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We’re heading north from Australia to reach the eastern portion of Asia this week. What a treasure trove of ancient, rich cultures mingle in this area!

I found that a significant portion of stories connected with these countries focus on folks who have come to the United States. Korean-Americans, for example. Vietnamese refugees.  Chinese immigrants. Great books, but my search is for books set in Asia itself. We are touring the world, after all! So none of those appear in my lists. 

I’m also focused on the world of today, rather than accounts of ancient civilizations or folktales. This makes the pickings quite a bit slimmer! But if you want a mostly-current window into the lives children live in East Asia, you’ll do well with these titles. 

INDONESIA

All About Indonesia: Stories, Songs and Crafts for Kids, written by Linda Hibbs
published in 2014 by Tuttle Publishing

You’ll see the name of Tuttle Publishing a lot when it comes to stories from Asia as that is their entire focus, and how glad we are for that! The All About Asia series contains lots of child-friendly information about areas that are sometimes underrepresented on our library shelves, and that includes Indonesia.

Visit Jakarta as well as small villages. Check out mountains and coasts. Learn about music, dance, and sport. Try some Indonesian words and foods. Loaded with photographs and illustrations and parceled out in sections just right for exploring a bit at a time, this is a great way to get to know this island nation.

I is for Indonesia, by Elizabeth Rush, illustrated by Eddie Hara
published in 2013 by Things Asian Press

I haven’t actually seen this book but from what I can glimpse on-line it looks like a funky, off-beat tour of Indonesia! With wild and wooly illustrations from the inventive Indonesian artist, Eddie Hara, you definitely are not in for a placid, run-of-the-mill deal here.

If I could get one from my library, I would definitely give it a whirl, especially for slightly older children, say ages 5 and up, who like their meatballs with a little sriracha sauce. 

Rice Is Life, written by Rita Golden Gelman, illustrated by Yangsook Choi
published in 2000 by Henry Holt and Company

Life in Bali revolves around rice. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice fields, called sawah, are the pivot point of the calendar as preparation, planting, tending, and harvesting happen year after year.

Rita Gelman captures the rhythms, the poetry, the beauty of Bali’s rice fields as well as the fascinating particulars of fishing for dragonflies, herding ducks, and making offerings to the rice goddess. Illustrations glow with the emerald rice, and convey the grace of the Balinese people. Lovely and intriguing, for ages 4 and up.

Ayu and the Perfect Moon, written and illustrated by David Cox
published in 1984 by The Bodley Head

Follow the story of a young girl named Ayu who dreams of performing in the famous Balinese Legong dance.

As she watches the spectacular procession of giant puppets and masked dancers, Ayu is seized with a longing to join the other dancers to the accompaniment of the gamelan musicians. So she practices and practices until one propitious night when the moon is full, she’s decked out with magnificent clothing, crowned with gold and frangipani flowers, and dances the Legong. Gorgeous slice of Balinese life, rendered beautifully. An entrancing read for ages 2 and up.

The PHILIPPINES

All About the Philippines: Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, written by Gidget Roceles Jimenez, illustrated by Corazon Dandan-Albano
published in 2015 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the series All About Asia, this book follows three Filipino cousins who come from different islands, ethnicities, and languages to showcase the diversity of this nation.

Get a taste of history, geography, language. Travel to Luzon, Cebu, and Mindanao. Learn about games and celebrations. Cook up some Filipino foods with the recipes included. There’s a lot packed in here to share with children ages 7 and up.

VIETNAM

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam 

Life in the highlands of Vietnam, among emerald rice fields, threatening tigers, and a beloved water buffalo is recalled in this gorgeously-written memoir. Read my full review here. A fantastic read-aloud for ages 6 and up.

CAMBODIA

The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, written by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Ronald Himler
published in 2001 by Holiday House

Ary is a little girl living among the crowded, smoky streets of Phnom Penh where she sells strings of flowers to help her family survive. She has heard about the endless green rice paddies beyond the city, lush with rainfall and sunlight, but her life has ever been hemmed in by hardness.

One day Ary takes her savings to the bird woman whose cage is filled with singing fragments of beauty. The bird woman takes her coins in exchange for the choice of one bird to set free, to soar with a wish to the heavens. Ary is elated at first,  but the bird has been trained to simply fly back to its cage, preferring food to freedom. Is there any way for Ari’s wishes to come true? A poignant story of a relatively hidden world, illustrated with tenderness and dignity. Ages 4 and up.

THAILAND

The Umbrella Queen

Head to northern Thailand and visit the markets where beautiful hand-painted umbrellas reign in this dear, beautifully illustrated story, reviewed here.


Hush: A Thai Lullaby

A handsomely illustrated story of one Thai mama trying to coax her baby to sleep. Great choice for the littlest travelers, under-two and up. My review is here

The Life of Rice: From Seedling to Supper, written and photographed by Richard Sobol
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Life in Thailand also centers on rice. Richard Sobol has written a fascinating account of the many festivals dedicated to rice, and the intriguing planting and harvesting traditions carried out in northeast Thailand. 

If you think the story of rice sounds dull, that’s because you have never attended the striking Royal Plowing Ceremony or met the royal white oxen, or seen the boldly painted combines used in Thailand. This is a story about the Thai people as much as about their beloved rice. Beautiful photographs by an award-winning photographer. Read it together with kids ages 6 and up.

I Am a Little Monk, written by Mi-hwa Joo, illustrated by Hwa-kyeong Gahng, English text edited by Joy Cowley
originally published in Korea; English edition published in 2015 by big & SMALL

Urt is a little boy who can’t seem to keep out of trouble. When he meets his uncle, a man who came back from his stay in the temple with such a “relaxed heart,” Urt decides that he too will devote himself to the practices of a monk for a time.

Meditation, care of the temple, going out to collect food, helping others, learning to share — these are all lessons Urt begins to learn through his time spent as a little monk. The brief story is lightly told and warmly illustrated. Much of the information will be gleaned from end pages which explain Thai greetings, nicknames, temples, festivals, and a bit more about the daily life of a monk. It’s great to see a children’s book touching on one of the most important aspects of Thai culture — Buddhism. Ages 3 and up.

All About Thailand: Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, written by Elaine Russell, illustrated by Patcharee Meesukhon and Vinit Yeesman
published in 2016 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the All About Asia series, this colorful book leads us into four different regions of Thailand, hands us some Thai language with a link to hear these words spoken, introduces foods, arts, sports, games, celebrations, dances, music, shadow puppets and lots, lots more. These are terrific one-stop introductions to each country.

