With our arrival in Europe, we’ve reached the end of our tour!
Finding picture books set in contemporary Europe — without a WWII focus — is surprisingly challenging here in the U.S. You can read more of my thoughts about that in my earlier musings post. Here’s what I turned up, scattered across the islands and on the continent:
Tobias Has a Birthday, written and illustrated by Ole Hertz, translated from the Danish by Tobi Tobias originally published in Denmark in 1981; English edition published in 1984 by Carolrhoda Books
In fact, this is a story set in Greenland! That doesn’t involve medieval Vikings! Hurrah!
Tobias lives in Greenland with his family, and today he is 12 years old. What will transpire on this glad day? Fetching ice to melt for making coffee. Making the rounds of the settlement to invite everyone to his party — a few at a time because the house can’t hold them all at once! Neighbors hard at work scraping sealskins, repairing sleds. Grandma’s stories of the old days.
Enticing gifts and a lovely playtime, rolling on oil drums with the other children. Unadorned text and minimalist illustration creates that spare, expansive feel of this windswept region. I adore this opportunity to peek into a most unusual life, and there are several other books about Tobias as well! Ages 3 and up.
Puffling Patrol, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin published by Lee & Low in 2014
Puffins who nest and raise chicks on Iceland’s islands have an odd challenge when it comes time to migrate in the fall. Lights of the towns can confuse the newest fliers, luring them to yards and streets where they become rather stuck. In order to fly, they need to launch themselves into the sea breeze from the cliffs.
The Puffling patrol is clusters of local kids who help biologists find these stranded birds and re-launch them. This fascinating and beautifully illustrated account is by the great team of Ted and Betsy Lewin. You can read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.
Welcome Back Sun, written and illustrated by Michael Emberley published in 1993 by Little, Brown and Company
Along with being one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, Norway is also one of Earth’s places that receives precious little sunlight during the long winter months and heaps of it in mid-summer.
The little girl in this story lives in one of the deep valleys tucked at the foot of Norway’s majestic mountains, which means her town gets even less of the sun’s rays during murketiden — the dark time that descends and gloomifies her life after the jollity of Christmas. See the way she copes with it in this pretty little story. Although the characters are clothed in older, more traditional Norwegian garb, the challenges of darkness and the enormous gladness that comes with sunlight are as true as ever. Charming, for ages 3 and up.
Stina, written and illustrated by Lena Anderson first American edition in 1989 by Greenwillow
Stina’s Visit — American edition 1991 by Greenwillow
Two of my favorite books set in Sweden are challenging to find but worth a search. Stina is a plucky, flaxen-haired girl who is lucky enough to visit her dear grandpa in his cottage by the sea every summer. There, they arise early in the morning for coffee by glass-smooth waters, then head out in the wooden fishing dory to check Grandpa’s nets.
Stina ambles along the rocky coast collecting treasures washed ashore by waves, and the two of them eat fresh fish at the picnic table each evening. What a lovely set of days.
Trouble comes when Stina decides to get an up-close look at the sea during a storm. She gets a bit more wet wildness than she bargains for. Grandpa’s response to her calamity is one of my very favorites in children’s literature.
Her second adventure has her paying a birthday visit with Grandpa to his old friend Stretchit who regales Stina with quite the sea yarn! Both books reveal the exquisite beauty of Sweden’s islands through the pristine watercolor work of Lena Anderson. Ages 2 and up.
I See the Sun in Russia, written by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese published in 2012 by Satya House Publications
Here’s this Satya House series once more, letting us tag along with Anton on his typical day growing up in Saint Petersburg.
Catch a glimpse of the strong role of the arts in Russian culture and the patriotism of Saint Petersburg’s people. See what the schoolchildren eat for lunch, and why Papa dreams of spending time at their dacha after a long day at work. A quiet, ordinary pace sets the tone for these realistic portraits of life for children around the world, which I love. They’re accompanied by mixed media collages including photos. Ages 3 and up.
