Research Library Brings a World of Knowledge to the Children of Tucson | Wrote

Bill Finley exclusive to the Arizona Daily Star

There are good reasons why the University of Arizona’s Word Worlds Center is popularly known as “Wow,” and the acronym is just one of them.

Last week, students from the Paolo Freire School of Freedom visited the center as part of an eighth grade field trip. While there, they explored an exhibit featuring “Sons of Paper” – a generation of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States with false identities.

Many of these young men were of middle school age, and when they heard of their horrific experience, one young man from Toussaint could only think of one thing to say: “Wow!”

Opened in 2007, the Worlds of Words Center for Literacy and World Literature is a research library and resource center in the UA College of Education.

Most obviously, it is a collection of 40,000 books. Look closely, and you’ll find that they are all written for children and young adults… and they introduce children from all over the world.

People also read…

But the Center of Worlds of Words is more than a treasure trove of children’s books. The center offers a variety of programs and curricula to help students learn about cultures other than our own.

Credit UA Professor Kathy Short, who first introduced her concept to Dean Ron Marks in 2005.

“As a professor here, I was in the Language, Reading, and Culture department,” said Short, who remains the program director today. “My focus as an educator has been on inquiry and curriculum, not just here in the US but all over the world. When I traveled, I saw that children elsewhere had knowledge of the cultures around them that I didn’t see here in the US and I wanted to start changing that.”

Primary audience: school teachers. Their tools: books.

“We wanted to provide programs that would help teachers teach children about other countries and other cultures,” Short said. “All children everywhere love books. There was plenty to choose from.”

WOW is not a library – books are not available for check-out – but the center is open to the public six days a week at 1430 AH. Students, teachers, parents and children are welcome to enjoy the collection in person.

The Worlds of Words website ( is a real treasure, especially for college students and teachers. Curriculum templates, lesson plans, book recommendations and other educational materials attract thousands of visitors each month from all over the world.

Near the house, the center loans state-specific teaching groups to Tucson area schools.

“We have universal story boxes that teachers can use in their classrooms,” Short explained. “For example, if you are teaching children about Russia, you can pick up a box with 20-25 picture books about different aspects of Russian culture. There may be some books written in Russian so that the children can see what the words in Russian look like. The box may also contain on flash cards, pictures or a CD so the kids can hear what the story looks like there. Some of them have games that a Russian child might play at school.”

Kits are available from Mexico, Peru, Chile, Korea, China, Somalia, Kenya, Nepal and the Middle East. These boxes are for grades two through eight, but WOW also has picture book boxes for ages 4-5.

“There is also a fund to help the teacher talk about sign language for the deaf,” Short said.

One of WOW’s newer shows is called “Imagination Friday,” and it’s a series co-sponsored by the Tucson Book Festival. Authors and illustrators are featured in online presentations that are freely available on the Center’s website.

For those visiting the collection at the College of Education, new exhibits are presented each semester. This fall, one of them is showing children’s books from Ukraine.

Another highlighted the picture book “Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America,” by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shen Mui Luo. It was drawn by Wilson Ong, who will be at Worlds of Words at a reception on October 27.

Ong’s father was a “son of paper” who came to the US with forged papers at a time when the US government was essentially blocking Chinese immigration. The father came to America on a ship called Woodrow Wilson, which explains the artist’s first name.

“It’s a great story,” Short said. “During the Chinese Exclusion Act and for a period thereafter, the Chinese could only come to this country if one of their parents actually lived here. So for the appropriate fee, someone would certify that the Chinese child was their child…whether or not it is true.. It gives the government specific information about their past. Children will be tested at these points, and if they fail the test, they will be sent home.”

Thousands of Chinese children came to the United States this way, most via Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. Angel Island was the western equivalent of Ellis Island, and there is a small museum honoring these immigrants even today.

Stories like this one prove that children aren’t the only ones whose eyes can be opened by visiting Worlds of Words.

“I don’t think society really knows how much we do or how much we want to do,” Short said, but rest assured. A real “wow” factor there.


Do you have books? A community book campaign for Salpoint Catholic High School is ending in the next few days. The library of the English Department at Salpoint was lost during a campus fire there this summer. Local actors called on Tucson to help Salpointe restock her shelves. For more information, visit

Worlds of Words moved from the basement of the College of Education to the fourth floor in 2014, thanks to a $1.2 million renovation of an underutilized university computer lab.

The UA Poetry Center will present poet Lorna Dee Cervantes in a free, open-to-the-public reading Thursday at 7 p.m. Info:

Browse past bookmark columns and keep up with news from the Tucson writers community by following BookArizona on Twitter.


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