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

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

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

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

So, off we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not quite contemporary, but great fun…

Audrey of the Outback and Sun on the Stubble

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

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

Greetings from Sandy Beach, which I reviewed here. 

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

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

Seven Little Australians, by Ethel Turner

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

The Magic Pudding, by Norman Lindsay

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

The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs

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

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill, by Dorothy Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here are links to the previous tour entries:

Tour of the World: A Sampler of Cultures

buckle up for a tour of the world

 

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It’s full-on May. Green swathes the earth, tulips paint gardens, socks and shoes lie discarded. Time for some fresh, glad picture books for hammock and lemonade time. Every one of these is guaranteed to be a juicy pleasure¬†for thirsty, curious minds.

Everybunny Dance!, written and illustrated by Ellie Sandall
originally published in¬†Great Britain; published in the U.S. in 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, and imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Oh, these darling bunnies! Plump bottoms. Jovial splotchy fur. Cheerful capering. Just…irresistible.

How merrily they dance, play, and sing! UNTIL!! Egads! It’s a fox! Everybunny run!

When these worried-yet-sensitive bunnies see a tear trickle down that fox’s long nose, however, they respond with the sweetest bunnywarmth of all. There is so much gladness and good will in this book, you’ll feel your heart expand a couple of sizes. A gem for ages 18 months and up.

Under the Umbrella, written by Catherine Buquet, illustrated by Marion Arbona, translated by Erin Woods
originally published in French; English edition published in 2017 by Pajama Press

A sodden day brings out the grumpies for one curmudgeonly fellow, striding down the avenue under his black umbrella, scowling, dashing, spluttering…

Meanwhile, a lemon-yellow bakery window shining out upon the grey day attracts a little boy like a moth to lamplight, those mouthwatering mousses and razzledazzzle tarts beaming sunshine into his soul.

What happens when a gust of wind whooshes these two people together? A smile. A kind gesture. A spilling over of sweetness. This dynamic book will gladden you, not to mention precipitating a trip to the local patisserie! Striking illustration work emotes the changing moods of this story with tremendous pizzazz. A joy for ages 2 and up.

Round, by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Roundness. Such a simple concept, carried out brilliantly by Minnesota poet Joyce Sidman, illustrated with tender warmth by the talented Taeeun Yoo.

This ambling¬†exploration of round things gently unfolds in Sidman’s pristine text. ¬†Words reflecting the incisive wonder of a child are pared down to those quiet, perfect few that resonate within the reader, stimulate more wonder.

Yoo’s print-like illustrations are impeccable, gracing every page with physical and emotional beauty that stops us in our tracks.

I adore this book — timeless, thoughtful, curious, warmhearted. Perfect for sharing with ages 18 months and up.

Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
originally published in French, 2016; English language edition 2017 by Kids Can Press

Mr. Postmouse stole my heart with his first round of deliveries, reviewed here.

Now he’s off for a whirlwind, ’round-the-world vacation with his family. Ever responsible, Mr. Postmouse brings along a cartful of parcels to deliver along the way.

Whether on a volcanic isle or at a desert oasis, the Postmouse family enjoys meeting new friends. What¬†a¬†jolly treat to visit these¬†places with them! Best of all are the peeks into many, tiny, clever homes and shops along the way. Home in a cactus or a tiny yellow submarine. Home on a cloud or in a dragon’s lair. Darling wee furnishings and details make this a treasure to pour over with ages 2 and up.

Arthur and the Golden Rope, written and illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

Welcome to a fabulous Norse tale about young Arthur of Iceland, a lad destined for epic quests from his earliest days.

When the brutish wolf, Fenrir, blots out the town’s great cauldron of fire, plunging them into icy darkness forever, it’s Arthur who’s chosen to venture off to Valhalla, track down Thor, and urge him to use his thunderbolt to rekindle their flame.

But oh! this is much easier said than done! Incredibly appealing¬†panels of illustrations carry us into a legendary Nordic world as Stanton spins this wildly adventurous tale. This appears to be the only title available¬†in the Brownstone’s Mythical Collection. I’m definitely hoping for more. Fantastic storytelling for ages 5 and up.

This House, Once, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

The door in this house once was part of “a colossal oak tree about three hugs around and as high as the blue.”

Now there’s an intriguing thought.¬†What about the foundation stones? The red bricks in the walls? Or these glass window panes?

What were all the things that make up this house, before they turned into our house?

Quietly thought-provoking, this dreamy book will spark ideas and questions and wonder about not only houses, but all manner of objects we take for granted. What were they once? How are they made? Who made them?

An immensely clever, ethereal prod towards wondering, for ages 4 and up.

Bob the Railway Dog: The True Story of an Adventurous Dog, written by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Andrew McLean
published in 2015 in Australia; first U.S. edition 2016 by Candlewick Press

If you’re a dog lover, you’ll warm to this engaging story about a homeless dog adopted by a railway guard back in 1884 Australia.

It took no time at all for this shaggy dog named Bob to attach himself to Mr. Ferry, to learn how to hop aboard the caboose and ride the rails, to switch trains at will in order to see a sizable stretch of the Australian countryside.

Bob was welcomed everywhere, and you’ll welcome him into your hearts, too, as you steam along from Adelaide to Kalangadoo! Sweet story, handsomely illustrated with gentle watercolor illustrations that bring the era and the land to life. Ages 4 and up.

Tony, written by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin Stead
published in 2017; a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

If I handed you this book and you didn’t know it was new, you would likely guess it was a vintage picture book from, say, the 1940s. A velvet soft, yesteryear quietness breathes out from every ounce of it.

The poem which comprises the text was written by Ed Galing just prior to his death in 2013. It’s a reminiscing poem about a sweet-tempered white horse, Tony, who pulls the milk wagon for driver Tom¬†on their¬†early morning rounds. Straightforward, free of soppiness, rich with adoration for¬†this beloved horse, Galing’s poem narrates the routine, cherished interactions between Tony, Tom, and a customer.

Erin Stead’s dove-soft pencil drawings sweep us into a sweet relationship with these three. Her palette of grey-green whispers, while patches of lamplight cast a welcoming glow in the cool dawn shadows. Every element is just so quiet.

I love quiet books, in a world too often dominated by loud, frenetic offerings for children. Soak in the beauty, the stillness, the human pace of Tony. A treat for ages 2 to 100.

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School breaks are coming up soon. If your kids are looking for something to read, here are 3 titles I’ve recently enjoyed. None are brand new, so you should be able to nab them from the library shelves easily:

audrey of the outback cover imageAudrey of the Outback, by Christine Harris, illustrations by Ann James
first published in Australia in 2008; this edition 2013 by Little Hare Books

Audrey is a magnificent¬†character, a spunky middle child living in the Australian Outback around¬†1930. If you have read any of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine books, Audrey reminds me a bit of her. Well-meaning but impulsive, highly inquisitive, and quite game to attempt things that are probably better left alone. All of which leads to a series of misadventures.

These tales have an extra dose of intrigue because of the curiously exotic Outback setting complete with emus, skinks, swagmen, bunyips, and an exploding dunny. Have no fear, a glossary of Interesting Words is here to guide us through the Aussie lingo.

b-20364

Whether Audrey is deciding to become a man, a teacher, or a swaggie, she’s always got her faithful friend Stumpy by her side, and she always keeps one eye open for her dad’s return from his roaming days as a dogger. Good thing her heart is huge, plenty big for numerous loyalties and a nonstop series of dreams.¬†Her funny, warm story will win your heart in a flash.

159 pages long. It would make a sterling¬†read-aloud for ages 5 and up, or a good solo read for ages 8-10. There are two sequels. If my girls were this age, I’d just go ahead and get them all. They’re that good.

the turtle of oman cover imageThe Turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrations by Betsy Peterschmidt
published in 2014 by Greenwillow Books

I am late to the party reading this one but my goodness, am I ever glad I finally settled in with this masterfully-written book about home.

