It’s our penultimate stop on the world tour today, and we’re heading north to visit the vast beauties of Canada.

From the Rockies

to its cosmopolitan cities

to the rocky cliffs of the Atlantic, all of Canada is on display in these great overviews. Plus one title about life in Canada’s newest province, Nunavut. 

Canada in Words, by Per-Henrik Gürth
published in 2012 by Kids Can Press

For the youngest travelers, Per-Henrik Gürth has a number of titles out like this one with his bold, stylized artwork illustrating a variety of preschool concepts.

Each of the pages in this book is labeled with just one, very-Canadian, word. Beaver. Toque. Stanley Cup. If you’re not acquainted enough with Canadian culture to know what or why these items are here — then I guess you’ll have to do a bit more rummaging on your own. For those of us who love Canada, each page is a joy. Ages 18 months and up.  Look for more of his work if you like this.

Carson Crosses Canada, written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Kass Reich
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

The newest book I’ve seen — and so delightful — is this trans-Canada road trip with white-haired Annie Magruder and her friendly dog, Carson.

Annie and Carson live amid towering pines along the Pacific Coast. One day a letter arrives. Annie’s sister Elsie, way out in Newfoundland, is sick. Pack the car! Fill the cooler! Grab Carson’s squeaky chicken! We’re off to the rescue, driving all across Canada. Vibrant illustrations, a charming dog, and maps on the endpapers. What more could you want? Perfect for ages 3 and up.

You can also cross Canada in much more depth with one of the many fabulous titles from Vivien Bowers. Here are two to start with:

Hey Canada!, by Vivien Bowers, illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
published in 2012 by Tundra Books

Constructed around another road trip, this book goes into much more depth following along with Alice, age 9, her brother Cal, age 8, and their Gran, as they take the trip from east to west.

Beginning in Newfoundland, “The Rock” you’ll be treated to photographs, kid-friendly illustrations, and upbeat narrative about some of the top sites, sounds, tastes, of each of the provinces. Historical U-Turns along the way present bits of Canadian history in comic book style. It’s an ideal amount of information presented in a nicely casual tone, for kids ages 7 and up.  Some of Bowers’ other books in this series take a similar approach but go into much more depth for even older readers. They’re all very well done.

That’s Very Canadian, by Viven Bowers
published in 2004 by Maple Tree Press

Formatted like a school report — well! it’s quite a dandy school report! — this book feels like looking at a fantastic scrapbook of Canadiana. You’ll get the scoop on Canadian cultural icons, trivia, history, food, hockey lore, provincial sites — there’s a ton o’ info stuffed inside here.

We throughly enjoyed wandering through this book when we studied Canada in our old homeschool days. For kids ages 7 or 8 and up, it’s a fantastic resource for painting a picture of Canadian culture.

Eh? to Zed: A Canadian Abecedarium, written by Kevin Major, illustrated by Alan Daniel
published in 2000 by Red Deer Press

A very clever, happily-rhyming poem forms the text of this book. Each line of it lists words dear to a Canadian’s heart. Thus:

Arctic, apple, aurora, Anik
Bonhomme, Bluenose, beaver, bannock

Colorful illustrations flood the pages with these images.

Don’t know what bannock is? Or why insulin is in the list? Never fear, pages crammed with notes by author and illustrator reveal the significance behind all these word and image choices. It’s a fantastic survey of Canada that adapts well to ages 3 through adult.

I is for Inuksuk: An Arctic Celebration, written and illustrated by Mary Wallace
published in 2009 by Maple Tree Press

We enjoyed this book years ago in our Canada studies as well. Gorgeous illustrations reveal the majestic beauty of the far north — every page is stunning.

Along the way we learn about the inuksuk — stone sculptures used by Arctic peoples for thousands of years as guides, markers, celebratory pieces. Learn, too, about some Inuit ways and the creatures that share their magnificent Arctic life. Included are Inuktitut words written in their fascinating script, a visual guide to the variety of inuksuit so you can try to spot the different ones in various illustrations, and a pronunciation guide. A gem for ages 5 and up.


Fishing with Grandma, by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula, illustrated by Charlene Chua
published in 2015 by Inhabit Media Inc.

This is one of several books I’ve seen from this publisher telling stories set in contemporary Nunavut which simultaneously inform us about Inuktitut culture.

Here, two children go ice-fishing with their grandma, an elder with much to teach them about the way to fish as well as the way to treat their neighbors. Extras include a guide to Inuit fishing tools and a pronunciation guide to some Inuktitut words used in the story. I love that grandma teaches the old fishing methods and rides her ATV to get to the best spot — great glimpse of real, contemporary life in this place for ages 3 and up.

Next week our tour winds up in Europe.

Catch all the previous stops on this fascinating tour of the world via picture book with these links:

Destination: The Caribbean and Mexico

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

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


I love imported picture books. I’m drawn to them like a moth to a lantern.

from The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler

Stylistically they are often marked by a je ne sais quoi air, something artistically, something conceptually, that is clearly not American…but what is it? Like that elusive spice I can taste but not name, that quality of sound I can’t articulate that distinguishes one voice from another.

from The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

Sometimes I find picture book imports have a tone or idea that I’m unsure will resonate well with most American children. A vague resolution or melancholy quality that puts them just beyond the radar. Often, in these cases, the artwork is achingly gorgeous, the text subtle and thought-provoking. I wish I’d saved up those titles for a post full of picture books for adults because many of you would find them deeply satisfying. Alas, I plopped them back in the library return for you to find yourselves.

from Why Am I Here; illustration by Akin Duzakin

Today, though, I’ve got some lovely new imports to share with you. They may not work for kids who need superhero action and belly laughs. For more patient, curious listeners, check out these gems.

My Dog Mouse, written and illustrated by Eva Lindström
originally published in Sweden; English language edition published in 2017 by Gecko Press

This dear girl loves a dog named Mouse. Despite his old, slowpokey, waddlesome ways, she adores him. Loves taking him to the park for a picnic and a good sniff around. Loves tucking a couple of meatballs in her pocket for a mid-stroll treat.