R is for Russia, written by Valdimir Kabakov, photographed by Prodeepta Das published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Another great entry in this series, written by a man born in Siberia near Lake Baikal who has lived and worked in many different parts of Russia. View everything from chess to the underground railway, religious icons to Siberian tigers in this alphabetic tour of vast Russia. Great for ages 5 and up.
Katie Morag and the Birthdays, written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick published in 2005 by The Bodley Head
I dearly love Katie Morag, the red-headed, gumptious gal in her Wellies, careening around the fictional Scottish Isle of Struay. There are many stories about her. This birthday extravaganza volume tracks through one year of the McColl family’s loving chaos and all the birthdays celebrated along the way.
There are lots of folks to celebrate — Katie’s baby sister Flora Ann is turning One, while Neilly Beag is 70 years young. Grannie Island, Granma Mainland, Liam, all the Big Boy Cousins…even the sheep and the dog have birthdays to mark.
For Katie, every day that is not her birthday is a pinch of agony. “WHEN will it be MY birthday?” she moans. Not to worry — it’s a lovely one when her turn comes.
I love the out-of-doors wildness of life on Struay and the mussy household of the McColls, so similar to the realistic untidiness of Shirley Hughes’ families. The blustering strength, simple creativity, and genuine affection between all these characters makes for bracing, happy tales.
Besides all that, you get some Jolly Extras in this book including clever birthday cards and crafts to make, and the recipe for a jim-dandy castle cake with plenty of biscuits and chocolate! It’s a treat for ages 4 and up.
All Aboard the London Bus, written by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Sam Usher published in 2017 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Dash around London seeing the sights with this energetic family.
Hop on the red double-decker bus, crane your neck to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, spot all the goings-on at busy Trafalgar Square, mind the gap on the Tube, give a cheer at The Globe, and for goodness’ sake don’t skip tea and scones in the afternoon! Vigorous poems introduce each scene while Sam Usher’s friendly, colorful illustrations spread a thrilling London upon these pages. Notes about each place on the tour are included so you can learn a bit more. Jolly good fun for ages 4 and up.
London Calls, written by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow published in 2014 by Tate Publishing
Or, trot along with Pearl and Granny Rose on their whirlwind tour of London.
Rhyming text merrily skips along, zigging and zagging among charming illustrations of everything from the London Eye to the Tube to Kensington Gardens. If you love London, I promise you will like this little book. Ages 4 and up.
Megan’s Year: An Irish Traveler’s Story, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Beth Peck published in 2011 by Sleeping Bear Press
Megan is one of approximately 25,000 “travelers” in Ireland. You might know them as Gypsies, a pejorative term which has been replaced by Roma or Travelers.
Catch a glimpse of her life over the course of a year as she and her family move about Ireland in search of seasonal jobs, listen to fiddling by the campfires on summer evenings, and cope with the unique difficulties of an itinerant lifestyle when it comes to schooling. It’s a fascinating account brought to life with vivid paintings. Ages 5 and up.
Father, May I Come?, written and illustrated by Peter Spier published in 1993 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers
The inimitable Peter Spier brings us to Holland in two parallel stories of the sea. On a North Sea island off the Dutch coast, the townspeople have for centuries rescued the crews of ships who ran afoul of sudden, ferocious storms and the tricky sandbanks and channels strewn along the coast.
Spier illustrates the account of one such rescue in 1687, and another rescue more than 300 years later, showing us as only he can the intriguing similarities and clear differences in not only the means of ocean rescue, but the occupations, clothing, and lives of these brave citizens. Strike a bell for courageous Netherlanders and pour over Spier’s fascinating panels. Several pages of more technical information about modern day rescue equipment and the history of coastal rescue efforts are included. Ages 5 and up.
A Walk in Paris, written and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
Salvatore Rubbino graces every page of this travel guide to Paris with his charming, stylish illustration work. If you know M. Sisek’s travel guides to various world-class cities, you might think of this as an updated but similar idea.
Join a young girl and her grandfather as they stroll the boulevards, gaze down from Notre-Dame’s tower, eat at a bistro, goggle over pastries, meander in the Tuileries, gawk at the Eiffel Tower and ever so much more. Cram jam with Parisian particulars. Dip into this as much or as little as attention spans can manage, ages 4 to much older.
