Posts Tagged ‘cultures’

With our arrival in Europe, we’ve reached the end of our tour! 

Finding picture books set in contemporary Europe — without a WWII focus — is surprisingly challenging here in the U.S. You can read more of my thoughts about that in my earlier musings post.  Here’s what I turned up, scattered across the islands and on the continent:


Tobias Has a Birthday, written and illustrated by Ole Hertz, translated from the Danish by Tobi Tobias
originally published in Denmark in 1981; English edition published in 1984 by Carolrhoda Books

In fact, this is a story set in Greenland! That doesn’t involve medieval Vikings! Hurrah!

Tobias lives in Greenland with his family, and today he is 12 years old. What will transpire on this glad day?  Fetching ice to melt for making coffee. Making the rounds of the settlement to invite everyone to his party — a few at a time because the house can’t hold them all at once! Neighbors hard at work scraping sealskins, repairing sleds. Grandma’s stories of the old days.

Enticing gifts and a lovely playtime, rolling on oil drums with the other children. Unadorned text and minimalist illustration creates that spare, expansive feel of this windswept region. I adore this opportunity to peek into a most unusual life, and there are several other books about Tobias as well! Ages 3 and up.


Puffling Patrol, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin
published by Lee & Low in 2014

Puffins who nest and raise chicks on Iceland’s islands have an odd challenge when it comes time to migrate in the fall. Lights of the towns can confuse the newest fliers, luring them to yards and streets where they become rather stuck. In order to fly, they need to launch themselves into the sea breeze from the cliffs.

The Puffling patrol is clusters of local kids who help biologists find these stranded birds and re-launch them. This fascinating and beautifully illustrated account is by the great team of Ted and Betsy Lewin. You can read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.


Welcome Back Sun, written and illustrated by Michael Emberley
published in 1993 by Little, Brown and Company

Along with being one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, Norway is also one of Earth’s places that receives precious little sunlight during the long winter months and heaps of it in mid-summer.

The little girl in this story lives in one of the deep valleys tucked at the foot of Norway’s majestic mountains, which means her town gets even less of the sun’s rays during murketiden — the dark time that descends and gloomifies her life after the jollity of Christmas. See the way she copes with it in this pretty little story. Although the characters are clothed in older, more traditional Norwegian garb, the challenges of darkness and the enormous gladness that comes with sunlight are as true as ever. Charming, for ages 3 and up.


Stina, written and illustrated by Lena Anderson
first American edition in 1989 by Greenwillow


Stina’s Visit — American edition 1991 by Greenwillow

Two of my favorite books set in Sweden are challenging to find but worth a search. Stina is a plucky, flaxen-haired girl who is lucky enough to visit her dear grandpa in his cottage by the sea every summer.  There, they arise early in the morning for coffee by glass-smooth waters, then head out in the wooden fishing dory to check Grandpa’s nets.

Stina ambles along the rocky coast collecting treasures washed ashore by waves, and the two of them eat fresh fish at the picnic table each evening. What a lovely set of days. 

Trouble comes when Stina decides to get an up-close look at the sea during a storm. She gets a bit more wet wildness than she bargains for.  Grandpa’s response to her calamity is one of my very favorites in children’s literature.

Her second adventure has her paying a birthday visit with Grandpa to his old friend Stretchit who regales Stina with quite the sea yarn! Both books reveal the exquisite beauty of Sweden’s islands through the pristine watercolor work of Lena Anderson. Ages 2 and up.


I See the Sun in Russia, written by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese
published in 2012 by Satya House Publications

Here’s this Satya House series once more, letting us tag along with Anton on his typical day growing up in Saint Petersburg.

Catch a glimpse of the strong role of the arts in Russian culture and the patriotism of Saint Petersburg’s people. See what the schoolchildren eat for lunch, and why Papa dreams of spending time at their dacha after a long day at work. A quiet, ordinary pace sets the tone for these realistic portraits of life for children around the world, which I love. They’re accompanied by mixed media collages including photos. Ages 3 and up.

R is for Russia, written by Valdimir Kabakov, photographed by Prodeepta Das
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Another great entry in this series, written by a man born in Siberia near Lake Baikal who has lived and worked in many different parts of Russia. View everything from chess to the underground railway, religious icons to Siberian tigers in this alphabetic tour of vast Russia. Great for ages 5 and up.

British Isles

Katie Morag and the Birthdays, written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick
published in 2005 by The Bodley Head

I dearly love Katie Morag, the red-headed, gumptious gal in her Wellies, careening around the fictional Scottish Isle of Struay. There are many stories about her. This birthday extravaganza volume tracks through one year of the McColl family’s loving chaos and all the birthdays celebrated along the way.

There are lots of folks to celebrate — Katie’s baby sister Flora Ann is turning One, while Neilly Beag is 70 years young. Grannie Island, Granma Mainland, Liam, all the Big Boy Cousins…even the sheep and the dog have birthdays to mark.

For Katie, every day that is not her birthday is a pinch of agony. “WHEN will it be MY birthday?” she moans. Not to worry — it’s a lovely one when her turn comes.

I love the out-of-doors wildness of life on Struay and the mussy household of the McColls, so similar to the realistic untidiness of Shirley Hughes’ families. The blustering strength, simple creativity, and genuine affection between all these characters makes for bracing, happy tales.

Besides all that, you get some Jolly Extras in this book including clever birthday cards and crafts to make, and the recipe for a jim-dandy castle cake with plenty of biscuits and chocolate! It’s a treat for ages 4 and up.

All Aboard the London Bus, written by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Sam Usher
published in 2017 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Dash around London seeing the sights with this energetic family.

 photo All Aboard the London Bus spreads 9781847808578_Page_12_zps28j525nq.jpg

Hop on the red double-decker bus, crane your neck to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, spot all the goings-on at busy Trafalgar Square, mind the gap on the Tube, give a cheer at The Globe, and for goodness’ sake don’t skip tea and scones in the afternoon! Vigorous poems introduce each scene while Sam Usher’s friendly, colorful illustrations spread a thrilling London upon these pages. Notes about each place on the tour are included so you can learn a bit more. Jolly good fun for ages 4 and up.

London Calls, written by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
published in 2014 by Tate Publishing

Or, trot along with Pearl and Granny Rose on their whirlwind tour of London.

Rhyming text merrily skips along, zigging and zagging among charming illustrations of everything from the London Eye to the Tube to Kensington Gardens. If you love London, I promise you will like this little book. Ages 4 and up.

Megan’s Year: An Irish Traveler’s Story, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Beth Peck
published in 2011 by Sleeping Bear Press

Megan is one of approximately 25,000 “travelers” in Ireland. You might know them as Gypsies, a pejorative term which has been replaced by Roma or Travelers.

Catch a glimpse of her life over the course of a year as she and her family move about Ireland in search of seasonal jobs, listen to fiddling by the campfires on summer evenings, and cope with the unique difficulties of an itinerant lifestyle when it comes to schooling. It’s a fascinating account brought to life with vivid paintings. Ages 5 and up.

The Netherlands

Father, May I Come?, written and illustrated by Peter Spier
published in 1993 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

The inimitable Peter Spier brings us to Holland in two parallel stories of the sea. On a North Sea island off the Dutch coast, the townspeople have for centuries rescued the crews of ships who ran afoul of sudden, ferocious storms and the tricky sandbanks and channels strewn along the coast.

Spier illustrates the account of one such rescue in 1687, and another rescue more than 300 years later, showing us as only he can the intriguing similarities and clear differences in not only the means of  ocean rescue, but the occupations, clothing, and lives of these brave citizens.  Strike a bell for courageous Netherlanders and pour over Spier’s fascinating panels. Several pages of more technical information about modern day rescue equipment and the history of coastal rescue efforts are included. Ages 5 and up.


A Walk in Paris, written and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

Salvatore Rubbino graces every page of this travel guide to Paris with his charming, stylish illustration work. If you know M. Sisek’s travel guides to various world-class cities, you might think of this as an updated but similar idea.

Join a young girl and her grandfather as they stroll the boulevards, gaze down from Notre-Dame’s tower, eat at a bistro, goggle over pastries, meander in the Tuileries, gawk at the Eiffel Tower and ever so much more. Cram jam with Parisian particulars. Dip into this as much or as little as attention spans can manage, ages 4 to much older.


Crossing the Gotthard: The Longest Tunnel in the World, written and illustrated by Yvonne Rogenmoser, translated by David Henry Wilson
first published in Switzerland; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth

Embedded in the psyche of the Swiss are, of course, the Alps. Those of us who live on the flat midwestern plains do not grow up thinking about crossing mountain passes and waiting for tunnel congestion in order to drive just a few hours for a holiday.

But for centuries, those who live in the neighborhood of the Alps have encountered these magnificent obstacles to travel. The ways they’ve coped with one particularly vexing section, the Schöllenen Gorge, is surveyed here, brilliantly. Discover the attempts of Swiss travelers to surmount this section, from medieval times right up to 2016 when the longest tunnel in the world opened. The mountaineering and engineering of the Swiss are uniquely on display here, for ages 7 and up.


Olivia Goes to Venice, written and illustrated by Ian Falconer
published in 2010 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Yes, I’ve tapped Olivia to give us a silly but cool glimpse of Venice. As always, Olivia is full of shenanigans that threaten the very foundations of this old city, but you’ll also get lovely glimpses of the canals, bridges, and cathedrals for which Venice is famous.

It is definitely a jolly introduction to this unique tourist-magnet of a city, with copious gelato consumed! Ages 2 and up.

Orani: My Father’s Village, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
published in 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers

Orani is a tiny village of narrow, cobbled  streets, red clay-tiled roofs, dusky-green fig trees and drooping grape clusters, tucked in a sun-soaked, Mediterranean valley on the isle of Sardinia.

Clarie Nivola’s father was born in that village and brought his family there frequently throughout Claire’s childhood. This is her exquisite account of life in sunny Orani.  Of scorching sun and cool spring water; wedding dances and wild horse races; women baking bread in clay ovens and uncles offering ice creams at the cafe.  Accompanied by her achingly-beautiful artwork, Nivola paints a time and place incredibly sweet with precision and fondness.

The text is sparse, but a lengthy Author’s Note adds many more intriguing details. It’s a stunningly beautiful book both in its artwork and its rich, evocative language.  A lovely read for ages 6 to 100.


Island Summer, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1999 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Mediterranean waters, moonlight-white houses rambling up sun-soaked, olive green hillsides. Yes, I could breathe easier here.

An island summer in Greece begins as the cold rains of winter end and the summer sun strengthens, soothing “angry waves into a flat shimmering sea and soak[ing] up the muddy puddles like freshly baked pound cake sops up melted chocolate.”

Watch ferryboats unload passengers, inns welcome summer folk, ladies in flowery dresses and children with sand buckets bask in sunshine, loll in hammocks, play soccer on the beach, and dance to fiddles by starlight.

The whole book is fragrant with the loveliness of this place, and this pace. Ages 3 and up.


T is for Turkey, written by Nilüfer Topaloglu Pyper, photography by Prodeepta Das
published in 2010 by Frances Lincoln Books

Discover Turkish tea, Henna nights, maras ice cream, a snack called leblebi, the chalky wonders of Pamukkale, an unusual musical instrument called the zurna, and more in this alphabetical sampler of Turkey, a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Ages 5 and up.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flowers for Sarajevo, written by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers

You’re probably aware of The Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic, who in the midst of unspeakable terrors during the Balkan War, chose to step into the ruined streets with his instrument and create mournful beauty in one small square. Day after day after day. This fictionalized account allows us to experience that moment through the eyes of a young boy living amid the devastation.

This is less an account of Sarajevo per se than of the impact of beauty in the midst of wreckage, but it’s a glimpse. Perhaps it will entice you to learn more about the people of the Balkan region who have again been in he midst of so much upheaval due to the conflict in Syria. A CD with Smailovic playing the piece — Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor — is included. Ages 6 and up.

Traveling the world via picture book has been a great learning experience for me as I’ve delved into all sorts of different places people love to call home.

You can catch all the previous stops on the tour with these links:

Destination: Canada

Destination: The Caribbean and Mexico

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

Like it? Share it!


Read Full Post »

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 🙂 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


Read Full Post »

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 »

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 »

Welcome to the next stop on our tour, the Indian subcontinent. Most of today’s books are set in India, obviously, but there are some gems from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as well to help round things out.


B is for Bangladesh, written by Urmi Rahman, photographed by Prodeepta Das
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Books for Children

Here’s another one of these beauties from Frances Lincoln, taking us on a colorful tour of Bangladesh. Listen to the Ektara, smell the sweet-scented golap, play a game of Kana Machhi, get a haircut at the napit shop, visit Somapura Vihar — and lots more, guided by Bengali author Urmi Rahman.  Ages 4 and up.

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2008 by Charlesbridge

Naima uses her skills as a painter of traditional alpana patterns to overcome obstacles presented by her gender and help earn money for her family in this short, captivating chapter book, rich with cultural details. Ages 7 and up.

Tiger Boy

An adventurous story set in the Sundarbans region. When a tiger cub goes missing from the reserve, young Neel is determined to find and protect her before his devious and unethical neighbor, Gupta, can capture and sell her. Great read for ages 9 and up. My full review of it is here.


Crane Boy, written by Diana Cohn, illustrated by Youme
published in 2015 by Cinco Puntos Press

In the breathless air of Bhutan, high in the Himalayan Mountains, black-necked cranes spend their summers — dancing, stretching their elegant necks, feasting on worms and buckwheat grains from the rain-soaked fields, bringing good luck to the Phobjika Valley. As the numbers of cranes sadly diminishes, Kinga and his classmates choreograph an elaborate crane dance and launch a new, exciting festival to remind their countrymen of the beauty of these birds and raise money to help protect them.

With striking illustrations and a well-told story about this fascinating culture, you can take a seat at the Crane Festival, held every year in November in Bhutan. Extra pages tell more about Bhutan and are illustrated with photographs. Lovely, for ages 3 and up.


Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal, written by Theresa Heine, illustrated by Judith Gueyfier
published in 2014 by Barefoot Books

Sisters Chandra and Deena have gone to market to buy some tulsi, an herbal remedy for their baby brother’s cough, when they encounter a crowd gathered around a man with a strange lamp. This man claims the light from his lamp comes from the sun itself! And that by using such a lamp, villagers can save money and be rid of the smoky kerosene that harms their lungs.

Chandra and Deena want very badly to help their family buy one of those lamps. How can they convince their father it’s a good idea? And where can such money come from? Following this Himalayan story, several pages tell more about Nepal and solar lighting, and give directions for making your own Pizza Box Solar Oven! What a great thing to try! Ages 4 and up.

Kami and the Yaks, written by Andrea Stenn Stryer, illustrated by Bert Dodson
published in 2007 by Bay Otter Press

What a gorgeous book this is!

Spend a day with Kami way up in the thin air of the Himalayan mountains where he and his Sherpa family make their living by guiding, setting up camp, and cooking for mountain climbers.

In this frosty adventure, four of the family’s yaks are missing. Kami, who is deaf, is too young to be venturing off in search of them, but a storm is coming and he can’t sit idly by. Exquisite watercolors dominate every page of this excellent story, inspired by a young boy met by the author while trekking in Nepal. An afterword tells more about the Sherpa people. Ages 4 and up.


In Andal’s House, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Amanda Hall
published in 2013 by Sleeping Bear Press

Set in contemporary India, Andal’s House considers both the progress and the deep prejudices remaining for those in the untouchables caste. Kumar’s schoolmate, Andal, has invited him to his home to celebrate Diwali. But Kumar is of the untouchable caste, while Andal is a high-caste Brahmin. Kumar’s family questions him: Are you certain you’ve been invited?

Kumar sets off with confidence to the celebration, but is humiliated when Andal’s grandmother turns him away. Gorgeous details in text and illustration bring this slice of India to life for ages 5 or 6 and up. It’s the only picture book I found that discusses caste.


A young girl anticipates eagerly the arrival of the cooling monsoon season. Brightly illustrated, full of rich cultural detail, set in contemporary India, this book is a joy for ages 3 and up. My full review of it is is here.

Monsoon Afternoon, written by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
published in 2008 by Peachtree Publishers

Here’s another look at monsoon weather. This time a little boy is anxious for someone to play with, yet everyone’s busy. Except Dadaji — his grandfather. Dadaji is amenable to playing outside, even in the bucketing rain.

What a lovely story, full of this place as well as the sweet bond between grandpa and grandson. An author’s note tells more about her experience growing up on the west coast of India, awaiting monsoon. Ages 3 and up.

Tree Matters, text by Gita Wolf and V. Geetha from the oral narrative of Gangu Bai, illustrations by Gangu Bai
published in 2014 by Tara Books

This highly unusual book introduces us to one of the tribal communities in India, the Bhils. One Bhil woman recalls her childhood growing up in the forest or jungle of India, a lifestyle no longer possible due to new laws.

Her narration is largely about trees. Clearly, growing up in the thick of the forests, trees played an integral part in their lives. Which berries did the village children snap up? Which tree had the prickliest thorns? As her brief memoir emerges, Gangu Bai illustrates the stories for us using a traditional Bhil painting style. I was intrigued by the ways this ancient artistry resembles the art of the Australian aboriginal people. See what you think, while learning about some of the hidden diversity in the enormous land of India. Ages 4 and up.