What we readers don’t discover until the end of this gentle, ambling narrative, is that Mouse doesn’t belong to her. He’s the dog next door. “I wish Mouse were mine,” she tells us in the end. The last, wordless image makes me believe Mouse feels the same way about her.

Bittersweet and tender, a vulnerable peek inside a small person’s mind and heart. Ages 3 and up.

A Walk in the Forest, written and illustrated by Maria Dek
originally published in France; English edition published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press

This one hits all the right Orange Marmalade buttons with its lauding of free, inquisitive time spent out of doors, the quiet, unrushed elegance of the text, and the sumptuous color and line of the illustrations.

Maria Dek exactly captures the wonders of a forest ramble.

Magnificent and alluring for ages 2 to adult.

Professional Crocodile, a wordless book by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio
originally published in Italy; first U.S. edition published by Chronicle Books in 2017

Gorgeous illustrations tell this imaginative story in panels and full-page spreads that’ll knock your socks off.

Enter a curious world populated by people and animals going about their daily affairs with nonchalance. Cheetahs ride the subway right along with every Tom, Dick, and Harry. No big deal.

One crocodile wakes to his alarm and begins the day. Teeth brushing. Tie choosing. Long commuting. We follow his every move. Where is he going? What is his profession? You will be most surprised, and along the way mesmerized by the brimful, colorful city he calls home. Fabulous fantasy for ages 3 and up.

The 5 Misfits, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
published originally in Italy; first U.S. edition published in 2017 by Frances Lincoln Books

Every time a new Beatrice Alemagna title becomes available to us in the States, I get a little shiver of pleasure. Her unique artistry and unusual storylines always make me wonder what’s about to unfold.

This time, it’s a tale of five frankly-weird misfits. One fellow has four gaping holes aerating his entire midsection. One is folded in half. One, resembling an overripe bean pod, dozes off mainly. Another goes about upside down. And the last, a guy big as a Macy’s parade balloon, purple-black like a licorice jelly bean — well, he is so odd he’s “a catastrophe.”

And yet, they all manage to live together, with a splash of good humor to boot. Until Mr. Perfect in all his pompous glory and flowing magenta locks comes to tell them what’s what, take them down a notch.

a page from the French edition

The misfits’ response to his brazen criticism will surprise you and very much cheer you. A marvelous paeon to imperfection and the grace to accept one another’s flaws. Illustrated in iconic Alemagna style. Adults will love it; try it with kids ages 5 and up and see where the conversation goes.

Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets, written and illustrated by Pei-Yu Chang
originally published in Switzerland; English edition published in 2017 by NorthSouth Books

Here we have a fictionalized account of Walter Benjamin, who attempted to flee Europe for the United States during WWII with one mysterious suitcase.

Benjamin was a philosopher, threatened by the Nazis in occupied France. Mrs. Fittko, a member of the resistance, offers to take him along with a small group she’s guiding out of France into Spain. A perilous trip. Nothing extraneous can be brought. But here comes Walter with his suitcase.

What on earth can be inside of it?

This account, like Walter Benjamin’s life, ends mysteriously. No one knows for certain what happened to Walter or what was in his suitcase. But you will be treated to a lot of conjecture about its contents, and you will indubitably have your own wild guesses! Brilliant artwork and restrained text give this remarkable story just the right tone. An afterword tells us more about the impressive work of Mrs. Fittko. Ages 4 and up.

Today our tour lands in the islands of the Caribbean. When I started working on this tour six months ago, I surely did not imagine the way it would overlap with the devastation of hurricane Irma. 

In addition to these island nations, we’ll travel through the diverse, artistic land of Mexico as well, a portion of which is reeling from the recent earthquake

I’m glad, though, for the chance to highlight these extraordinary homelands at this particular moment and invite you to give towards needed relief. 

In fact, here and here are links for donating to Save the Children, a long-term, reputable charity coordinating care for children and families.

I had much more difficulty than I was expecting in finding titles about life in Mexico. By far the majority of  books I ran across were set in the U.S. featuring children with Mexican heritage, while I was looking for stories that open a window onto life in contemporary Mexico itself.

And those titles set in Mexico are nearly invariably about Day of the Dead celebrations. Which is a fascinating subject! But it’s just one day a year.

What is ordinary life like in cosmopolitan Mexico City?

In fishing villages along the Pacific Coast?

In the rugged, hot north?

Or towns tucked in the mountains and hillsides? Why are these neighbors of ours so little known to us?

As always, if you know of great titles that fill these gaps, please tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, grab your flip flops and come along with me to…

The Caribbean

Caribbean Dream, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 1998 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Rachel Isadora’s beautiful, warm portraits of the people and scenery of the Caribbean captivate us at every turn of the page in this small, sweet book.

Her brief, poetic text lulls us, coaxes us to fall in love with the islands and the children who call them home. Simply lovely. Share this gem with ages 18 months and older.

La Isla, written by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 1995 by Dutton Children’s Books

An explosion of tropical colors greets us in Elisa Kleven’s joyous illustrations of this unnamed Caribbean isle.  Get swept up in a tutti-frutti-coconut-confetti dream when you open this book!

Rosalba and her Abuela travel in their imaginations to visit grandmother’s homeland, la isla, to reminisce and meet old relatives, cool their toes in turquoise waves and feast on juicy mangoes. A delightful flight of fancy crammed with love. A Spanish glossary is provided for the words sprinkled in the text. I’ve loved this book for many years. It’s a treat for ages 3 and up.

Malaika’s Costume, written by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

It’s Carnival time but this year for the first time, Mummy is not home. She’s gone to Canada to find work, to make a better life so Malaika and Granny can join her there.

Right now Malaika has just one thing on her mind and that’s her costume. She’s been waiting for Mum to send a bit of money so she can dazzle in the parade, but when Mum writes it’s to say there’s still not enough for costumes. Grandma has an old, dusty, pitiful one from when she was a girl, but Malaika wants no part of that.

Happily, Malaika and Grandma’s love and creativity find a way straight past the obstacles.  The patois of the Caribbean is used to tell this contemporary story, with lots of cultural bits worked in alongside the main storyline. Luxbacher’s cool, mixed-media artwork sparkles with tropical colors and Caribbean textiles. Ages 4 and up.


