Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Our last week in Africa brings us to the West, an area dear to my heart.

I wrote an entire post on West Africa in the midst of the Ebola crisis which so devastated several regions there. A number of those titles appear here as well but you can access them all through this link to that blog.

A handful of grand, ancient civilizations ruled and spread throughout this region, so despite modern borders, cultural similarities blur those lines. Thus, my first book today isn’t set in any one particular location, but offers a fabulous window into everyday life in much of West Africa. I’ve loved it for decades!

A Country Far Away

Illustrated snapshots of two boys’ lives are used to compare the similarities and differences between them. What does it look like for each of them to swim on a hot day? welcome a new baby? play a game of soccer? Brilliant for ages 3 and up. Read my full review here.

Now lets journey through West Africa, starting at the northernmost point…


Deep in the Sahara

This striking book welcomes us into an unusual setting deep in the Sahara, where Lalla longs to wear the malafa — the long, flowing veil worn by all women in her community. But she’s too little.

Colors zing, words sing, and a culture and faith come alive for ages 3 and up. Outstanding. My full review is here.

The Children of Mauritania: Days in the Desert and by the River Shore, written and photographed by Lauren Goodsmith
published in 1993 by Carolrhoda Books

This book is perhaps the least story-like of my world tour books but despite that, and despite its lengthy text, and despite its age — I fell in love with it.

I am quite sure that’s because of how potently some of these pictures reminded me of our old home in Guinea, West Africa — a rare sight in children’s literature.


Lauren Goodsmith follows the lives of two Mauritanian children in quite disparate zones of the country. Fatimatou belongs to the ethnic group called the Moors, and lives a desert life in central Mauritania.

Hamadi belongs to the Halpoular people living along the Senegal River. Their lives look tremendously different from one another — a helpful understanding for us to gain. Goodsmith spools out rich cultural details along with her excellent photographs in this lengthy text which could be read aloud bit by bit to interested children at about age 7. Adults with an interest in this region will find this fascinating as well.


52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure, written by Lawrence Raskin with Deborah Pearson, photographed by Lawrence Raskin, maps illustrated by Farida Zaman
published in 2008 by Annick Press

Okay, this is one of my favorite books from the entire tour ūüôā That’s because I’ve always had a huge yearning to journey into the Sahara. When we lived in Guinea, I thought we might make it to Timbuktu, as several of our friends had done, but we waited just too long and the rebel activity there made it too dangerous. (Heavy sigh.)

But Lawrence Raskin did ALL of that on his epic, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Sahara adventure that turned my heart just a shade green with envy. His photo essay of travels from Morocco through Mauritania and on into Mali, ending up in Timbuktu and Taoudenni, brim with adventure. Intriguing sidebars teach us how to climb up into the saddle of a camel, proper protocol for taking tea in a nomad’s tent, and other good things you’ll need to know for your own desert excursion. Enjoy this one a chapter at a time with ages 8 and up.

I Lost My Tooth In Africa, written by Penda Diakité, illustrated by Baba Wagué Diakité
published in 2006 by Scholastic Press

When Amina flies to Bamako, Mali for an extended visit with her dad’s family, she’s got a loose tooth. Her father tells her that the African Tooth Fairy looks for a lost tooth under a gourd and replaces it with a chicken! Exciting stuff! Will it work, in Amina’s case?

Amina’s eventful stay is colorfully narrated and illustrated in this delightful story, which includes that lost tooth, but so much more. Life in a typical compound in Bamako is wonderfully on display. Share this with ages 2 and up.

Sierra Leone

Be Patient Abdul

A young boy from Freetown sells oranges in the streets in order to earn money for school fees.

It’s a rare, colorful glimpse of Sierra Leone in children’s literature for ages 4 and up. My full review is here.


Son of a Gun

Liberia was the scene of a prolonged, horrific civil war from 1989 until 2003. The children growing up during that time — oh! what violence they witnessed. Some of them were pressed into service as child soldiers. This devastating account reveals the trauma of that life for ages 12 to adult. My full review is here.

Cote d’Ivoire

The Bitter Side of Sweet

Surprisingly, I could find no picture books set in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory ¬†Coast) even though there is so much to tell about and see in this country. Rather than leave it off of today’s list entirely, I’m including this link to a review of a middle-grade/young adult novel revealing the dark side of cocoa harvesting. An eye-opening, riveting read.

Burkina Faso

All Aboard for the Bobo Road, written by Stephen Davies, illustrated by Christopher Corr
first published in Great Britain; American edition published in 2016 by Andersen Press USA

Climb aboard in the most comfortable seat on this cheek-to-jowl taxi — your armchair!

Join a vibrant expedition on a crammed minibus journeying through Burkina Faso. Feel the heat, ride past waterfalls, rock domes, and the fabulous Bobo-Dioulasso Grand Mosque. Better slice up some juicy pineapple and watermelon to sample while you bump along these roads! The Day-glo colors of these illustrations will knock your socks off! A joy for ages 2 and up.

Bintou’s Braids, written by Sylviane A. Diouf, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2001 by Chronicle Books

Bintou is just a little girl. Her hair is short, gathered together neatly in four little tufts on her head. The problem is, Bintou despises those tufts. Bintou wants braids like her glamorous older sister. But braids are most definitely not for little girls.

On the great and festive day of her baby brother’s baptism, though, Bintu turns into a hero and is granted a reward. Can you guess what she asks for?!

This story is so full of life and West African culture and sights and sounds and tastes! Fabulous combination of text and illustration brings both Bintou’s charming personality and the region to life. It is not specified as taking place in Burkina Faso, but I set it here because artist Shane Evans tips his hat to friends in Burkina in his dedication. Enjoy this gem with ages 2 and up.


Sosu’s Call, written and illustrated by Meshack Asare
published in Ghana in 1997; first American edition 2002 by Kane/Miller

Ghanaian artist Meshack Asare won multiple prizes for this unusual story of a crippled boy seeking to live a dignified, purposeful life in his village in Ghana.

Sosu cannot walk and is therefore left behind in his family’s compound while the others head off to work and school. His family cares for him with tenderness, but others in the village harbor superstitious fears about his condition and the harm he may bring to them. Sosu turns the tables on his future place in the community when he saves them from impending disaster through quick thinking.

The plight of those with disabilities in impoverished African communities is such an important topic, treated here with distinction. An authentic story with sophisticated artwork, this introduces some of the realities of West Africa handsomely for ages 4 and up. This author/artist has a number of other titles that look fabulous but I was not able to access them. If you can, I’d suggest you do!

Welcome Dede: An African Naming Ceremony, written and photographed by Ifeoma Onyefulu
published in 2003 by Frances Lincoln

I tried to explain, once, to someone from the United States, just how important naming ceremonies are to various cultures. I failed. So I was thrilled to see this book devoted to a naming ceremony among the Ga people of Ghana.

No, everyone doesn’t just comb the baby name books and choose whatever name seems best to them. Travel to Ghana in this photo essay, meet a jubilant family on the occasion of the naming of a new little cousin, and learn about the intricacies of baby-naming in one specific culture.

Ifeoma Onyefulu has many other titles depicting real life in West Africa, especially her original home of Nigeria. They are some of the best out there for unsentimental, real displays of everyday life in these settings. Ages 3 and up.


Catch That Goat: A Market Day in Nigeria, written and illustrated by Polly Alakija
published in 2002 by Barefoot Books

The colors and liveliness of a Nigerian marketplace are wall-to-wall in this cheerful story. Little Ayoka is on the move, chasing down her family’s goat through the crowded market.

No one seems to have seen it, but clever readers will catch glimpses of that naughty goat on every page. Great fun for ages 2 and up.

Chike and the River, written by Chinua Achebe, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
published originally in 1966; this edition 2011 by Anchor Books/Random House

This short chapter book by Nigeria’s most famous, beloved author — not to mention one of the world’s most beloved authors — just has to be mentioned here. I didn’t even realize Achebe had written fiction accessible to young children, so I was really pleased to run across this.

It’s the story of a boy named Chike, age 11, who has grown up in Umuofia, the same village that’s the setting for Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart. At the outset of the story, Chike is sent away from this bush village to live with his uncle in the bigger city of Onitsha where there are more opportunities for young boys. His mom’s parting words are a warning: Go well, my son. Listen to whatever your uncle says and obey him. Onitsha is a big city, full of dangerous people and kidnappers. Therefore do not wander about the city. In particular do not go near the River Niger; many people get drowned there every year…”

The trouble is, there is such an allure to that grand river, and to the rumored city that sits on the far bank. Chike is insatiably curious to see it for himself. Follow his adventures and mishaps, his gullibility and growth, in this wonderful, hair-raising story. Ages 8 and up.

