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DOWN UNDER

Vanishing Cultures

Notable books for NCSS, NCGE, Parent's Choice, Pick Of The List, New York Times Sunday Book Review Excellent

Amprenula, a young Tiwi girl from an island off the Australian coast, gathers food with her mother. Amprenula lives closely with the land, just as her people have done for thousands of years, taking only what they need from the forest and the ocean around them.

For the Tiwi and other Aborigines, the land is sacred. It connects them with their ancestors and the beginning of creation. As Amprenula combs through the forests and mangrove swamps, she is proud to travel along the same paths, sharing the same land, as her ancestors from centuries ago.

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“What is important about the Vanishing Cultures series is Jan Reynolds’s sincere sense of majesty of these peoples. By sharing an empathetic and unsentimental glimpse of them, she gives us all a great gift.” New York Times Sunday Book Review

About the Vanishing Cultures Series


The books in this series take students around the world to visit seven indigenous cultures and the unique landscapes and communities in which they live. Readers “meet” children in each culture and experience their lives through stunning photographs and straightforward, sensitive text. The books focus on each group’s traditions, values, beliefs, and family life. Readers also learn how each cultural group meets its basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, and how changes in the environment pose challenges to the continuing existence of the culture.

Each book begins with a child asking a family member for a bedtime story. The stories told reflect the traditions and pride of the group; they draw the listener and reader into a world where a way of life rooted in the past is very much a part of the present.

The books contain two stories—a story of a family and the story of the author’s journey into the focus culture. The Vanishing Cultures Series includes an indigenous tribe on each continent: The Tibetans and Sherpas in Himalaya, the Tuareg in Sahara, Samiis in Far North, Aboriginals in Down Under, Yanomama in the Amazon, Inuit in Frozen Land, and Mongols in Mongolia.


From the author: These ancient ways of life are disappearing as new roads and towns change the landscapes, and modern ways of life replace the traditional methods. These cultures and we are all part of the same human family, and the loss of their traditional ways of life is our loss too. Like these groups, we all depend on the natural world to live. We all share this Earth, its lands, and its waters. Perhaps we can learn from the relationship these groups have with their natural surroundings before their ways of life vanish forever.

Globalization and endangered societies: In addition to the seven cultures featured in the series, indigenous cultures around the world struggle to practice their traditional ways of life and face cultural extinction due to globalization. Roads, housing developments, deforestation, national governments, and the Internet invade indigenous groups’ lands and intrude on traditions. As older generations disappear, so do many practices and minority languages. According to National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project, by 2100, more than 3,500 of the 7,000 languages spoken on Earth may die out. National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence, Wade Davis, argues, “Indigenous cultures are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us. They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?” Watch and listen to his TED talk, “Dreams From Endangered Cultures.”