UN SDGS: A Diverse View from Latin America

[Sara Ulloa, San Silvestre School, Lima, Perú]

Latin America is a very diverse continent due to its ancient culture. The historian, Diana Uribe, quotes Alexander Von Humboldt who in 1805 said that these lands “produce by themselves everything that the world needs” and she continues by saying that: “everything that the world needs is in Latin America.  Everything the world imagines is in Latin America. That is our wealth and it is our curse. It is because of our wealth that we are so diverse and so wonderful … everything is so dual and multiple in realities that are incredibly complex, wonderful, diverse, musical, gastronomic, artistic, pictorial, visual.”

In this small selection of titles I try to reflect a bit of that diversity, while also relating them to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. They cover topics such as migration, education, food, marine beings, traditional art, history and oral tradition.

The Spanish language is one of the official languages ​​of the United Nations, so I decided to select books in this language. These titles can serve librarians searching to diversify their collection and for students taking Spanish as a Foreign Language course.


Migrantes by Issa Watanabe (2019) / Peru / Editorial: Libros del zorro rojo / All ages
Migrants by Issa Watanabe (2020) / English edition
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

In this award-winning wordless picture book, the illustrations speak for themselves about the migration story of some animals, who leave a forest devoid of leaves.

It is a real story, raw, sad, and difficult. Latin Americans, despite having everything, migrate a lot both internally and outside of our countries. The problem arises when this migration is a risk to our lives and it is there that Goal 10 seeks to facilitate migration and mobility of people in an orderly, safe and responsible manner, as well as through a well-managed migration policy, and not in the way the author portrays in this book.

Issa Watanabe herself has an interesting migration backstory, as she explains in this Question & Answer interview on the Gecko Press website.

My paternal grandfather immigrated by boat to the north of Peru from Japan. My maternal grandfather came from Switzerland and met my grandmother. She was the daughter of a Spanish immigrant who’d settled in the north of Peru. I was born in Peru, and when I was 20, I went to live in Mallorca where my daughter was born. After 15 years there, I moved back to Peru.

See a preview video of the book here.

See Classroom Ideas here from Walker Books.

Rosalía cuenta… by Guiomar Du Bois, illustrated by Susana Venegas (2020) / Perú / Editorial: A la luna / Ages: 2 to 5 years
SDG 4: Quality Education
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

In Peru we have 47 native languages ​​that are spoken by 4 million people. Access to books in those languages ​​is scarce and when we do not have books in our mother tongue in all levels of school, the quality of our education is reduced and it becomes non-inclusive.

Rosalía Cuenta is a bilingual book, in Spanish and Quechua, where a boy tells us that his grandmother Rosalía has taught him to count from one to nine in Quechua.

According to UNESCO, the next decade will be dedicated to indigenous languages ​​(2022-2032) and will focus on the human rights of their speakers. Editorial A la luna is publishing books in both languages ​​and its work is exactly filling this gap.

See a video reading of the book in Quechua here.

Julio Gálvez y la piedra de Huamanga by Guiomar Du Bois, illustrated by Susana Venegas (2018) / Perú / Editorial: A la luna / Ages: 2 to 5 years
SDG 1: No Poverty
SDG 4: Quality Education
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

This is another book by A la luna editorial written in Spanish and Quechua and tells the story of Julio Gálvez, a master craftsman from the highlands of Peru.

Julio, when he was orphaned by a father, at a very young age, his mother motivates him to learn the art of sculpting the Huamanga stone, in order to generate income for his family. Art that over time gave him the prestige of being one of the most important artisans in Peru until the last day of his life.

See this video of the book read in Quechua.

Luz propia: un libro sobre seres que brillan by Maria Emilia Beyer and Franz Anthony (2019) / Mexico / Editorial: Océano travesía / Ages: 2 to 6 years
SDG 14: Life below water

The oceans cover three-quarters of the earth and contain a large number of identified species. Knowing the beings that inhabit the oceans, leads us to appreciate and take care of our marine ecosystems.

This book presents only some of these marine beings, but the interesting thing is that they are bioluminescent beings, that is, they illuminate themselves. The interesting and ludic thing about the book is the illustrations light up in the dark!

See a preview sample of the book here.

Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello / Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Mónica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, 2020 (USA / Peru) / Editorial: Children´s Book Press / Ages 8-12 years
SDG 4: Quality Education

This bilingual book tells the story of one of the most important archaeologists in Peru: Julio C. Tello, who had a deep knowledge of the ancient cultures of Peru, the same ones that he related from an indigenous point of view.

Tello is well known for having discovered the Chavín de Huántar archaeological zone, considered a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. He also discovered the beautiful fabrics of the Paracas culture and their funerary bundles.

Watch this video of Sharuko being read in Spanish.

Achiqué by Rosana Reátegui, illustrated in embroidery by Maruja Santana and María Gutiérrez (2019) / Peru / Editorial: Manos que cuentan / Ages: 8+
SDG 4: Quality Education

This is a fabric book from the “Manos que cuentan [Hands that count]” project by the Peruvian artist, based in Brazil, Rosana Reátegui, who has created a collection of 7 fabric books, which rescue stories from the Peruvian oral tradition.