MYANMAR

I See the Sun in Myanmar, written by Dedie King, illustrations by Judith Inglese
published in 2013 by Satya House Publications

Follow one young girl through her day in a village near Mandalay in central Myanmar. From waking up to the sound of temple bells,  to the evening gathering around the household altar, Buddhist practices permeate her life. Myanmar is also a land of bullock carts, thanaka paste, the Irawaddy River, fish curry. The gentle, matter-of-fact narration of the day includes many intriguing details, while collage illustrations bring all these unknowns to life for us.

I love that the elegant Burmese script runs simultaneously on every page.  An afterword tells more about Myanmar for older readers and adults. The book itself is suited to ages 3 and up.

M is for Myanmar, written by Elizabeth Rush, illustrated by Khin Maung Myint
published in 2011 by ThingsAsian Kids

A colorful dip into Myanmar, this book is illustrated by an artist from Yangon, Myanmar, and has text in both English and the incredibly curly Burmese script. 

Catch a glimmer of the Shwedagon Pagoda, meander the emerald patchwork of rice fields, paddle across Inle Lake, taste Mohinga Noodle Soup. Lighthearted free verse, with illustrations filling in details. Colorful and upbeat, for ages 5 and up.

CHINA

One Year in Beijing, written by Xiaohong Wang, illustrated by Grace Lin, translated by Lei Li
published in 2006 by ChinaSprout Inc.

Ling Ling is 8 years old and lives in modern day Beijing. Her mom’s a teacher. Her dad works at a computer company. Follow the three of them through a typical year in their lives and learn what Ling Ling wants most for a New Year’s present, how to celebrate Qing Ming Festival, what mountain Ling Ling climbs with her family on their summer break, where they head to see brilliant maples in fall splendor, what special food is served on her birthday…great details of life in contemporary China.

Illustrated in a child-appealing style by Grace Lin, this is a great intro for children ages 5 and up, with lots more detail in the end pages about the foods, holidays, places, and traditions mentioned briefly in the text.

All About China: Stories Songs, Crafts and More for Kids, written by Allison “Aixin” Branscombe, illustrated by Lin Wang
published in 2014 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the All About Asia series, this book’s title made me smile. Maybe “A Little About China” would be closer? Such a vast land, extremely diverse in its topography, climates, lifestyles, and ethnic minorities, is impossible to survey in one blast. Despite that, this is a great book, simply crammed with great information about China’s diversity, history, festivals, arts, belief systems, as well as details about home styles around China, chopstick etiquette, projects, recipes…cram jam, as I say.

One of the things I especially love about this book is its emphasis on contemporary China as differentiated from the older versions of Chinese lifestyles that can predominate our children’s literature. Fantastic resource for ages 5 and up.

Good Morning, China, written and illustrated by Hu Yong Yi
published in 2007 by Roaring Brook Press

It’s seven ‘o clock in the morning. The park is full of people engaged in their morning pursuits.

Cycling, badminton, tai chi, fan dancing. Serenity, community, and culture are beautifully displayed on individual pages, then brought together in one splendid final page which unfolds to reveal the entire park. A quiet, enchanting glimpse of one small corner of China, for ages 3 and up.

Mei-Mei Loves the Morning, written by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
published in 1999 by Albert Whitman & Company

Another morning in China, this time accompanying little Mei-Mei and her dear grandpa. Starting with rice porridge and pickled vegetables for breakfast, the two of them ride on Grandpa’s bike along busy streets, through the round moon gate, to the park. 

Their friends are waiting for them, as well as for the special companion they’ve brought along. Who and what could it be? Join these two for a sweet Chinese morning. Handsome oil paintings reveal lots more about their lives. Ages 3 and up. 

Lost and Found: Adèle and Simon in China, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2016 by Farrar Straus Giroux

The impeccable, delicate illustration work of Barbara McClintock captivates us on every page of this grand tour of China, dogging the footsteps of brother and sister, Adéle and Simon. These two are off on a huge adventure with Uncle Sidney, dropping in on a silk farm, canalside town, the Forbidden City, Great Wall, a Mongolian ger, desert caravan, Buddhist monastery, bamboo forest, and more.

Along the way, Simon keeps losing his belongings, giving us one more thing to spy in these detailed double-page spreads. Immensely engaging, with extra pages telling about each site visited by the trio. An absolute gem for ages 5 and up.

A New Year’s Reunion

This story raises our awareness of more than 100 million Chinese migrant workers who return home to China to celebrate New Year’s Day if at all possible. Fabulous glimpse of a difficult reality. Reviewed here.

Long Long’s New Year

Celebrate the grand festival with red lanterns, tang hulus, dragons parading through the street and one lucky little boy. My review is here

Happy New Year! written and illustrated by Demi
published in 1997 by Crown Publishers

This is a much more informative book about Chinese New Year rather than a story like the previous two titles.

Demi explains the cycle of New Year celebrations, animal zodiac, correlation with spring planting, household preparations, good luck wishes, the meanings of many foods in the New Year feast, the meanings of trees and flowers given as gifts, and lots more about the spiritual aspects of this celebration.

All of this is done quite lightly and briefly and illustrated with Demi’s charming touch. An unusual array of lore for ages 6 and up. ( This book was republished in 2003 by Knopf under the title Happy Happy Chinese New Year. Maybe that will be easier to find.)

Anno’s China, by Mitsumasa Anno
originally published in 2009; published in 2016 by Beautiful Feet Books

If you don’t know Anno’s beautiful, intriguing journeys in his numerous books taking us from Spain to Britain to the U.S., you should start with this one and move on from here.

This time he models his illustrations after a famous Chinese scroll painting. As we move along the river in Anno’s story, we drift in and out of villages, along rice fields, past markets and shipbuilders, elementary schools and funeral processions. In some of Anno’s books we have to spy all the cultural details and references without help. In this volume, each scene has commentary in the back of the book so we can first observe for ourselves all the details he’s packed in and then read about the scenes in Anno’s informative comments. Serene, gorgeous, fascinating, for ages 3 to adult.

Who Wants Candied Hawberries? written by Dongni Bao, illustrated by Di Wu, translated by Adam Lanphier
English edition published in 2016 by Candied Plums

Help yourself to this charming little fantasy featuring an elderly Chinese hawberry peddler and some mysterious customers of his.

I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling the delight of discovering just who visits the peddler and buys his wares, so much so that he has enough money to buy medicine for his wife. Set in snowy Beijing, with a very different feel to the environs than any other of the books on China, this one’s a curious treat for ages 3 and up.

TIBET

Our Journey from Tibet: Based on a True Story, written by Laurie Dolphin, photographs by Nancy Jo Johnson
published in 1997 by Dutton Children’s Books

This poignant story reveals the experience of many young Tibetan children who illegally escape the restrictive regulations of the Chinese government in favor of a life in India. 