All the Way to Havana, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Co

A lush, warm, contemporary Cuba affectionately spills across the pages of this delightful story about one boy and his parents making the drive in to Havana to celebrate a birthday.

The sights and sounds of Cuba roll by — its colorful homes, laundry flapping in the breeze, colonnaded buildings, chickens pecking the sun-baked earth — but it’s the array of vintage American automobiles that are front and center here. An Author’s note explains very simply why these classic cars are so common in Cuba. Politics aside, the joy this boy feels as he and his dad manage to jerry rig his family’s car, the happiness of hearing her “purr cara cara and glide taka taka along,  are infectious. 

A brand new gem to enjoy with ages 2 and up. Vintage car lovers — this is your book!

Drum Dream Girl, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them. Until Millo changed that. 

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, for ages 3 and up.


Painted Dreams, written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1998 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Ti Marie has the soul of an artist. With just a chunk of orange brick, a bit of charcoal, and a cement wall, she creates beauty in her small world. What she really would like, though, are tubes of paint like Msie Antoine’s.

Mama thinks its all foolishness. She’s got troubles of her own with puny sales in her unlucky corner of the marketplace. But when Ti Marie’s charming artwork transforms Mama’s business, her dreams do start coming true. A cheery story incorporating ordinary life and Haitian religion, with an Author’s Note telling more about Haitian artists’ practices.  Lovely, for ages 4 and up.

Tap Tap, written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1995 by HMH Books for Young Readers

As Sasifi walks to market with Mama she looks longingly at the brilliantly-colored tap-taps — the truck taxis of Haiti — and recommends to her Mama that they ride one.  Mama is too frugal, though, and they continue on foot all the weary way.  

At the market, Sasifi works hard and manages to sell so many oranges that Mama gives her some coins to spend on whatever she pleases.  What will Sasifi choose?  Peanut candy?  Icy cold juice?  No, siree.  Sasifi buys two spots in a tap-tap so they can enjoy a thrilling ride home.  It turns out to be quite a squished ride…but a happy one, nonetheless.   Along the way we learn why the trucks are called tap-taps!

Catherine Stock’s watercolors bring the landscapes, people, markets, and tap-taps of Haiti to vivid life. An old favorite of mine for ages 3 and up.

Running the Road to ABC, written by Denizé Lauture, illustrated by Reynold Ruffins
published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Haitian poet  Lauture weaves a lyrical story of a group of six children who run “up and down steep hills six days each week, forty weeks each year, for seven years of their short lives.”

Waking up to roosters, cooking up yucca and Congo beans, flattening slugs with the bottom of their running bare feet, passing acres of sugarcane — they run and run and run. Where are they going?

Gorgeous depictions of the Haitian countryside and the hopes of the children are accompanied by vivid paintings in this joyful story for ages 5 and up.

Haiti My Country

Poems about a “ripe mango, fresh mango, yellow mango” and the dancing Haitian trees. Poems telling of the cool shelter of a humble hut, of Haiti’s “dazzling greenery,” and the tastiness of the peppers and sweet potatoes in a peasant’s garden.

All written by Haitian schoolchildren, and illustrated stunningly by a Quebecois artist. Read my full review of this exquisite book here

British Virgin Islands

Little Man

Amid the tall, swaying palms, sparkling turquoise waters, and skimming brown pelicans of Little Scrub Island, a boy named Albert Quashie feels squashed under a boatload of troubles.

Discover how joining a troupe of Mocko Jumbies makes him –literally! — soar above his problems in this delightful chapter book for ages 9 and up. Such an unusual setting. Read my full review here.


My Little Island, written and illustrated by Frané Lessac
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 1984 by HarperCollins

This little jewel just exudes 1980s with its smallish size and page layouts. I love it!

Frané Lessac has lived in many places around the world. At the time of this publication, she had spent some years on the island of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles and recorded her love for the land and its people in her trademark naive paintings. Lessac’s observations of the stone houses, frangipani blossoms, delicious tropical fruits, bustling markets, fresh catches of fish, calypso bands, and even the neighborhood volcano, have a marvelous authentic ring.

 You’ll fall in love with this place in the few minutes it takes you to journey through these pages. A vintage gem for ages 3 and up.

Trinidad and Tobago

Drummer Boy of John John, written by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac
published in 2012 by Lee & Low

Everybody in John John is busy getting ready for Carnival. They’re sewing beads on outrageously bright costumes and decorating flamboyant masks. The Roti King is cooking up a storm to get ready for crowds who’ll come for his “famous folded pancakes filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices.” He’s even promised free rotis for the best calypso band in the parade.

Winston loves rotis. He wishes more than anything that he were part of a band so he might win that prize. But the chac-chac players, the tamboo bamboo band, the bottle-and-spoon orchestra, the shango drummers — none of them needs an extra player.

 Things take a happy turn, though, when Winston stumbles across an idea for a new band that’s simply terrific! This ebullient story springs off the pages with Frané Lessac’s uber-bright colors and patterns. An Author’s Note tells about the real Winston, a pioneer in the development of the steel drum. Great piece of culture for sharing with  ages 3 and up.

 An Island Christmas, written by Lynn Joseph, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1992 by Clarion Books

Rosie is helping Mama prepare for Christmas in their home on Trinidad. She gathers juicy red sorrel fruits for a tangy Christmas drink. She lines cake pans with wax paper for the sticky, sweet currants Tantie is mixing with spices, molasses, and eggs for luscious black current cakes.

She barefoot-runs into the warm night to join the parang band, then doles out ham sandwiches to the musicians as they tingalayo off to the next street.

There’s lots more sweetness here …soursop ice cream, the sugar cane man, alloe pies, and the jumble of family together, all told in Rosie’s wonderful Caribbean dialect. A sweet treat for ages 3 and up.


Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre
published in 2000 by Scholastic
75 pages PLUS 20 pages of recipes and an extensive glossary

Several of our recent destinations throughout Latin America merge in this excellent chapter book, so while it’s not about Mexico per se, I’m including it here.