Aref is a young boy living in Muscat, Oman, the spot in the world stitched so durably into the fabric of his life that he cannot imagine ripping out those threads and moving elsewhere. 

But in fact, that is what is on the docket for him. With both of his parents set to study at the University of Michigan, there is no choice for Aref but to say goodbye to his home for several years. How is it possible to do that?

Qantab Beach, Oman

Qantab Beach, Oman

For anyone who has had to leave home and journey to the unknown, especially when it involves crossing long distances and huge cultural divides, you will be stunned by how Naomi Shihab Nye captures the wrenching emotions of good-bye, how she articulates the all-encompassing womb of home as well as the shadowy, minute details of homeness, so hard to pin down but so piercingly a part of us. 

She manages to do this via a quiet flow of thoughts, honest conversations between Aref and the dearest grandfather who ever lived, and a number of poignant scenarios all taking place in just one week. And she manages it without manipulation, without maudlin emotion, with just enough wink and a smile to keep us floating on top of Aref’s struggle rather than sinking with him.

Highly recommended for ages 9 and up. Family members of TCKs — you really should read this book for a window on the separation process experienced by kids transitioning between cultures. It’s an incredible read.

wild wings cover imageWild Wings, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Yuta Onoda
published in 2011 by Atheneum Books for Young Children

Gill Lewis is a UK author whose  background as a veterinarian and worldwide adventurer informs her writing. This middle-grade novel was her first, and was published in the UK as Sky Hawk.

The story takes place in Scotland and follows a young boy named Callum as he navigates several friendships that are pulling him in opposing directions. His new friendship is with Iona McNair, a raggle-taggle gal with a murky background. Not

photo by Tom Webzall

photo by Tom Webzall

really the sort of person he’d normally spend time with. But Iona has spotted a nesting pair of osprey on Callum’s family farmland, and that’s an extraordinarily rare sight. They’ve bound themselves to protecting these endangered birds by keeping the¬†nest¬†a secret, but neither of them can foresee the way events will unfold.

It’s a dramatic, page-turning, eco-adventure that incorporates some darkness, tragedy,¬†and grief, so be aware of that for younger readers. It also brings in a connection with fellow osprey-lovers in The Gambia which I loved. Ages 9 and up.

 

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Today I’ve got three beautiful books, all coming our way from Australia in 2015, ¬†acquainting us with some of the unique creatures trundling about down there. Prepare to be intrigued!

emu cover imageEmu, by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne
first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

In the open forest, where eucalyptus trees fringe tufty grasslands, honey-pale sunshine seeps to where Emu sits on a nest.

Take a look at that shaggy, giant emu with such a dynamic hairstyle. Isn’t he spectacular?!

There are “eight granite-green eggs”¬†to keep warm, and that’s entirely a job for Mr. Emu. Mama Emu is nowhere to be found. That’s the way it’s done in emu circles.

Once the eggs are laid, female emus have nothing further to do with the hatching or rearing of their young.

emu claire saxby and graham byrne

Follow along with this fellow and his brood and you’ll learn the curiosities involved in hatching emus, which enemies long to snatch emu eggs and hatchlings, how emus fight back!, what they like to eat, and more.

Scratchy, highly-textured, bold illustrations add a marvelous sense of strength and the raw, wild world of nature. An excellent introduction to such a unique bird for ages 4 and older. 

21965585Bilby: Secrets of an Australian Marsupial, by Edel Wignell, illustrated by Mark Jackson
first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

With it’s long pointy nose, rabbitty ears, and gleaming eyes, the bilby looks like such a cute little fellow.

However, he’s also equipped with sharp teeth, powerful back legs, and some serious claws, so…don’t mess with him!bilby illustration mark jackson

Like all marsupials, Mama Bilby carries her babies in her pouch. They are about “as long as your little toe” when they’re born.

