Worlds of Words, University of Arizona, USA – the largest collection of global children’s books in the United States!

Post written by: Judi Moreillon, Lacey Nehls, and Breanna Tsingine

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Credit: Line and Space, LLC

Ron Marx and grandson snuggle up on one of the deep window seats, exploring books from the collection. The backdrop features the illustrations of David Christiana, which are present throughout the collection.

Nestled on the campus of the University of Arizona (UofA) in the Sonoran Desert, Worlds of Words (WOW) holds the largest collection of global children’s books in the United States. WOW serves the university as well as the greater Tucson community. “Worlds of Words builds bridges across global cultures through children’s and adolescent literature” (wowlit.org).

WOW is not a traditional lending library, but rather a specialized, non-circulating collection of resources that are used by UofA students, Tucson-area educators, scholars, and community members. Organized by regions of the world, WOW houses over 40,000 books and original works of art from published picturebooks.

Credit: Rebecca Ballenger

Parrish Ballenger analyzes the cultural differences by contrasting versions of The Odyssey.

The print resources in the WOW collection encourage students, educators, and community members to engage with global literature and perspectives on the lives of children, families, and communities from around the world. The resources support stronger global understandings by giving readers the opportunity to explore the diversity of cultural experiences. These resources also promote the exploration of personal identity and universal themes; everyone can find themselves and their culture in this collection!

The collection space features comfortable couches and deep window seats, complete with matching pillows—the perfect place for patrons to chill out and get their read on! In addition, study tables and chairs on wheels provide space for students or study groups to research or just hang out and share lunch. The wheels on the tables and chairs also help make space flexible for event set-ups.

Credit: Rebecca Ballenger

WOW is used by multiple organizations on campus. Here, students from Tohono O’odam High School in the Wildcat Writer’s program engage in a lively discussion.

Visitors can visit the studio intended for an Artist in Residence, which doubles as exhibit space that encourages patrons to engage more deeply with the collection’s artwork.The view from the wall of north-facing windows is amazing. The windows not only allow natural lighting for readers, but also provide a breath-taking view. The Catalina Mountains take on a purple and pink hue at sunset and in winter, can provide a contrast to the cactus-studded desert when snow collects on the mountain peaks.

Credit: Lacey Nehls

Breanna Tsingine examines original artwork from Ronald Himler, whose illustrations were featured in the studio art exhibit in the collection.

Undergraduate and graduate UofA students from the English Department interact with WOW resources as a central aspect of their coursework. Students meet in a classroom, which is adjacent to the collection, for easy access to the WOW books and artwork. Instructors use the collection extensively to bring a global view into the university classroom. These experiences help prepare future and practicing classroom teachers and others to connect the K-12 curriculum with global literature and to serve the literacy learning needs of a diverse population of K-12 students and their families.

Tucson-area young adults also benefit from their interaction with WOW resources and staff. The Teen Ambassadors program involves high school students in reading, discussing critical issues, interacting with young adult literature authors, and engaging in community service. Teen Ambassadors meetings occur every other month throughout the academic year and are open to the public. Free programs for Tucson-area high school students encourage teens to promote reading in their own contexts.

Authors, illustrators, and scholars who research and study issues related to children’s and young adult literature regularly speak or provide workshops for both the university of the greater Tucson community. WOW also offers hands-on experiences related to writing and illustrating books, such as storytelling, drawing, and painting. Youth, families, students, and educators benefit from the offerings and events which are posted on the WOW website (https://wowlit.org/events/happening-in-wow/) and promoted through social media.

Credit: Line and Space, LLC

Readers of all ages take advantage of the abundance of books within the collection.

One recent patron wrote this about the physical space of WOW and the impact on the collection on her sense of self.  “My friend brought me to WOW to study. When I arrived, my breath was taken away by the place and seeped into the pages of the books. I did not expect the art that is incorporated into the architecture as well as the art hung traditionally on the walls,” says Breanna Tsingine, referring to the art by illustrator David Christiana.

“One of the main reasons I love WOW is the extensive collection of Native American literature. Since I am Navajo, it is important to me that there are books somewhere to increase cultural knowledge on sovereign nations both in the United States and around the world. I have not seen another library that has as many books for young people about indigenous nations as WOW does,” Breanna says.

In addition to resources in the physical space of the library, WOW has an extensive online presence, which includes WOW Currents blog, My Take/Your Take conversations about books, WOW Stories: Collections from the Classroom, a peer-reviewed journal that features classroom vignettes, WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures, which offers critical book reviews in four issues each year, and WOW Libros: Leyendo entre palabras, a recently launched online publication of Spanish-language book reviews.

WOW offers a unique environment in which to browse, read, and reflect. The setting as a whole—the books, the art, the lighting, and the view—both quiets and excites. Visitors to the Worlds of Words will experience the power of opening their minds and hearts to a global view of literature and the human experience; they will long remember their visit.

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