I love this account, in which a young girl collects fascinating childhood memories from family members who have grown up in Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru. Each of their stories references a beloved food; authentic recipes for each of these dishes are gathered in the final pages of the book. It’s a delightful read with an extensive glossary for Spanish terms.

Armando and the Blue Tarp School, written by Edith Hope Find and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, illustrated by Hernán Sosa
published in 2014 by Lee and Low

Armando is a young Mexican boy whose family lives in a neighborhood near the city dump.  They make their living as pepenadores, trash pickers, sorting through stinking mounds of garbage each day to find bottles and cans to sell.

  One day Armando spies a pick-up truck rolling into town.  It’s Señor David!  He has come back again!  Señor David pulls out a large blue tarp and spreads it on the ground.  He sets up a chalkboard and papers and paints.  Children gather on the blue tarp, and Señor David begins to teach, for the blue tarp is actually their school. 

A heartwarming story based on the work of David Lynch, for ages 4 and up.

Dear Primo, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
published in 2010 by Abrams

Two cousins — one in Mexico, one in the U.S. — write letters back and forth, telling one another about their lives. See how their neighborhoods, schools, sports,  foods, holidays, are delightfully different, even while their overall lives are full of strikingly similar patterns. 

Duncan Tonatiuh has earned many accolades by now for his extraordinary illustration. This was his first book! Ages 4 and up.

Dia de los Muertos, written by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
published in 2015 by Albert Whitman and Company

There are dozens of books about Day of the Dead celebrations. This one is jubilant with color, illustrated with zest and style, and written in rhyming couplets that include a hefty sprinkling of Spanish words (and a glossary to help with that.)

From dawn to dark, join the festivities by adorning altars, munching on sweet calaveras, decorating the graves of ancestors and settling in for a grand picnic. Then get dressed up for the parade, the mariachi bands and dancing. An afterword fills in lots of cultural detail. Great choice for ages 3 and up.

To learn more about the origins of the calaveras, you can’t do better than:

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.

A multiple award-winner, ingenuously formatted, told, and illustrated, for ages 5 and up.

M is for Mexico, written and photographed by Flor de María Cordero
published in 2007 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This book in the Frances Lincoln series alphabetically surveys life in Mexico, from the zocalo in Mexico City to ancient pyramids still standing, baptism ceremonies in this highly-Catholic nation, and the sweet treats children like to buy in the market. Ages 3 and up.

Mayeros: A Yucatec Maya Family, written and photographed by George Ancona
published in 1997 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

The small town of Teabo in Yucatán, Mexico, is home to Armando and Gaspár, two little boys who are the shining stars of this lovely photodocumentary.

Journey to this sun-baked place, where the women adorn their white dresses with fabulous embroidery, the fathers build a bullring for the upcoming fiesta, and the boys go to school, play, help with branding and planting at their grandparents’ ranch, surrounded by the clearly tight bonds of this family. Warm and inviting, rich with cultural detail and excellent photography, the book includes an Author’s Note describing the fascinating and difficult history of the Mayan people. Ages 4 and up.

The Fabulous Firework Family, written and illustrated by James Flora
published in 1994 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

In the picturesque village of Santiago, Pepito and his family are known as the Fabulous Firework Family for their Gandalfian incendiary displays. This year, to celebrate the birthday of the town’s patron saint, the mayor himself commissions a showstopper of a castillo! One that makes “more noise than thunder, more smoke than a volcano, and more sparks than there are stars in the heavens.”

Watch this family collect the ingredients for those outbursts of color, build the fanciful structures of the castillo, and unleash the grandest spectacle ever. I’ll admit, I didn’t even know what a castillo was until I read this book and then looked them up on youtube! Quite epic! Bits of Spanish language and a confetti-shower of color bring this tale to life. Ages 4 and up.  (A completely different version of both text and illustration was published by James Flora in 1955. I have not seen it.)

Saturday Market, written by Patricia Grossman, illustrated by Enrique O. Sánchez
published in 1994 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

The lively Saturday market in Oaxaca, Mexico, bustles with people visiting stalls crowded with wares. Sacks of chile peppers, brilliant rebozos, vibrant woven rugs, delicious coconut bread, fresh tortillas, and of course, the delightful Zapotecas carved and painted by artisans.

Join the throngs, walk through the market with all its enticing fare, and learn about these makers and traders. A warm story with lots to notice in the warm, colorful illustrations, for ages 3 and up.

Julio’s Magic, written by Arthur Dorros, collages by Ann Grifalconi
published in 2005 by Harper Collins

Furthering our understanding of the Oaxacan artisans is this tender story of a young boy named Julio, his dreams of winning the annual carving contest, and his dear mentor, the talented carver, Iluminado.

Ann Grifalconi’s inspired collages carry us into Julio’s village and display some of the wildly-colorful, imaginative sculptures Oaxacan carvers are famous for. A quiet, charming read for ages 4 and up.

That’s it for today! Our next and penultimate stop zooms us way up north to visit our other neighbor, Canada.

  This round-the-world jaunt is nearing its conclusion. I hope you’ll invite folks who would enjoy making the tour to check out all our destinations — past, present, and future.

Here are the links thus far:

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

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


Every problem…

“So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh, and Rabbit hung his washing on the South end…and in between Bear felt himself getting slenderer and slenderer.”

… has a solution.

Check out the surprising solutions in these great stories.

Another Way to Climb a Tree, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Problem: Lulu, whose joy in life is climbing preposterously tall trees, is sick. Gazing out her window at those unapproachable branches, she makes a sorry figure indeed.

Solution: A miracle of light and shadow present a remarkable possibility to Lulu that spreads sunshine to her and readers alike. Hadley Hooper’s divine retro prints bring such class and comfort to these pages. A tiny slice-of-life that’s surprisingly inspiring. Ages 2 and up.

The Knish War on Rivington Street, written by Joanne Oppenheim, illustrated by Jon Davis
published in 2017 by Albert Whitman and Company

Problem: Benny’s mama, Molly,  bakes the most delicious knishes on Rivington Street. Flaky pastry parcels, plum full of kasha, cheese, and potatoes. Yummm. But Mr. & Mrs. Tisch set up shop right across the street with loud signs selling her famous fried knishes at a penny less than Molly’s! This can only mean one thing: war!

