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Our last week in Africa brings us to the West, an area dear to my heart.

I wrote an entire post on West Africa in the midst of the Ebola crisis which so devastated several regions there. A number of those titles appear here as well but you can access them all through this link to that blog.

A handful of grand, ancient civilizations ruled and spread throughout this region, so despite modern borders, cultural similarities blur those lines. Thus, my first book today isn’t set in any one particular location, but offers a fabulous window into everyday life in much of West Africa. I’ve loved it for decades!

A Country Far Away

Illustrated snapshots of two boys’ lives are used to compare the similarities and differences between them. What does it look like for each of them to swim on a hot day? welcome a new baby? play a game of soccer? Brilliant for ages 3 and up. Read my full review here.

Now lets journey through West Africa, starting at the northernmost point…

Mauritania


Deep in the Sahara

This striking book welcomes us into an unusual setting deep in the Sahara, where Lalla longs to wear the malafa — the long, flowing veil worn by all women in her community. But she’s too little.

Colors zing, words sing, and a culture and faith come alive for ages 3 and up. Outstanding. My full review is here.

The Children of Mauritania: Days in the Desert and by the River Shore, written and photographed by Lauren Goodsmith
published in 1993 by Carolrhoda Books

This book is perhaps the least story-like of my world tour books but despite that, and despite its lengthy text, and despite its age — I fell in love with it.

I am quite sure that’s because of how potently some of these pictures reminded me of our old home in Guinea, West Africa — a rare sight in children’s literature.

 

Lauren Goodsmith follows the lives of two Mauritanian children in quite disparate zones of the country. Fatimatou belongs to the ethnic group called the Moors, and lives a desert life in central Mauritania.

Hamadi belongs to the Halpoular people living along the Senegal River. Their lives look tremendously different from one another — a helpful understanding for us to gain. Goodsmith spools out rich cultural details along with her excellent photographs in this lengthy text which could be read aloud bit by bit to interested children at about age 7. Adults with an interest in this region will find this fascinating as well.

Mali

52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure, written by Lawrence Raskin with Deborah Pearson, photographed by Lawrence Raskin, maps illustrated by Farida Zaman
published in 2008 by Annick Press

Okay, this is one of my favorite books from the entire tour ūüôā That’s because I’ve always had a huge yearning to journey into the Sahara. When we lived in Guinea, I thought we might make it to Timbuktu, as several of our friends had done, but we waited just too long and the rebel activity there made it too dangerous. (Heavy sigh.)

But Lawrence Raskin did ALL of that on his epic, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Sahara adventure that turned my heart just a shade green with envy. His photo essay of travels from Morocco through Mauritania and on into Mali, ending up in Timbuktu and Taoudenni, brim with adventure. Intriguing sidebars teach us how to climb up into the saddle of a camel, proper protocol for taking tea in a nomad’s tent, and other good things you’ll need to know for your own desert excursion. Enjoy this one a chapter at a time with ages 8 and up.

I Lost My Tooth In Africa, written by Penda Diakité, illustrated by Baba Wagué Diakité
published in 2006 by Scholastic Press

When Amina flies to Bamako, Mali for an extended visit with her dad’s family, she’s got a loose tooth. Her father tells her that the African Tooth Fairy looks for a lost tooth under a gourd and replaces it with a chicken! Exciting stuff! Will it work, in Amina’s case?

Amina’s eventful stay is colorfully narrated and illustrated in this delightful story, which includes that lost tooth, but so much more. Life in a typical compound in Bamako is wonderfully on display. Share this with ages 2 and up.

Sierra Leone


Be Patient Abdul

A young boy from Freetown sells oranges in the streets in order to earn money for school fees.

It’s a rare, colorful glimpse of Sierra Leone in children’s literature for ages 4 and up. My full review is here.

Liberia


Son of a Gun

Liberia was the scene of a prolonged, horrific civil war from 1989 until 2003. The children growing up during that time — oh! what violence they witnessed. Some of them were pressed into service as child soldiers. This devastating account reveals the trauma of that life for ages 12 to adult. My full review is here.

Cote d’Ivoire


The Bitter Side of Sweet

Surprisingly, I could find no picture books set in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory ¬†Coast) even though there is so much to tell about and see in this country. Rather than leave it off of today’s list entirely, I’m including this link to a review of a middle-grade/young adult novel revealing the dark side of cocoa harvesting. An eye-opening, riveting read.

Burkina Faso

All Aboard for the Bobo Road, written by Stephen Davies, illustrated by Christopher Corr
first published in Great Britain; American edition published in 2016 by Andersen Press USA

Climb aboard in the most comfortable seat on this cheek-to-jowl taxi — your armchair!

Join a vibrant expedition on a crammed minibus journeying through Burkina Faso. Feel the heat, ride past waterfalls, rock domes, and the fabulous Bobo-Dioulasso Grand Mosque. Better slice up some juicy pineapple and watermelon to sample while you bump along these roads! The Day-glo colors of these illustrations will knock your socks off! A joy for ages 2 and up.

Bintou’s Braids, written by Sylviane A. Diouf, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2001 by Chronicle Books

Bintou is just a little girl. Her hair is short, gathered together neatly in four little tufts on her head. The problem is, Bintou despises those tufts. Bintou wants braids like her glamorous older sister. But braids are most definitely not for little girls.

On the great and festive day of her baby brother’s baptism, though, Bintu turns into a hero and is granted a reward. Can you guess what she asks for?!

This story is so full of life and West African culture and sights and sounds and tastes! Fabulous combination of text and illustration brings both Bintou’s charming personality and the region to life. It is not specified as taking place in Burkina Faso, but I set it here because artist Shane Evans tips his hat to friends in Burkina in his dedication. Enjoy this gem with ages 2 and up.

Ghana

Sosu’s Call, written and illustrated by Meshack Asare
published in Ghana in 1997; first American edition 2002 by Kane/Miller

Ghanaian artist Meshack Asare won multiple prizes for this unusual story of a crippled boy seeking to live a dignified, purposeful life in his village in Ghana.

Sosu cannot walk and is therefore left behind in his family’s compound while the others head off to work and school. His family cares for him with tenderness, but others in the village harbor superstitious fears about his condition and the harm he may bring to them. Sosu turns the tables on his future place in the community when he saves them from impending disaster through quick thinking.

The plight of those with disabilities in impoverished African communities is such an important topic, treated here with distinction. An authentic story with sophisticated artwork, this introduces some of the realities of West Africa handsomely for ages 4 and up. This author/artist has a number of other titles that look fabulous but I was not able to access them. If you can, I’d suggest you do!

Welcome Dede: An African Naming Ceremony, written and photographed by Ifeoma Onyefulu
published in 2003 by Frances Lincoln

I tried to explain, once, to someone from the United States, just how important naming ceremonies are to various cultures. I failed. So I was thrilled to see this book devoted to a naming ceremony among the Ga people of Ghana.

No, everyone doesn’t just comb the baby name books and choose whatever name seems best to them. Travel to Ghana in this photo essay, meet a jubilant family on the occasion of the naming of a new little cousin, and learn about the intricacies of baby-naming in one specific culture.