It’s based on interviews with a 9-year-old girl named Sonam who made the incredibly arduous journey over the Himalayas, leaving behind parents and home, facing fear, battered feet, swollen rivers, scarce food, snow blindness, soldiers, and so much more with amazing bravery.

Sonam and the others in her group joined thousands of other Tibetan children being cared for in children’s villages in India where they receive education and care while they await the day that Tibet is declared free and they can return home. Beautifully written and photographed, this is an eye opener for children ages 6 and up.

MONGOLIA

My Little Round House

I love this story by a Mongolian author/artist who introduces us to her homeland via one little baby and his first year of life. Full review is here.

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin
published in 2008 by Lee & Low Books

The Naadam is an annual summer festival held in Mongolia with races showcasing the Mongolians’ incredible horsemanship. One of the races sees young boys and girls — child jockeys — racing across the steppe on half-wild horses!

Ted and Betsy Lewin traveled to Mongolia to see the Naadam traditions for themselves. This is their fascinating travelogue, focusing on one child jockey, 9-year-old Tamir. Striking illustration work brings the scenes vividly to life in this breathtakingly reckless contest! More intriguing facts about gers and life in Mongolia are included. Amazing, for ages 6 and up.

KOREA

Bee Bim Bop, written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee
published in 2005 by Clarion Books

Have you eaten bee-bim bop? It’s a very popular dish in Korea and appears on menus in restaurants here in the U.S.

Dance along with the enthusiasm of one little girl who simply cannot wait to dig into some of her mom’s bee-bim bop in this cheerful story perfect for toddlers. Then go ahead and try some of your own using the recipe included in the book. Warm illustrations portray a contemporary Korean family.

New Clothes for New Year’s Day

A lovely, quiet story about the grand holiday of New Year’s. Click the title for my full review.

 

Goodbye 382 Shin Dang Dong

A view of Korean culture through the eyes of someone who is moving far away. Click the title for my full review.

 

JAPAN

Take Me Out to the Yakyu

Fabulous, fun, side-by-side comparison of baseball in the Japan and the U.S. Click on the link for my full review.

I Live in Tokyo, written and illustrated by Mari Takabayashi
published in 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Books

Travel to modern day Japan and take in dozens of colorful vignettes by Japanese artist Mari Takabayashi as she guides us through one calendar year in Tokyo.

Celebrate the New Year and Valentine’s Day, Tokyo-style. Go to school, take in a tea ceremony, and attend a wedding. It’s a joyful catalog of Japanese life, sure to pique the interest of children ages 4 and up. A glossary of words and numbers at the end will let you practice your Japanese, too!

My Awesome Japan Adventure: A Diary About the Best 4 Months Ever, written and illustrated by Rebecca Otowa
published in 2013 by Tuttle Publishing

This is a great middle-grade read. It’s the diary of a 5th grade boy who is off to spend some months with a pen pal near Kyoto. Written in a casual, 11-year-old boy voice — as you can tell from the title! — Dan describes Japan through the eyes of a first-time visitor. Breakfast, school, helping out with a rice harvest, Athletic Day, bowing, a tea ceremony, a visit to a Ninja Village and lots more are all packed in here in brief entries.

Contemporary, youthful Japan — that’s what you get here, beautifully illustrated and served up with this age group in mind. Ages 9 and up.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
published in 2008 by Sleeping Bear Press

I know. I’m supposed to be focusing on the present, but this dream of a tale was simply irresistible. 

Based on the 17th century practice of the provincial governors’ annual trek between Kyoto and Tokyo, this story narrates the journey from the viewpoint of the governor’s young daughter, Yuki. Travel along with her aboard a palanquin for 300 miles of extraordinary sights, sounds, tastes.

The long train of 1000 carriers moves through all sorts of terrain, weather, lodging, as Yuki wrestles with changing homes and composes a little haiku each day. Gorgeous, inspired illustration work and fascinating detail about this long ago time and beautiful land for ages 4 and up.

Many more fantastic titles, including chapter books and middle-grade novels about East Asia that just didn’t quite fit in our tour are in my archives. They’re easy to find in my Subject Index.

Have another awesome title to recommend? Please do, in the comments.

Our next destination will be the Indian Subcontinent so stock up on your curry and naan. 

If you’ve missed the earlier stops on our tour, here are links:

Tour of the World: Destination Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

Tour of the World: A Sampler of Cultures to Start

Buckle Up for a Tour of the World

 Enjoying the ride? Tell a friend about the tour!

What is like a summer evening?

The luxurious length of daylight, the satisfying, sun-kissed fatigue after a day of bumbling about out-of-doors, barefoot-and-happy kids wafting an aroma of chlorine, sunscreen, and popsicles. All of it breathes magic into bedtime story hour. These gems will do just fine.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, written by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
originally published in 2005; reissued in 2017 by Candlewick Press

One of my small peeves is the preponderance of plots in kids’ books that go something like this: child is quiet and likes solitude; child meets loud, friendly sort; child realizes that life is ever so much sweeter when constantly surrounded by friends. Heaven knows friends are treasures and no man is an island, yada yada yada. But there seems to be such an undervaluing of a healthy contentment in keeping one’s own company.

Enter this gem, a combination of fantasy and social commentary that applauds serenity, untrammeled quietude, and the simple life, and does it with the magic and spectacle of Willy Wonka. Have you met any book like this before? I think not.

In the beginning, this entirely-stable, self-reliant young boy lives by himself at the end of the world. He spends his days inventively, messing about with fossils and treasure maps, drinking in the sound of the wind and the great “chuckling beasts” who growl outside his snug shack with “voices like plumbing.” Life is grand. Until one odd, bespectacled fellow comes along — Mr. Shimmer by name — promising to improve the place, drag in cartloads of friends, produce a land of “fun all the time.”

What does life look like when solemn silences are banned in favor of “nothing but laughter”?

This is a vibrant, meaningful story, illustrated with fantastical colors and perceptiveness by Kevin Hawkes. I’m confident that any true introvert will love it, as well as all who appreciate natural spaces and a dash of loneliness. Great read for ages 4 and up.

Blue Sky White Stars, written by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I wish I could have reviewed this in time for your Fourth of July celebrations, but this is a spectacular book for any time. It’s a phenomenal meditation on the meaning of our flag and the meaning of America.

Phrases of Americana — Stand Proud, Old Glory, All American — are represented by two different images on mirroring pages reflecting two ways of thinking about these stirring words.

Nelson’s paintings are stunning, as always, and his treatment of these thought-provoking ideas immerses us in the beauty of the land, the strength of our diversity, and the honorable elements of our history. What rockets the significance of the book even higher is the fact that author Sarvinder Naberhaus is an immigrant from Punjab to Iowa and artist Kadir Nelson is an African-American. I am astonished by the work they have created together. Notes from both with their thoughts on this book are included.

Whether you are a fervent patriot, or perhaps an American Vet, or you feel a bit jaded and weary just now, I am telling you — this book will make your heart glow with a bit more hope and a bit more brotherhood. Ages 3 through adult.

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry, written by Danna Smith, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Enter the world of castles and keeps, where one young girl accompanies her father as he trains his goshawk.

Learn about preferred perches, feathered hawks’ hoods, and the exhilarating dive of a hawk when it spots its prey. Discover the use of bells, gauntlets, lures, and the mews. And be swept into the middle ages via Bagram Ibatoulline’s evocative paintings. It’s a beautiful, fascinating trip into history.

The bulk of this story is told in brief, rhyming verses, easily accessible to children as young as 2 or 3. Short, more in-depth explanations are added to each page pitched for children ages 4 or 5 and up. And a lengthy Author’s Note goes into even more detail for middle-grade through adult readers. So you see, this book is smartly adapted to a wide age range.

Little Blue Chair, written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

I love this clever, unassuming story demonstrating the interconnectedness of our world and the serendipitous events that sometimes come about because of that.

It all starts with Boo and his favorite little blue chair. It’s his prize possession. Just right for sitting on while munching a peanut butter sandwich, parking in the garden for a flowery reading nook, hanging a blanket over for a secret cave. Just an all around great little chair.

When Boo outgrows it, the chair finds a new home with a sweet, grey-haired lady who uses it for a plant stand. When the plant outgrows that little blue chair, its off to yet another home. And another.

You can’t imagine the journeys of this small chair, the far-flung locations and different owners it encounters. Until it comes full circle, straight back to Boo. How does that happen? What’s the chair’s story? Read this soft-spoken account and prepare to be dazzled. Surprisingly comforting and heart-warming for ages 2 and up. Madeline Kloepper’s illustration work is the bees knees. Bit of a Carson Ellis vibe. I can’t wait to see more from her!

Midnight at the Zoo, written and illustrated by Faye Hanson
first US edition 2017 by Templar Publishing

Max and Mia are two irrepressibly curious children — and that is one great quality!

Today they’re on a class trip to the zoo. The busload of their squirrelly classmates descends in raucous abandon, careening down pathways, goggling for glimpses of lemurs and flamingos, meerkats and lions. But! Not a whisker do they see. I don’t wonder!

Max and Mia, meanwhile, take things at their own pace. Which is: slower, quieter, more observant, curiouser, if you will. Which means: they are inadvertently left behind for Quite the Night at the zoo!

Fantastical events galore are in store for these two marching-to-the-beat-of-their-own-drum kiddos. Readers will love spotting the shy animals hiding from the brouhaha, and adore the treats in store for Max and Mia. Pizzazz on tap, for ages 3 and up.

How Long is a Whale? written and illustrated by Alison Limentani
first published in North America in 2017 by Boxer Books

Following up on her smart book, How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh, here is veterinarian-turned-illustrator Alison Limentani’s next winner, all set for curious young minds!

This time we’re exploring the lengths of animals, using other animals as our measuring devices. Starting with 10 sea otters who all together are as long as 9 yellowfin tuna, we swim our way through captivating undersea worlds until it’s time to size up the biggest granddaddy of ’em all, the Blue Whale.

He needs a super-duper gate-fold page to convey his entire incredible size! It’s awfully exciting!

Bold, beautiful prints with just the facts, ma’am. That’s the recipe for a book that’ll rivet the attentions of kids as young as 2, pique their curiosities, and spark their imaginations. How many squirrels long is your dog? How many bananas long is your bed? Endless possibilities 🙂

Welcome to Australia, the first stop on our world tour! With side trips to New Zealand and Micronesia for good measure.

There are gobs of cute stories out there featuring koalas, wombats and the like which often appear in “Learn about Australia” lists. They are darling stories! Just now what I’m looking for by way of introducing the continent. I was surprised as I searched what sparse pickings we have for excellent children’s literature that reveals this area of the world and its diverse cultures. Especially absent was contemporary life or books beyond folktales and mythologies. 

Searching for New Zealand titles turns up almost zilch. Ditto for the many, many islands and peoples of Oceania. With the recent Moana-mania, that is about the only thing that pops up when searching Polynesia. So — as a tour guide, this is disappointing!

I would welcome suggestions from those of you who live in these parts of the world. What books do you think introduce your home or your people best? Let us know in the comments. What I did find, I loved.

So, off we go…

To get a tour of the Australian continent, I recommend Alison Lester’s awesome road trip travelogue:

Are We There Yet?
written and illustrated by Alison Lester
published in 2004 by Viking

 From Bungle Bungles to Thorny Devils, on surfboard and horseback, 8-year-old Grace and her family experience it all on this glorious circle tour encompassing all of Australia. This has been a favorite of mine for many years. I’ve reviewed it previously, so just click on the title to read lots more about it.

Take a dive into the fragile, exquisite beauty of the Great Barrier Reef with…

This is the Reef, written by Miriam Moss, illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway
published in 2007 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There are lots of factual, school-report types of books on the Great Barrier Reef. I love this little book as its lyrical language and brilliant colors work together to weave a proper sense of wonder over this gorgeous ecosystem. Ages 3 and up.

 

For middle-grade readers who snarf up facts served up with a side of humor, Lonely Planet has you covered:

Not for Parents Australia: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
published by Lonely Planet in 2012

And by the way, these are definitely for parents, too 🙂 They read a bit like the old Usborne books. Gobs of photos accompanied by snappy blurbs on everything from Aussie food to history to those nasty poisonous snakes that seem to have a penchant for the Land Down Under.  Ages 9 and up.

To catch a glimpse of Australia’s history and diversity, check out:

My Place, written by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Donna Rawlins
published originally in Australia in 1988; American edition 1992 by Kane/Miller Book Publishers

I’ve loved this book for many years. It’s a brilliant way to learn a bit of Australian history and culture, and have our imaginations sparked as well.

Beginning in 1988, children from 21 receding decades of time describe their home and life on the same plot of Australian soil. Watch the world change, notice different immigrant groups arrive in Australia, witness world events through the eyes of all the children who have called this spot, “my place.” It’s a fascinating book, wonderfully illustrated to give us visual cues to these eras, with a short glossary of Aussie lingo to help with some of the entries.

Read this bit by bit with children as young as 6 and think together about who might have come before you on “your place.” Or imagine what’s been happening over the last 30 years at this Aussie address. Who lives there now?

I searched for books available to U.S. readers that shed a bit of light on Aboriginal culture. I found quite a few titles I wished I could get ahold of! But from what I could access through libraries, the best I found are:

Ernie Dances to the Didgeridoo, written and illustrated by Alison Lester
published in Australia in 2000; first American edition 2001 by Walter Lorraine Books

Arnhem Land in northern Australia is home to the Aboriginal people as it has been for eons of time. There, in the community of Gunbalanya, Alison Lester’s fictional boy,Ernie, settles in to live for one year. What do his new friends do there during all the various seasons of the year — monsoon and harvest, cool time and dry season?

Discover this fascinating ancient land and culture, learn a few words in the Kunwinjku language, and pour over Lester’s vibrant illustrations. Lester partnered with schoolchildren from Gunbalanya to create this book. Ages 3 and up.

Big Rain Coming, written by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft
published in 1999 by Clarion Books

Author Katrina Germein taught for some time in an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory and artist Bronwyn Bancroft is a descendant of the Aboriginal Bunjalung people. Together they have crafted a story that exudes a strong sense of this culture.

The intense heat of the Outback has everyone longing for rain. On Sunday afternoon, Old Stephen declares that a big rain is coming. All week long folks wait for it, hope for it, try to keep cool, until finally, on Saturday, those rain clouds burst open!

The iconic dots, swirls, and brilliant hues of Aboriginal art are masterfully incorporated into the illustration work here.  Every book I’ve seen with Bancroft’s art is equally stunning so just snap up all you see in your library!  Share this one with ages 2 and up.

If you want to delve a bit more into Aboriginal Australian creation stories and folktales,  I discovered two books which are written and illustrated by members of aboriginal peoples. Their authenticity plus the memoir sections in each of them make them my top choices:

Dreamtime: Aboriginal Stories, by Oodgeroo Nunukul, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft
first U.S. edition 1994 by Lothrop Lee and Shepard

Half of this book relates stories from the author’s childhood.  She was born in 1920 and grew up on Stradbroke Island off the coast of Queensland. The other half contains traditional Aboriginal stories. It would make a good read for older children, ages 10 and up.

Jirrbal: Rainforest Dreamtime Stories, by Maisie Yarrcali Barlow, illustrated by Michael Boiyool Anning
published in 2002 by Magabala Books Aboriginal Corporation

Maisie is an elder of the Jirrbal people. This book includes a chapter telling about growing up in the rainforests of far north Queensland. For ages 7 and up.

To walk through a day in contemporary, urban Australia, and score a bonus trip to Morocco besides, try:

Mirror, written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

This wins a prize for one of the most unusual books I’ve seen. Open the cover and you’re faced with two sets of pages, one attached to the front cover, one attached to the back.

This allows you to open up parallel stories of two boys, two families, two cultures — a city in Australia and a town in Morocco.

Turn each set of pages simultaneously and see the stories mirror one another as we walk through a day in each of these boys’ lives, noting the striking similarities and intriguing differences. Phenomenal! Ages 4 and up.

Not quite contemporary, but great fun…

Audrey of the Outback and Sun on the Stubble

Both of these delightful reads take place in 1930s Australia; one follows an adventurous girl, the other an adventurous boy. Take your pick! I reviewed Audrey some time ago so click here to read more about her.

Honestly, the contemporary multicultural flavor of Australia comes through nicely in Bob Graham’s books. Especially relevant here would be:

Greetings from Sandy Beach, which I reviewed here. 

There are several excellent titles about Australian wildlife — by far the easiest Australian subject matter for us Americans to find in our libraries! — plus a railroad-riding Aussie dog  listed in my Subject Index under Cultures: Australia/Oceania/New Zealand so search there to expand your reading.

Like a side of classic Australian children’s literature to add to your travels? These books aren’t about Australia. They are classic books that Australian children have read over the years.

Seven Little Australians, by Ethel Turner

This is an old Aussie classic originally published in 1894 and full of moxie but beware — it’s got some serious sadness to it. We read it aloud when my kids were young and despite the tragedy involved, they quite loved it. Not for the very young, at any rate.

The Magic Pudding, by Norman Lindsay

Originally published in 1918. Super quirky and humorous; be sure to get a volume with the original illustrations in it. A ridiculous, fun read-aloud for ages 6 and up.

The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs

A fantasy with fairy-tale-esque notes of darkness, loved since its arrival in 1918.  Bit of trivia: This was the book presented to wee Prince George when, at age 8 months, he visited Australia with William and Kate. So, there’s that.

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill, by Dorothy Wall

Old-fashioned charm originating in the 1930s following the adventures of a mischievous koala. Ages 5 and up.

Now New Zealand — why do we not have more books available to us about this gem of the South Seas? I found a couple of titles to recommend to you, but I have not actually laid my hands on either of them.

A Kiwi Year: Twelve Months in the Life of New Zealand’s Kids, written by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Tina Snerling
published in 2017 by EK books

Five children representing the cultural diversity of New Zealand walk through the year telling us about their favorite activities, excursions, snacks, and so on. The book is more of a catalogue with tidbits of Kiwi-life strewn about the pages, charmingly illustrated. You’ll read a lot of Kiwi-lingo but be left without much in-depth explanation of anything. Still, it’s about the best thing I could find that pulls us into everyday life in New Zealand.

Land of the Long White Cloud: Maori Myths, Tales, and Legends, written by Kiri Te Kanawa, illustrated by Michael Foreman
published in 1990 by Arcade Publishers

I am not planning to dig out folktale collections from the regions of the world. There are Oh So Many. But if your kids have watched Moana, perhaps you owe it to them to read some authentic versions of Maori stories. These are retold by Dame Tiri Ke Kanawa who has Maori ancestry. There are 19 stories. My guess is ages 7 or 8 and up.

Previously I’ve reviewed a book about a seal that wanders too far up river in Christchurch. It’s a tiny glimpse of New Zealand.

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas — you can read my review of it here.

Finally, I love this story offering a vibrant excursion to Micronesia!

The Biggest Soap, written by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen
published in 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sizzling tropical color welcomes us to the Truk Islands of Micronesia in this thoroughly happy story about a little fellow named Kessy and his busy day. It’s laundry day for Mama and her cousins, a day Kessy loves for the storytelling that bubbles up from the women as they scrub, and the splash of joy awaiting him in the washing pool.

Today, though, Kessy’s got an important errand to run first: Mama needs him to nip off to Minda’s Store and fetch the biggest piece of laundry soap she’s got. Kessy hurries off, not wanting to miss a single story, but his own adventures add up to the grandest tale of all! Warmth and joy soak every page in both text and illustration in this happy tale for ages 2 and up.

Please let us know of other great titles for these areas, especially you Aussies and Kiwis who are tuning in. Our next leg of the tour brings us a bit north, to East Asia.

And here are links to the previous tour entries:

Tour of the World: A Sampler of Cultures

buckle up for a tour of the world

 

Feeling frazzled? Kids got the grumpies? Laughter is good medicine. Check out these wacky stories that’ll raise a smile even on a not-so-hot day.

Life on Mars, written and illustrated by Jon Agee
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Jon Agee is one of the best comedic writers for children. His dry, understated wit and slightly surreal illustration style signal immediately that we’re in for an off-kilter adventure.

Blast off to Mars with an intrepid astronaut bent on discovering life on that stark planet. He’s even brought a box of chocolate cupcakes as a peace offering to the aliens.

The search turns up nothing except one cheery yellow flower…at least, that’s what our astronaut thinks! Kids will be beside themselves with glee as they witness the blissful obliviousness of Our Hero! Out-of-this-world fun for ages 3 and up.

Bob, not Bob!, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion

First book I’ve ever seen with the directive: To be read as though you have the worst cold ever. Brilliant!

Get that “stuffed-ub dose” sound going to read this silly story of a kid with a dog named Bob, a nasty head cold,  and an exasperatingly difficult time making himself understood!

All Louie wants is his mother, but when his cold makes “Mom” sound like “Bob” he gets slobbery kisses and giant paws instead! I had my daughter give this a test run with some babysitting charges ages 5-9 to be sure they caught the humor of these interchanges and she received all thumbs enthusiastically up! Matthew Cordell’s out-of-control figures are perfect here. As Bilbo Baggins would say: Thag you very buch.

Margarash, written by Mark Riddle, illustrated by Tim Miller
published in 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books

Collin is a coin collector whose favorite spot to discover the odd bit of change is deep inside the sofa.

We all know that entire civilizations lurk amongst the springs and inky recesses of our couches, feeding off of stray popcorn kernels, Cheez-Its, and pencils stubs.

Well! Now you can meet the Margarash himself! A dangerous and toothy monster who does, indeed, live in the subterranean sofa world and does not appreciate one tiddly bit his collection being pilfered by grasping hands from above! With a yank and a growl, Collin becomes a prisoner of the Margarash. Can he outwit him and regain his freedom?

Find out in this wacky, roaring romp for brave children ages 4 and up.

The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ana Aranda
published in 2017 by Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House

Psychedelic color blasts off the pages from cover to endpapers and straight on through this wild tale starring the legendary, sharp-toothed, and seriously hungry chupacabra!

Three goat siblings, Bumsie, Jayna, and Pep, live in the same neighborhood as that scary fellow so they’ve got to have A Plan for Survival. With Jayna as their mostly-fearless leader, they attempt to stave off the monster’s hunger with less-than-stellar results. Just what is it that chupacabra’s most like to eat? Is it….goats?! Or might there be some alternative that would satisfy his fierce appetite?

Hilarious dialogue and sparkling personalities drive this careening story to a most satisfying finale. A treat for ages 4 and up.

The Prince and the Porker, written by Peter Bently, illustrated by David Roberts
originally published in the UK in 2015; this edition 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Finally, this boisterous riff on Mark Twain’s classic The Prince and the Pauper. This time, rather than a street urchin, the prince’s replacement is a plump pink pig with a prodigious appetite!

When Pignatius discovers all the scrummy treats in the palace, plus finds that with the proper wig and accoutrements he’s a dead ringer for the genuine prince — he can’t wait to tuck in and gobble up every jelly trifle and figgy pudding the king’s kitchen can conjure.

When the prince discovers the imposter, he happily agrees to the switcheroo! What’s in it for him? Brilliant, rhythmic storytelling and delicious illustration work by two of Britain’s best. Guaranteed to please ages 3 and up.

So here we go, off on our tour! 

As I’ve read these stacks of books over the past months, I’ve thought a lot about how we present global cultures to our children.

How do we avoid a sense that people living in cultures so unlike our own are some sort of curiosity on display behind zoo-glass. How do we help children make human connections to what they read about? 

 We want children to appreciate the incredibly varied ways of life around our world.

To have a spirit of inquiry and respect for the ingenious, artful, fascinating, ways people live, dress, eat, build, celebrate, play, worship, work.

To see how much we have in common.

To humbly acknowledge that we might learn a better way from others.

To delight in the new and unfamiliar as well as the sweetly similar. 

At the same time, there are tragic circumstances in our world. Millions of children are born into war zones, famine hotspots, refugee camps, slums, homelessness. How do we nurture empathy? How do we help kids see that no one gets to choose where she’s born?

These are questions worth asking, I think. No simple answers. 

I reviewed a book awhile back that brilliantly delves into the idea of putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Düzakin; published by Eerdmans, 2016

Since connection is what we want in ourselves and our kids, I am recommending it again. It would make a great segue into a world tour as it encourages us to think, “What if that were my life?”  You can read my entire review here.

Then, hop on your magic carpets by picking up one or a bunch of these fabulous titles that give us a survey of the world, a comparison of cultures, a map to adventure. That’s our starting point…

 

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

If you read just one book from today’s post, I’d recommend this one. Gorgeously illustrated. Authentically researched. Diverse and engaging. It’s a gem for ages 4 and older.

Seven real children from around the world took part in this project, sharing the details of their families’ lives with the author.

Through their explanations and Lamothe’s fabulous artwork, you can walk through a typical day in the life of families from Peru, Russia, Japan, Uganda, Iran, Italy, and India. Find out what kind of house they live in, who makes up their family, what they wear to school and eat for breakfast, how they learn, play, work, and much more.

 photo this-is-how-we-do-it-breakfast_zps9c7hgl39.jpg

Clearly there are wide varieties of families and ways of life within each of these countries. These narratives, however, so rich with cultural detail, are a brilliant starting point for discovering the fascinating differences and lovely similarities between ourselves and others. One of the best books I’ve seen for connecting kids to the world. Highly recommended!

One World, One Day, written by Barbara Kerley, images by multiple photographers
published in 2009 by National Geographic

A lovely choice for the youngest of our world travelers, this collection of striking photographs of children simply going about their day is accompanied only by brief captions.

Kerley’s words unobtrusively guide us through the day, welcome us into these different lives, give some context,  without getting in the way of really lovely, face-to-face encounters. Captivating! Each photo is replicated in thumbnail size in the end pages and attached to a short photographer’s note telling more about it — and these are really interesting! 

Ages 2 and up can enjoy the book; the added notes will suit mid-elementary and older. 

Barbara Kerley and National Geographic have also teamed up on several other, similar photo essays, any of which makes a delightful window on the world for young children. They are:

You and Me Together: Moms, Dads, and Kids Around the World (2005)

A Cool Drink of Water (2006)

A Little Peace (2007)

Check any one of them out and soak in the beauty of our world’s diversity.

 

Around the World Right Now, written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard, illustrated by Olivia Beckman
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press

At any given time, in the twenty-four different time zones around the world, people are going about their daytime and nighttime, morning and afternoon-time, dawn and twilight activities.

