Posts Tagged ‘best kids books’

I live in Minneapolis. Sure, it’s not nearly the global city that London is. Yet Minnesota is one of the top states in our nation for refugee resettlement, with refugees from 25 countries arriving here in just the past year.

Minnesota is well-known for its large populations of Hmong-, Somali-, and Liberian-Americans, as well as immigrants from the world over.

That means when I move around my city I’m likely to hear a lovely variety of languages, see clothing reflecting numerous cultures, find restaurants cooking up delicious ethnic foods. It’s one of the things I love about my home.

Having raised my children for some years outside of the U.S. — in both Quebec and West Africa — I have learned to highly value a multicultural mindset. This is easier in a place like Minneapolis than it is, for example, in the small northern Minnesota town where I grew up. There are ways, though, to increase our engagement with the world wherever we are, and one of those ways is: books. (You knew I was going to say this.)

It’s more important than ever to cultivate an attitude of boundary-less love in ourselves and our children if we want to build societies that reach out to one another with peace, kindness, and warmth. We can start simply by learning about other ways of life.

I’ve always been partial to books that open a window onto another part of the world and its fascinating array of cultures. There are dozens and dozens of these titles in the Marmalade archives already.

Over the past months I’ve been searching out more gems for you that present global cultures. My goal has been to publish a world tour of sorts for you to embark on at your convenience. Perhaps with summer’s lingering days and pushed-back bedtimes, this is a good time to launch off.

On my quest, I’ve been looking for quite particular kinds of stories. Not folk tales from other lands. Not books on the wildlife of different regions. Not fantastical stories. My search has been for at-least-somewhat-realistic fiction and creative nonfiction picture books that really help us see what life looks like for children growing up elsewhere.

I have researched and read stacks and stacks of books to find the ones I’ll be sharing. Although there are some regions sadly unrepresented at this point, and some unfortunate tendencies in the narratives of other regions which I’ll point out, overall I’ve been excited to see the breadth of coverage that’s available. 

Every “elsewhere” is someone’s familiar. As we share these stories with our children, I hope we can learn to savor differences and marvel over commonalities that mark the human race. I hope by tasting far-flung cultures via picture books, we can begin to approach differences in our own cities and neighborhoods with warmth and respect.

I’ll be sprinkling in posts most weeks throughout the summer with what I’ve unearthed. They’ll be grouped by region. You might try checking out a few titles and then seeing what more you can discover about that part of the world by cooking something yummy together, visiting an ethnic neighborhood in your city, listening to ethnic music…I would absolutely love it if you would share your ideas with us in the comments so others can be inspired along the way.

To start us off, I’ve got some unique atlases and dynamic birds-eye-view-of-the-world type books!  Get your bags packed and head out to meet the kids in the global tour, coming soon!

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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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It’s full-on summer. Time once again for me to change-up my blogging for a few months so I can soak up all this green-ness and daylight…and enjoy time with a couple of my children home from college.

Summertime by Mary Cassatt

Summertime by Mary Cassatt

This summer I’m planning to share my absolute top, favorite, cream of the crop picks from the stacks of books I look at each week.  No themed lists. Just whatever I find astonishingly good.

I could write an entire post on every one of this week’s picture books. I loved them all. I think you will, too!

Especially for big and little sisters:

tell me what to dream about cover image2

Tell Me What to Dream About, written and illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

An exceptionally-imaginative older sister tries to come up with ideas for her little sister to dream about so she can go to sleep.

tell me what to dream about illustration giselle potter

This big sister has Seriously Awesome Ideas for dreamland, such as the “furry world” pictured above, yet has a dickens of a time coming up with something that suits her younger sibling. Gloriously imaginative and colorful! Ages 3 and up.

Humor for dog-lovers:

the bear ate your sandwich cover image

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach
published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf

A clever dog offers an extraordinarily convoluted tale to explain the disappearance of his little girl’s sandwich.

the bear ate your sandwich illustration julia sarconne-roach

It’s all down to a bear, you see, who was lured from his den by the smell of some ripe strawberries…and off we go. Funny, with a most charming bear and dog. Ages 3 and up. 

