A few months back I posted a number of dynamic picture books giving us glimpses of other cultures.
Today I’ve got another set. These titles always make me perk up when I spot them. I especially love the growing movement of #ownvoices, allowing previously muffled or outright silenced voices to tell their own authentic stories, opening up new worlds and perspectives for us all.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, written by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, art by Hatem Aly
published in 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
Faizah’s older sister, Asiya, is donning the hijab for the first time on this first day of school. Asiya has chosen a brilliant blue hijab, “like the sky on a sunny day…like the ocean waving to the sky.” Faizah is gobsmacked by its beauty and her sister’s princess-like stature.
This is not how the hijab is received by all of their schoolmates, however. Hurtful words ricochet on the playground and Faizah reels with confusion and anger. She comes to terms with all of this in a lovely, sisterly way in this endearing take on the important subject of inclusion, written by a U.S. Olympic fencer. Vibrant illustrations augment the power of the story. Ages 4 and up.
My Grandma and Me, written by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey
published in 2019 by Candlewick Press
Gorgeous, culturally-rich remembrances of growing up in Iran encircled by the love of her dear grandma waft through the pages of this tender story narrated by a little girl named Mina.
Along the way we meet Annette, Mina’s best friend. The girls’ grandmothers are likewise best friends who gab over coffee every day. This lovely inter-faith friendship between Christians and Muslims adds a significant, beautiful element to the story, especially pertinent for today’s civil discourse. Yankey’s exquisite, gentle illustration work graces each page. Ages 4 and up.
Idriss and His Marble, written by René Gouichoux, illustrated by Zaü
first published in France; U.S. edition 2019 by StarBerry Books
The stunning illustration work in this book leapt out at me from the cover and astonished me throughout the story. Forceful, elegant, evocative, exuding a thoroughly African atmosphere.
Idriss and his mother are fleeing from civil war. Though their homeland is unnamed, the landscape reminds me of the Malian desert, and their arduous journey to Libya and across the sea is clearly referenced. Throughout their flight, Idriss clings to the smallest of possessions, one glass marble, which literally and metaphorically conveys the scantiness and preciousness of what he carries into his wholly new life in France. A powerful story for ages 4 and up.
Nya’s Long Walk: A Step at a Time, written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
published in 2019 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Several years ago I reviewed Linda Sue Park’s novel A Long Walk to Water, tracing two parallel stories in Sudan: that of one of the Lost Boys who uses his new life in the U.S. as a springboard to bringing wells to those in Sudan who still live long distances from clean water supplies; and that of one young girl, Nya, who benefits from one of those wells.
This is a picture book companion to that story focusing on Nya and the arduous, outsized responsibilities she bears in fetching water and caring for her young sister. After following her on one particularly burdensome day, a brief glimpse of the relief from the incoming well ends the story on a note of hope. Park is a tremendous writer, and Pinkney’s characteristic swirling, energetic lines in a burnished color scheme bring heat and turmoil to the pages. An excellent window on humanitarian relief efforts for ages 5 and up.
Child of St Kilda, written and illustrated by Beth Waters
published in 2019 by Child’s Play
Some cultures are extinct, and such is the case with the islanders of St Kilda, “a tiny group of Scottish islands so remote that people call them the islands on the edge of the world.”
This gorgeous, lengthier account follows Norman John Gillies, one of the last to grow up on St Kilda. His life reminded me very much of the Blasket Island culture I learned about in my visit to Ireland last month. Fascinating for ages 6 through adult.
Along the Tapajós, written and illustrated by Fernando Vilela, translated by Daniel Hahn
first published in Brazil in 2015; U.S. edition 2019 by Amazon Crossing Kids
Vilela’s vigorous artwork arrested my attention in this unusual offering coming our way from Brazil.
Crammed with authentic details of life in a community perched along the Tapajós River, including the need to move each year during rainy season, this lively story of two adventurous siblings opens up a world hidden to most of us. A zesty choice for ages 4 and up.
What is a Refugee? written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
published in 2019 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Becoming a refugee involves a tearing away from one’s home culture and an abrupt entry into a new one, most often including a lengthy stay in a completely unique culture — that of a refugee camp.
This stripped-back, direct, highly-accessible account opens with such a lovely sentence: A refugee is a person, just like you and me. Gravel helps young children understand the reasons people become refugees and their difficult journey to safety. Her careful text, honest answers, and unsentimental empathy make this an outstanding choice for ages 4 and up.
Milky Way, story by Mamta Nainy, illustrations by Siddhartha Tripathi
published in 2017 by Yali Books
This warmhearted, fanciful story of Tashi and his friendship with the moon is studded with rich cultural detail from Tibetan Buddhist cultures nestled in the Himalayas.
It takes place in Ladakh, “a mountainous district in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, India…one of the highest inhabited regions of the world.” Colorful, bold artwork and a sunny tale serve to bridge the gap between our lives and Tashi’s, for ages 3 and up.
What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street?, written and illustrated by Felicita Sala
first published in France in 2019; English edition 2019 by Prestel
Everything Felicita Sala touches is so immensely beautiful! Her latest, a mouthwatering smorgasbord of international flavors, is no exception.
The residents of 10 Garden Street are a miniature United Nations. Today they are all busy cooking dishes reflecting their cultural cuisines, then gathering in the garden for a delicious, welcoming meal. Each exquisite spread in this book features a recipe so you can cook up a global feast as well. A treat for cooks ages 6 to adult.
This is My World: Meet 84 Kids from Around the Globe
published in 2019 by Lonely Planet
This hefty, ebullient collection of kids from all around the globe is perfect for browsing, for soaking up interesting introductions to a huge variety of cultures, for flinging wide the windows to new perspectives on our world.
84 children share tidbits about themselves and their lives — their families, homes, hobbies, schools — accompanied by copious color photographs. I love the ordinary, non-photo-shopped quality of these photos; these are ordinary people and we feel able to relate to them more easily due to the realistic feel of these pages.
There are entries from six continents, 70 countries, arranged alphabetically by child’s name, another nice, personalized choice. I’m glad that Lonely Planet has also chosen to include one child from a sadly-increasing cultural population — the refugee camp. Great choice for donating to schools, children’s hospitals, or other book-thirsty zones. Ages 4 and up.
Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk, written by Jorge Argueta, pictures by Manuel Monroy, English translation by Elizabeth Bell
published in 2019 by Groundwood Books
Finally, this slim novel in verse introduces us to one young boy among the thousands who embark on the long, dangerous, desperate journey from El Salvador to El Norte.
Masael Martinez, along with his small family, has joined a caravan for the 2500 mile trek to the U.S. border. He leaves his homeland sorrowfully, loving it as deeply as he does, but the violence and despair they face there drive them to seek refuge elsewhere.
In short, episodic snatches, we experience the weary journey, hear Masael’s thoughts, encounter grace and harshness from people along the way, before finally being driven off violently at the border.
It’s a heartbreaking, lucid portrait of the humanity of those whose faces and voices and personhood are too often lost amongst statistics and strident discourse. An excellent, important, short read for ages 9 or 10 to adult.