Check in on 24 locations to discover a sampling of what’s happening all around the globe right now. Perky illustrations are alive with details to spy as the hours unroll in the pages of this happy catalogue. A sunny treat for ages 3 and up.

Atlas of Miniature Adventures, written by Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland
published in 2017 by Wide Eyed Editions

This darling, pocket-sized book is another treasure from Wide Eyed. I am gaga for all their atlases! See more of them here, here, and here.

Why do the tallest mountains and longest rivers get all the attention? It’s time to focus on the small stuff, from intricate model villages to snow globe museums, the world’s smallest postal service and its tiniest frog.  Spectacular illustration work as always from Lucy Letherland along with pint-sized bits of text scoot us around the globe on the search for small. Ages 4 and up.

Atlas of Oddities, written by Clive Gifford, illustrated by Tracy Worrall
published in 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Have you heard of the surfing and skateboarding mice off the Gold Coast in Australia? Or the Night of the Radishes celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico with intricate sculptures carved out of large radishes?

Middle graders who gobble up trivia will enjoy browsing through 90 pages of maps sprinkled with all sorts of outlandish details about the things people do and the strange sights one might see all over the world.

Children Around the World: A Photographic Treasury of the Next Generation, by Peter Guttman
published in 2015 by Skyhorse Publishing

This is a coffee-table book loaded with gorgeous full-page photos of children the world over.

Hundreds of ravishing, professional shots from an award-winning photographer capture the beautiful faces and fascinating environments these children call home. 

Captions tell where in the world this is and most times a tiny bit of what’s going on in the photo, but beyond that there’s no text. Just face-to-face encounters with a magnificent variety of cultures. My one issue with this book is that there is scant diversity among the photos of children from the U.S. There are a few of Native children (which is most welcome); only one of a Black American child; the rest are non-urban, white, middle-class kids. That pained me greatly, but does not mean I don’t highly recommend the book for its extraordinary polish and global reach.

I’d share this with kids as young as 2, just leafing through and talking about the pictures together. Great springboard into further reading.

Take Shelter: At Home Around the World, by Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton
published in 2014 by Orca Book Publishers

This survey of the immense variety of dwelling places people call home will suit children with  longer attention spans than some of the easier picture books.

Short paragraphs explaining everything from an underground opal mine community in the Australian Outback, to a capsule hotel in Japan, to reed houses floating on the surface of Lake Titicaca in Peru are accompanied by small but vivid photos.

This book isn’t just about seeing different houses. You will also learn a little about why houses might be built underground or built with mobility in mind; find out how available materials and environments impact the way homes are built; discover all kinds of innovations to tackle disaster-relief or homelessness. Brief, interesting, thought-provoking for kids ages about 6 or 7 and up.

Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World, written by Beatrice Hollyer, images by multiple photographers
published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company in association with Oxfam

This is one in a series of books published in conjunction with Oxfam, an international association of charities working to eradicate poverty around the globe. I really like what they’ve done. It is similar in concept to the first book in today’s post.

They first dispatched photographers to spend time with six families around the world. Each family has a child around the age of 7. The photographs of these families accompany short narrations telling how they go about their days and especially their relationship with water. With families in arid Ethiopia and Mauritania, as well as flood-prone Bangladesh; families in the mountains of Peru and Tajikistan, and in the city of Los Angeles — the way they obtain water, the amount of water available to them, and how they use water, are all strikingly different and thought-provoking.

Well-written at a level that’s accessible to children as young as 4, these accounts provide a more in-depth look at family life than the other books in today’s post. There are several others in this series. I’ve reviewed one in the past:

Let’s Eat: What Children Eat Around the World (2004)

You can read the review here, if you wish. It’s the exact same format as this book.

Wake Up World (1999)

 

Here are links to a few more favorite books I’ve previously reviewed which would make grand Start-Your-Engines sorts of books for traveling the world. Click the link to read my review. The last book is especially well-suited to older kids:

People

Atlas of Adventures

At the Same Moment Around the World

Around the World with Mouk: A Trail of Adventure

A Ride on Mother’s Back: Baby-Carrying Around the World

Where Children Sleep

You can find lots more books like these surveying global schools, homes, grandparents, languages, and more in my Subject Index. Scroll down to Cultures and look in the section called Multiple Cultures. Every title is linked to its review.

Happy travels!

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Welcome to a cherry-sweet helping of cheery stories.


Whether you need a story to match your sunny mood or one to relieve the gray, these’ll quench your thirst!

Raymond, by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Raymond is happy to be part of the family, enjoying lavish birthday parties, snug spots by the sofa, and copious scratching in just the right spot behind his ears, when it suddenly occurs to him that he has no seat at the table. Literally. Why am I eating out of a bowl on the floor ?

His mission to become as human as possible takes him everywhere from the movies to the corporate world, the rest of the canine population keeping right up with him. But exhausted by this frenetic pace, Raymond makes a huge, doggy discovery.

What is the good life anyway? Raymond is a brilliant, charismatic character. The artwork here is sophisticated and contemporary, with many hilarious visual puns to keep adult readers in good humor. Check it out for ages 4 and up.

A Perfect Day, written and illustrated by Lane Smith
published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

What makes a perfect summer’s day for you?

For cat, it’s that golden sun pouring warmth onto his back as he lounges amongst the daffodils.

For dog, it’s the sparkling cool water that his buddy Bert hoses into the wading pool, just for him.

Discover how one person’s perfect day just might clobber all the others in this playful, surprising tale. Jolly for ages 2 and up.

Gus’s Garage, written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
first published in New Zealand, 2016; first American edition 2017 by Gecko Press

Gus is a first class collector of the odd bits and bobs. His motor garage overflows with what appears to be useless junk!

Yet as one friend after another arrives with car troubles of all sorts and sizes, Gus’s salvage yard, fueled by his enormous cleverness, sends each one off with a curiously, marvelously improved vehicle!

Great fun, with Timmers’ gleaming artwork boinging off the pages. Watch the way that junk pile disappears little by little as the story progresses. Ages 2 and up.

The Frog in the Well, written by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
originally published in 1958; republished by the New York Review Children’s Collection in 2017

Here’s a charming vintage classic by a talented duo. There was once a frog who lived in a well. He loved everything about his well and believed it to be the whole world! What a lot he was missing. The freshness of a daisy. The rustle of a spring breeze. The cool shadows of a forest.

When necessity forces this little fellow to clamber out of his well, he discovers what a wide and interesting world is indeed out there! Such wisdom he gains, as well as lots of new froggy friends. Great story with splendid illustrations by Duvoisin.  Share this with ages 3 and up.