Solution: With prices a-tumbling, brass bands a-tootling, angry voices arguing…what can be done to restore peace and friendship to Rivington Street? Find out, plus bake your own batches of Molly’s and Mrs. Tisch’s knishes and pick your favorite! Ages 4 and up.

Counting with Tiny Cat, written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Problem: One playful and, shall we say, overconfident cat encounters way more balls of red yarn than he’s prepared for! Yikes!

Solution: Napping. And let’s face it, isn’t that often the best solution?! Darling mayhem, graphic brilliance, a hoot for ages 18 months and up.

Dogosaurus Rex, written by Anna Staniszewski, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

Problem: The dog Ben brings home from the shelter, name of Sadie, seems…uh…quite strange for a dog. Smashingly large. Ravenously hungry. Possibly entirely too much trouble?

Solution: Sadie saves her own neck by proving that a burly body and powerful hunger can come in pretty handy under the right circumstances! Humor and adventure in a sort-of second generation Clifford the Dog scenario, for ages 3 and up.

You Must Bring a Hat!, written by Simon Philip, illustrated by Kate Hindley
published by Sterling Children’s Books in 2017

Problem: One young lad receives an invitation to the snazziest party ever. The directive says he must bring a hat. And try to be on time. The problems he encounters in fulfilling that decree and a whole botheration of addendums to it — phew! Enough to try the patience of a saint!

Solution: Would you believe monkeys, monocles, and piano-playing badgers are all preludes to a most surprising, easy-pie solution ushering us into the liveliest of parties? You better hold onto your hats for this silly caper. A jolly spot of nonsense for ages 2 and up.

¡Hola!  Olá!   K’ulaj!

We’ve finally crossed the Atlantic and made our way to the Americas. Today we’re reading about life in Central and South America. But first — we have a winner in our West African book giveaway! Congrats to Jackie Lannin! Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com to give me your shipping address.

There is incredible diversity within the vast areas of Latin America. A mighty gulf between the wealthy and the millions of street kids, for example. A swirl of ancestries and languages. Glittering cities, snowcapped mountains, dense rainforest, bleak deserts. Yet this diversity is not particularly well-represented in children’s literature.  

Santiago de Chile, Chile

By far the most common subject for books set in these countries — I thought for awhile it was the only thing I would find! — is Carnival.

An exuberant focus, to be sure. But I had to dig to find stories centered on other aspects of life. Given the richness of these cultures, I was frankly astonished by what was not available.

Except for Guatemala. What is it with Guatemala?! I found more books set there by far than any other location. Had to bump some of them out, just to keep things somewhat balanced. Curious.

Meanwhile, fasten your seat belt and we’ll start off in…


Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play, written and photographed by Rachel Crandell
published in 2002 by Henry Holt and Co.

There are many peoples within the Mayan population. This photo-essay shows us a group of Mopan Mayan from Belize.

Move through a typical day and see the many tasks keeping “the hands of the Maya” busy. Toting firewood, cooking up tortillas, roofing , sowing maize, scrubbing, weaving, carving, making music, and comforting children. Beautiful photography brings us right up close to the uniquenesses of this people and place. It’s a lovely choice for even very young children, ages 2 and up.


Rainbow Weaver, written by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, translation by Eida de la Vega
published in 2016 by Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books

High in the Guatemalan mountains, a young Mayan girl named Ixchel yearns to be a weaver like her mother and grandmothers and neighbor ladies and their great-grandmothers before them. For thousands of years, Mayan women have woven magnificent cloth in vibrant colors and distinctive, intricate patterns on backstrap looms.

But there’s not enough thread to spare for a little girl like Ixchel. So, she improvises. And what she winds up with is quite a winning discovery! This is a sweet story, told in both Spanish and English, illustrated in a fetching Disney-esque style. An Author’s Note tells more about the Mayan weavers, and a pronunciation guide helps with the Mayan words. Like Ixchel, for example! Great read for ages 4 and up.

Abuela’s Weave, written by Omar S. Castañeda, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez
published in 1993 by Lee & Low

Here’s another look at the weavers of Guatemala. Esperanza’s abuela is one of the most superb weavers around, whose tapestries could “pull the wonder right out of people.” But she fears that the new, machine-made tapestries will outshine her traditional, handcrafted ones, and Esperanza knows that her abuela’s birthmark has made some people begin terrible rumors about her.

That makes heading to market for the Fiesta de Pueblos in Guate a nerve-wracking journey. What special weaving have Abuela and Esperanze been working so hard at? Will customers be frightened by Abuela’s birthmark? Can their handwork stand out in that crowded marketplace?

This is a quieter story than Rainbow Weaver, but equally warm, with really lovely illustrations and more references to the culture and geography of Guatemala. If you can find a copy, share it with ages 5 and up.

Un barrilete para el Dia de los Muertos/Barrilete: A Kite for the Day of the Dead, written by Elisa Amado, Photographs by Joya Haris
published in 1999 by Groundwood Books

This fascinating photo-essay follows a boy named Juan  who lives in the small village of Santiago Sacatepéquez, famous for creating some of the largest kites in the world to celebrate the Day of the Dead on November 2.  Witness the construction of these extraordinary creations via the candid photos and lucid, respectful depictions of life in this small corner of the world.

Giant kites of Santiago!

I have to say that the cover does not prepare you for the elegant story within. I wasn’t expecting to love this, but I was smitten! Share it with slightly older children with patience for a slice-of-life photo essay. Perhaps ages 5 or 6 and up.

Mama and Papa Have a Store, written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
published in 1998 by Lee & Low Books

In 1938, as the Japanese invaded their village in Guangdong, China, one young couple fled and settled in Guatemala City. There they established a dry goods store, selling everything from paper lanterns to perfume to rows and rows of colorful threads “arranged like schools of fish in glassy water.”

See what a typical day looks like from the vantage point of their little girl as the bean curd seller comes round with fresh tofu, Mama chops hot peppers for lunch, and her siblings wax the roof slates and slide down the slope on cardboard sleds! One of my favorite older titles, this won a Pura Belpré Honor for its exuberant, detailed watercolors. Ages 3 and up.