Gita Wolf has worked with other tribal artists to create more children’s books that bring these communities to our attention. You might check out:

Do! published in 2009 by Tara Books, featuring art from the Warli tribe…

Following My Paintbrush, published in 2011 by Tara Books, featuring a Mithili artist…

Gobble You Up!, published in 2013 by Tara Books, with art in the ancient Mandna style.

Geeta’s Day: From Dawn to Dusk in an Indian Village, written and photographed by Prodeepta Das
published in 2010 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Visit the state of Orissa in eastern India, and the small village of Janla where 6-year-old Geeta lives with her family. This lovely photodocumentary takes us through a typical day for her, beginning with her grandmother’s morning puja (worship), breakfast, a walk past busy villagers on her way to school, a visit to the swimming pond, and so much more. Incredibly informative and engaging, for ages 5 and up.

Frances Lincoln has put out quite a number of books in this Child’s Day series following children through a day in their homeland. They look fantastic, though this is the only one I could find in my library system. For those of you who can find other titles, they’ll surely be gems. 

Prodeepta Das has authored several other books about India, including :

A Day I Remember: An Indian Wedding (2014; Frances Lincoln) which tells the story of a little boy named Swayam who plays an important role in his uncle’s wedding. Great photos and interesting cultural details about a subject many young children are familiar with. Ages 4 and up.

I See the Sun in India, written by Dedie King, illustrations by Judith Inglese
published in 2014 by Satya House Publications

Another excellent day-in-the-life series comes from Satya House. This story follows a young schoolgirl named Mila in Jaipur, Rajasthan, located in northwestern India. Fascinating collage artwork illustrates her home and city, as she goes to school, meets friends at the movie theater, shares a delicious curry dinner with her family and more. An Author’s Note tells more about India and Jaipur in particular. Ages 5 and up.

Sacred River, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1995 by Clarion Books

The city of Varanasi, India is one of the oldest in the world. Flowing through it is the Ganges River, the goal of millions of Hindu pilgrims who come to purify their souls in the waters of the sacred river.

Ted Lewin’s gorgeous watercolors take us right into the city. With a minimum of text, Lewin allows his paintings to tell us their story. Encounter ancient temples, boatloads of sari-clad women, the hot sun of Varanasi, offerings of jai flowers, and the water of the Ganges flowing through the entire account. An explanatory note at the beginning of the book sets the scene for the action that spools out in his images. An important part of India, accessible to ages 3 and up.

While we’re up here in northern India, you won’t want to miss the gorgeous book:

Cloud Tea Monkeys, one of the most lushly-illustrated stories out there. It’s about the tea-pickers in the foothills of the Himalayas. A gem of a story for ages 5 and up. My full review of it is here.

In the Village of the Elephants, written by Jeremy Schmidt, photographs by Ted Wood
published in 1994 by Walker and Company

From northeast India we’ll jaunt off to the southwest, to a village in the Nilgiri Hills where the Kurambas people have been living for thousands of years, and where they have perfected the art of the mahout, or elephant driver.

This fascinating account follows one young boy, Bomman, who is in training to become a mahout. His father is his teacher; his elephant is Mudumalai, and what a fantastic creature he is. You will learn a great deal about elephants and the intriguing relationships that exist between them and their caregivers in this longish read for ages 6 or 7 and up.  You might follow it up with:

Balarama: A Royal Elephant, which describes the prestigious role of the Royal Elephants in the Dasara parade. A beautifully-illustrated story for ages 4 and up. My full review of it is here.


King for a Day, written by Rukhsana Khan, illustrations by Christiane Krömer
published in 2013 by Lee & Low Books

The spring kite festival of Basant has arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, and a boy named Malik is ready for it!

That means he’s made a strong, fast kite, has parked his wheelchair up on the flat roof of his home, and is braced to battle other kites for domination of the skies, for the title of King of Basant.

Absolutely fabulous illustration work here brings Malik and his neighborhood vividly to life, not to mention the profusion of kites flying over the city. It’s a fantastic glimpse of a cherished festival with an afterword that tells us more. A rare book set in Pakistan, just right for ages 4 and up.