Crossing the Gotthard: The Longest Tunnel in the World, written and illustrated by Yvonne Rogenmoser, translated by David Henry Wilson first published in Switzerland; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth
Embedded in the psyche of the Swiss are, of course, the Alps. Those of us who live on the flat midwestern plains do not grow up thinking about crossing mountain passes and waiting for tunnel congestion in order to drive just a few hours for a holiday.
But for centuries, those who live in the neighborhood of the Alps have encountered these magnificent obstacles to travel. The ways they’ve coped with one particularly vexing section, the Schöllenen Gorge, is surveyed here, brilliantly. Discover the attempts of Swiss travelers to surmount this section, from medieval times right up to 2016 when the longest tunnel in the world opened. The mountaineering and engineering of the Swiss are uniquely on display here, for ages 7 and up.
Olivia Goes to Venice, written and illustrated by Ian Falconer published in 2010 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Yes, I’ve tapped Olivia to give us a silly but cool glimpse of Venice. As always, Olivia is full of shenanigans that threaten the very foundations of this old city, but you’ll also get lovely glimpses of the canals, bridges, and cathedrals for which Venice is famous.
It is definitely a jolly introduction to this unique tourist-magnet of a city, with copious gelato consumed! Ages 2 and up.
Orani: My Father’s Village, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola published in 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers
Orani is a tiny village of narrow, cobbled streets, red clay-tiled roofs, dusky-green fig trees and drooping grape clusters, tucked in a sun-soaked, Mediterranean valley on the isle of Sardinia.
Clarie Nivola’s father was born in that village and brought his family there frequently throughout Claire’s childhood. This is her exquisite account of life in sunny Orani. Of scorching sun and cool spring water; wedding dances and wild horse races; women baking bread in clay ovens and uncles offering ice creams at the cafe. Accompanied by her achingly-beautiful artwork, Nivola paints a time and place incredibly sweet with precision and fondness.
The text is sparse, but a lengthy Author’s Note adds many more intriguing details. It’s a stunningly beautiful book both in its artwork and its rich, evocative language. A lovely read for ages 6 to 100.
Island Summer, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock published in 1999 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Mediterranean waters, moonlight-white houses rambling up sun-soaked, olive green hillsides. Yes, I could breathe easier here.
An island summer in Greece begins as the cold rains of winter end and the summer sun strengthens, soothing “angry waves into a flat shimmering sea and soak[ing] up the muddy puddles like freshly baked pound cake sops up melted chocolate.”
Watch ferryboats unload passengers, inns welcome summer folk, ladies in flowery dresses and children with sand buckets bask in sunshine, loll in hammocks, play soccer on the beach, and dance to fiddles by starlight.
The whole book is fragrant with the loveliness of this place, and this pace. Ages 3 and up.
T is for Turkey, written by Nilüfer Topaloglu Pyper, photography by Prodeepta Das published in 2010 by Frances Lincoln Books
Discover Turkish tea, Henna nights, maras ice cream, a snack called leblebi, the chalky wonders of Pamukkale, an unusual musical instrument called the zurna, and more in this alphabetical sampler of Turkey, a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Ages 5 and up.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Flowers for Sarajevo, written by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers
You’re probably aware of The Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic, who in the midst of unspeakable terrors during the Balkan War, chose to step into the ruined streets with his instrument and create mournful beauty in one small square. Day after day after day. This fictionalized account allows us to experience that moment through the eyes of a young boy living amid the devastation.
This is less an account of Sarajevo per se than of the impact of beauty in the midst of wreckage, but it’s a glimpse. Perhaps it will entice you to learn more about the people of the Balkan region who have again been in he midst of so much upheaval due to the conflict in Syria. A CD with Smailovic playing the piece — Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor — is included. Ages 6 and up.
Traveling the world via picture book has been a great learning experience for me as I’ve delved into all sorts of different places people love to call home.
You can catch all the previous stops on the tour with these links: