million – are still found in Asia. More than 250 million live in Africa, where the number of undernourished is growing faster than anywhere in the world. In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity. An estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.
This UN resource portal – Building the #ZeroHunger Generation – is available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic — and includes activities and stories to help educate readers.
It will take the courage to speak out, the courage to confront social issues, and the courage to tackle problems head on to solve the complex range of issues related to hunger. These titles offer hope, inspiration, and a jumping off point for readers interested in learning more.
This picture book illustrates the desperate situation of a brother and sister living in poverty and forced to rummage through the dump – “Treasure Mountain” – in the hopes of finding still-edible food or something their mother can sell in order to buy food.
See this teaching guide for the book on the Canadian website, Wordfest.
The Ugly Vegetables was Grace Lin’s first published picture book. It is a story of a little girl [Grace] and her mother planting a garden. All the neighbors are planting gardens, too, but their gardens have beautiful flowers, not the “wrinkled leaves or prickly stems” of the Chinese vegetables her family is growing. The little girl changes her mind, though, when the entire neighborhood comes over for her mother’s vegetable soup. The illustrations help convey the light-hearted feeling of being proud of, and accepting, one’s cultural identity, of which food is a big part.
This bilingual book features ABC words in the Spanish alphabet from A (Arboles) to Z (Zanahoria). The Spanish words are followed by their English translations and short poems, side by side, in Spanish and English. Flor celebrates the life of the people who work the land, showcasing the Hispanic culture through images of family, hard work, and the simplicity of everyday fruits, vegetables, and farm life. Illustrator Simon Silva, who worked in the fields as a young boy, shows a deep connection to his Mexican childhood through his vibrant, colorful illustrations.
Published by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and available as a free PDF download, Kunthea and the Happy Cow is at its core a story about activism. Kunthea returns to her farming village in Cambodia after a year away studying in Indonesia. She immediately sees the changes in the area from deforestation, brought on when the farmers unwisely cut the trees to try and grow “corn as yellow as gold” on the hillsides. With the help of her best friend and the village tree teacher, Kunthea shares lessons about how to protect the soil so the community can again grow crops. The families eventually begin to restore the productivity of their land. This short bilingual story, in Cambodian and English, shows the interconnectedness of the soil to the entire agricultural industry.
Tantoh Nforba is a modern-day leader and central character of I am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptise and Miranda Paul. Combining Farmer’s story with collage illustrations and photography by Elizabeth Zunon, readers learn how one young boy grew up to become a respected community activist. As a child, Tantoh was teased by his classmates for always digging in the soil. His brother wanted Tantoh to get an office job, but through perseverance, including a years long typhoid illness from dirty drinking water, Tantoh lived up to his childhood nickname “Farmer”. His organization, SYFA, founded in 2005, focuses on small scale community action that is making a big difference.
Two picture books, set in Bali, highlight the sustainable agricultural methods of growing rice.
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: a story of sustainable farming (2009) by Jan Reynolds is a nonfiction picture book, most suitable for older elementary students. With plenty of text, the story digs deep into the traditional way of life of Balinese rice farmers who have relied on water sharing, crop rotation, and ducks to produce their staple crop since the 9th century. When the government enacted agricultural reforms in the 1960’s, this traditional way of life was disrupted, and the story details what has been done to bring the more traditional, sustainable farming methods back in an effort to restore the balance of nature.
Rice is Life (2000) by Rita Golden Gelma is a story told in both poetry and prose, and is best suited for lower elementary students. The rice fields are described in verse, showcasing the magical aspects of life in the sawahs (rice fields), while the prose details the more technical aspects of rice farming. The richly colorful illustrations by Yansook Choi are a perfect backdrop for this unique picture book.
The Little Rat and the Golden Seed: A story told in English and Chinese (Stories of the Chinese Zodiac) by Li Jian, translated by Yijin Wert (2019) / CHINA
In this bilingual picture book, Little Rat and Grandpa go on a journey to bring home a golden rice seed to save the village from going hungry.
Several Nonfiction Young Adult titles help readers learn about the importance of seeds, food and farming.
Nancy Castaldo’s The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less to Eat Around the World (2016) is a mix of history and science, highlighting the modern seed crisis and those seed activists who are trying to protect seed biodiversity around the world. Castaldo describes seed vaults, GMOs and global farming practices in this informative, compelling read.