Bilby illustration2 Mark Jackson

Learn about these intriguing, endangered, desert-dwellers in this brief, well-written account. Mark Jackson’s vivid illustrations bring us nose to nose with those bewitching little faces, tuck us into Mama’s burrow, and trot us about the nighttime desert landscape. Ages 3 or 4 and up.

sand-swimmersSand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness, written and illustrated by Narelle Oliver
first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Australia’s center is mainly desert, a rusty-red, cracked, parched land. As far as you can see, it looks devoid of life.Sand Swimmers illustration2 narelle Oliver

But it holds many secrets, if you know where to look.

Fairy shrimp eggs lie in wait by the millions, waiting for rain so they can hatch.

Water-holding frogs snuggle in waterproof cocoons deep, deep in the ground, waiting for years and years, perhaps, until rain water trickles its way to them.

Sand Swimmers illustration Narelle OliverMulgaras and gibberbirds, earless dragons and kultarrs — have you ever heard of these guys?! I had not, until I read this fascinating account of the amazing creatures that make their homes in such a perilous environment.

Oliver’s illustrations entice us to pay close attention as she camoflauges the creatures into their habitats, then guides us towards spotting them. Fabulous book for ages 7 and up.

[Note that the title on the image I’ve used is the Australian title. Apparently “dead heart” did not have a nice enough ring for us Americans!]

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Are We There Yet? story and illustrations by Alison Lester

Heading to the Land Down Under, this book is a grand geography lesson by popular Aussie author, Alison Lester.

Eight-year-old Grace and her family — Mum, Dad, and brothers Luke and Billy — decide to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the whole of Australia, visiting family and friends, and seeing all of its widely-varied people, terrain, and attractions.¬† It’s going to take them out of school for a whole term!¬† What could be better?!

After entrusting their pets to the care of Nan and Poppa, and hitching the camper trailer up to the Land Rover, they set off for 3 months of adventures.¬† Grace narrates the whole trip in this scrapbook-type account which is jam-packed with pictures and sprinkled with helpful maps.¬† We see bizarre sand formations and boab trees, Bungle Bungles and the Three Sisters, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, Thorny Devils and penguins.¬† Grace munches on fish and chips, as well¬†as¬†witchetty grubs.¬† She views Dreamtime drawings…and fireworks over Sydney Harbor.¬† Her family surfs, snorkels, camps, hikes, markets, fishes, rides horses, and goes sledding.¬† And they drive and drive and drive.

I love this fabulous, insider’s guide to Australia, and the¬†happy,¬†active, agreeable family we tour it with.¬† Lester’s colorful, warm illustrations of Grace’s family and her outstanding “snapshots” of Australia, are immensely attractive.¬† The only problem is:¬† Australia is so very far away!

Tap-Tap, by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock

The small, impoverished island country of Haiti has been much in the news since the devastating earthquake in January 2010 and the subsequent slow  recovery and cholera epidemic.  This story gives us a sunnier view of rural Haiti through the eyes of one small, determined, eight-year-old girl.

Sasifi is going to market with her Mama, something she has done often, but never as the stout, responsible girl carrying her own basket-load of oranges on her head as she is today.¬† As Sasifi walks along, 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 way to the bustling market.¬† What a lot of intriguing things for sale!¬† Brooms and chairs, hats and sugar cane.¬†

When Sasifi’s Mama leaves her to tend the oranges while she does her marketing, Sasifi works hard and manages to sell all the rest of the oranges herself!¬† When Mama returns, she is so pleased with Sasifi, she 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 she and her Mama can have a thrilling ride home.¬† It turns out to be quite a squished ride…but a happy one, nonetheless.¬†¬† And…along the way we learn why the trucks are called tap-taps!

Catherine Stock is one of my favorite illustrators.¬† Her watercolors are brilliant.. beautiful…well-conceived.¬† The landscapes and people and markets and tap-taps of Haiti are vividly brought to life on these pages, perfectly complementing this sweet, respectful story.¬†

Monsoon, by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib

In northern India, the days are oppressive with heat.  Heat that shimmers in the air, and blisters the land, and weighs in the minds of the people like a heavy blanket.  And that is why the coming of the monsoon season is watched for and waited for like a gift from the gods.