Achiqué tells the story of two innocent hungry children who arrive at the house of a witch who tries to eat them. However, they manage to escape with the help of some animals such as the condor, the fox, the skunk, the sheep and a cunning pericote. This is an oral tradition story from Ancash, Peru.

Watch this video of Rosana Reátegui telling the story of the book in Spanish.

Sumaq Asiri: la niña de la sonrisa hermosa by Carmen Pachas, illustrated by Andrea Lértora (2020) / Peru / Editorial: YachayPucllayPacha / Age: 8-12 
SDG 2: Zero Hunger

This book tells the story of the girl Sumaq Asiri, which means “Beautiful Smile” in the Quechua language, because she had shiny teeth. But she did not always have them that way, before they were opaque. The reason why they became strong is because she began to feed on an Andean grain typical of Peru called Kiwicha, whose flower has beautiful colors that we can see in the Sacred Valley in Cusco.

Although kiwicha is an ancient food of great nutritional value, as it contains many amino acids, iron and calcium, it is not consumed much on the coast of Peru, where Sumaq Asiri is from. Many girls and boys of school age need to eat well to attend classes, knowing about what foods nourish them contributes to a healthy life.

Interview with the author in Spanish.

(Do you want to know more about kiwicha (also known as mini-quinoa or amaranth)? Click here for a scientific article from The Journal for Functional Foods (Feb. 2020) or here for a more general article from Blog Peru.)

El cielo de Afganistán by Ana A. de Eulate, illustrated by Somja Wimmer (2012) / Spain / Editorial: Cuento de Luz / Ages: 5+
The Sky of Afghanistan by Ana A. de Eulate, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (2012) / Translated by Jon Brokenbrow / English edition
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Approximately 28.5 million children of primary school age, who do not attend school, live in conflict-affected areas.

In this story, the author introduces us to the gaze of a girl who dreams in a country that has been marked by war and internal conflicts. Despite this, the girl rescues the beauty of her environment and country with joy.

See a preview sample of the book here.

El infinito en un junco: la invención de los libros en el mundo antiguo by Irene Vallejo (2019) / Spain / Editorial: Siruela / Ages: 15 +
Infinity in a Reed: The invention of books in the ancient world by Irene Vallejo (2021) / English edition due out later this year
SDG 4: Quality Education

One of the greatest inventions of humanity has been the book, the written word, which we continue to use as an essential tool for our studies. In fact, books have been our companions during this pandemic and the need for more books and libraries was even felt, which is why some schools, like mine, offer book delivery services.

Unlike other books that tell about the history of the book, the author’s contribution consists in telling the same thing but as a novel and an essay at the same time. The rise of this book in Spain has been so great that they are already in the 26th edition. I include this book because many schools still do not have much access to books or libraries, which is important to have a quality education, since they contribute to people’s literacy.

Note: the Spanish ebook and audiobook are available in Overdrive.

Read an interview (in English) with the author here, where she explains how she came to be interested in ancient culture.

In April 2020 the Bookseller reported that there had been a bidding frenzy for translation rights to this best-selling and award-winning book — read here.

Infinity in a Reed is “a history of knowledge and scholarship that is steeped in adventure, drama and bloodshed” and Hodder promised the book “brings to life the cast of amazing characters who have championed, protected and fought for the book over the centuries, and follows the adventures of rebels, spies, soldiers, slaves, nuns, teachers, translators and more”.

Vallejo is a classicist, novelist and journalist. She has a PhD in classical philosophy from the universities of Zaragoza and Florence and has a weekly column for El País and Heraldo de Aragón.

Por mí, por ti, por todos: información vital para la salud sexual by Secretaría de Salud del Distrito Federal de la Ciudad de México, 2014 [México] / Age: 12 +
SDG 5: Gender equality

Ensuring universal access to sexual health and reproductive rights is also fought by providing information on these issues.

This is a guide prepared by the government of Mexico seven years ago, but it is still current and well-prepared information, especially aimed at adolescents so that they know more about their sexuality in order to enjoy it with greater knowledge about themselves and, as a consequence, learn to choose what is best for them.

Click here for a PDF of the book (about 200 pages).


DianaUribe.fm by Diana Uribe / Colombia / Via Spotify or Website / Ages:  Young Adult
SDG 16: Quality Education

This podcast was one of my favorite discoveries of the year 2020.

I think Diana Uribe is one of the best Latin American female narrators I have ever heard. She is a historian and radio host, now in podcast format, and she tells us stories on various topics, for example, she has just started a series called: the History of Latin America, she has started the journey in Mexico and will continue to the south. Diana has a flourishing vocabulary and fulfills her mission, as she has proposed it, to promote the value our cultural diversity.

Sara Ulloa is an international librarian. Peruvian with a bachelor degree in Library and Information Sciences from San Marcos National University. She is currently the Head Librarian of Secondary at San Silvestre School in Lima, Peru. Twitter @sarisimas

Note: most of the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books that relate to the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goals together.

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