Ifeoma Onyefulu has many other titles depicting real life in West Africa, especially her original home of Nigeria. They are some of the best out there for unsentimental, real displays of everyday life in these settings. Ages 3 and up.

Nigeria

Catch That Goat: A Market Day in Nigeria, written and illustrated by Polly Alakija
published in 2002 by Barefoot Books

The colors and liveliness of a Nigerian marketplace are wall-to-wall in this cheerful story. Little Ayoka is on the move, chasing down her family’s goat through the crowded market.

No one seems to have seen it, but clever readers will catch glimpses of that naughty goat on every page. Great fun for ages 2 and up.

Chike and the River, written by Chinua Achebe, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
published originally in 1966; this edition 2011 by Anchor Books/Random House

This short chapter book by Nigeria’s most famous, beloved author — not to mention one of the world’s most beloved authors — just has to be mentioned here. I didn’t even realize Achebe had written fiction accessible to young children, so I was really pleased to run across this.

It’s the story of a boy named Chike, age 11, who has grown up in Umuofia, the same village that’s the setting for Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart. At the outset of the story, Chike is sent away from this bush village to live with his uncle in the bigger city of Onitsha where there are more opportunities for young boys. His mom’s parting words are a warning: Go well, my son. Listen to whatever your uncle says and obey him. Onitsha is a big city, full of dangerous people and kidnappers. Therefore do not wander about the city. In particular do not go near the River Niger; many people get drowned there every year…”

The trouble is, there is such an allure to that grand river, and to the rumored city that sits on the far bank. Chike is insatiably curious to see it for himself. Follow his adventures and mishaps, his gullibility and growth, in this wonderful, hair-raising story. Ages 8 and up.

Anna Hibiscus

All of the Anna Hibiscus stories are cream-of-the-crop multicultural fare set in Nigeria. You can read my review of several of them here and here. Besides the short chapter books, there are several picture books starring Anna for younger siblings, including:

Splash, Anna Hibiscus! written by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first American edition published in 2013 by Kane Miller

Anna and her whole, loving, commotion-filled family are heading to the beach on this sizzling day. Anna longs to swim, but everyone is busy with other things.

The grown ups snooze with the newspaper or braid one another’s hair. The cousins kick a football around and build sandcastles. Who will splash in the waves with Anna?!

Infectiously happy, as always, and a tremendous glimpse of contemporary Nigerian life from this delightful author and artist. Ages 2 and up.

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And here’s where my book give-away comes in!

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The great people at Kane Miller who import the Anna Hibiscus titles for American readers have provided me with one of the newest titles to arrive on our side of the pond:

Go Well, Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobias
first published in the UK 2014; first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller
95 pages

I loved this episode in Anna’s life in which she travels with her grandparents from her home in the huge city of Lagos to the village her grandparents once called home.

I love it because it’s so full of the warmth and life that characterize the whole series. But beyond that, I love its revelation of the vastly different lifestyles in contemporary Africa. As an urban child, growing up in a multiracial African household, Anna is taken aback when she does not easily fit into traditional, village life. A fantastic choice for a read-aloud or an early independent reader.

Enter the drawing by telling us in the comments which of today’s children/locations you’d most like to visit. Do that before next week, and I’ll draw the name of one winner. Only American postal addresses — sorry; my budget doesn’t allow worldwide shipping! (I wish it did!)¬†

You can’t buy these books on Amazon. If you don’t win, here’s a link to Usborne, where you can purchase one or more Anna Hibiscus titles.

Our next stop takes us across the Atlantic to Central and South America. Why not invite others along for the journey!

Here are links to our previous destinations:

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

 

Today our tour hovers in the central region of Africa and journeys all the way to its southernmost tip. Let’s begin in…

Chad


Rain School, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

The children in this village and their indomitable teacher rebuild their school building each year after the tremendous rains of rainy season wash the old one away. 

Making mud bricks, building mud desks, drying them in the hot sun, thatching the roof, until finally, finally it’s time to take their seats and begin learning. Vibrant in both story and illustrations. Ages 4 and up.

Cameroon

The Village of Round and Square Houses, written and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi
published in 1986 by Little, Brown and Company

This Caldecott Honor winner from 1987 brings us to Tos, a small village in the Bameni Hills of Cameroon, where for time immemorial the men have lived in square houses while the women live in round ones!

Find out how this tradition came about in this account, illustrated in gorgeous pastels by Ann Grifalconi. Superb storytelling, cultural details, and an old local legend will all leave kids spellbound, ages 3 or 4 and up.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Monkey for Sale, written and illustrated by Sanna Stanley
published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

A little girl named Luzolo is given a 5-franc coin to spend at market. Determined to barter for the best thing she sees, she sets off, passing stands of mango candy, spicy peppers, fresh roasted peanuts, handwoven baskets.

What will Luzolo purchase? How much might a monkey cost? Can Luzolo and her best friend Kiese contrive to get that monkey? It’s a cheerful, clever story revealing effortlessly a typical, lively market, the bartering system so familiar to this much of Africa, and the workaday world of Luzolo’s village. Ages 3 and up.

A Walk Through a Rain Forest: Life in the Ituri Forest of Zaire, written by David Jenike and Mark Jenike, photography by Mark Jenike
published in 1994 by Franklin Watts

This book is old enough that the name “Zaire” appears in its title, but the fascinating life of peoples whose home for thousands of years has been the rain forest of central Africa is just as compelling.

You’ll notice the cover, in keeping with its publication date, doesn’t look particularly zoopy, and it’s certainly not one of the newer creative-nonfiction styled books. But for slightly older children, the text is packed with intriguing information about the way of life of the Efe and Lese peoples and the creatures with whom they share these forests. This area of the world is scarcely covered in children’s lit. A bit lengthy. Try this with ages 7 or 8 and up, a bit at a time.

Malawi

Galimoto

One of my kids’ all time favorite books growing up, this delightful story describes the ingenuous toy cars that Malawian children, as well as kids in many other parts of Africa, make with the odd bits and bobs of metal they can scavenge. Read my full review here. It’s a gem for ages 3 and up.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
published in 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers

William Kamkwamba’s story has been told in longer works for older readers. This picture book brings his life in Malawi alive for young children.

Learn about the impact of drought on William’s community, the dread hunger that threatened their lives when crops would not grow through lack of rain, and of his brilliant engineering feat that transformed the village. It’s such an inspiring, hopeful story, for ages 5 and up. A lengthy afterword fills in lots of details.

Mozambique

Street Children Across the World, written by Anthony Robinson, illustrated by June Allan
published in 2014 by Frances Lincoln Books

This is a sad title to stand alone under Mozambique, but the children featured in this title live there, as well as in Zimbabwe and Guatemala. And honestly, I am pleased to see this UK title spotlighting an enormous population that exists in our world.

There are an estimated 100-150 million street children currently. Just think about that number!

What are their lives like? Why are they on the street instead of in a home with a family? The answers to these questions are extremely tragic and raw, and at times dumbfoundingly vague and strange. In his short, excellent introduction, Anthony Robinson explains why that may be the case. It’s very helpful to read that before you begin your journey through this troubling book.

Photographs, colored pencil sketches, and the children’s own words comprise the whole account which differentiates between street-living children, street-working children, and street-living families. Eye-opening and important, I’d suggest ages 8 or 9 and up.

Madagascar

Torina’s World: A Child’s Life in Madagascar, photography and text by Joni Kabana, edited by Benjamin Opsahl
published originally in 1997; this edition 2008 by Arnica Publishing, Inc.

This is such a unique and lovely book. It’s a photo essay. The photographer was guided by a little girl — whose image is on the book’s cover — through areas near the village of Marovoay, Madagascar, allowing her to gain the access and welcome needed to take these pictures.

The photographs are gorgeous, all produced in sepia tones. Accompanying them are only brief sentences of text, one telling simply what is going on in the photo, one asking how that compares to the reader’s experience. We get rides in the pousse-pousse. What do you ride in? Simple, but immensely engaging, effectively drawing children’s attention to the similarities and differences we share with people far and near. A ¬†short afterword updates us on Torina ten years after the project, and tells more about Madagascar. Ages 2 and up.

Zimbabwe

Gugu’s House, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 2001 by Clarion Books

In the dry grasslands of Zimbabwe, down a long, dusty path,¬†a most extraordinary house stands, created by an extraordinary woman named Gugu. She’s Kukamba’s grandmother, and what an artist she is, crafting giant zebras and elephants, jet planes and striking patterns that burst upon the eyes of the villagers like a fantasy.

Kukamba wants to become an artist, too. She has to learn how to create, and how to persevere, and how to see, and Gugu is just the one to lead her on that journey. Brilliant story based on a real woman and her fantastical compound in Zimbabwe.

Where Are You Going, Manyoni? written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1993 by Morrow Junior Books

Catherine Stock’s gorgeous watercolors open up the world of the veld along the Limpopo River where one little girl named Manyoni lives. Her walk to school is extraordinary! You won’t want to miss tagging along with her.

A lovely read for ages 2 and up, with an Author’s Note, and a guide to the veld wildlife included.

South Africa

A South African Night

A child in Johannesburg falls asleep with visions of the plains animals dancing in her head. Beautiful work from Rachel Isadora for ages 2 and up. My full review is here.

Goal, written by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A.G. Ford
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Football — the beautiful game — ignites passions around the world. Not the least in this South African township, where Ajani and his buddies are elated to play with the new, federation-size, leather ball Ajani has won for being best reader in his class.

Their after-school game is full of the joy of young boys’ championship dreams except for one thing: a gang of bullies that ¬†makes the streets unsafe. Is there any way for Ajani and his friends to outwit the bullies, keep their prime football, and become truly unbeatable?

I’m so happy to see this contemporary, urban setting, and one featuring sport to boot. Dynamic, robust illustrations. Great choice for ages 4 and up.

A Song for Jamela, written and illustrated by Niki Daly
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Niki Daly has brought contemporary South Africa to vivid life with his Jamela series. In this story, Jamela is consumed with the Afro-Idols TV contest. Her grandmother, Gogo, wants her off that couch and doing something interesting so she sends her to Aunt Beauty’s hair salon to “help out” for the day.

When the entrancing Miss Bimbi Chaka Chaka, Jamela’s favorite Afro-Idol contestant, comes in the shop to have her hair done, it turns out to be a most surprising day for everyone involved! Funny and upbeat and a great urban African setting. Ages 4 and up.

The Herd Boy, written and illustrated by Niki Daly
published in 2012 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Malusi herds his grandfather’s sheep and goats on the sunny South African veldt. It’s a big job for such a small boy, but Malusi is dependable, a quick learner, a hard worker, comfortable in solitude, and fierce in protecting his herd from many dangers. His friends dream of playing professional soccer, but Malusi has a much bigger dream.

It sounds preposterous to some, but one dignified visitor to Malusi’s village thinks otherwise. Rich cultural insights, an inspiring story beaming with hope, and a cameo appearance by Nelson Mandela. Ages 4 and up.

At the Crossroads, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 1991 by Greenwillow Books

In many South African homes, fathers spend a great deal of time away from home, working in the mines. Rachel Isadora beautifully captures the longing and excitement as these children await the homecoming of their fathers after ten long months. This book was written several years before apartheid was abolished, and takes place in a shanty town in a segregated township. I honestly don’t know how this scene might have changed in the past 25 years. ¬†Meanwhile, it’s a warm, rich story for ages 3 and up.

Our next stop is West Africa. Be sure to join us!

Here are links to our previous destinations:

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

Still a few weeks of summer left. These books are full of warmth and joy. A perfect fit.

Dog on a Frog?, written by Kes & Claire Gray, illustrated by Jim Field
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Cats on mats and pigs in wigs are standard fare for kids’ books.

In this funny romp of a story, the dog prefers to sit on …a frog. Which is none too pleasant for the frog. This leads the frog to create a whole new list of Rules Pertaining to Where Animals Sit. Dogs, according to this very bossy frog, now sit on logs. Not frogs. So.

And what about cats? And bears? Or gnus? And even canaries? Yup, this frog has got everyone covered. Great fun and cram-jam with bouncy rhyming pairs that will have kids eagerly pitching in to the storytelling. And wait’ll you see where the frog ends up sitting. He is one smart cookie. A barrel of fun in bombastic colors for ages 2 and up.

Wet, written and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
published in 2017 by Godwin Books

I love this book with its gentle exploration of a truly child-friendly subject — wetness. Its ambling pace, conversational tone, child’s perspective, quiet observations, are early childhood gold in my estimation.

There’s the wetness of a pool. The possibility of cannonballing in to get wet all at once, or of dipping in just a toe. There’s the wetness of paint on a park bench, and the wetness of tears damping a dad’s shoulder. Tender and joyful, accompanied by warm, minimalist drawings.

 Brilliant for ages 2 and up.

Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
originally published in 1972; reissued by Purple House Press

Dear Miss Jaster lives in a grand old house by the sea. In the gardens surrounding her home lives a small hedgehog named, obviously, Hedgie. The two are cordial friends, Miss Jaster setting out bowls of milk in the evening for Hedgie, Hedgie listening dreamily to Miss Jaster’s piano playing.

One day Miss Jaster, planting her flower gardens, accidentally showers Hedgie with seeds of Sweet William and Baby’s Breath. Waters him, too. (She is a bit near-sighted after all.) ¬†When Hedgie blooms, then breaks into rapturous cavorting about the lanes, Miss Jaster is convinced that a thief is absconding with bits of her garden!¬†

In 1972, this was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. It was the first story both written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker, a Danish-American illustrator whose work graces many children’s books including the classic Edward Eager fantasy novels. Purple House Press is dedicated to bringing rare gems back into print, and this is indeed a gem. Ages 4 and up.

Little Sister Rabbit Gets Lost, written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
first published in Sweden in 1987; English edition 2017 by Floris Books

The classic Swedish stories of Little Sister Rabbit are available in English now, and this one is a sweet starting spot.

Small and enthusiastic, Little Sister Rabbit is off today for an adventure All By Herself. It starts off swimmingly with puddle stomping and pebble plopping. Her heart swells with independence. But happiness ebbs swiftly when she discovers that she’s lost.

Peeping into one burrow after the next, Little Sister Rabbit wanders her way into many places a young rabbit does not belong. The night feels like a mighty lonely place until rescue arrives. Who could it be? Pure charm for ages 2 and up.

Chirri & Chirra In the Tall Grass, written and illustrated by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko
published in 2017 by Enchanted Lion Books

Chirri and Chirra are tiny sisters, so tiny the white clover in the lawn are towering trees and bumblebees make cunning companions.

Join them on a bicycle-and-tea adventure through the lawn-forest as they dine on honey sponge cake balls courtesy of the local hive, sip freshly squeezed juice flavored with yumberry fruit by the flower chafers, and in general have a fantasy-filled afternoon.

Miniature worlds delight us all, and this one is so beautifully drawn and realized by Kaya Doi. Pure charm for ages 3 and up. There are more Chirri & Chirra books to investigate if you love this one.

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, written by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Andrew Joyner
published in 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Garcia and Colette are great friends but disagree on what the most enticing place is to explore — outer space or ocean depths. So they agree to disagree, build a rocket ship and submarine, and go their separate ways.

And they each discover realio coolio stuff about space and the ocean. But they also discover that venturing off is not quite as fun with no compatriot by your side. After a splashy reunion, they figure out how to have their cake and eat it, too! Singing language, a wonderfully-paced story, and Andrew Joyner’s brilliant illustrations combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable story. Perfect for ages 4 and up.

King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Finally, this gorgeous, poignant story, a perfect example of why picture books are not only for young children. This beauty strikes a chord in the hearts of middle grade through adult readers perhaps even more so than the very young.

Our narrator is a school-age boy, a war refugee who has fled his beloved home in Italy, land of “sunlight, fountains, and the vanilla smell of ice cream in my nonna’s gelateria.” He now resides, apparently, in Wales. In this new place, his spirit is sodden as the ceaseless rain, lonely as the smoke from a hundred grey chimneys , hopeless as the smell of coal dust and mutton soup. Nothing about it feels like home.

A vital ray of light emanates from Mr. Evans, a kindhearted, retired coal miner who trains racing pigeons. ¬†Their growing friendship, the thrill of these home-coming birds, the distances spanned, and one champion racer, all touch the boy’s life with the modicum of belonging and miracle needed to heal his heart and make this contrary place — home.

Laura Carlin’s stunning illustrations are complex, emotive, deftly conveying both dreariness and camaraderie, doubt and joy. She is brilliant. Check this out for older-than-typical picture book readers, ages 7 and up.

 

As we continue our way through the vast continent of Africa, I’m recommending a book that counters an unhelpful perspective, which is to discuss Africa as though it were a country.

Too often in various collections, stories are listed from, say, Japan, Brazil, Poland… and Africa. Of course, these are not equivalents.

Africa is really, really big.

Africa is huge.  Maps like this one help us get perspective on just how large it is.

And Africa is incredibly diverse. When we lived in West Africa many years ago, our home was near the Sahel. My kids grew tired of American children asking what it was like to live near lions, or in the jungle. 

Actually what it looks like where we lived. No lions. No jungle.

This massive, diverse, and misunderstood continent deserves better! One of my favorite books treats just this topic and it comes highly recommended as a starting point for this portion of our tour:

Africa is Not a Country, written by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
published in 2000 by Millbrook Press

Take a quick hovercraft tour of the continent visiting markedly different cultures, peoples, and settings from an urban family in Eritrea to a family living among the snowy mountains in Lesotho; schoolgirls in uniforms on the busy streets of Cairo, and islanders on Cape Verde farming the steep hillsides. Tantalizing paragraphs give just a glimpse of the local culture while warm, colorful illustrations show us the look of life in each unique location.

Back pages list every country on the continent with a little tidbit of information about it. This book is nearing 20 years old so there will be some outdated facts but for the most part it is a fabulous introduction to the continent. Ages 4 and up.

Now let’s tour East Africa!

ERITREA

Trouble, written by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Durga Bernhard
published in 1997 by Harcourt Brace & Co.

Tekleh is a little boy who always seems to find trouble, from kicking up dust onto the roasting coffee beans to losing track of the family’s goats.

His father thinks a new gebeta board (you probably know this as mancala) will keep Tekleh busy and thus keep him out of trouble. But he has no idea the wild series of events that gebeta board will instigate! This delightful tale takes us through the hillsides of Eritrea introducing lovely bits of the culture there through Tekleh’s encounters. Wonderful illustrations fill in a great deal of cultural detail as well and an afterword tells more about this relatively new country. Fantastic, for ages 3 and up.

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian Voices: Tsion’s Life, written by Stacy Bellward, photographs by Erlend Berge
published in 2008 by Amharic Kids

This photo-essay of a young girl named Tsion, age 11, might not be easy for you to find but I love it for its realism and warm portrait of family life in contemporary Ethiopia.

Tsion and her family live in Kechene, a slum in Addis Ababa. She describes her community as kind and very friendly, and tells us about her family, home, neighborhood, Ethiopian Orthodox traditions, school, food, and the special places in Ethiopia she’d love to visit. Accompanied by excellent photographs, this is a fascinating, wonderful window into her world for ages 4 and up.

The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa, written by Cristina Kessler, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
published in 2006 by Holiday House

Sitting at over 5,000 feet in the Ethiopian mountains, Lalibela is renowned for its incredible, rock-hewn churches and its honey. Wouldn’t I love to visit! Meet Almaz, a young girl who longs to be one of the Lalibela beekeepers. In fact, she wants to make the best honey of all.

But beekeeping is traditionally a man’s work and Almaz is met with scorn. A wise Orthodox priest opens the way for her to pursue her dreams, and Almaz’s tenacity and inventiveness win her success and respect in the marketplace. Fascinating story with mixed media illustrations that reveal the sun-soaked beauty of Ethiopia and her people. Ages 3 and up.

Only a Pigeon, written by Jane and Christopher Kurtz, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
published in 1997 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, a young boy named Ondu-ahlem lives with his loving family, but little else. Life is immensely enriched, though, by his pet pigeons. Ondu-ahlem cares for them diligently, guarding them from a hungry mongoose, tenderly feeding an orphaned chick, admiring the bravery and speed of his favorite bird, Chinkay. Ondu-ahlem and his friend have a game in which, at a set location,¬† they each release one bird, then try coaxing their own bird¬†plus the other bird, back home. The winner gets to keep his buddy’s pigeon. When your favorite bird is at stake, it’s quite a nerve-wracking event.

Both of the authors grew up in Ethiopia and their affection¬†for the land and people glows in this lovely story. E. B. Lewis brings it all to life with evocative, sun-dappled illustrations. An intriguing Author’s Note tells more about pigeons and the raising of them by Ethiopian boys. Ages 4 and up.

 

The Fastest Boy in the World, written by Elizabeth Laird¬†takes place in the highlands of Ethiopia and the capital city of Addis Ababa. It’s a great little read emphasizing the adoration the Ethiopian people have for the sport of running. You can read my review here.

SOMALIA

Muktar and the Camels, written by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack
published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company

Muktar lives in a Kenyan orphanage throughout this story, but his childhood memories are of Somalia. In those early years, before drought and war engulfed his homeland, Muktar and his family lived a nomadic life there with their camels, and oh! how he longs for that. Working with camels is what life is all about for him.