Anna Hibiscus

All of the Anna Hibiscus stories are cream-of-the-crop multicultural fare set in Nigeria. You can read my review of several of them here and here. Besides the short chapter books, there are several picture books starring Anna for younger siblings, including:

Splash, Anna Hibiscus! written by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first American edition published in 2013 by Kane Miller

Anna and her whole, loving, commotion-filled family are heading to the beach on this sizzling day. Anna longs to swim, but everyone is busy with other things.

The grown ups snooze with the newspaper or braid one another’s hair. The cousins kick a football around and build sandcastles. Who will splash in the waves with Anna?!

Infectiously happy, as always, and a tremendous glimpse of contemporary Nigerian life from this delightful author and artist. Ages 2 and up.


And here’s where my book give-away comes in!


The great people at Kane Miller who import the Anna Hibiscus titles for American readers have provided me with one of the newest titles to arrive on our side of the pond:

Go Well, Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobias
first published in the UK 2014; first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller
95 pages

I loved this episode in Anna’s life in which she travels with her grandparents from her home in the huge city of Lagos to the village her grandparents once called home.

I love it because it’s so full of the warmth and life that characterize the whole series. But beyond that, I love its revelation of the vastly different lifestyles in contemporary Africa. As an urban child, growing up in a multiracial African household, Anna is taken aback when she does not easily fit into traditional, village life. A fantastic choice for a read-aloud or an early independent reader.

Enter the drawing by telling us in the comments which of today’s children/locations you’d most like to visit. Do that before next week, and I’ll draw the name of one winner. Only American postal addresses — sorry; my budget doesn’t allow worldwide shipping! (I wish it did!)¬†

You can’t buy these books on Amazon. If you don’t win, here’s a link to Usborne, where you can purchase one or more Anna Hibiscus titles.

Our next stop takes us across the Atlantic to Central and South America. Why not invite others along for the journey!

Here are links to our previous destinations:

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


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Today our tour hovers in the central region of Africa and journeys all the way to its southernmost tip. Let’s begin in…


Rain School, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

The children in this village and their indomitable teacher rebuild their school building each year after the tremendous rains of rainy season wash the old one away. 

Making mud bricks, building mud desks, drying them in the hot sun, thatching the roof, until finally, finally it’s time to take their seats and begin learning. Vibrant in both story and illustrations. Ages 4 and up.


The Village of Round and Square Houses, written and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi
published in 1986 by Little, Brown and Company

This Caldecott Honor winner from 1987 brings us to Tos, a small village in the Bameni Hills of Cameroon, where for time immemorial the men have lived in square houses while the women live in round ones!

Find out how this tradition came about in this account, illustrated in gorgeous pastels by Ann Grifalconi. Superb storytelling, cultural details, and an old local legend will all leave kids spellbound, ages 3 or 4 and up.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Monkey for Sale, written and illustrated by Sanna Stanley
published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

A little girl named Luzolo is given a 5-franc coin to spend at market. Determined to barter for the best thing she sees, she sets off, passing stands of mango candy, spicy peppers, fresh roasted peanuts, handwoven baskets.

What will Luzolo purchase? How much might a monkey cost? Can Luzolo and her best friend Kiese contrive to get that monkey? It’s a cheerful, clever story revealing effortlessly a typical, lively market, the bartering system so familiar to this much of Africa, and the workaday world of Luzolo’s village. Ages 3 and up.

A Walk Through a Rain Forest: Life in the Ituri Forest of Zaire, written by David Jenike and Mark Jenike, photography by Mark Jenike
published in 1994 by Franklin Watts

This book is old enough that the name “Zaire” appears in its title, but the fascinating life of peoples whose home for thousands of years has been the rain forest of central Africa is just as compelling.

You’ll notice the cover, in keeping with its publication date, doesn’t look particularly zoopy, and it’s certainly not one of the newer creative-nonfiction styled books. But for slightly older children, the text is packed with intriguing information about the way of life of the Efe and Lese peoples and the creatures with whom they share these forests. This area of the world is scarcely covered in children’s lit. A bit lengthy. Try this with ages 7 or 8 and up, a bit at a time.



One of my kids’ all time favorite books growing up, this delightful story describes the ingenuous toy cars that Malawian children, as well as kids in many other parts of Africa, make with the odd bits and bobs of metal they can scavenge. Read my full review here. It’s a gem for ages 3 and up.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
published in 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers

William Kamkwamba’s story has been told in longer works for older readers. This picture book brings his life in Malawi alive for young children.

Learn about the impact of drought on William’s community, the dread hunger that threatened their lives when crops would not grow through lack of rain, and of his brilliant engineering feat that transformed the village. It’s such an inspiring, hopeful story, for ages 5 and up. A lengthy afterword fills in lots of details.


Street Children Across the World, written by Anthony Robinson, illustrated by June Allan
published in 2014 by Frances Lincoln Books

This is a sad title to stand alone under Mozambique, but the children featured in this title live there, as well as in Zimbabwe and Guatemala. And honestly, I am pleased to see this UK title spotlighting an enormous population that exists in our world.

There are an estimated 100-150 million street children currently. Just think about that number!

What are their lives like? Why are they on the street instead of in a home with a family? The answers to these questions are extremely tragic and raw, and at times dumbfoundingly vague and strange. In his short, excellent introduction, Anthony Robinson explains why that may be the case. It’s very helpful to read that before you begin your journey through this troubling book.

Photographs, colored pencil sketches, and the children’s own words comprise the whole account which differentiates between street-living children, street-working children, and street-living families. Eye-opening and important, I’d suggest ages 8 or 9 and up.


Torina’s World: A Child’s Life in Madagascar, photography and text by Joni Kabana, edited by Benjamin Opsahl
published originally in 1997; this edition 2008 by Arnica Publishing, Inc.

This is such a unique and lovely book. It’s a photo essay. The photographer was guided by a little girl — whose image is on the book’s cover — through areas near the village of Marovoay, Madagascar, allowing her to gain the access and welcome needed to take these pictures.

The photographs are gorgeous, all produced in sepia tones. Accompanying them are only brief sentences of text, one telling simply what is going on in the photo, one asking how that compares to the reader’s experience. We get rides in the pousse-pousse. What do you ride in? Simple, but immensely engaging, effectively drawing children’s attention to the similarities and differences we share with people far and near. A ¬†short afterword updates us on Torina ten years after the project, and tells more about Madagascar. Ages 2 and up.


Gugu’s House, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 2001 by Clarion Books

In the dry grasslands of Zimbabwe, down a long, dusty path,¬†a most extraordinary house stands, created by an extraordinary woman named Gugu. She’s Kukamba’s grandmother, and what an artist she is, crafting giant zebras and elephants, jet planes and striking patterns that burst upon the eyes of the villagers like a fantasy.

Kukamba wants to become an artist, too. She has to learn how to create, and how to persevere, and how to see, and Gugu is just the one to lead her on that journey. Brilliant story based on a real woman and her fantastical compound in Zimbabwe.

Where Are You Going, Manyoni? written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1993 by Morrow Junior Books

Catherine Stock’s gorgeous watercolors open up the world of the veld along the Limpopo River where one little girl named Manyoni lives. Her walk to school is extraordinary! You won’t want to miss tagging along with her.

A lovely read for ages 2 and up, with an Author’s Note, and a guide to the veld wildlife included.

South Africa

A South African Night

A child in Johannesburg falls asleep with visions of the plains animals dancing in her head. Beautiful work from Rachel Isadora for ages 2 and up. My full review is here.

Goal, written by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A.G. Ford
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Football — the beautiful game — ignites passions around the world. Not the least in this South African township, where Ajani and his buddies are elated to play with the new, federation-size, leather ball Ajani has won for being best reader in his class.

Their after-school game is full of the joy of young boys’ championship dreams except for one thing: a gang of bullies that ¬†makes the streets unsafe. Is there any way for Ajani and his friends to outwit the bullies, keep their prime football, and become truly unbeatable?

I’m so happy to see this contemporary, urban setting, and one featuring sport to boot. Dynamic, robust illustrations. Great choice for ages 4 and up.

A Song for Jamela, written and illustrated by Niki Daly
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Niki Daly has brought contemporary South Africa to vivid life with his Jamela series. In this story, Jamela is consumed with the Afro-Idols TV contest. Her grandmother, Gogo, wants her off that couch and doing something interesting so she sends her to Aunt Beauty’s hair salon to “help out” for the day.

When the entrancing Miss Bimbi Chaka Chaka, Jamela’s favorite Afro-Idol contestant, comes in the shop to have her hair done, it turns out to be a most surprising day for everyone involved! Funny and upbeat and a great urban African setting. Ages 4 and up.

The Herd Boy, written and illustrated by Niki Daly
published in 2012 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Malusi herds his grandfather’s sheep and goats on the sunny South African veldt. It’s a big job for such a small boy, but Malusi is dependable, a quick learner, a hard worker, comfortable in solitude, and fierce in protecting his herd from many dangers. His friends dream of playing professional soccer, but Malusi has a much bigger dream.

It sounds preposterous to some, but one dignified visitor to Malusi’s village thinks otherwise. Rich cultural insights, an inspiring story beaming with hope, and a cameo appearance by Nelson Mandela. Ages 4 and up.

At the Crossroads, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 1991 by Greenwillow Books

In many South African homes, fathers spend a great deal of time away from home, working in the mines. Rachel Isadora beautifully captures the longing and excitement as these children await the homecoming of their fathers after ten long months. This book was written several years before apartheid was abolished, and takes place in a shanty town in a segregated township. I honestly don’t know how this scene might have changed in the past 25 years. ¬†Meanwhile, it’s a warm, rich story for ages 3 and up.

Our next stop is West Africa. Be sure to join us!

Here are links to our previous destinations:

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

Read Full Post »

Still a few weeks of summer left. These books are full of warmth and joy. A perfect fit.

Dog on a Frog?, written by Kes & Claire Gray, illustrated by Jim Field
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Cats on mats and pigs in wigs are standard fare for kids’ books.

In this funny romp of a story, the dog prefers to sit on …a frog. Which is none too pleasant for the frog. This leads the frog to create a whole new list of Rules Pertaining to Where Animals Sit. Dogs, according to this very bossy frog, now sit on logs. Not frogs. So.

And what about cats? And bears? Or gnus? And even canaries? Yup, this frog has got everyone covered. Great fun and cram-jam with bouncy rhyming pairs that will have kids eagerly pitching in to the storytelling. And wait’ll you see where the frog ends up sitting. He is one smart cookie. A barrel of fun in bombastic colors for ages 2 and up.

Wet, written and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
published in 2017 by Godwin Books

I love this book with its gentle exploration of a truly child-friendly subject — wetness. Its ambling pace, conversational tone, child’s perspective, quiet observations, are early childhood gold in my estimation.

There’s the wetness of a pool. The possibility of cannonballing in to get wet all at once, or of dipping in just a toe. There’s the wetness of paint on a park bench, and the wetness of tears damping a dad’s shoulder. Tender and joyful, accompanied by warm, minimalist drawings.

 Brilliant for ages 2 and up.

Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
originally published in 1972; reissued by Purple House Press

Dear Miss Jaster lives in a grand old house by the sea. In the gardens surrounding her home lives a small hedgehog named, obviously, Hedgie. The two are cordial friends, Miss Jaster setting out bowls of milk in the evening for Hedgie, Hedgie listening dreamily to Miss Jaster’s piano playing.

One day Miss Jaster, planting her flower gardens, accidentally showers Hedgie with seeds of Sweet William and Baby’s Breath. Waters him, too. (She is a bit near-sighted after all.) ¬†When Hedgie blooms, then breaks into rapturous cavorting about the lanes, Miss Jaster is convinced that a thief is absconding with bits of her garden!¬†

In 1972, this was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. It was the first story both written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker, a Danish-American illustrator whose work graces many children’s books including the classic Edward Eager fantasy novels. Purple House Press is dedicated to bringing rare gems back into print, and this is indeed a gem. Ages 4 and up.

Little Sister Rabbit Gets Lost, written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
first published in Sweden in 1987; English edition 2017 by Floris Books

The classic Swedish stories of Little Sister Rabbit are available in English now, and this one is a sweet starting spot.

Small and enthusiastic, Little Sister Rabbit is off today for an adventure All By Herself. It starts off swimmingly with puddle stomping and pebble plopping. Her heart swells with independence. But happiness ebbs swiftly when she discovers that she’s lost.

Peeping into one burrow after the next, Little Sister Rabbit wanders her way into many places a young rabbit does not belong. The night feels like a mighty lonely place until rescue arrives. Who could it be? Pure charm for ages 2 and up.

Chirri & Chirra In the Tall Grass, written and illustrated by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko
published in 2017 by Enchanted Lion Books

Chirri and Chirra are tiny sisters, so tiny the white clover in the lawn are towering trees and bumblebees make cunning companions.

Join them on a bicycle-and-tea adventure through the lawn-forest as they dine on honey sponge cake balls courtesy of the local hive, sip freshly squeezed juice flavored with yumberry fruit by the flower chafers, and in general have a fantasy-filled afternoon.

Miniature worlds delight us all, and this one is so beautifully drawn and realized by Kaya Doi. Pure charm for ages 3 and up. There are more Chirri & Chirra books to investigate if you love this one.

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, written by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Andrew Joyner
published in 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Garcia and Colette are great friends but disagree on what the most enticing place is to explore — outer space or ocean depths. So they agree to disagree, build a rocket ship and submarine, and go their separate ways.

And they each discover realio coolio stuff about space and the ocean. But they also discover that venturing off is not quite as fun with no compatriot by your side. After a splashy reunion, they figure out how to have their cake and eat it, too! Singing language, a wonderfully-paced story, and Andrew Joyner’s brilliant illustrations combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable story. Perfect for ages 4 and up.

King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Finally, this gorgeous, poignant story, a perfect example of why picture books are not only for young children. This beauty strikes a chord in the hearts of middle grade through adult readers perhaps even more so than the very young.

Our narrator is a school-age boy, a war refugee who has fled his beloved home in Italy, land of “sunlight, fountains, and the vanilla smell of ice cream in my nonna’s gelateria.” He now resides, apparently, in Wales. In this new place, his spirit is sodden as the ceaseless rain, lonely as the smoke from a hundred grey chimneys , hopeless as the smell of coal dust and mutton soup. Nothing about it feels like home.

A vital ray of light emanates from Mr. Evans, a kindhearted, retired coal miner who trains racing pigeons. ¬†Their growing friendship, the thrill of these home-coming birds, the distances spanned, and one champion racer, all touch the boy’s life with the modicum of belonging and miracle needed to heal his heart and make this contrary place — home.

Laura Carlin’s stunning illustrations are complex, emotive, deftly conveying both dreariness and camaraderie, doubt and joy. She is brilliant. Check this out for older-than-typical picture book readers, ages 7 and up.


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As we continue our way through the vast continent of Africa, I’m recommending a book that counters an unhelpful perspective, which is to discuss Africa as though it were a country.

Too often in various collections, stories are listed from, say, Japan, Brazil, Poland… and Africa. Of course, these are not equivalents.

Africa is really, really big.

Africa is huge.  Maps like this one help us get perspective on just how large it is.

And Africa is incredibly diverse. When we lived in West Africa many years ago, our home was near the Sahel. My kids grew tired of American children asking what it was like to live near lions, or in the jungle. 

Actually what it looks like where we lived. No lions. No jungle.

This massive, diverse, and misunderstood continent deserves better! One of my favorite books treats just this topic and it comes highly recommended as a starting point for this portion of our tour:

Africa is Not a Country, written by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
published in 2000 by Millbrook Press

Take a quick hovercraft tour of the continent visiting markedly different cultures, peoples, and settings from an urban family in Eritrea to a family living among the snowy mountains in Lesotho; schoolgirls in uniforms on the busy streets of Cairo, and islanders on Cape Verde farming the steep hillsides. Tantalizing paragraphs give just a glimpse of the local culture while warm, colorful illustrations show us the look of life in each unique location.

Back pages list every country on the continent with a little tidbit of information about it. This book is nearing 20 years old so there will be some outdated facts but for the most part it is a fabulous introduction to the continent. Ages 4 and up.

Now let’s tour East Africa!


Trouble, written by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Durga Bernhard
published in 1997 by Harcourt Brace & Co.

Tekleh is a little boy who always seems to find trouble, from kicking up dust onto the roasting coffee beans to losing track of the family’s goats.

His father thinks a new gebeta board (you probably know this as mancala) will keep Tekleh busy and thus keep him out of trouble. But he has no idea the wild series of events that gebeta board will instigate! This delightful tale takes us through the hillsides of Eritrea introducing lovely bits of the culture there through Tekleh’s encounters. Wonderful illustrations fill in a great deal of cultural detail as well and an afterword tells more about this relatively new country. Fantastic, for ages 3 and up.


Ethiopian Voices: Tsion’s Life, written by Stacy Bellward, photographs by Erlend Berge
published in 2008 by Amharic Kids

This photo-essay of a young girl named Tsion, age 11, might not be easy for you to find but I love it for its realism and warm portrait of family life in contemporary Ethiopia.

Tsion and her family live in Kechene, a slum in Addis Ababa. She describes her community as kind and very friendly, and tells us about her family, home, neighborhood, Ethiopian Orthodox traditions, school, food, and the special places in Ethiopia she’d love to visit. Accompanied by excellent photographs, this is a fascinating, wonderful window into her world for ages 4 and up.

The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa, written by Cristina Kessler, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
published in 2006 by Holiday House

Sitting at over 5,000 feet in the Ethiopian mountains, Lalibela is renowned for its incredible, rock-hewn churches and its honey. Wouldn’t I love to visit! Meet Almaz, a young girl who longs to be one of the Lalibela beekeepers. In fact, she wants to make the best honey of all.

But beekeeping is traditionally a man’s work and Almaz is met with scorn. A wise Orthodox priest opens the way for her to pursue her dreams, and Almaz’s tenacity and inventiveness win her success and respect in the marketplace. Fascinating story with mixed media illustrations that reveal the sun-soaked beauty of Ethiopia and her people. Ages 3 and up.

Only a Pigeon, written by Jane and Christopher Kurtz, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
published in 1997 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, a young boy named Ondu-ahlem lives with his loving family, but little else. Life is immensely enriched, though, by his pet pigeons. Ondu-ahlem cares for them diligently, guarding them from a hungry mongoose, tenderly feeding an orphaned chick, admiring the bravery and speed of his favorite bird, Chinkay. Ondu-ahlem and his friend have a game in which, at a set location,¬† they each release one bird, then try coaxing their own bird¬†plus the other bird, back home. The winner gets to keep his buddy’s pigeon. When your favorite bird is at stake, it’s quite a nerve-wracking event.

Both of the authors grew up in Ethiopia and their affection¬†for the land and people glows in this lovely story. E. B. Lewis brings it all to life with evocative, sun-dappled illustrations. An intriguing Author’s Note tells more about pigeons and the raising of them by Ethiopian boys. Ages 4 and up.


The Fastest Boy in the World, written by Elizabeth Laird¬†takes place in the highlands of Ethiopia and the capital city of Addis Ababa. It’s a great little read emphasizing the adoration the Ethiopian people have for the sport of running. You can read my review here.


Muktar and the Camels, written by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack
published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company

Muktar lives in a Kenyan orphanage throughout this story, but his childhood memories are of Somalia. In those early years, before drought and war engulfed his homeland, Muktar and his family lived a nomadic life there with their camels, and oh! how he longs for that. Working with camels is what life is all about for him.

When a visiting librarian comes from Garissa, Kenya, with loads of books strapped to the backs of a train of camels, Muktar’s deep knowledge of these beasts, passed down to him from his father, ends of saving the day. In return, Muktar’s wildest dreams really do come true.

A rare glimpse of the desert north of Kenya and  Somali refugee children, beautifully illustrated, for ages 4 and up.


Beatrice’s Dream: A Story of Kibera Slum, written by Karen Lynn Williams, photographs by Wendy Stone
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Millions of children live in urban slums, vast enclaves of desperate poverty in some of our largest global cities. Yet there are very few books about their lives among the multicultural titles for children.

I am so pleased to acquaint you with this title which spotlights a 13-year-old girl living in one of the largest, most infamous slums in the world, the Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The author and illustrator have used great care to portray Beatrice with dignity, with hopes, dreams, and routines to which your children can relate. It’s an immensely important window into tremendously challenging living conditions that can be shared with children ages 4 or 5 and older.

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation, written and photographed by Jan Reynolds
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

The Maasai are perhaps the ethnic group in Kenya who appear most often in children’s literature. Their colorful red cloaks and intriguing lives as cattle-herding nomads lend themselves well to that, I guess.

This photo essay brings us into the everyday lives of one group of Maasai in northern Kenya. Enter their community, learn about their homes, chores, and the way their lives revolve around herds of cattle and goats. Reynolds uses this story to explore, too, how deforestation and climate change impact the Maasai way of life as well as the land and wildlife in East Africa. That sounds like a lot, but it’s presented in a way easily accessible to kids ages 7 and up.

Planting the Trees of Kenya, reviewed here


Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, reviewed here

are both beautiful accounts of the Nobel-prize winning Kenyan woman and her reforestation efforts in Kenya.


Beatrice’s Goat, written by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
published in 2001 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

In the rolling hills of Uganda, in a small village called Kisinga, a little girl named Beatrice lives with her mom, brothers, and sisters.

As subsistence farmers who must carry water, hoe the fields, grind cassava flour, tend the chickens, life is a series of daily chores for Beatrice and her family which means that school — that enticing place where children learn such interesting things — is out of reach.

Until one goat changes everything. Discover life in rural Uganda and learn about the huge impact of organizations like the Heifer Project whose gift of a goat sets the economic tables in an upward spiral for Beatrice’s family and many others. Joyful, vibrant paintings accompany this upbeat, intriguing story. Ages 4 and up.


Kele’s Secret, by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1997 by Lodestar Books

Tololwa Mollel is an Arusha Maasai who grew up on his grandparents’ coffee farm in Tanzania. This fabulous account of a small boy named Yoanes and his search for the eggs laid by grandmother’s hens in such strange places…even frightening places…rings true in a delightful, transporting way.

Catherine Stock’s masterful watercolor work brings the countryside and marketplaces of Tanzania to vivid life. Wonderful story for ages 3 and up.

In a Cloud of Dust, written by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Brian Deines
published in 2015 by Pajama Press

This brief, touching story is set on the hot dusty plains of rural Tanzania. Anna has a long walk to her school so she’s awestruck to see a truck full of bicycles bearing a sign — Bicycle Library — pull up in front of the school. It would be a dream to have a bicycle of her own! In a realistic, poignant twist, Anna and her friends learn to make do and share the bikes they are given.

Gorgeous paintings bring a hot glow to the Tanzanian countryside. An Author’s Note gives further information about the role of bicycles in Africa and some charities working to bring bikes to people who need them. Lovely and thought-provoking for ages 3 and up.

The Elizabeti books are sweet stories set in Tanzania. I’ve previously brought you:

Elizabeti’s Doll

Here’s a sequel to that story:

Mama Elizabeti, written by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2000 by Lee & Low Books

Mama’s had yet another baby, this time a darling sister named Flora. That means Mama’s got her hands full and it’s up to Elizabeti to care for her toddler brother, Obedi.

Elizabeti has had lots of practice taking care of her rock doll, so how hard can this be? Turns out — very hard indeed! Obedi is a busybody! He’s quite a stout load for Elizabeti to carry on her back and causes no end of trouble while she goes about her other daily chores. How on earth is a young girl supposed to manage all this?

This story warmly presents a reality for young African girls who bear extraordinary responsibilities at such tender ages. Elizabeti is a resourceful, kindhearted sister and her solution to her troubles will win your hearts. Ages 4 and up. Look for other titles in this series as well.

Our next stop is Central and Southern Africa.

Here are links to our previous destinations:
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

Read Full Post »

We’re veering west this week, exploring Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Islamic cultures weave amongst all these areas somewhat uniting them, so although many of the titles in my ¬†post about Islam in children’s literature aren’t country-specific, most of them would work to supplement this leg of the tour.

Central Asia was by far the least represented region as I looked for children’s literature. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan — just a void in the ol’ card catalog. Middle Eastern titles are predominantly about recent wars. I’ve Mused about the significance of all this recently. The link for that is at the bottom of the blog along with links to earlier stops on our tour.

We’ll start at our easternmost point and move south and west today.


Caravan, written by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Darryl Ligasan
published in 1995 by Lee & Low Books

Jura lives in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. He’s a young Kirghiz boy, the son of a caravaneer who treks over some of the most rugged mountains in the world, camels laden with felts and furs, to trade in the city for food. This year Jura is 10 and finally old enough to ride in the caravan.

See the craggy mountains, experience the frozen altitudes and snug warmth of a fire-lit cave, enter the city with its grand mosques and bustling bazaar, right along with him. This is such an intriguing window onto a rich culture. Handsome illustrations capture the grandeur of Jura’s¬†homeland and the warmth of his relationship with his father. Ages 3 and up.


I See the Sun in Afghanistan, written by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese
published in 2011 by Satya House Publications

This is part of the I See the Sun series from Satya House that follows one child through her day in various cultures. It’s a very well done introduction to ordinary Afghani life for ages 4 and up.

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2008; a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Wow! This book is so beautiful. It’s the account of a young boy in modern Baghdad who loves the ancient art of calligraphy. ¬†James Rumford has infused his pages with these sweeping lines, like the sketched path of a figure skater gliding effortlessly across the pages. The exquisite Islamic tiles featuring these same shapes also serve as backdrop to his warm, gorgeous human figures.

Although little Ali’s story harks to the ugly, fearful war around him, and the way that the loveliness of calligraphy is like a shelter for his mind from that terror — still, the bulk of this book is not about war; it’s about an amazing part of Ali’s culture and for that, and for the gorgeous representation of his world, I am really thankful. A small stunner, for ages 4 or 5 and up.

Nasreen’s Secret School

A story of the courageous young girls and their teachers who, under the Taliban, stole in secret to schools despite laws forbidding their education. Read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.

Razia’s Ray of Hope

Also about a young girl’s dream for education. Razia has to overcome the objections of her father and oldest brother with the help of her grandfather. Part of the excellent Citizen Kid series. My full review is here. Ages 6 and up.

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan, written by Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan, photographs by Tony O’Brien
published in 2008 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Documentarians O’Brien and Sullivan traveled to Afghanistan to interview children, asking them questions about their families, lives, and hopes. Asked what their wishes would be. Asked what they would like to show children visiting from America.

Meet street workers and pickpockets, girls and boys, children from Kabul and from the countryside. Hear the common theme of longing for an education. Striking, photographic portraits bring us face to face with these young, dear witnesses of devastation. Their own words serve as captions.

It’s a poignant, beautiful collection, best suited to slightly older readers, ages 9 through adult.


The Turtle of Oman

An absolutely gorgeous, lyric story of one young boy who must move away from Oman for a time, and all that his homeland means to him. This is a chapter book suited to ages 9 and up. My full review is here.

Leopard Boy

I found this when searching for fantastic fiction under 100 pages. It’s a suspenseful tale about a goatherd named Khalid in the mountains of Oman and his struggle to protect these mysterious creatures. Great for ages 8 or 9 and up.

United Arab Emirates

Jamal’s Journey, written and illustrated by Michael Foreman
published in 2017 by Andersen Press

The unusual setting of Dubai makes this book shine out from among the rest. I am always excited to see new parts of the world appear in children’s books.

Follow a little camel named Jamal as he treks through desert dunes and sandstorms as part of a Bedouin caravan heading for the colorful marketplace in the great city of Dubai. Simple story, evocative illustrations, just right for ages 3 and up.

Saudia Arabia

Going to Mecca, by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavellini
published in 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is one of the books you’ll find in my blog post about Islam in children’s literature. It’s a fantastic, guided tour to all that’s involved with making a hajj to Mecca, for ages 5 and up.


The White Nights of Ramadan, by Maha Addasi, illustrated by Ned Gannon
published in 2008 by Boyds Mill Press

Find out about the special celebrations that occur half way through Ramadan as a little girl named Noor prepares to celebrate with her family. Ages 5 and up.


The Three Lucys, written by Hayan Charara, illustrated by Sara Kahn
published in 2016 by Lee & Low Books

Hayan Charara based this poignant story on his family’s experiences in Lebanon during the July War of 2006. A little boy named Luli loves to sit in the shade of an olive tree and play with his cats, the three Lucys. He loves to travel with his family to visit relatives in the bustling city of Beirut and then return to his peaceful home near the sea.

When war breaks out and bombs drop on his village, Luli’s family must flee. Sirens, sheltering, and worry over the Lucys dominate his life until a cease fire allows them to return home. There they discover that all is not lost, but all is certainly not well. Luli learns to grieve his losses while looking¬†forward with hope. A steady but not overly harsh look at the costs of war, for ages 5 and up.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, by Elizabeth Laird, illustrations by Gary Blythe
published in the UK in 2006; this edition 2008 by Haymarket Books

A poignant short chapter book about one young girl’s experience in war-torn Beirut — the traumas, dangers, courage, heartbreak, and generosity of spirit she encounters. For emotionally-mature readers. Short, but packed with a punch. Ages 10 and up.

Syria and Jordan

My Beautiful Birds

I featured this book in a blogpost about refugees. It’s the story of a little boy who flees Syria with his family and lands at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. The book is more about his experience as a refugee than it is a window into either of this places, but as a refugee camp is newly-home for so many Syrian children today, it’s fitting to include it. My full review is here.


Tasting the Sky

This fabulous, sorrowful memoir of life as a Palestinian refugee is a great choice for ages 12 through adult. Read my full review here.


Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp, written by Trish Marx, photographed by Cindy Karp
published in 2010 by Lee & Low Books

The sad truth of Israel is that generations of children have grown up regarding their neighbors as their mortal enemies. This is everyday life for far too many kids. At Peace Camp, Palestinian and Jewish children come together to spend time side by side and hopefully learn a little about one another, grow in respect for one another, begin to trust one another.

Spend time with the children at this summer day camp, find out how the camp attempts to bridge this gap, and learn the history of the conflict in this documentary-style book, accessible to ages 7 or 8 and up.

Everybody Says Shalom, written by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Talitha Shipman
published in 2015 by Random House

Meander about Israel in this warm, sunny, holiday scrapbook. Visit open-air markets, a kibbutz, the Dead Sea, the Western Wall. See Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows and Jerusalem’s gates. Munch some dates and ice cold yogurt.

Minimal text and cheerful illustrations provide a thoroughly happy and almost-entirely Jewish perspective in this book. Added information on the sites visited is included in the back pages. No complexity here. Just sightseeing. Ages 3 and up.


Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, written by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2005 by Lee & Low Books

I’ve reviewed several middle grade novels about the Lost Boys of Sudan as well as others impacted by the horrific civil wars in that country. This picture book provides a way for slightly younger readers to learn about these refugees, some of whom have made their way to the U.S. and Canada.

Garang is a young boy who once lived a happy life with his family in southern Sudan. He is thrust into a world of violence and fear, into roles of leadership well beyond his 8 years of age, into arduous journeys and heartbreaking losses, when his village is attacked and his family killed. Follow him among the thousands of boys walking to Ethiopia, and then to Kenya when further war forces them to flee once again.

It’s an incredible, gripping story of what life has been like for some of the children in our world, boldly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. I’d suggest ages 8 and older.

For middle graders and up who want to read more about Sudanese refugees, see my reviews of A Long Walk to Water, Home of the Brave, or The Red Pencil.


The Day of Ahmed’s Secret, written by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1990 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Ahmed is a young boy who works on the streets of Cairo driving a donkey cart laden with bottled gas canisters. Travel with him on one of his typical work days and see the sights of modern Cairo, a melange of the very old and new.

Ahmed is proud to be helping support his family, but today he has a new source of pride. It’s such a big secret, his heart is about to burst with it! As he holds that secret close to his chest all day, our curiosity mounts. ¬†What could it be! The revelation is a joy and an inspiration. I am so glad this book exists. It’s a rarity for all the reasons I’ve mused about earlier. ¬†If you can find it, you’ll love reading it along with children ages 4 and up.

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya, illustrated by Susan L. Roth
published in 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers

During the tumult of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the library of Alexandria was threatened by vandals. One brave librarian was not enough to protect this treasure, but many brave protestors who linked hands and formed a ring of safety around it were enough.

This is their story, and a lovely look at contemporary Egypt. Includes back pages with photographs of this stunning library, and more information about Alexandria’s ancient library, current library, and the revolution itself. Great little read for ages 5 and up.


The Butter Man, written by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli
published in 2008 by Charlesbridge

Most books about Morocco are centered in the colorful souks of Marrakech and Fez, but this touching story takes place in the High Atlas Mountains, so that’s the first great point in its favor!

It’s the story of a young girl named Nora who is impatiently awaiting the delicious lamb-and-vegetable couscous her dad is making for dinner. It smells so good. Her tummy is rumbling so loudly. Finally she groans aloud: “I’m staaarving!”

Her father, who really did live through a time of starvation in his childhood, does not scold Nora for her outburst, but he does tell her the story of the butter man. It’s a personal story of endurance as his Berber community faces a severe shortage of food, and the unique way his mother tries to distract him from gnawing hunger pains. Illustrated with colorful, naive artwork, the book brings this rather hidden region to life. An Author’s Note tells lots more about the Berber culture.

Great read, well worth sharing with children ages 5 and up.

My Father’s Shop, written and illustrated by Satoma Ichikawa
first American edition 2006 by Kane/Miller Books

Head into the souk and meet young Mustafa who is helping out in his father’s rug shop. Those fabulous carpets draw tourists from around the world, and Mustafa’s dad thinks he ought to begin learning some of the many languages the customers speak so he can grow into a fine market man one day.

Mustafa’s method of learning languages is quite unusual, humorous, and entertaining, but in the end, he certainly does manage to bring in the business!

Beautifully drawn with all the spicy colors and liveliness of a souk in Marrakech, this is a funny, lighthearted story, ideal for ages 2 and up.

The Storytellers, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1998 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Winding among the ancient, cobbled streets of Fez, young Abdul and his grandfather walk to work. As they squeeze past donkey carts piled with brass bowls, wool dyers wringing water from scarlet skeins, brassworkers hammering noisily on metal, weavers clickety-clacking at their looms, Abdul compares all the various jobs with the work lying ahead of him.

Every time, he feels lucky. Lucky to be doing…what? What is it that occupies Abdul and his grandfather?

So much admiration for the sights, sounds, and traditions of Morocco are tucked into this really eye-catching book. It’s a delightfully tangy read for ages 5 and up.


This outstanding, unique book is equal parts Australia and Morocco. You won’t want to miss it. Read my review of it in the Australian portion of our tour, here.

Our next stop will be East Africa. Please do invite others along who would benefit from these listings!

Earlier stops can be found with these links:

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

Read Full Post »

We’re heading north from Australia to reach the eastern portion of Asia this week. What a treasure trove of ancient, rich cultures mingle in this area!

I found that a significant portion of stories connected with these countries focus on folks who have come to the United States. Korean-Americans, for example. Vietnamese refugees.  Chinese immigrants. Great books, but my search is for books set in Asia itself. We are touring the world, after all! So none of those appear in my lists. 

I’m also focused on the world of today, rather than accounts of ancient civilizations or folktales. This makes the pickings quite a bit slimmer! But if you want a mostly-current window into the lives children live in East Asia, you’ll do well with these titles.¬†


All About Indonesia: Stories, Songs and Crafts for Kids, written by Linda Hibbs
published in 2014 by Tuttle Publishing

You’ll see the name of Tuttle Publishing a lot when it comes to stories from Asia as that is their entire focus, and how glad we are for that! The All About Asia series contains lots of child-friendly information about areas that are sometimes underrepresented on our library shelves, and that includes Indonesia.

Visit Jakarta as well as small villages. Check out mountains and coasts. Learn about music, dance, and sport. Try some Indonesian words and foods. Loaded with photographs and illustrations and parceled out in sections just right for exploring a bit at a time, this is a great way to get to know this island nation.

I is for Indonesia, by Elizabeth Rush, illustrated by Eddie Hara
published in 2013 by Things Asian Press

I haven’t actually seen this book but from what I can glimpse on-line it looks like a funky, off-beat tour of Indonesia! With wild and wooly illustrations from the inventive Indonesian artist, Eddie Hara, you definitely are not in for a placid, run-of-the-mill deal here.

If I could get one from my library, I would definitely give it a whirl, especially for slightly older children, say ages 5 and up, who like their meatballs with a little sriracha sauce. 

Rice Is Life, written by Rita Golden Gelman, illustrated by Yangsook Choi
published in 2000 by Henry Holt and Company

Life in Bali revolves around rice. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice fields, called sawah, are the pivot point of the calendar as preparation, planting, tending, and harvesting happen year after year.

Rita Gelman captures the rhythms, the poetry, the beauty of Bali’s rice fields as well as the fascinating particulars of fishing for dragonflies, herding ducks, and making offerings to the rice goddess. Illustrations glow with the emerald rice, and convey the grace of the Balinese people. Lovely and intriguing, for ages 4 and up.

Ayu and the Perfect Moon, written and illustrated by David Cox
published in 1984 by The Bodley Head

Follow the story of a young girl named Ayu who dreams of performing in the famous Balinese Legong dance.

As she watches the spectacular procession of giant puppets and masked dancers, Ayu is seized with a longing to join the other dancers to the accompaniment of the gamelan musicians. So she practices and practices until one propitious night when the moon is full, she’s decked out with magnificent clothing, crowned with gold and frangipani flowers, and dances the Legong. Gorgeous slice of Balinese life, rendered beautifully. An entrancing read for ages 2 and up.


All About the Philippines: Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, written by Gidget Roceles Jimenez, illustrated by Corazon Dandan-Albano
published in 2015 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the series All About Asia, this book follows three Filipino cousins who come from different islands, ethnicities, and languages to showcase the diversity of this nation.

Get a taste of history, geography, language. Travel to Luzon, Cebu, and Mindanao. Learn about games and celebrations. Cook up some Filipino foods with the recipes included. There’s a lot packed in here to share with children ages 7 and up.


Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam 

Life in the highlands of Vietnam, among emerald rice fields, threatening tigers, and a beloved water buffalo is recalled in this gorgeously-written memoir. Read my full review here. A fantastic read-aloud for ages 6 and up.


The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, written by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Ronald Himler
published in 2001 by Holiday House

Ary is a little girl living among the crowded, smoky streets of Phnom Penh where she sells strings of flowers to help her family survive. She has heard about the endless green rice paddies beyond the city, lush with rainfall and sunlight, but her life has ever been hemmed in by hardness.

One day Ary takes her savings to the bird woman whose cage is filled with singing fragments of beauty. The bird woman takes her coins in exchange for the choice of one bird to set free, to soar with a wish to the heavens. Ary is elated at first, ¬†but the bird has been trained to simply fly back to its cage, preferring food to freedom.¬†Is there any way for Ari’s wishes to come true? A poignant story of a relatively hidden world, illustrated with tenderness and dignity. Ages 4 and up.


The Umbrella Queen

Head to northern Thailand and visit the markets where beautiful hand-painted umbrellas reign in this dear, beautifully illustrated story, reviewed here.

Hush: A Thai Lullaby

A handsomely illustrated story of one Thai mama trying to coax her baby to sleep. Great choice for the littlest travelers, under-two and up. My review is here. 

The Life of Rice: From Seedling to Supper, written and photographed by Richard Sobol
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Life in Thailand also centers on rice. Richard Sobol has written a fascinating account of the many festivals dedicated to rice, and the intriguing planting and harvesting traditions carried out in northeast Thailand. 

If you think the story of rice sounds dull, that’s because you have never attended the striking Royal Plowing Ceremony or met the royal white oxen, or seen the boldly painted combines used in Thailand. This is a story about the Thai people as much as about their beloved rice. Beautiful photographs by an award-winning photographer. Read it together with kids ages 6 and up.

I Am a Little Monk, written by Mi-hwa Joo, illustrated by Hwa-kyeong Gahng, English text edited by Joy Cowley
originally published in Korea; English edition published in 2015 by big & SMALL

Urt is a little boy who can’t seem to keep out of trouble. When he meets his uncle, a man who came back from his stay in the temple with such a “relaxed heart,” Urt decides that he too will devote himself to the practices of a monk for a time.

Meditation, care of the temple, going out to collect food, helping others, learning to share — these are all lessons Urt begins to learn through his time spent as a little monk. The brief story is lightly told and warmly illustrated. Much of the information will be gleaned from end pages which explain Thai greetings, nicknames, temples, festivals, and a bit more about the daily life of a monk. It’s great to see a children’s book touching on one of the most important aspects of Thai culture — Buddhism. Ages 3 and up.

All About Thailand: Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, written by Elaine Russell, illustrated by Patcharee Meesukhon and Vinit Yeesman
published in 2016 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the All About Asia series, this colorful book leads us into four different regions of Thailand, hands us some Thai language with a link to hear these words spoken, introduces foods, arts, sports, games, celebrations, dances, music, shadow puppets and lots, lots more. These are terrific one-stop introductions to each country.


I See the Sun in Myanmar, written by Dedie King, illustrations by Judith Inglese
published in 2013 by Satya House Publications

Follow one young girl through her day in a village near Mandalay in central Myanmar. From waking up to the sound of temple bells,  to the evening gathering around the household altar, Buddhist practices permeate her life. Myanmar is also a land of bullock carts, thanaka paste, the Irawaddy River, fish curry. The gentle, matter-of-fact narration of the day includes many intriguing details, while collage illustrations bring all these unknowns to life for us.

I love that the elegant Burmese script runs simultaneously on every page.  An afterword tells more about Myanmar for older readers and adults. The book itself is suited to ages 3 and up.

M is for Myanmar, written by Elizabeth Rush, illustrated by Khin Maung Myint
published in 2011 by ThingsAsian Kids

A colorful dip into Myanmar, this book is illustrated by an artist from Yangon, Myanmar, and has text in both English and the incredibly curly Burmese script. 

Catch a glimmer of the Shwedagon Pagoda, meander the emerald patchwork of rice fields, paddle across Inle Lake, taste Mohinga Noodle Soup. Lighthearted free verse, with illustrations filling in details. Colorful and upbeat, for ages 5 and up.


One Year in Beijing, written by Xiaohong Wang, illustrated by Grace Lin, translated by Lei Li
published in 2006 by ChinaSprout Inc.

Ling Ling is 8 years old and lives in modern day Beijing. Her mom’s a teacher. Her dad works at a computer company. Follow the three of them through a typical year in their lives and learn what Ling Ling wants most for a New Year’s present, how to celebrate Qing Ming Festival, what mountain Ling Ling climbs with her family on their summer break, where they head to see brilliant maples in fall splendor, what special food is served on her birthday…great details of life in contemporary China.

Illustrated in a child-appealing style by Grace Lin, this is a great intro for children ages 5 and up, with lots more detail in the end pages about the foods, holidays, places, and traditions mentioned briefly in the text.

All About China: Stories Songs, Crafts and More for Kids, written by Allison “Aixin” Branscombe, illustrated by Lin Wang
published in 2014 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the All About Asia series, this book’s title made me smile. Maybe “A Little About China” would be closer? Such a vast land, extremely diverse in its topography, climates, lifestyles, and ethnic minorities, is impossible to survey in one blast. Despite that, this is a great book, simply crammed with great information about China’s diversity, history, festivals, arts, belief systems, as well as details about home styles around China, chopstick etiquette, projects, recipes…cram jam, as I say.

One of the things I especially love about this book is its emphasis on contemporary China as differentiated from the older versions of Chinese lifestyles that can predominate our children’s literature. Fantastic resource for ages 5 and up.

Good Morning, China, written and illustrated by Hu Yong Yi
published in 2007 by Roaring Brook Press

It’s seven ‘o clock in the morning. The park is full of people engaged in their morning pursuits.

Cycling, badminton, tai chi, fan dancing. Serenity, community, and culture are beautifully displayed on individual pages, then brought together in one splendid final page which unfolds to reveal the entire park. A quiet, enchanting glimpse of one small corner of China, for ages 3 and up.

Mei-Mei Loves the Morning, written by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
published in 1999 by Albert Whitman & Company

Another morning in China, this time accompanying little Mei-Mei and her dear grandpa. Starting with rice porridge and pickled vegetables for breakfast, the two of them ride on Grandpa’s bike along busy streets, through the round moon gate, to the park.¬†

Their friends are waiting for them, as well as for the special companion they’ve brought along. Who and what could it be? Join these two for a sweet Chinese morning. Handsome oil paintings reveal lots more about their lives. Ages 3 and up.¬†

Lost and Found: Adèle and Simon in China, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2016 by Farrar Straus Giroux

The impeccable, delicate illustration work of Barbara McClintock captivates us on every page of this grand tour of China, dogging the footsteps of brother and sister, Adéle and Simon. These two are off on a huge adventure with Uncle Sidney, dropping in on a silk farm, canalside town, the Forbidden City, Great Wall, a Mongolian ger, desert caravan, Buddhist monastery, bamboo forest, and more.

Along the way, Simon keeps losing his belongings, giving us one more thing to spy in these detailed double-page spreads. Immensely engaging, with extra pages telling about each site visited by the trio. An absolute gem for ages 5 and up.

A New Year’s Reunion

This story raises our awareness of more than 100 million Chinese migrant workers who return home to China to celebrate New Year’s Day if at all possible. Fabulous glimpse of a difficult reality. Reviewed here.

Long Long’s New Year

Celebrate the grand festival with red lanterns, tang hulus, dragons parading through the street and one lucky little boy. My review is here. 

Happy New Year! written and illustrated by Demi
published in 1997 by Crown Publishers

This is a much more informative book about Chinese New Year rather than a story like the previous two titles.

Demi explains the cycle of New Year celebrations, animal zodiac, correlation with spring planting, household preparations, good luck wishes, the meanings of many foods in the New Year feast, the meanings of trees and flowers given as gifts, and lots more about the spiritual aspects of this celebration.

All of this is done quite lightly and briefly and illustrated with Demi’s charming touch. An unusual array of lore for ages 6 and up. ( This book was republished in 2003 by Knopf under the title Happy Happy Chinese New Year. Maybe that will be easier to find.)

Anno’s China, by Mitsumasa Anno
originally published in 2009; published in 2016 by Beautiful Feet Books

If you don’t know Anno’s beautiful, intriguing journeys in his numerous books taking us from Spain to Britain to the U.S., you should start with this one and move on from here.

This time he models his illustrations after a famous Chinese scroll painting. As we move along the river in Anno’s story, we drift in and out of villages, along rice fields, past markets and shipbuilders, elementary schools and funeral processions. In some of Anno’s books we have to spy all the cultural details and references without help. In this volume, each scene has commentary in the back of the book so we can first observe for ourselves all the details he’s packed in and then read about the scenes in Anno’s informative comments. Serene, gorgeous, fascinating, for ages 3 to adult.

Who Wants Candied Hawberries? written by Dongni Bao, illustrated by Di Wu, translated by Adam Lanphier
English edition published in 2016 by Candied Plums

Help yourself to this charming little fantasy featuring an elderly Chinese hawberry peddler and some mysterious customers of his.

I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling the delight of discovering just who visits the peddler and buys his wares, so much so that he has enough money to buy medicine for his wife. Set in snowy Beijing, with a very different feel to the environs than any other of the books on China, this one’s a curious treat for ages 3 and up.


Our Journey from Tibet: Based on a True Story, written by Laurie Dolphin, photographs by Nancy Jo Johnson
published in 1997 by Dutton Children’s Books

This poignant story reveals the experience of many young Tibetan children who illegally escape the restrictive regulations of the Chinese government in favor of a life in India. 

It’s based on interviews with a 9-year-old girl named Sonam who made the incredibly arduous journey over the Himalayas, leaving behind parents and home, facing fear, battered feet, swollen rivers, scarce food, snow blindness, soldiers, and so much more with amazing bravery.

Sonam and the others in her group joined thousands of other Tibetan children being cared for in children’s villages in India where they receive education and care while they await the day that Tibet is declared free and they can return home. Beautifully written and photographed, this is an eye opener for children ages 6 and up.


My Little Round House

I love this story by a Mongolian author/artist who introduces us to her homeland via one little baby and his first year of life. Full review is here.

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin
published in 2008 by Lee & Low Books

The Naadam is an annual summer festival held in Mongolia with races showcasing the Mongolians’ incredible horsemanship. One of the races sees young boys and girls — child jockeys — racing across the steppe on half-wild horses!

Ted and Betsy Lewin traveled to Mongolia to see the Naadam traditions for themselves. This is their fascinating travelogue, focusing on one child jockey, 9-year-old Tamir. Striking illustration work brings the scenes vividly to life in this breathtakingly reckless contest! More intriguing facts about gers and life in Mongolia are included. Amazing, for ages 6 and up.


Bee Bim Bop, written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee
published in 2005 by Clarion Books

Have you eaten bee-bim bop? It’s a very popular dish in Korea and appears on menus in restaurants here in the U.S.

Dance along with the enthusiasm of one little girl who simply cannot wait to dig into some of her mom’s bee-bim bop in this cheerful story perfect for toddlers. Then go ahead and try some of your own using the recipe included in the book. Warm illustrations portray a contemporary Korean family.

New Clothes for New Year’s Day

A lovely, quiet story about the grand holiday of New Year’s. Click the title for my full review.


