International School Readers, or: Biff and Kipper solve the The Pledge of Allegiance mystery

As a parent volunteer at an international school, I was helping with the reading lesson. It was a South African student’s turn and he read out the following passage:

A child’s voice came over the PA system. “Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance.” … [Marvin] put his hand over his heart and said it along with her.

I asked if any the children knew what the Pledge of Allegiance was, a ridiculous question as I knew that they did not. The boy reading did not know what it was. Neither did the Norwegian child who grew up in Kenya nor the Dutch child who lived for several years in Hong Kong. My own American daughter also did not know.

And so I explained what the Pledge of Allegiance is: When I was young, every day in school we all had to stand up, put our hands over our hearts like this, look at the American flag and say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.” 

They thought that sounded pretty weird.

The book we were reading, Marvin Redpost: Class President by Louis Sachar, was published by the big American educational publishing company, Scholastic. Scholastic publishes a wide assortment of reading books and they are often American-centric.

British publishers, also vie for domination of the international school book market and have a similarly myopic perspective. The popular Biff, Chip and Kipper reading series (by Oxford University Press) includes story lines about school fetes, terrace houses, red pillar boxes and English weather.

As far and I know, there is no major publishing house that creates learn to read type books specifically for the international school market.

Perhaps I will start my own international school publishing house. My learn to read series will feature the recurring characters Vinesh, Isabel, Pablo and Meǐhuì (美惠). Popular titles will include: 

Pablo makes friends with body language and a smile

Didn’t we meet in the Singapore airport last year?

A farewell party to remember

Isabel’s food odyssey 

A dog’s life in quarantine

Vinesh has never lived in India so please stop asking him about it

Your colour is my color

Wen is actually my last name, call me Meǐ

It’s time to pack again! and the companion book The hunt for the screws we need to reassemble my bed

A sample cover:

International school reading books _ expatlingo.com

What titles would you add to the series?

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36 responses to “International School Readers, or: Biff and Kipper solve the The Pledge of Allegiance mystery

  1. Great post Jen! I suggest the following titles:
    Where is your swimming pool?
    Why is grandma never on my birthday party? – with the sequel – Why is Uncle Harvey staying so long?

  2. The longer I live outside the US, the more bizarre I find our pledge of allegiance. Must be particularly creepy if you come from cultures where they have had to pledge allegiance to a government or die. Not to mention you are pledging to a piece of cloth hanging on the wall.

  3. I guess maybe publishers think they’re educating kids on a cultural aspect as well as a language one? Or maybe they just put no thought into it 😉 Really funny titles!

    • I think they develop the books for the American or British markets initially and then sell them abroad without giving the content a second thought. This gives me an idea for another book title: “Yes, Virginia, there is life outside of America.”

  4. Excellent idea! If you kick it off, I want to be on the project committee. I actually used to proofread for Oxford University Press, LOL.

    You might like to add this one to the series:
    “They’ve never even heard of General Tso’s Chicken in China!”

    • Oh, you’ll be the first I’ll rope into the project then! I will also add your new title to the series along with “Chin up! They have cake everywhere.”

    • For you, and the dwellers in the tropics, we could add the title: “Is it really true that some children have to wear winter coats and boots?”

      • Haha, I love it! Maybe you could use some of the questions I get asked about living in Thailand, “do they have diapers there?” Or “how will you find clothes for your child there?”.

    • My children fully support a book (and an entire line of t-shirts, hats, etc) with the title “Stope Touching My Hair!” and the companion title, “I like cold drinks and that’s ok.”

  5. Love this! When I was young and lived in manila we didn’t have a British flag in the classroom so I had to pledge allegiance to the union jack in the corner of the Australian flag. I asked the American international school where our daughters will be going in Pretoria whether they still did the pledge of allegiance but got a blank look so am hoping not. Your idea of an international book series is great, can’t be worse than biff and chip. …

  6. I like the “Don’t touch my hair”. In Peru there is a flag ceremony every week with the national anthem and the city anthem sung with hand over their hearts. Very funny titles.

  7. Hey! Starting an International Publishing House sounds like a great idea. I didn’t realize how few books there are out there to prepare kids for a life of expat living. Expat adults, probably more so. Are there any “handbooks” for expat kids?

    • There are “handbooks” for expat kids that talk about moving, culture shock, etc. What we lack are school books that reflect their everyday reality.

      Can you draw Susan? Do you have connections to a cheap book printing factory in southern China? If so, I’ll like to invite you to join the Expat Lingo International Educational Publishing Group.

  8. Yes, Our Noses Are Quite Different (Asian Special Edition)

    I learnt to read with Biff, Chip and Kipper. You have no idea how much I loved those books. A little boy I taught in Japan had them and reading them as an adult, they’re pretty trippy in places.

    I think we should all pledge allegiance to tea.

  9. Pingback: Foreign food is un-American and weird, said a myopic children’s book author | Expat Lingo·

  10. Pingback: Friday Links GOOD FRIDAY! + GIVEAWAY - Charlotte Steggz·

  11. Sorry I’m late to the party, how about
    “Everybody Loves Elsa” – exploring international friendships through obsessing about the song ‘Let It Go’

    Seriously though – I love everything about the potential book “I’ll try That!” it’s such a good idea for kids.

    • “Everybody Loves Elsa” is a perfect idea! The companion book might be “Everybody knows that horsey dance” since every child I’ve encountered on three continents is familiar with Gangnam Style.

  12. PYP Readers (International baccalaureate) are more global but yes, most of what you see in international schools is imported. Thanks to me and others like me! #fail

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