When a visiting librarian comes from Garissa, Kenya, with loads of books strapped to the backs of a train of camels, Muktar’s deep knowledge of these beasts, passed down to him from his father, ends of saving the day. In return, Muktar’s wildest dreams really do come true.

A rare glimpse of the desert north of Kenya and  Somali refugee children, beautifully illustrated, for ages 4 and up.

KENYA

Beatrice’s Dream: A Story of Kibera Slum, written by Karen Lynn Williams, photographs by Wendy Stone
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Millions of children live in urban slums, vast enclaves of desperate poverty in some of our largest global cities. Yet there are very few books about their lives among the multicultural titles for children.

I am so pleased to acquaint you with this title which spotlights a 13-year-old girl living in one of the largest, most infamous slums in the world, the Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The author and illustrator have used great care to portray Beatrice with dignity, with hopes, dreams, and routines to which your children can relate. It’s an immensely important window into tremendously challenging living conditions that can be shared with children ages 4 or 5 and older.

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation, written and photographed by Jan Reynolds
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

The Maasai are perhaps the ethnic group in Kenya who appear most often in children’s literature. Their colorful red cloaks and intriguing lives as cattle-herding nomads lend themselves well to that, I guess.

This photo essay brings us into the everyday lives of one group of Maasai in northern Kenya. Enter their community, learn about their homes, chores, and the way their lives revolve around herds of cattle and goats. Reynolds uses this story to explore, too, how deforestation and climate change impact the Maasai way of life as well as the land and wildlife in East Africa. That sounds like a lot, but it’s presented in a way easily accessible to kids ages 7 and up.

Planting the Trees of Kenya, reviewed here

and

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, reviewed here

are both beautiful accounts of the Nobel-prize winning Kenyan woman and her reforestation efforts in Kenya.

UGANDA

Beatrice’s Goat, written by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
published in 2001 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

In the rolling hills of Uganda, in a small village called Kisinga, a little girl named Beatrice lives with her mom, brothers, and sisters.

As subsistence farmers who must carry water, hoe the fields, grind cassava flour, tend the chickens, life is a series of daily chores for Beatrice and her family which means that school — that enticing place where children learn such interesting things — is out of reach.

Until one goat changes everything. Discover life in rural Uganda and learn about the huge impact of organizations like the Heifer Project whose gift of a goat sets the economic tables in an upward spiral for Beatrice’s family and many others. Joyful, vibrant paintings accompany this upbeat, intriguing story. Ages 4 and up.

TANZANIA

Kele’s Secret, by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1997 by Lodestar Books

Tololwa Mollel is an Arusha Maasai who grew up on his grandparents’ coffee farm in Tanzania. This fabulous account of a small boy named Yoanes and his search for the eggs laid by grandmother’s hens in such strange places…even frightening places…rings true in a delightful, transporting way.

Catherine Stock’s masterful watercolor work brings the countryside and marketplaces of Tanzania to vivid life. Wonderful story for ages 3 and up.

In a Cloud of Dust, written by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Brian Deines
published in 2015 by Pajama Press

This brief, touching story is set on the hot dusty plains of rural Tanzania. Anna has a long walk to her school so she’s awestruck to see a truck full of bicycles bearing a sign — Bicycle Library — pull up in front of the school. It would be a dream to have a bicycle of her own! In a realistic, poignant twist, Anna and her friends learn to make do and share the bikes they are given.

Gorgeous paintings bring a hot glow to the Tanzanian countryside. An Author’s Note gives further information about the role of bicycles in Africa and some charities working to bring bikes to people who need them. Lovely and thought-provoking for ages 3 and up.

The Elizabeti books are sweet stories set in Tanzania. I’ve previously brought you:

Elizabeti’s Doll

Here’s a sequel to that story:

Mama Elizabeti, written by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2000 by Lee & Low Books

Mama’s had yet another baby, this time a darling sister named Flora. That means Mama’s got her hands full and it’s up to Elizabeti to care for her toddler brother, Obedi.

Elizabeti has had lots of practice taking care of her rock doll, so how hard can this be? Turns out — very hard indeed! Obedi is a busybody! He’s quite a stout load for Elizabeti to carry on her back and causes no end of trouble while she goes about her other daily chores. How on earth is a young girl supposed to manage all this?

This story warmly presents a reality for young African girls who bear extraordinary responsibilities at such tender ages. Elizabeti is a resourceful, kindhearted sister and her solution to her troubles will win your hearts. Ages 4 and up. Look for other titles in this series as well.

Our next stop is Central and Southern Africa.

Here are links to our previous destinations:
Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

We’re veering west this week, exploring Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Islamic cultures weave amongst all these areas somewhat uniting them, so although many of the titles in my ¬†post about Islam in children’s literature aren’t country-specific, most of them would work to supplement this leg of the tour.

Central Asia was by far the least represented region as I looked for children’s literature. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan — just a void in the ol’ card catalog. Middle Eastern titles are predominantly about recent wars. I’ve Mused about the significance of all this recently. The link for that is at the bottom of the blog along with links to earlier stops on our tour.

We’ll start at our easternmost point and move south and west today.

Kyrgyzstan

Caravan, written by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Darryl Ligasan
published in 1995 by Lee & Low Books

Jura lives in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. He’s a young Kirghiz boy, the son of a caravaneer who treks over some of the most rugged mountains in the world, camels laden with felts and furs, to trade in the city for food. This year Jura is 10 and finally old enough to ride in the caravan.

See the craggy mountains, experience the frozen altitudes and snug warmth of a fire-lit cave, enter the city with its grand mosques and bustling bazaar, right along with him. This is such an intriguing window onto a rich culture. Handsome illustrations capture the grandeur of Jura’s¬†homeland and the warmth of his relationship with his father. Ages 3 and up.

Afghanistan

I See the Sun in Afghanistan, written by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese
published in 2011 by Satya House Publications

This is part of the I See the Sun series from Satya House that follows one child through her day in various cultures. It’s a very well done introduction to ordinary Afghani life for ages 4 and up.

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2008; a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Wow! This book is so beautiful. It’s the account of a young boy in modern Baghdad who loves the ancient art of calligraphy. ¬†James Rumford has infused his pages with these sweeping lines, like the sketched path of a figure skater gliding effortlessly across the pages. The exquisite Islamic tiles featuring these same shapes also serve as backdrop to his warm, gorgeous human figures.

Although little Ali’s story harks to the ugly, fearful war around him, and the way that the loveliness of calligraphy is like a shelter for his mind from that terror — still, the bulk of this book is not about war; it’s about an amazing part of Ali’s culture and for that, and for the gorgeous representation of his world, I am really thankful. A small stunner, for ages 4 or 5 and up.

Nasreen’s Secret School

A story of the courageous young girls and their teachers who, under the Taliban, stole in secret to schools despite laws forbidding their education. Read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.

Razia’s Ray of Hope

Also about a young girl’s dream for education. Razia has to overcome the objections of her father and oldest brother with the help of her grandfather. Part of the excellent Citizen Kid series. My full review is here. Ages 6 and up.

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan, written by Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan, photographs by Tony O’Brien
published in 2008 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Documentarians O’Brien and Sullivan traveled to Afghanistan to interview children, asking them questions about their families, lives, and hopes. Asked what their wishes would be. Asked what they would like to show children visiting from America.