Tales of a Lost Kingdom: A Journey into Northwest Pakistan, written by Erik L’Homme, illustrated by François Place, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
first published in France; first American edition published in 2007 by Enchanted Lion Books

In the remote north of Pakistan, in a soaring, mountainous region that juts up near Afghanistan and Tajikistan, lies Chitral, a place that seems to be “at the end of the world” according to Erik L’Homme who lived and adventured there for some time in the 1990s.

L’Homme collected stories from the Kho people as he moseyed about over high passes in the Hindu Kush mountains, through bazaars, across endless plateaus, and at the famous polo tournament held there. He retells three of those stories here, and adds a short travelogue with photos and thoughts on his time in this remote place. It’s illustrated with lovely watercolors.

The stories themselves reveal quite a lot about the culture while the travelogue gives us an outsider’s viewpoint. There are some portions of the narrative that don’t seem to have survived the translation into English well, but for the most part it’s an intriguing window into a part of the world few of us could ever hope to visit. Ages 5 and up.

This Truck Has Got to be Special — written by Anjum Rana, illustration design by Sameer Kulavoor, truck art by Hakeem Nawaz and Amer Khan
published in 2016 by Tara Books

Highly decorative trucks lumber up and down some of the most precipitous, isolated roads in the world courtesy of Pakistan’s truck artists.

Read about the process of painting these showy, elaborate designs, as well as some rambling thoughts about one driver’s life, in this unusual book. The illustrations are phenomenal. A lengthy text makes this more suitable for older readers, ages 8 or 9 and up.

While we’re in Pakistan, read about one of its most famous citizens in:

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

which is mainly a story of Malala’s life but also includes back pages telling more about Pakistan and the Pashtun people. A gorgeous small read for ages 7 and up. My full review is here.

Sri Lanka

When the Rain Comes, written by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave
published in Canada in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Pajama Press

Malini is a little girl who lives in Sri Lanka. In the mornings, she loves to awaken to the sound of the bullock driver and the spurfowl singing in the trees. This year, Malini is learning to help in the rice fields.

While she’s tending that huge, intimidating ox, a powerful rainstorm breaks over the village sending a deluge  of water down the road, threatening to overturn the ox cart and its precious load of seedlings. Malini resolves to be levelheaded and brave and comes out the hero! Unusual setting, striking illustrations, and an additional note telling more about Sri Lanka. Ages 3 and up.

One book I wish I could get my hands on is:

Tea Leaves, by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Lester Coloma
published in 2003 by Mondo Publishing

I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s story of Cambodia, The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, reviewed here, and from what I can tell this is another gem. It’s the story of a young girl named Shanthi and her mother who work on a tea plantation in the mountains of Sri Lanka.

Shanthi longs to see the ocean and indeed she gets to take a train to the sea, a dream come true. If you can find this, I’d bet it would be a gem for ages 6 and up.

If you know of more great titles to add to this listing, please let us know in the comments.

Next stop on the tour will be Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

If you’ve missed stops along the way, here are links:

Tour the World: Destination East Asia

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

Tour the World: A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle Up for a Tour of the World

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

Know someone who would like to join the tour? Please cue them in!

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

So, off we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not quite contemporary, but great fun…

Audrey of the Outback and Sun on the Stubble

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

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

Greetings from Sandy Beach, which I reviewed here. 

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

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

Seven Little Australians, by Ethel Turner

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

The Magic Pudding, by Norman Lindsay

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

The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs

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

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill, by Dorothy Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here are links to the previous tour entries:

Tour of the World: A Sampler of Cultures

buckle up for a tour of the world


Read Full Post »

So here we go, off on our tour! 

As I’ve read these stacks of books over the past months, I’ve thought a lot about how we present global cultures to our children.

How do we avoid a sense that people living in cultures so unlike our own are some sort of curiosity on display behind zoo-glass. How do we help children make human connections to what they read about? 

 We want children to appreciate the incredibly varied ways of life around our world.

To have a spirit of inquiry and respect for the ingenious, artful, fascinating, ways people live, dress, eat, build, celebrate, play, worship, work.

To see how much we have in common.

To humbly acknowledge that we might learn a better way from others.

To delight in the new and unfamiliar as well as the sweetly similar. 

At the same time, there are tragic circumstances in our world. Millions of children are born into war zones, famine hotspots, refugee camps, slums, homelessness. How do we nurture empathy? How do we help kids see that no one gets to choose where she’s born?

These are questions worth asking, I think. No simple answers. 