Exquisite and Wordless for Children and Their Grown-ups:

sidewalk flowers cover image

Sidewalk Flowers, conceived by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books

This gorgeous, wordless book follows a little girl and her father as they walk through the city to their home.sidewalk flowers interior jonarno lawson and sydney smith

As she trots along, she sees snippets of beauty scattered through the concrete landscape which all the adults around her overlook, and she sweetly, generously shares that beauty with a variety of others. Incredible book. Hopefully it will garner some awards. Ages 6 and up.

Stylish Diversity to Ponder:

the world in a second cover image

The World in a Second, by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho, translated by Lyn Miller-Lachman
originally published in Portugal in 2008; first American edition published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books

Jaw-dropping gorgeous design/illustration in this fascinating book about all the things that might be happening at the same second all over the world.

the world in a second illustration bernardo p carvalhoIncludes a world map showing all the places referenced. Fantastic and thought-provoking. Ages 5 and up.

Sweet Scandinavian Delight for Wee Ones:

where is pim cover image

Where is Pim? by Lena and Olof Landström, translated by Julia Marshall
originally published in Sweden in 2013; first American edition published in 2015 by Gecko Press

This is the darling sequel to Pim and Pom which I reviewed here. Pim is the little pink bunny. He is Pom’s special lovey. And egads! He goes missing!

where is pim interior lena and olof landstrom

Simple and dear for the very youngest — 18 months and older.

Poignant, Thought-Provoking, with Family Love at the Core:

yard sale cover image

Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

If you’ve held a yard sale, you know how tough it can be for kids to part with their stuff, no matter how much dust has gathered on it since they last realized it existed.

For the child in this story, Callie, it’s a different matter. Her family has to drastically downsize due to money troubles, and nearly everything familiar is being sold.

yard sale interior eve bunting and lauren castillo

That’s a heavy premise for a picture book, and this one’s got some raw emotions in it. Still, there’s a warm recognition of family sticking together come what may. Plus, Lauren Castillo’s illustrations are as heartwarming and lovely as always, providing the needed embrace of comfort.

If I were reading this with a child, I would definitely help them distinguish between the average yard sale which is sheerly a decluttering of excess stuff, and a situation as heart-heavy as this one. Ages 5 and up.

A Dream of a Tale for Introverts:

pool cover image

Pool, a wordless book by JiHyeon Lee
originally published in South Korea in 2013; first published in the U.S. in 2015 by Chronicle Books

This soft-as-a whisper story tenderly and imaginatively leads us through a chance meeting of two quiet children.

Pool illustration JiHyeon LeeThey’re at a public swimming pool, nearly overwhelmed by the brash, noisy, rambunctious crowds of kids, when with a dive and a swish, these two strangers meet and explore an imaginative, watery world together. Elegant and meaningful, especially for the quieter ones in this raucous world. Ages 5 and up.

Eccentric and Delightful:

crabtree cover image

Crabtree, by Jon & Tucker Nichols
published in 2013 by McSweeney’s McMullens

Alfred Crabtree has lost his false teeth.  Uh-oh. He’s searching through all his belongings to find them, and it’s quite a task.

crabtree illustration jon and tucker nicholsMarvelously absurd. Drily humorous. It’s a total lark to comb through these groupings of Crabtree’s possessions, from his Hat & Helmet collection to his Small Yapping Dogs collection. It’s all here, laid out and labeled. Ages 7 and up.

Subversive Humor Guaranteed to Make Kids Smile:

meet the dullards cover image

Meet the Dullards, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
published in 2015 by Balzer & Bray

Mr. & Mrs Dullard run an exceedingly gray, bland ship, which is just how they think things should be. Books, outdoor play, even chunky applesauce, are all verboten.

the dullards illustration daniel salmieriLaugh together at the boring-est parents ever, and watch the Dullard children conspire to grab some excitement. Over-the-top silliness for ages 5 and up.

Do Try This At Home:

the secret life of squirrels cover image

The Secret Life of Squirrels, written and photographed by Nancy Rose
published in 2014 by Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown and Company

The photographs in this book are not photoshopped!

the secret life of squirrels photo by nancy roseThey’re taken by Canadian photographer Nancy Rose, who builds tiny sets for these fuzzy fellows, adds some peanuts to lure them in, and then stands at the ready to snap the charming, unbelievable photos. These will tickle the fancy of you and your kids and maybe beckon you into some wildlife photography. Q&A with Nancy is included. Ages 4 and up.

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