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Transnational Literacy

From NCTE’s Standing Committee on Global Citizenship

This post was written by NCTE member HeeYoung Kim, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“The awareness of multi-locality stimulates the desire to connect oneself with others. Further, transnational bonds must no longer be cemented by migration or exclusive territorial claims.” (Vertovec 1999)

As committee members, we have pondered how to help students understand diverse cultures, perspectives, and experiences from around the world. We aim to empower students to be active global citizens with a sense of belonging, solidarity, and responsibility. We value critically reading global literature and long for students to develop a capacity to create new possibilities that have yet to exist.

Global children’s literature is a gateway to connecting to diverse cultures and perspectives worldwide. Over the past few decades, global literacy initiatives have been implemented, with global children’s literature playing a primary tool. Expanding multiculturalism in a global context, global children’s literature, written by authors from other countries and about their experience of the immigrant journey, was a rich resource to understand the hardship and culture of marginalized cultural groups in the US.

However, concerns and challenges remain. Without careful consideration, reading global books can be dangerous and perpetuate stereotypes and misunderstandings of other cultural groups different from one’s own experiences (Short 2019). Also, global citizenship education can present a potential dilemma when Western rational thought is imposed (de Andreotti 2014). Throughout my research and teaching, I have witnessed that most preservice teachers struggle to engage with and comprehend critical aspects of the literature.

While grappling with this issue, my primary concern was that global children’s literature is regarded as the literature of others. The fundamental dedication of literature may help students understand and appreciate diverse aspects of living. Preservice teachers’ appreciations, unfortunately, still tend to remain in their comfort zone.

There has been a significant increase in publications and research studies about global children’s literature. Looking closely, much of the global literature focused on the diasporic experience, especially in sharing the multicultural and critical literacy agenda. Diaspora literature offers an understanding of the challenges of cultural groups who cross borders and navigate between their new and old homes.

While diaspora literature has helped us gain a deeper understanding of the marginalized groups’ political and historical background of their journey and their sociocultural repression in the new homeland, unfortunately, and unwillingly, reading the literature kept our mind in the dichotomy of self and other, and in some cases, resulted in recreating others as The Other.

In pursuing critical literacy in the myriad of cross-border phenomena in a globalized society, exploring the notion of transnationalism in global literacy can be another meaningful approach. Transnationalism broadly refers to a social phenomenon concentrating on social relations and groups extending across nation-states’ borders (Pries 2022). According to Faist (2010), while diaspora and transnationalism are sometimes used interchangeably, the two terms have different focuses and agendas. While diaspora focuses on a community or group and pursues bindings to the homeland, transnationalism focuses on the process that transcends international borders and transnational relations between/among nations. In the transnational process, non-state agents are crucial agents. Country of origin, country of destination, and migrants create a triangular social structure, which can be expanded by including countries of onward migration (14). Vertovec (1999) argues that the awareness of multi-locality stimulates the desire to connect oneself with others. Further, transnational bonds must no longer be cemented by migration or exclusive territorial claims.

By implementing the notion of transnationalism in reading, mobility, multiple localities, identities, and subjectivities can be effectively read and discussed. While doing so, global children’s literature can be regarded not just as “their” journey, but as a way of being and living as human beings.

Critical literacy has committed to resisting the repression of society. Through the history of colonialism and imperialism, along with the modern worldwide capital flow, people who cross borders are positioned as the most powerless in the global power structure. In doing so, the migrants are represented as a deficit, and their strongness for living and will for freedom have not been recognized and valued. Reading global literature through a transnational perspective will broaden and deepen our understanding of the myriad ways of living and being and will be a meaningful addition to critical literacy.


HeeYoung Kim is an assistant professor at West Texas A&M University and teaches reading and children’s literature courses. She is a transnational educator from Seoul, Korea, where she taught at public elementary schools. Her research focuses on sociocultural representations in multicultural/global children’s literature.


The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the council and within members’ teaching contexts.


de Andreotti, Vanessa. 2014. “Soft Versus Critical Global Citizenship Education.” In Development Education in Policy and Practice, edited by Stephen McCloskey et. al, 21–31. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Faist, Thomas. 2010. “Diaspora and Transnationalism: What Kind of Dance Partners?” In Diaspora and Transnationalism: Concepts, Theories and Methods, edited by Rainer Bauböck and Thomas Faist, 9–44. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Pries, Ludger. 2022. “Transnationalism.” In Introduction to Migration Studies, edited by Peter Scholten, 233–247. Springer Cham.

Short, Kathy. “The Dangers of Reading Globally.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature 57 no. 2 (2019): 1–11.

Vertovec, Steven. “Conceiving and Researching Transnationalism.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22 no. 2 (1999): 447–462.


It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.