Sawdust Carpets, written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
published in 2005 by Groundwood Books

A second story by this same author casts a spotlight on the astonishing Easter processions in Antigua, Guatemala including the creation of beautiful, elaborate tapestries created from colored sawdust which line the streets.

Carling again tells this story from the point of view of her Chinese immigrant family whose Buddhist heritage melds with the Catholicism of the Guatemalan people during this Holy Week. It’s a fantastic, appealing window onto a famous tradition. Ages 4 and up.

El Salvador

The Fiesta of the Tortillas, written by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by María Jesús Álvarez, translated by Joe Hayes and Sharon Franco
published in 2006 by Alfaguara

You’d better not be hungry when you read this book, I’m warning you.

In this apparently semi-autobiographical tale, Koki lives with his family in a house that holds a comedor as restaurants are called in El Salvador. The comedor bustles with aunts and cousins chopping, mixing, and frying mouthwatering tortillas, papusas, fried bananas, grilled beef, all so tasty that people keep coming back for more and more. I am not surprised! Yum.

There’s a strange little mystery going on in the comedor, though, that’s got everybody a bit hot under the collar just now. Honestly, the resolution to that mystery is a tad vague here, but the joy of family and the delicious Salvadoran cooking that sing in this story are quite enough to make up for that.

Spanish and English versions of the story are both here, along with colorful collaged illustrations. A great book to read with ages 4 and up, right before going out for some Salvadoran food!


Hands of the Rain Forest: The Emberá People of Panama, written and photographed by Rachel Crandell
published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company

The Emberá are an indigenous people of Panama whose lives have been intricately linked to the rain forest and its rich resources for centuries. Since the 1970s some have been displaced from the jungle by the government and resettled in villages along the Sambú River. Modernity has impacted their lives, yet many of their traditional skills are maintained.

Visit these villages, glimpse their craftsmanship, and gain more appreciation for the immense variety of homes and lifestyles loved by people on our planet. This is a respectful photo essay that will surely astound children ages 4 and up.


The Streets Are Free, written by Kurusa, illustrations by Monika Doppert, translation by Karen Englander
first published in 1981 in Venezuela; first North American edition 1985 by Annick Press

Based on the true story of the children of the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela, who longed for playground space for themselves in the midst of the slum that engulfed them, this unusual story reveals the way rural areas degrade into urban shantytowns, the toll this takes on children’s lives, and the determined spirit of one particular group of Venezuelan kids.

Exceptional illustrations convey life in the barrio with respect and realism. Fantastic read for slightly older children, ages 7 and up.



A tropical-colored, true story of one book-loving man who goes to tremendous lengths to bring books to children in remote villages, far from any library. Heroic, beautiful, inspiring. My full review of it is here. A lovely read for ages 2 and up.

Juana and Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Pure delight, this short chapter book follows spunky Juana, a good dog, her warm family, and her grandfather’s special reward for Juana’s progress in learning that tricky language, English. This is an absolutely delightful read. 89 pages. Read it aloud or hand it to a stout reader who can handle a sprinkling of Spanish.

Saturday Sancocho, written and illustrated by Leyla Torres
published in 1995 by Farrar Straus Giroux

Chicken Sancocho is a mouthwatering stew prepared throughout Central and South America. In this story, Maria Lili and her grandparents find themselves without the money to buy sancocho ingredients. And that is a major disappointment!

Mama Ana has just the clever solution, however. With Maria Lili in tow, off they go to the market for a day of sunny bartering at one stall after another. By day’s end they’ve got a basket of all the right stuff — plantains and cassava, corn and carrots, tomatoes and cilantro and garlic and cumin; and yes, even chicken for the pot.

The sunny illustrations and delicious storyline here will make you determined to cook up some sancocho for yourselves, and there is a recipe in the book. Happy and lovely, for ages 4 and up.


Amazon Boy, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1993 by Macmillan Publishing Company

I was really surprised how difficult it is to find books that portray contemporary Brazil. If any of you know of great stories depicting Rio or other Brazilian locations, please let us know in the comments!

This book is slightly outdated, and I’m not so fond of the title. Ted Lewin’s always-lovely watercolor work makes up for a lot, though. Pedro lives deep in the Amazon jungle with his family who make a living by fishing. This story recounts Pedro’s first trip downriver to the port of Belém. The incredible density of the rainforest and the bustle of the harbor, the flat out amazing fish and the unique life Pedro lives, all captivate and expand our understanding of the many ways people live in our world. As a plus, Lewin connects the way destructive environmental practices impact the lives of these jungle-dwellers. A fascinating story for ages 4 and up.


Up and Down the Andes: A Peruvian Festival Tale, written by Laurie Krebs, illustration by Aurélia Fronty
published in 2008 by Barefoot Books

In June, the city of Cusco, Peru hosts Inti Raymi, an ancient Incan festival honoring the Sun God, with thousands of costumed actors re-enacting the ancient pageantry. Journey along with children from up and down the Andes Mountains as they make their way by bus, mule, boat, and take their places in the celebration.

Short, rhythmic text; lively, spicy-warm illustrations; and backpages with more information on Peruvian festivals, history, peoples, and geography. Ages 3 and up.

Tonight is Carnaval, written by Arthur Dorros, illustrated with arpilleras sewn by the Club de Madres Virgen del Carmen of Lima, Peru
published in 1991 by Dutton Children’s Books

There are so many titles about celebrating Carnival (a number coming up in our Caribbean stop) that each one I’ve included had to earn its place! This one easily wins a spot on the to-read lists for its broader depiction of life in Peru and the extraordinary artwork that illustrates it.

Join one family living among the high Andes as they prepare fields for planting, tend llamas, spin and weave, harvest potatoes, go to market, and play the instruments that create the unique, lovely sounds we love from this region.

A cooperative of 35 women and 1 man quilted the fabulous pieces that illustrate this book. I have no idea if this cooperative is still at work. If someone knows, please tell us!

 You can read about the fantastic work they were about on the flyleaf of the book.  Great choice for ages 5 and up.

