UN SDGS: An International Wrap-Up

[Katie Day, Tanglin Trust School, Singapore]

It’s been a long month, but such a resource-rich one — with posts by teacher-librarians from around the world every day but Wednesdays (yay for #worldkidlit Wednesdays). The goal was to highlight books that support the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, from picture books to YA level, focusing on non-dominant publishing spheres, i.e., trying to avoid obvious US & UK titles – with books in translation as the ideal “global” text.

The full list of blog post links is below.

I want to thank every single person who agreed to do this. I so appreciate the time and thought they put into their contributions. I know I discovered many new books because of their curation work.

See the accompanying 330+ titles Goodreads shelf, which contains all (or as many as possible) of the books recommended.



As Nadine Bailey, in her post, commented:

It’s the librarian equivalent of trying to find rare cult and indie movies, and then promote the heck out of them to your geekie like-minded library friends – something like what we’ve been doing in the past month through these blog posts.

Yes, that’s us and that’s what these posts have been doing. And there are so many others out there in our international school librarian network that I didn’t happen to ask this time, but who will be welcomed as guest writers next time.

Remember, if you are an international school librarian and want to join us – a starting point is the (private) Facebook Group “Int’l School Library Connection” and the newer inTLlead.org moodle as well as following the hashtags #intlchat and #inTLlead on Twitter.

One thing I want to do is share some final personal favourites — perhaps less well known, i.e., “rare” ones — that relate to the SDGs – ones that my friends didn’t happen to include.


Abina and the Important Men: A graphic history by Trevor R. Getz, illustrated by Liz Clarke (2011, 1st edition; 2015, 2nd edition) / Nonfiction graphic history for secondary school students

Abina was a young woman in Ghana in 1876 who dared to object that she was being illegally treated as a slave, e.g., by being forced to marry against her will, when slavery was against the British law of the time, and went up against “important men” — like her former master — in court to argue her case. The book is divided into three parts — a graphic novel history of her experience, the actual court-room testimony, and finally some contextual historical information.

Read this article by professor Trevor Getz – “Comics offer radical opportunity to blend scholarship and art” – explaining how he came to write this award-winning book. The book has its own website here.

Note: This book was made into a documentary, which is available on Kanopy.


Following on from yesterday’s post by Sara Ulloa from Peru, note that the Witness to the Age of Revolution: The Odyssey of Juan Bautista Tupac Amaru is about a Quecha man (1747-1827) and revolutionary hero who spent 40 years as a Spanish political prisoner. Read an article about the historical graphic novel here.


Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine edited by by Sami Adwan, Dan Bar-On, Eyal Naveh, and the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (2012) / 400 pages / History for secondary school students

A groundbreaking “dual narrative” history of Israel and Palestine which offers a new paradigm for the teaching of history in conflict and post-conflict situations.

[Book blurb]

On one side of the page is an Israeli historian’s take on an event, on the other is a Palestinian historian’s view. The initiative itself is worth applauding — and think of the eye-opening benefit to students.


Diamonds by Armin Greder (2020) / Swiss/Australian

Armin Greder is known for his picture books like The Island and The Mediterranean which offer damning political commentary on the plight of refugees and migrants. Note: He also illustrated Nadia Wheatley’s Flight (2015) — another simple yet powerful migration allegory.

He released a new book in October 2020 — about blood diamonds. See Allen & Unwin teacher notes for students ages 11-18 here.

Mama, if I was to dig a hole in our garden, would I find a diamond? 

No, darling, there are no diamonds here. 

Where are diamonds, then? 

Oh, in other countries. In Africa for example . . .

A powerful parable that explores how the desire for endless riches perpetuates chains of inequality and corruption.

[Book blurb]

The Mediterranean by Armin Greder (2018) / Swiss/Australian

The Island by Armin Greder (2002) / Swiss/Australian

The Island has been around long enough for it to be well known — and well used in classrooms.

The Victoria State government in Australia has a Literacy Teaching Toolkit teaching and learning cycle lesson based on The Island for Levels 5 & 6. The publisher, Allen & Unwin, also has these free teaching ideas (PDF).

If you aren’t familiar with the book, this 2012 extended review by Myra Garces-Bacsal is worth reading.


Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal’s work with Social-Emotional Learning and Social Justice picture books fits well with the UN SDGs. So if you haven’t heard her speak at conferences (e.g., see her biographical blurb from the recent 21CLHK online one), then at least follow her blog, Gathering Books; you can read more about her global team here.

Myra was here in Singapore at the National Institute for Education for years, but now works at the United Arab Emirates University. And the beauty of her work is the identification of picture books that address so many subcategories (read: tags and subject headings) — which all librarians need to consider as access points for resources.


Two other initiatives that extend the UN SDGs into areas of teaching and learning are the Good Life Goals and the Compassionate Systems Framework out of MIT.


GoodLife Goals – the UN SDGs in child-friend language and actions – watch video here

The Good Life Goals have been shaped through a multi-stakeholder collaboration between Futerra, the 10 YFP Sustainable Lifestyles and Education program, co-led by the governments of Sweden and Japan represented by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), as well as UN Environment, UNESCO and WBCSD (the World Business Council for Sustainable Development).

See this website for a Manual, Flash Cards, Animated Emojis, Media Library, Media Toolkit, and the Good Life Goals Business Guide.


The Compassionate Systems Framework is a combination of complexity/systems thinking and social-emotional learning (SEL) — and one focus of their work is connecting students with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is based out of MIT and the Center for Systems Awareness. Note: Peter Senge, eminent advocate of systems thinking and author of The Fifth Discipline, is one of the leaders of this initiative.

We draw from established SEL models, together with developments in the emerging field of complexity science and the study of systems, to establish a framework—what we call a “compassionate systems” framework—for building a cognitive and affective foundation for global citizenship. This framework conceptualizes compassion as an essentially systemic property of mind: to cultivate compassion is to be able to appreciate the systemic forces that influence people’s feelings, thoughts and actions.

Introduction to the Compassionate Systems Framework in Schools (March 2019)

Poem: “The Black Kite” – by Behrouz Boochani / Iranian/Kurd / Translation by Ali Parsaei and Janet Galbraith

Last but not least, the SDG-related story I’m waiting to be covered by a picture book or young reader’s edition is Behrouz Boochani’s adult memoir No Friends But the Mountains: Writings from Manus Prison (translated by Omid Tofighian) so students will know the name of Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, human rights defender, writer and film producer, who was held in an Australian refugee detention camp for seven years.

Read this Guardian article on Boochani — or this New York Times profile of him from August 2020 — or read the (long) book yourself or listen to Maxine Beneba Clarke read his “Letter from Manus Island” manifesto. Remember: the book was composed and transmitted via a mobile phone over five years. P.S. He is now safely living and working in New Zealand.


And a huge thanks to Karen Van Drie who edits this Global Literature in Libraries Initiative blog (and its Twitter account) — for the tremendous opportunity to have this global platform for promoting books and international school librarians. I’m very grateful for the invitation to do this.


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).


Note: all 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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