Meet street workers and pickpockets, girls and boys, children from Kabul and from the countryside. Hear the common theme of longing for an education. Striking, photographic portraits bring us face to face with these young, dear witnesses of devastation. Their own words serve as captions.

It’s a poignant, beautiful collection, best suited to slightly older readers, ages 9 through adult.

Oman

The Turtle of Oman

An absolutely gorgeous, lyric story of one young boy who must move away from Oman for a time, and all that his homeland means to him. This is a chapter book suited to ages 9 and up. My full review is here.

Leopard Boy

I found this when searching for fantastic fiction under 100 pages. It’s a suspenseful tale about a goatherd named Khalid in the mountains of Oman and his struggle to protect these mysterious creatures. Great for ages 8 or 9 and up.

United Arab Emirates

Jamal’s Journey, written and illustrated by Michael Foreman
published in 2017 by Andersen Press

The unusual setting of Dubai makes this book shine out from among the rest. I am always excited to see new parts of the world appear in children’s books.

Follow a little camel named Jamal as he treks through desert dunes and sandstorms as part of a Bedouin caravan heading for the colorful marketplace in the great city of Dubai. Simple story, evocative illustrations, just right for ages 3 and up.

Saudia Arabia

Going to Mecca, by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavellini
published in 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is one of the books you’ll find in my blog post about Islam in children’s literature. It’s a fantastic, guided tour to all that’s involved with making a hajj to Mecca, for ages 5 and up.

Kuwait

The White Nights of Ramadan, by Maha Addasi, illustrated by Ned Gannon
published in 2008 by Boyds Mill Press

Find out about the special celebrations that occur half way through Ramadan as a little girl named Noor prepares to celebrate with her family. Ages 5 and up.

Lebanon

The Three Lucys, written by Hayan Charara, illustrated by Sara Kahn
published in 2016 by Lee & Low Books

Hayan Charara based this poignant story on his family’s experiences in Lebanon during the July War of 2006. A little boy named Luli loves to sit in the shade of an olive tree and play with his cats, the three Lucys. He loves to travel with his family to visit relatives in the bustling city of Beirut and then return to his peaceful home near the sea.

When war breaks out and bombs drop on his village, Luli’s family must flee. Sirens, sheltering, and worry over the Lucys dominate his life until a cease fire allows them to return home. There they discover that all is not lost, but all is certainly not well. Luli learns to grieve his losses while looking¬†forward with hope. A steady but not overly harsh look at the costs of war, for ages 5 and up.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, by Elizabeth Laird, illustrations by Gary Blythe
published in the UK in 2006; this edition 2008 by Haymarket Books

A poignant short chapter book about one young girl’s experience in war-torn Beirut — the traumas, dangers, courage, heartbreak, and generosity of spirit she encounters. For emotionally-mature readers. Short, but packed with a punch. Ages 10 and up.

Syria and Jordan

My Beautiful Birds

I featured this book in a blogpost about refugees. It’s the story of a little boy who flees Syria with his family and lands at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. The book is more about his experience as a refugee than it is a window into either of this places, but as a refugee camp is newly-home for so many Syrian children today, it’s fitting to include it. My full review is here.

Palestine

Tasting the Sky

This fabulous, sorrowful memoir of life as a Palestinian refugee is a great choice for ages 12 through adult. Read my full review here.

Israel

Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp, written by Trish Marx, photographed by Cindy Karp
published in 2010 by Lee & Low Books

The sad truth of Israel is that generations of children have grown up regarding their neighbors as their mortal enemies. This is everyday life for far too many kids. At Peace Camp, Palestinian and Jewish children come together to spend time side by side and hopefully learn a little about one another, grow in respect for one another, begin to trust one another.

Spend time with the children at this summer day camp, find out how the camp attempts to bridge this gap, and learn the history of the conflict in this documentary-style book, accessible to ages 7 or 8 and up.

Everybody Says Shalom, written by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Talitha Shipman
published in 2015 by Random House

Meander about Israel in this warm, sunny, holiday scrapbook. Visit open-air markets, a kibbutz, the Dead Sea, the Western Wall. See Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows and Jerusalem’s gates. Munch some dates and ice cold yogurt.

Minimal text and cheerful illustrations provide a thoroughly happy and almost-entirely Jewish perspective in this book. Added information on the sites visited is included in the back pages. No complexity here. Just sightseeing. Ages 3 and up.

Sudan

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, written by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2005 by Lee & Low Books

I’ve reviewed several middle grade novels about the Lost Boys of Sudan as well as others impacted by the horrific civil wars in that country. This picture book provides a way for slightly younger readers to learn about these refugees, some of whom have made their way to the U.S. and Canada.

Garang is a young boy who once lived a happy life with his family in southern Sudan. He is thrust into a world of violence and fear, into roles of leadership well beyond his 8 years of age, into arduous journeys and heartbreaking losses, when his village is attacked and his family killed. Follow him among the thousands of boys walking to Ethiopia, and then to Kenya when further war forces them to flee once again.

It’s an incredible, gripping story of what life has been like for some of the children in our world, boldly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. I’d suggest ages 8 and older.

For middle graders and up who want to read more about Sudanese refugees, see my reviews of A Long Walk to Water, Home of the Brave, or The Red Pencil.

Egypt

The Day of Ahmed’s Secret, written by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1990 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Ahmed is a young boy who works on the streets of Cairo driving a donkey cart laden with bottled gas canisters. Travel with him on one of his typical work days and see the sights of modern Cairo, a melange of the very old and new.

Ahmed is proud to be helping support his family, but today he has a new source of pride. It’s such a big secret, his heart is about to burst with it! As he holds that secret close to his chest all day, our curiosity mounts. ¬†What could it be! The revelation is a joy and an inspiration. I am so glad this book exists. It’s a rarity for all the reasons I’ve mused about earlier. ¬†If you can find it, you’ll love reading it along with children ages 4 and up.

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya, illustrated by Susan L. Roth
published in 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers

During the tumult of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the library of Alexandria was threatened by vandals. One brave librarian was not enough to protect this treasure, but many brave protestors who linked hands and formed a ring of safety around it were enough.

This is their story, and a lovely look at contemporary Egypt. Includes back pages with photographs of this stunning library, and more information about Alexandria’s ancient library, current library, and the revolution itself. Great little read for ages 5 and up.

Morocco

The Butter Man, written by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli
published in 2008 by Charlesbridge

Most books about Morocco are centered in the colorful souks of Marrakech and Fez, but this touching story takes place in the High Atlas Mountains, so that’s the first great point in its favor!

It’s the story of a young girl named Nora who is impatiently awaiting the delicious lamb-and-vegetable couscous her dad is making for dinner. It smells so good. Her tummy is rumbling so loudly. Finally she groans aloud: “I’m staaarving!”

Her father, who really did live through a time of starvation in his childhood, does not scold Nora for her outburst, but he does tell her the story of the butter man. It’s a personal story of endurance as his Berber community faces a severe shortage of food, and the unique way his mother tries to distract him from gnawing hunger pains. Illustrated with colorful, naive artwork, the book brings this rather hidden region to life. An Author’s Note tells lots more about the Berber culture.