Mihaly and Heavenrich’s Diet for a Changing Climate: food for thought (2018), suitable for middle schoolers, focuses on eating unexpected food (such as bugs, invasive plants, and even feral species!) in an effort to help solve the global hunger crisis. Changing our diets can make a major impact on the sustainable food industry, as shown by the numerous photos, diagrams, sidebars and data. Highlighting three diverse aspects of the complex hunger issue through nonfiction helps readers navigate the overwhelming amount of information surrounding this goal.
Growing up in an American farming community, I witnessed first hand just how difficult farming is, especially for small farms. These thirty-eight essays make up Letters to a Young Farmer (2017), edited by Martha Hodgkins for the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in the USA. In these “love letters” covering multiple aspects of farming life, writers, farmers, chefs, activists and visionaries offer hope and advice to the next generation of farmers. Especially insightful are essays by authors Barbara Kingsolver, Temple Grandin, Michael Pollan and Chef Rick Bayless.
Future Girl, a unique visual diary/mixed-media/art journal young adult novel is an #ownvoices story set in the near-future city of Melbourne, Australia. Petrol prices are rising and the country is facing economic and environmental collapse, especially after outsourcing the food supply to a corporation called Organicore, which sells and delivers BioSpore meals, a “perfect” food, to everyone. The government claims “wild food” (i.e., unprocessed food) is poisonous, but others claim BioSpore is causing health problems. The 16-year-old narrator, Piper McBride, doesn’t know which side to believe. When her mother loses her job at Organicore and they, like so many others, can’t afford BioSpore anymore, Piper learns to garden as a means of survival. This dystopian coming-of-age novel explores both food and identity politics as Piper becomes a food activist/artist and embraces her Deafness and the Deaf community.
There are Teacher Notes as well as a PDF of the first 30 pages of this highly recommended novel here on the website of the author, Asphyxia. Go have a read.
(Interestingly, as this book was just published in September 2020, coronavirus gets a mention — “When Grandpa died of coronavirus and we barely had time to blink before Grandma succumbed too, Mum said at least they were together.”)
- Ada, Alma Flor, author; Silva, Simon, illustrator; Zubizarreta; Rosa, translator (2001) Gathering the sun: an alphabet in Spanish and English / CUBA/USA/MEXICO / Bilingual Poetry; set in Mexico
- Asphyxia (2020) Future Girl / AUSTRALIA / Young Adult Fiction
- Bognar, Stephan (2017) Kunthea and the happy cow / AUSTRALIA / Bilingual Picture Book; set in Cambodia
- Castaldo, Nancy (2016 ) The Story of Seeds / USA / Young Adult Nonfiction
- Gelman, Rita Golden, author; Choi, Yangsook, illustrator (2000) Rice is Life / USA/KOREA / Picture Book; set in Bali
- Hodgkins, Martha, editor (2017) Letters to a young farmer / USA / Young Adult Nonfiction
- Li Jian, author & illustrator; Yijin Wert, translator (2019) The Little Rat and the Golden Seed: A story told in English and Chinese (Stories of the Chinese Zodiac) / CHINA / Picture book
- Lin, Grace (1999) The Ugly Vegetables / TAIWAN/USA / Picture Book
- Paul, Baptise and Miranda Paul, authors; Zunon, Elizabeth, illustrator (2019) I am Farmer / SAINT LUCIA/USA/COTE D’IVOIRE / Picture Book; set in Cameroon
- Poulin, Andree, author; Malenfant, Isabelle, illustrator (2014) Pablo Finds a Treasure / CANADA / Set in Mexico (?)
- Mihaly, Christy and Sue Heavenrich (2018) Diet for a Changing Climate / USA / Junior Nonfiction
- Reynolds, Jan (2009) Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life / USA / Picture Book Non-Fiction; set in Bali
Rebecca Battistoni is currently the Head Librarian at Nansha College Preparatory Academy in Guangzhou, China. Before that she worked as a PreK-12 Librarian at The Anglo-American School in Sofia, Bulgaria and Santa Cruz Cooperative School in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Her 24 years in education spans 11 years as a librarian and 13 years as a Middle School teacher. Growing up on a farm in the USA as a child, and as an adult spending a sabbatical year as an Elementary School garden educator, has shaped Rebecca’s interest in issues related to sustainable farming, community gardening and ending world hunger through education. (Twitter handle: @rbattistoni72)
Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.
We welcome further book recommendations in the Comments below.