Things to Do, written by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien
published in 2016 by Chronicle Books

Lushly imaginative, this book sparks ideas and wonderings that are rich food for the mind.

What would you do, if you were the Dawn? “Shoo away night. Wash the eastern sky with light…Rouse resting roosters. Set songbirds singing.

And what if you were a honeybee? How about an eraser?! Each ordinary object has resplendent purpose in these lyrical, brief musings. They’re accompanied by warm, dreamy artwork — great collaboration going on here. This will surely prompt new ways of seeing, thinking, imagining in children, ages 2 and older.

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, written by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
published in 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

Tea, that elixir of comfort, that afternoon companion of sweets, that spicy morning aroma! Around the world there are such varieties of tea, such strong traditions for preparing and serving it!

This fantastical story finds the Queen in a dither. Her cuppa is just not making the grade. In fact, it tastes downright horrible. So off she sets in her hot-air balloon, traveling the world to discover the perfect cup of tea. Landing in Japan, India, and Turkey, the Queen is treated to a lovely tea at each stop.

What makes the perfect cup? Her warmhearted conclusion will make you smile. Charming illustrations and an author’s note telling more about tea round this one out. I wish they’d included more precise directions for each brew but you’ll have to experiment on your own. That sounds like the recipe for a lovely summer’s day! Ages 4 and up.

Norton and Alpha, written and illustrated by Kristyna Litten
published in 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Norton lives in a nearly-dystopian landscape, grey factories looming above a wasteland of industrial scrap. For all that, he’s quite a happy fellow because Norton is a collector and an inventor. All these odds and ends are useful for building doohickeys and thingamabobs of one sort and another. His latest invention is Alpha — an immensely satisfying robot companion.

One day Norton and Alpha find something highly unusual. What on earth is it? Try as they might, they cannot discover what particular use this thing has, until with the miracle of seeds and blooms, their world is transformed and they discover its purpose: Beauty. Share this unusual, surprising ode to beauty and growing things with children ages 3 and up.

A Song About Myself: A Poem by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

At age 22, John Keats tramped off to the hills of Scotland for a good think. There he wrote a letter to his sister, Fanny, which included this homely, eccentric little poem.

Four verses describe a naughty little boy who scribbles poetry and runs away from home to Scotland and what he finds there. It’s a poem full of nonsense and merriment, nursery rhyme rhythms, delicious wordplay, and a pinch of audacity.

Chris Raschka’s wildly loose line, swashy colors, and preposterous figures bring this song to life in the best way. Like a tart strawberry mousse, a squirt of lime, a juicy smack of bubblegum — taste and enjoy with kids ages 3 and up. An illustrator’s note gives more background information on Keats.

Go Sleep in Your Own Bed!, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Lori Nichols
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

It’s nighty-night time on the farm but when Pig waddley-jogs his way to the sty what does he discover?! The cow, sleeping in his bed. Harrumph! “Go sleep in your own bed!” grumps Pig.

So off cow tromps to her stall. But — you guessed it — someone else has curled up in cow’s hay. The hilarious sequence of unwelcome bed-stealers that unfolds here is absolute picture book perfection for children ages 18 months and up. Perfect page turns. Merrily inventive language. Humorous illustration work. And a repeating chorus of “Go sleep in your own bed!” perfect for joining in all together. This is one to read again and again and again…

The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat, written by Becky Davies, illustrated by Caroline Attia
published originally in Great Britain; published in the U.S. 2017 by Tiger Tales

Plum silly, that’s what you get here with these three ridiculous pugs dressed to kill and taking the parts of the famous pigs.

The two younger brothers are as lazy a lot as those other straw-and-stick builders, and the third one even cleverer, I dare say, than the original, with both a brick house and a wily escape plan.

Their nemesis, a mean and clever kitty who wants to snitch their food in the worst way, is quite a success at the huffing and puffing. But you’ll be shocked — shocked, I say! — by her true identity and comeuppance! Giggles galore here with utterly brilliant, preposterous illustration work that will rivet children to the pages. It starts and ends on the endpapers so don’t miss those! Ages 3 and up.

I live in Minneapolis. Sure, it’s not nearly the global city that London is. Yet Minnesota is one of the top states in our nation for refugee resettlement, with refugees from 25 countries arriving here in just the past year.

Minnesota is well-known for its large populations of Hmong-, Somali-, and Liberian-Americans, as well as immigrants from the world over.

That means when I move around my city I’m likely to hear a lovely variety of languages, see clothing reflecting numerous cultures, find restaurants cooking up delicious ethnic foods. It’s one of the things I love about my home.

Having raised my children for some years outside of the U.S. — in both Quebec and West Africa — I have learned to highly value a multicultural mindset. This is easier in a place like Minneapolis than it is, for example, in the small northern Minnesota town where I grew up. There are ways, though, to increase our engagement with the world wherever we are, and one of those ways is: books. (You knew I was going to say this.)

It’s more important than ever to cultivate an attitude of boundary-less love in ourselves and our children if we want to build societies that reach out to one another with peace, kindness, and warmth. We can start simply by learning about other ways of life.

I’ve always been partial to books that open a window onto another part of the world and its fascinating array of cultures. There are dozens and dozens of these titles in the Marmalade archives already.

Over the past months I’ve been searching out more gems for you that present global cultures. My goal has been to publish a world tour of sorts for you to embark on at your convenience. Perhaps with summer’s lingering days and pushed-back bedtimes, this is a good time to launch off.

On my quest, I’ve been looking for quite particular kinds of stories. Not folk tales from other lands. Not books on the wildlife of different regions. Not fantastical stories. My search has been for at-least-somewhat-realistic fiction and creative nonfiction picture books that really help us see what life looks like for children growing up elsewhere.

I have researched and read stacks and stacks of books to find the ones I’ll be sharing. Although there are some regions sadly unrepresented at this point, and some unfortunate tendencies in the narratives of other regions which I’ll point out, overall I’ve been excited to see the breadth of coverage that’s available. 

Every “elsewhere” is someone’s familiar. As we share these stories with our children, I hope we can learn to savor differences and marvel over commonalities that mark the human race. I hope by tasting far-flung cultures via picture books, we can begin to approach differences in our own cities and neighborhoods with warmth and respect.

I’ll be sprinkling in posts most weeks throughout the summer with what I’ve unearthed. They’ll be grouped by region. You might try checking out a few titles and then seeing what more you can discover about that part of the world by cooking something yummy together, visiting an ethnic neighborhood in your city, listening to ethnic music…I would absolutely love it if you would share your ideas with us in the comments so others can be inspired along the way.

To start us off, I’ve got some unique atlases and dynamic birds-eye-view-of-the-world type books!  Get your bags packed and head out to meet the kids in the global tour, coming soon!

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