Goodbye 382 Shin Dang Dong

A view of Korean culture through the eyes of someone who is moving far away. Click the title for my full review.



Take Me Out to the Yakyu

Fabulous, fun, side-by-side comparison of baseball in the Japan and the U.S. Click on the link for my full review.

I Live in Tokyo, written and illustrated by Mari Takabayashi
published in 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Books

Travel to modern day Japan and take in dozens of colorful vignettes by Japanese artist Mari Takabayashi as she guides us through one calendar year in Tokyo.

Celebrate the New Year and Valentine’s Day, Tokyo-style. Go to school, take in a tea ceremony, and attend a wedding. It’s a joyful catalog of Japanese life, sure to pique the interest of children ages 4 and up. A glossary of¬†words and numbers at the end will let you practice your Japanese, too!

My Awesome Japan Adventure: A Diary About the Best 4 Months Ever, written and illustrated by Rebecca Otowa
published in 2013 by Tuttle Publishing

This is a great middle-grade read. It’s the diary of a 5th grade boy who is off to spend some months with a pen pal near Kyoto. Written in a casual, 11-year-old boy voice — as you can tell from the title! — Dan describes Japan through the eyes of a first-time visitor. Breakfast, school, helping out with a rice harvest, Athletic Day, bowing, a tea ceremony, a visit to a Ninja Village and lots more are all packed in here in brief entries.

Contemporary, youthful Japan — that’s what you get here, beautifully illustrated and served up with this age group in mind. Ages 9 and up.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
published in 2008 by Sleeping Bear Press

I know. I’m supposed to be focusing on the present, but this dream of a tale was simply irresistible.¬†

Based on the 17th century practice of the provincial governors’ annual trek between Kyoto and Tokyo, this story narrates the journey from the viewpoint of the governor’s young daughter, Yuki. Travel along with her aboard a palanquin for 300 miles of extraordinary sights, sounds, tastes.

The long train of 1000 carriers moves through all sorts of terrain, weather, lodging, as Yuki wrestles with changing homes and composes a little haiku each day. Gorgeous, inspired illustration work and fascinating detail about this long ago time and beautiful land for ages 4 and up.

Many more fantastic titles, including chapter books and middle-grade novels about East Asia that just didn’t quite fit in our tour are in my archives. They’re easy to find in my Subject Index.

Have another awesome title to recommend? Please do, in the comments.

Our next destination will be the Indian Subcontinent so stock up on your curry and naan. 

If you’ve missed the earlier stops on our tour, here are links:

Tour of the World: Destination Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

Tour of the World: A Sampler of Cultures to Start

Buckle Up for a Tour of the World

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What is like a summer evening?

The luxurious length of daylight, the satisfying, sun-kissed fatigue after a day of bumbling about out-of-doors, barefoot-and-happy kids wafting an aroma of chlorine, sunscreen, and popsicles. All of it breathes magic into bedtime story hour. These gems will do just fine.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, written by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
originally published in 2005; reissued in 2017 by Candlewick Press

One of my small peeves is the preponderance of plots in kids’ books that go something like this: child is quiet and likes solitude; child meets loud, friendly sort; child realizes that life is ever so much sweeter when constantly surrounded by friends. Heaven knows friends are treasures and no man is an island, yada yada yada. But there seems to be such an undervaluing of a healthy contentment in keeping one’s own company.

Enter this gem, a combination of fantasy and social commentary that applauds serenity, untrammeled quietude, and the simple life, and does it with the magic and spectacle of Willy Wonka. Have you met any book like this before? I think not.

In the beginning, this entirely-stable, self-reliant young boy lives by himself at the end of the world. He spends his days inventively, messing about with fossils and treasure maps, drinking in the sound of the wind and the great “chuckling beasts” who growl outside his snug shack with “voices like plumbing.” Life is grand. Until one odd, bespectacled fellow comes along — Mr. Shimmer by name — promising to improve the place, drag in cartloads of friends, produce a land of “fun all the time.”

What does life look like when solemn silences are banned in favor of “nothing but laughter”?

This is a vibrant, meaningful story, illustrated with fantastical colors and perceptiveness by Kevin Hawkes. I’m confident that any true introvert will love it, as well as all who appreciate natural spaces and a dash of loneliness. Great read for ages 4 and up.

Blue Sky White Stars, written by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I wish I could have reviewed this in time for your Fourth of July celebrations, but this is a spectacular book for any time. It’s a phenomenal meditation on the meaning of our flag and the meaning of America.

Phrases of Americana — Stand Proud, Old Glory, All American — are represented by two different images on mirroring pages reflecting two ways of thinking about these stirring words.

Nelson’s paintings are stunning, as always, and his treatment of these thought-provoking ideas immerses us in the beauty of the land, the strength of our diversity, and the honorable elements of our history. What rockets the significance of the book even higher is the fact that author Sarvinder Naberhaus is an immigrant from Punjab to Iowa and artist Kadir Nelson is an African-American. I am astonished by the work they have created together. Notes from both with their thoughts on this book are included.

Whether you are a fervent patriot, or perhaps an American Vet, or you feel a bit jaded and weary just now, I am telling you — this book will make your heart glow with a bit more hope and a bit more brotherhood. Ages 3 through adult.

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry, written by Danna Smith, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Enter the world of castles and keeps, where one young girl accompanies her father as he trains his goshawk.

Learn about preferred perches, feathered hawks’ hoods, and the exhilarating dive of a hawk when it spots its prey. Discover the use of bells, gauntlets, lures, and the mews. And be swept into the middle ages via Bagram Ibatoulline’s evocative paintings. It’s a beautiful, fascinating trip into history.

The bulk of this story is told in brief, rhyming verses, easily accessible to children as young as 2 or 3. Short, more in-depth explanations are added to each page pitched for children ages 4 or 5 and up. And a lengthy Author’s Note goes into even more detail for middle-grade through adult readers. So you see, this book is smartly adapted to a wide age range.

Little Blue Chair, written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

I love this clever, unassuming story demonstrating the interconnectedness of our world and the serendipitous events that sometimes come about because of that.

It all starts with Boo and his favorite little blue chair. It’s his prize possession. Just right for sitting on while munching a peanut butter sandwich, parking in the garden for a flowery reading nook, hanging a blanket over for a secret cave. Just an all around great little chair.

When Boo outgrows it, the chair finds a new home with a sweet, grey-haired lady who uses it for a plant stand. When the plant outgrows that little blue chair, its off to yet another home. And another.

You can’t imagine the journeys of this small chair, the far-flung locations and different owners it encounters. Until it comes full circle, straight back to Boo. How does that happen? What’s the chair’s story? Read this soft-spoken account and prepare to be dazzled. Surprisingly comforting and heart-warming for ages 2 and up. Madeline Kloepper’s illustration work is the bees knees. Bit of a Carson Ellis vibe. I can’t wait to see more from her!

Midnight at the Zoo, written and illustrated by Faye Hanson
first US edition 2017 by Templar Publishing

Max and Mia are two irrepressibly curious children — and that is one great quality!

Today they’re on a class trip to the zoo. The busload of their squirrelly classmates descends in raucous abandon, careening down pathways, goggling for glimpses of lemurs and flamingos, meerkats and lions. But! Not a whisker do they see. I don’t wonder!

Max and Mia, meanwhile, take things at their own pace. Which is: slower, quieter, more observant, curiouser, if you will. Which means: they are inadvertently left behind for Quite the Night at the zoo!

Fantastical events galore are in store for these two marching-to-the-beat-of-their-own-drum kiddos. Readers will love spotting the shy animals hiding from the brouhaha, and adore the treats in store for Max and Mia. Pizzazz on tap, for ages 3 and up.

How Long is a Whale? written and illustrated by Alison Limentani
first published in North America in 2017 by Boxer Books

Following up on her smart book, How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh, here is veterinarian-turned-illustrator Alison Limentani’s next winner, all set for curious young minds!

This time we’re exploring the lengths of animals, using other animals as our measuring devices. Starting with 10 sea otters who all together are as long as 9 yellowfin tuna, we swim our way through captivating undersea worlds until it’s time to size up the biggest granddaddy of ’em all, the Blue Whale.

He needs a super-duper gate-fold page to convey his entire incredible size! It’s awfully exciting!

Bold, beautiful prints with just the facts, ma’am. That’s the recipe for a book that’ll rivet the attentions of kids as young as 2, pique their curiosities, and spark their imaginations. How many squirrels long is your dog? How many bananas long is your bed? Endless possibilities ūüôā

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