Great read, well worth sharing with children ages 5 and up.

My Father’s Shop, written and illustrated by Satoma Ichikawa
first American edition 2006 by Kane/Miller Books

Head into the souk and meet young Mustafa who is helping out in his father’s rug shop. Those fabulous carpets draw tourists from around the world, and Mustafa’s dad thinks he ought to begin learning some of the many languages the customers speak so he can grow into a fine market man one day.

Mustafa’s method of learning languages is quite unusual, humorous, and entertaining, but in the end, he certainly does manage to bring in the business!

Beautifully drawn with all the spicy colors and liveliness of a souk in Marrakech, this is a funny, lighthearted story, ideal for ages 2 and up.

The Storytellers, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1998 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Winding among the ancient, cobbled streets of Fez, young Abdul and his grandfather walk to work. As they squeeze past donkey carts piled with brass bowls, wool dyers wringing water from scarlet skeins, brassworkers hammering noisily on metal, weavers clickety-clacking at their looms, Abdul compares all the various jobs with the work lying ahead of him.

Every time, he feels lucky. Lucky to be doing…what? What is it that occupies Abdul and his grandfather?

So much admiration for the sights, sounds, and traditions of Morocco are tucked into this really eye-catching book. It’s a delightfully tangy read for ages 5 and up.

Mirror

This outstanding, unique book is equal parts Australia and Morocco. You won’t want to miss it. Read my review of it in the Australian portion of our tour, here.

Our next stop will be East Africa. Please do invite others along who would benefit from these listings!

Earlier stops can be found with these links:

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

Welcome to the next stop on our tour, the Indian subcontinent. Most of today’s books are set in India, obviously, but there are some gems from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as well to help round things out.

Bangladesh

B is for Bangladesh, written by Urmi Rahman, photographed by Prodeepta Das
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Books for Children

Here’s another one of these beauties from Frances Lincoln, taking us on a colorful tour of Bangladesh. Listen to the Ektara, smell the sweet-scented golap, play a game of Kana Machhi, get a haircut at the napit shop, visit Somapura Vihar — and lots more, guided by Bengali author Urmi Rahman. ¬†Ages 4 and up.

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2008 by Charlesbridge

Naima uses her skills as a painter of traditional alpana patterns to overcome obstacles presented by her gender and help earn money for her family in this short, captivating chapter book, rich with cultural details. Ages 7 and up.

Tiger Boy

An adventurous story set in the Sundarbans region. When a tiger cub goes missing from the reserve, young Neel is determined to find and protect her before his devious and unethical neighbor, Gupta, can capture and sell her. Great read for ages 9 and up. My full review of it is here.

Bhutan

Crane Boy, written by Diana Cohn, illustrated by Youme
published in 2015 by Cinco Puntos Press

In the breathless air of Bhutan, high in the Himalayan Mountains, black-necked cranes spend their summers — dancing, stretching their elegant necks, feasting on worms and buckwheat grains from the rain-soaked fields, bringing good luck to the Phobjika Valley. As the numbers of cranes sadly diminishes, Kinga and his classmates choreograph an elaborate crane dance and launch a new, exciting festival to remind their countrymen of the beauty of these birds and raise money to help protect them.

With striking illustrations and a well-told story about this fascinating culture, you can take a seat at the Crane Festival, held every year in November in Bhutan. Extra pages tell more about Bhutan and are illustrated with photographs. Lovely, for ages 3 and up.

Nepal

Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal, written by Theresa Heine, illustrated by Judith Gueyfier
published in 2014 by Barefoot Books

Sisters Chandra and Deena have gone to market to buy some tulsi, an herbal remedy for their baby brother’s cough, when they encounter a crowd gathered around a man with a strange lamp. This man claims the light from his lamp comes from the sun itself! And that by using such a lamp, villagers can save money and be rid of the smoky kerosene that harms their lungs.

Chandra and Deena want very badly to help their family buy one of those lamps. How can they convince their father it’s a good idea? And where can such money come from? Following this Himalayan story, several pages tell more about Nepal and solar lighting, and give directions for making your own Pizza Box Solar Oven! What a great thing to try! Ages 4 and up.

Kami and the Yaks, written by Andrea Stenn Stryer, illustrated by Bert Dodson
published in 2007 by Bay Otter Press

What a gorgeous book this is!

Spend a day with Kami way up in the thin air of the Himalayan mountains where he and his Sherpa family make their living by guiding, setting up camp, and cooking for mountain climbers.

In this frosty adventure, four of the family’s yaks are missing. Kami, who is deaf, is too young to be venturing off in search of them, but a storm is coming and he can’t sit idly by. Exquisite watercolors dominate every page of this excellent story, inspired by a young boy met by the author while trekking in Nepal. An afterword tells more about the Sherpa people. Ages 4 and up.

India

In Andal’s House, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Amanda Hall
published in 2013 by Sleeping Bear Press

Set in contemporary India, Andal’s House considers both the progress and the deep prejudices remaining for those in the untouchables caste. Kumar’s schoolmate, Andal, has invited him to his home to celebrate Diwali. But Kumar is of the untouchable caste, while Andal is a high-caste Brahmin. Kumar’s family questions him: Are you certain you’ve been invited?

Kumar sets off with confidence to the celebration, but is humiliated when Andal’s grandmother turns him away. Gorgeous details in text and illustration bring this slice of India to life for ages 5 or 6 and up. It’s the only picture book I found that discusses caste.

Monsoon

A young girl anticipates eagerly the arrival of the cooling monsoon season. Brightly illustrated, full of rich cultural detail, set in contemporary India, this book is a joy for ages 3 and up. My full review of it is is here.

Monsoon Afternoon, written by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
published in 2008 by Peachtree Publishers

Here’s another look at monsoon weather. This time a little boy is anxious for someone to play with, yet everyone’s busy. Except Dadaji — his grandfather. Dadaji is amenable to playing outside, even in the bucketing rain.

What a lovely story, full of this place as well as the sweet bond between grandpa and grandson. An author’s note tells more about her experience growing up on the west coast of India, awaiting monsoon. Ages 3 and up.

Tree Matters, text by Gita Wolf and V. Geetha from the oral narrative of Gangu Bai, illustrations by Gangu Bai
published in 2014 by Tara Books

This highly unusual book introduces us to one of the tribal communities in India, the Bhils. One Bhil woman recalls her childhood growing up in the forest or jungle of India, a lifestyle no longer possible due to new laws.

Her narration is largely about trees. Clearly, growing up in the thick of the forests, trees played an integral part in their lives. Which berries did the village children snap up? Which tree had the prickliest thorns? As her brief memoir emerges, Gangu Bai illustrates the stories for us using a traditional Bhil painting style. I was intrigued by the ways this ancient artistry resembles the art of the Australian aboriginal people. See what you think, while learning about some of the hidden diversity in the enormous land of India. Ages 4 and up.

Gita Wolf has worked with other tribal artists to create more children’s books that bring these communities to our attention. You might check out:

Do! published in 2009 by Tara Books, featuring art from the Warli tribe…

Following My Paintbrush, published in 2011 by Tara Books, featuring a Mithili artist…

Gobble You Up!, published in 2013 by Tara Books, with art in the ancient Mandna style.