The hot winds blow strong.  The noisy koel birds sing out their wild rain-welcoming songs.  The weathermen track the movements of the clouds.  But still the rain delays.  The tensions grow as the people wait.

Then, with wondrous, refreshing vitality, one day the clouds burst, and torrents of rain drive down from the skies onto the dusty earth and rejoicing people.  The monsoon has come!

This book is a brilliantly colorful portrayal of one modern Indian girl’s days anticipating the arrival of the rainy season — monsoon.¬† Her life is an intriguing mixture of what is familiar to us — TV, busy city streets, hopscotch, stories with Grandma — and what is foreign to most of us — tea stalls, spice merchants, statues of Ganesh, and Bollywood stars on billboards.¬† The bright illustrations, and the vivid details in the text, work together fantastically to transport us to this striking corner of the world.

Mama and Papa Have a Store, story and pictures by Amelia Lau Carling

Mama and Papa are Chinese immigrants, living in Guatemala City, and running a dry goods store where they sell everything from buttons and cloth,  to firecrackers, perfume and soy sauce.   Their lives are woven with threads from several cultures.  Papa does his accounts with an abacus, while Mama chats with customers in Spanish.  Mayan-Indian families come to purchase gloriously-colored thread for their weavings, while the Chinese bean curd seller brings fresh tofu for lunch, which also features corn tortillas.  It is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural life.

This story is narrated by a little girl, the youngest in her family, who keeps herself busy at the store, feeds the goldfish in their patio pool, coasts down her waxed tin roof on a cardboard sled, and buys sweets from the candy lady, whose wooden box is loaded with goodies.  It is a lively and very joyful look at her life, her family, and her neighborhood.  The text is deliciously sensory, and the watercolors are bursting with color and intriguing details. 

Amelia Lau Carling writes this as a Guatemalan-born child of Chinese immigrants.  Her parents fled China in 1938 when the Japanese invaded their village, and settled in Guatemala to run a general store.  These stories of her own childhood delighted her own children so much that she wrote them down for us, which is good news!  Because this is a gem of a book.

My Little Round House, written and illustrated by Bolormaa Baasansuren

Jilu is a little Mongolian baby, born into a nomadic family,¬† in his family’s ger.¬† This story follows Jilu through his ¬†first year of life, a very ordinary year for a Mongolian nomad perhaps, but an unusually¬†fascinating¬†year for the rest of us!

Jilu is surrounded by love from his father and mother, grandfather and grandmother.¬† He grows up in the midst of the animals of the household — dogs and sheep, goats and camels.¬† These are the constants in Jilu’s life.¬† However, with each change in season, his parents pack up the household belongings, load them onto camels, and move on to another location — autumn camp, winter camp, spring camp and summer camp.¬† Just imagine moving house four times every year!¬†

In each place, Jilu’s mother and father set up the family’s ger, erecting poles and wrapping them in felt, leaving a hole at the top to let blue sky in, and cooking smoke out.¬† These homes are radiant with color — burning orange, magenta, emerald green.¬† Jilu is surrounded with dazzling color and patterns in his warm cocoon.¬† Inside the ger, the family eats their dinners of dumplings and fermented milk, cares for new lambs born in wintertime, and celebrates holidays together.¬† Outside, the vast grassy plains stretch to the sky.¬† In summertime, the warm sun invites Jilu to play, but in winter, the long, cold darkness means the family spends lots of time just sleeping.

This short, simple book by a Mongolian author/artist, describes Jilu’s life with interesting, though sparse, text.¬† The pictures,¬†with their vivd, jewel-like colors and intriguing, authentic details, make the story pop with appeal and wonder.¬† An intriguing look at an unusual, hidden¬†culture.

Amazon links are below:

Are We There Yet?
Tap-Tap
Monsoon
Mama and Papa Have a Store
My Little Round House

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