Maria Had a Little Llama, written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company

An immensely charming, bilingual rendition of the old nursery rhyme, set in the Andes mountains, with illustrations to knock your socks off. Perfect for ages 2 and up.


Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, written by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Here’s a moving story about a population of children who live among the trash heaps in Cateura, Paraguay. Surrounded by garbage, noise, and stink, these kids and their parents still love the beauty of music.

Discover how kindness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and hard work resulted in remarkable musical opportunities for them in this extraordinary, true account. Comport’s striking illustrations are a joyful, strong pairing for the story. An Author’s Note tells more of the details, and further exploration can be done via listed websites and videos. Inspirational, for ages 5 through adult.



This handsomely-illustrated story features a marvelous grandfather-grandson relationship in their home on the vast, clear pampas. What a life! There’s heartache when the boy has to move to the city, which is softened by his abuelo’s wisdom. This is an absolute stunner. Read my full review here.

On the Pampas, written and illustrated by María Cristina Brusca
published in 1991 by Henry Holt and Company

This delightful picture book memoir of growing up in Argentina follows María as she spends one summer at her grandparents’ estancia on the vast, flat prairies, the pampas. She and her cousin, Susanita, live an open-air, free, robust life, riding horses, swimming in the creek, learning to lasso from the gauchos,  bellying up to grandmother’s enormous noon meals, sneaking ñandú eggs from furious male ñandús!  

Oh my word — what a fantastic, adventurous time! Vivid watercolors set us in the midst of this hearty scene. Ages 3 and up.

Our next stop will take us just a bit north to the Caribbean and Mexico. I hope you’ll join us!

Here are links to our previous destinations:

Destination: West Africa

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


The devastation of Harvey is overwhelmingly present both for those on site and those helplessly watching from afar.

That’s not the only bad news that might be greying your spirit these days. Here’s a brief selection of some of my favorite books that swell our hearts with hope.

Each is linked to my original review.

Spirit of Hope

When a young family is forced out of their home, another most surprising place becomes available.

A Chair for My Mother

The classic story of a terrible house fire and the pluck, love, and community that bring about restoration.

Boxes for Katje

An American girl rallies her friends to ship boxes of needed supplies to a devastated community in post-war Holland.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down

A Cameroonian girl hears of the Great Depression in America and raises money to send from her impoverished community.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

One gentle zookeeper falls ill and the dear animals he’s cared for so well return the favor. 

The Friend

An African-American maid acts as true companion, dear friend, and life saver to her small white charge.

The Promise

A broken city and broken soul are transformed by beauty.

The Family Under the Bridge

One of my all-time favorite chapter books, about a homeless young family, a homeless old man, and the power of love.

Neo-Naziism is not new in America. Yet the Charlottesville rally compelled us as a nation to grapple once again with this reprehensible brand of evil. Certainly to debate our responses to it.

My dad was a young soldier in World War II. He was a flight mechanic, charged with keeping his crew’s plane in top form as they flew paratroopers, gliders, supply missions, Red Cross missions, among the battlefields of Europe. His experiences at D-Day, the jubilation he witnessed as the Allies liberated  Holland and Paris, the horrifying discoveries his crew made as they rescued prisoners of war in the final days of the conflict, shaped him — and me as well as he told me stories as a young child. He and his buddies were so young, risking their lives to defeat this diabolical ideology.

As I looked at the white supremacists’ faces in Charlottesville, mainly privileged young men, brandishing torches, waving Nazi flags, screaming vile insults at Jews and Blacks, the contrast to my honorable dad at the same age was nauseating.

It is incomprehensible to me how one gets to this place. And yet the insidious poison of self-pity and greed takes ghastly shape when ignited by rhetoric into blame, hatred, and oppression of others.

Which leads me to reiterate that we must keep teaching history. There are profound lessons to learn from the wrongs of the past which we allow to grow stale at our peril. Our kids are not too young to fall prey to demagogic messages. 

So I set about finding resources for you all. Reading these books was sobering. I was struck with many parallels to today’s discourses and challenging questions about appropriate responses, courage, and discernment, that would stimulate important, complex conversations with middle graders through adults.

If I were running a book club for middle-graders and up, I would pick one of these titles to read and discuss this fall. Today I’ve included a few discussion questions prompted by these books that could spark lively conversations in your spheres.

Almost none of today’s titles are geared for young children, but you can find a list of exceptional picture books heralding the brave rescuers of WWII in my post: rescuing the innocent…stories from the Holocaust for ages 6-14

Recently I discovered this sorrowful allegory that would also suit ages 7-10:

Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
published in 1989 by The Jewish Publication Society

It takes place in a small forest clearing where one small white rabbit watches her community fall prey, bit by bit, to “Terrible Things.” The story clearly echoes Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous quotation: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Stephen Gammell’s graphite work is powerful. To not anthropomorphize the animals, yet portray their stances and feelings from indifference to snobbishness to cold panic, takes incredible skill. The menace in these pages makes me bump the age range on this slim picture book up to about age 7. It would make a fine introduction to conversations about civil disobedience and standing up for others’ welfare at a young elementary level. 

Next, this book discusses Hitler’s rise to power and specifically what prompted young people to enthusiastically follow him:

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
published in 2005 by Scholastic
157 pages + back matter

It’s a riveting, disquieting account of the Hitler Youth movement, its origins, allure, fierce hold, and final, devastating shame, through in-depth accounts of a number of young people who were a part of it.

Here are some discussion points for this book:

1.)The youth of post-WWI Germany felt disenfranchised and embittered. How did Hitler appeal to them? What kinds of things did he promise them? Are these things inherently bad? When and how did some Hitler Youth recognize that these promises were meant to be fulfilled at a terrible cost? How does this bear on promises you’re given today by politicians, advertisers, friends, etc.? Which promises might be most difficult to resist for you?

2.)What good things came initially through the Hitler Youth program? In what ways do good and bad mix together in current organizations, movements, etc.? What ought we do in those cases?