Geeta’s Day: From Dawn to Dusk in an Indian Village, written and photographed by Prodeepta Das
published in 2010 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Visit the state of Orissa in eastern India, and the small village of Janla where 6-year-old Geeta lives with her family. This lovely photodocumentary takes us through a typical day for her, beginning with her grandmother’s morning puja (worship), breakfast, a walk past busy villagers on her way to school, a visit to the swimming pond, and so much more. Incredibly informative and engaging, for ages 5 and up.

Frances Lincoln has put out quite a number of books in this Child’s Day series following children through a day in their homeland. They look fantastic, though this is the only one I could find in my library system. For those of you who can find other titles, they’ll surely be gems.¬†

Prodeepta Das has authored several other books about India, including :

A Day I Remember: An Indian Wedding (2014; Frances Lincoln) which tells the story of a little boy named Swayam who plays an important role in his uncle’s wedding. Great photos and interesting cultural details about a subject many young children are familiar with. Ages 4 and up.

I See the Sun in India, written by Dedie King, illustrations by Judith Inglese
published in 2014 by Satya House Publications

Another excellent day-in-the-life series comes from Satya House. This story follows a young schoolgirl named Mila in Jaipur, Rajasthan, located in northwestern India. Fascinating collage artwork illustrates her home and city, as she goes to school, meets friends at the movie theater, shares a delicious curry dinner with her family and more. An Author’s Note tells more about India and Jaipur in particular. Ages 5 and up.

Sacred River, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1995 by Clarion Books

The city of Varanasi, India is one of the oldest in the world. Flowing through it is the Ganges River, the goal of millions of Hindu pilgrims who come to purify their souls in the waters of the sacred river.

Ted Lewin’s gorgeous watercolors take us right into the city. With a minimum of text, Lewin allows his paintings to tell us their story. Encounter ancient temples, boatloads of sari-clad women, the hot sun of Varanasi, offerings of jai flowers, and the water of the Ganges flowing through the entire account. An explanatory note at the beginning of the book sets the scene for the action that spools out in his images. An important part of India, accessible to ages 3 and up.

While we’re up here in northern India, you won’t want to miss the gorgeous book:

Cloud Tea Monkeys, one of the most lushly-illustrated stories out there. It’s about the tea-pickers in the foothills of the Himalayas. A gem of a story for ages 5 and up. My full review of it is here.

In the Village of the Elephants, written by Jeremy Schmidt, photographs by Ted Wood
published in 1994 by Walker and Company

From northeast India we’ll jaunt off to the southwest, to a village in the Nilgiri Hills where the Kurambas people have been living for thousands of years, and where they have perfected the art of the mahout, or elephant driver.

This fascinating account follows one young boy, Bomman, who is in training to become a mahout. His father is his teacher; his elephant is Mudumalai, and what a fantastic creature he is. You will learn a great deal about elephants and the intriguing relationships that exist between them and their caregivers in this longish read for ages 6 or 7 and up.  You might follow it up with:

Balarama: A Royal Elephant, which describes the prestigious role of the Royal Elephants in the Dasara parade. A beautifully-illustrated story for ages 4 and up. My full review of it is here.

Pakistan

King for a Day, written by Rukhsana Khan, illustrations by Christiane Krömer
published in 2013 by Lee & Low Books

The spring kite festival of Basant has arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, and a boy named Malik is ready for it!

That means he’s made a strong, fast kite, has parked his wheelchair up on the flat roof of his home, and is braced to battle other kites for domination of the skies, for the title of King of Basant.

Absolutely fabulous illustration work here brings Malik and his neighborhood vividly to life, not to mention the profusion of kites flying over the city. It’s a fantastic glimpse of a cherished festival with an afterword that tells us more. A rare book set in Pakistan, just right for ages 4 and up.

Tales of a Lost Kingdom: A Journey into Northwest Pakistan, written by Erik L’Homme, illustrated by Fran√ßois Place, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
first published in France; first American edition published in 2007 by Enchanted Lion Books

In the remote north of Pakistan, in a soaring, mountainous region that juts up near Afghanistan and Tajikistan, lies Chitral, a place that seems to be “at the end of the world” according to Erik L’Homme who lived and adventured there for some time in the 1990s.

L’Homme collected stories from the Kho people as he moseyed about over high passes in the Hindu Kush mountains, through bazaars, across endless plateaus, and at the famous polo tournament held there. He retells three of those stories here, and adds a short travelogue with photos and thoughts on his time in this remote place. It’s illustrated with lovely watercolors.

The stories themselves reveal quite a lot about the culture while the travelogue gives us an outsider’s viewpoint. There are some portions of the narrative that don’t seem to have survived the translation into English well, but for the most part it’s an intriguing window into a part of the world few of us could ever hope to visit. Ages 5 and up.

While we’re in Pakistan, read about one of its most famous citizens in:

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

which is mainly a story of Malala’s life but also includes back pages telling more about Pakistan and the Pashtun people. A gorgeous small read for ages 7 and up. My full review is here.

Sri Lanka

When the Rain Comes, written by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave
published in Canada in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Pajama Press

Malini is a little girl who lives in Sri Lanka. In the mornings, she loves to awaken to the sound of the bullock driver and the spurfowl singing in the trees. This year, Malini is learning to help in the rice fields.

While she’s tending that huge, intimidating ox, a powerful rainstorm breaks over the village sending a deluge ¬†of water down the road, threatening to overturn the ox cart and its precious load of seedlings. Malini resolves to be levelheaded and brave and comes out the hero! Unusual setting, striking illustrations, and an additional note telling more about Sri Lanka. Ages 3 and up.

One book I wish I could get my hands on is:

Tea Leaves, by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Lester Coloma
published in 2003 by Mondo Publishing

I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s story of Cambodia, The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, reviewed here, and from what I can tell this is another gem. It’s the story of a young girl named Shanthi and her mother who work on a tea plantation in the mountains of Sri Lanka.

Shanthi longs to see the ocean and indeed she gets to take a train to the sea, a dream come true. If you can find this, I’d bet it would be a gem for ages 6 and up.

If you know of more great titles to add to this listing, please let us know in the comments.

Next stop on the tour will be Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

If you’ve missed stops along the way, here are links:

Tour the World: Destination East Asia

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

Tour the World: A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle Up for a Tour of the World

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

Know someone who would like to join the tour? Please cue them in!

I have a new Musings post up.

As I’ve dug through stacks upon stacks of kids’ books looking for the best ones to share in my Tour of the World series, I’ve run into some interesting questions and thoughts. If I hadn’t been attempting such a broad survey, I wouldn’t have bumped into these questions in quite the same way.

What kind of world do our books portray to our children? How accurate is that portrait? And why does it matter?

These questions would all make for great, lengthier conversations. My musings post is only a starting point, but it’s a worthy starting point, one which I hope will raise your awareness as you nurture the children in your lives.

You can read the post by clicking here, or by using the Musings tab at the top of the page. Click on the title — a world of swiss cheese.

Want to join our world tour? Here are links to the first few posts:

buckle up for a tour of the world
Tour the World: a sampler of cultures
Tour the World: Australia, New Zealand and Micronesia
Tour the World: East Asia

 

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