3.)Millions of Germans were either apathetic or at least did nothing as the Aryan agenda advanced. When Kristallnacht occurred, ordinary Germans saw their Jewish neighbors murdered, beaten, transported, destroyed, and did nothing. Simultaneously, Americans were so worried about immigrants taking away their jobs that they refused entrance to Jewish refugees despite the perils they faced. Why do good people remain apathetic when others are harmed? Where, in what spheres, is this happening today? If you’re honest, how easily are you moved to stand against the oppression of others rather than look out for yourself? How does one increase one’s courage in these circumstances?

4.)Loyalty to Hitler made Hitler Youth either unable or unwilling to see, hear, or believe what he really was. Meanwhile, Hans Scholl declared that “my sole ambition must be to perceive things clearly and calmly.” Loyalty is a good thing. How can we discern when it prevents us from seeing clearly?

5.)Many Germans dismissed stories of atrocities as too horrible to be true. As fake. Instead they clung to the version of reality they wanted to believe. There is a snowballing tendency in the U.S. today to dismiss stories that present ideas, events, issues people dislike, as “fake news.” How did Scholl and his compatriots resist Nazi propaganda? How did they discover the truth? How can we prevent “willed ignorance” in ourselves? What is the long-term impact on our society of the consistent dismissive — “fake news”?

6.)After the war, Eisenhower stated that free speech was one of the most important civil liberties to reintroduce in Germany, and specifically called for a free press. He said “this meant [the press] could — and should — report on all aspects of life in Germany, even if it meant criticizing the government and occupation forces.” Why is free speech so critical in a democratic society? What limits do we currently have on free speech? How do we determine which speech ought to be censured? What does it signify when Pres. Trump routinely attacks the press? Why is a free press essential in a democracy?

There’s gobs more to dig out in this exceptional book. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

In my years teaching modern world history, I often assigned this biography of Hitler by Albert Marrin:

Hitler, by Albert Marrin
republished by Beautiful Feet Books in 2002
249 pages

As always, Marrin’s writing is captivating. His account is thorough and adequately expresses the chilling depravity of Hitler and his impact on the German people, enough to break through the complacency that easily washes over today’s American schoolchildren due to the distance in time and space from these events. Although my students were of course familiar with Hitler, this book shocked them. I recommend it for ages 15 and older.

Another biography that’s quite a bit shorter and formatted with lots of black-and-white photographs, is:

The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, by James Giblin
published originally in 2002; paperback in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
223 pages

The brilliance of this book, besides the fact that it’s so well-written, is its coverage of neo-Naziism in the final chapter, an exceptional resource for carrying the discussion of Hitler beyond past history and into the resurgent movements in America and across Europe today. Ages 13 and up.

The following books recount the courage of those who resisted white supremacy.

If your government, schoolmates, friends, persecute or oppress someone wholly unlike you, what will you do? What will you not do?  What stand will you take? How much are you willing to risk? These questions led thousands of Germans to resist the Nazi government at the cost of their lives. It’s easy to praise them, but their decisions demand a more introspective look. What is our moral duty today? When is protest justified, let alone sabotage, treason, murder? If we praise these individuals, what does that mean for our own lives?

German youth hit these issues head on at tremendously young ages. The following exceptional books raise all kinds of important, thorny questions for you and readers ages 13 and up.

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler, by Russell Freedman
published in 2016 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
87 pages

I’ve reviewed this exceptional, award-winning book previously and highly recommend it again. Hans and Sophie Scholl were teenagers when they and others began clandestinely opposing Hitler, eventually forming the secret White Rose resistance movement which cost them their lives. A riveting read for ages 14 and up.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knut Pedersen and the Churchill Club, by Phillip M. Hoose
published in 2015 by Farrar Straus and Giroux
165 pages

This story of a group of Danish schoolboys who resisted the Nazi occupational forces is flabbergasting. Their youthful audacity bore tremendous fruit, yet came at enormous cost. My full review of this incredible, award-winning account is here. Ages 14 and up.

The Plot to Kill  Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero, by Patricia McCormick
published in 2016 by Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins
143 pages + back matter

There are a number of biographies of Bonhoeffer. This one is accessible to kids as young as 12, yet grapples with questions of civil disobedience and religious faith with incisive clarity.

It was Bonhoeffer’s deep faith that inspired his activism. He argued fervently that it was the responsibility of the Church to assist victims of governmental wrongdoing, no matter their faith. As the Nazi program accelerated, his commitment to pacifism was rocked to its core, leading him to exonerate himself and others in their plot to assassinate Hitler. This is stupefying, when you really think about it.

Here are just a few questions that arise from this biography:

1. What does it look like — today — to walk in Bonhoeffer’s footsteps? Christians in particular have been inspired by Bonhoeffer’s moral courage and appeal to true community. What of his staggering commitment to civil disobedience? What are the implications of that for American Christians? For you? How does our society view Christians who neglect to stand up for justice?

2. Bonhoeffer was a white, Protestant, pastor, yet his faith was ignited by African American churches and he sought out the counsel of Ghandi as he contemplated resisting the Nazi government. How much do adherents of a particular faith typically seek growth and understanding from those unlike them or outside of that faith?  Is Bonhoeffer’s pathway here an important one to follow? How exactly would one do that?

3. Author McCormick argues that “while Bonhoeffer made a moral plea to [his fellow] clergy, Hitler appealed to their desire for power. He told church leaders that he would restore the moral order that Germany was lacking. He also suggested that he would restore them to a place of political influence that they had lost…He announced that his government would make Christianity ‘the basis of our collective morality.'” Bonhoeffer was lonely in his refusal to succumb to these promises. Do these sound bytes sound familiar? Why would a pastor not want what Hitler promised? What should be the stance of the Church in terms of seeking political power? Is the “restoration of morality” something that can be done through governmental power?

Many more profound, pertinent questions are raised particularly for those of faith through this well-written biography.

An Addendum: The extraordinarily talented John Hendrix will have an illustrated biography of Bonhoeffer out in Spring 2018, published by Abrams Kids. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the pages.


I cannot wait to read and share this book!

If this post is helpful, please share it on social media, with your book club, teaching cohorts, homeschool co-ops. Let’s help one another and our kids live more examined, thoughtful lives with the help of great books like these.

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