I reviewed a book awhile back that brilliantly delves into the idea of putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Düzakin; published by Eerdmans, 2016

Since connection is what we want in ourselves and our kids, I am recommending it again. It would make a great segue into a world tour as it encourages us to think, “What if that were my life?”  You can read my entire review here.

Then, hop on your magic carpets by picking up one or a bunch of these fabulous titles that give us a survey of the world, a comparison of cultures, a map to adventure. That’s our starting point…


This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

If you read just one book from today’s post, I’d recommend this one. Gorgeously illustrated. Authentically researched. Diverse and engaging. It’s a gem for ages 4 and older.

Seven real children from around the world took part in this project, sharing the details of their families’ lives with the author.

Through their explanations and Lamothe’s fabulous artwork, you can walk through a typical day in the life of families from Peru, Russia, Japan, Uganda, Iran, Italy, and India. Find out what kind of house they live in, who makes up their family, what they wear to school and eat for breakfast, how they learn, play, work, and much more.

 photo this-is-how-we-do-it-breakfast_zps9c7hgl39.jpg

Clearly there are wide varieties of families and ways of life within each of these countries. These narratives, however, so rich with cultural detail, are a brilliant starting point for discovering the fascinating differences and lovely similarities between ourselves and others. One of the best books I’ve seen for connecting kids to the world. Highly recommended!

One World, One Day, written by Barbara Kerley, images by multiple photographers
published in 2009 by National Geographic

A lovely choice for the youngest of our world travelers, this collection of striking photographs of children simply going about their day is accompanied only by brief captions.

Kerley’s words unobtrusively guide us through the day, welcome us into these different lives, give some context,  without getting in the way of really lovely, face-to-face encounters. Captivating! Each photo is replicated in thumbnail size in the end pages and attached to a short photographer’s note telling more about it — and these are really interesting! 

Ages 2 and up can enjoy the book; the added notes will suit mid-elementary and older. 

Barbara Kerley and National Geographic have also teamed up on several other, similar photo essays, any of which makes a delightful window on the world for young children. They are:

You and Me Together: Moms, Dads, and Kids Around the World (2005)

A Cool Drink of Water (2006)

A Little Peace (2007)

Check any one of them out and soak in the beauty of our world’s diversity.


Around the World Right Now, written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard, illustrated by Olivia Beckman
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press

At any given time, in the twenty-four different time zones around the world, people are going about their daytime and nighttime, morning and afternoon-time, dawn and twilight activities.

Check in on 24 locations to discover a sampling of what’s happening all around the globe right now. Perky illustrations are alive with details to spy as the hours unroll in the pages of this happy catalogue. A sunny treat for ages 3 and up.

Atlas of Miniature Adventures, written by Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland
published in 2017 by Wide Eyed Editions

This darling, pocket-sized book is another treasure from Wide Eyed. I am gaga for all their atlases! See more of them here, here, and here.

Why do the tallest mountains and longest rivers get all the attention? It’s time to focus on the small stuff, from intricate model villages to snow globe museums, the world’s smallest postal service and its tiniest frog.  Spectacular illustration work as always from Lucy Letherland along with pint-sized bits of text scoot us around the globe on the search for small. Ages 4 and up.

Atlas of Oddities, written by Clive Gifford, illustrated by Tracy Worrall
published in 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Have you heard of the surfing and skateboarding mice off the Gold Coast in Australia? Or the Night of the Radishes celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico with intricate sculptures carved out of large radishes?

Middle graders who gobble up trivia will enjoy browsing through 90 pages of maps sprinkled with all sorts of outlandish details about the things people do and the strange sights one might see all over the world.

Children Around the World: A Photographic Treasury of the Next Generation, by Peter Guttman
published in 2015 by Skyhorse Publishing

This is a coffee-table book loaded with gorgeous full-page photos of children the world over.

Hundreds of ravishing, professional shots from an award-winning photographer capture the beautiful faces and fascinating environments these children call home. 

Captions tell where in the world this is and most times a tiny bit of what’s going on in the photo, but beyond that there’s no text. Just face-to-face encounters with a magnificent variety of cultures. My one issue with this book is that there is scant diversity among the photos of children from the U.S. There are a few of Native children (which is most welcome); only one of a Black American child; the rest are non-urban, white, middle-class kids. That pained me greatly, but does not mean I don’t highly recommend the book for its extraordinary polish and global reach.

I’d share this with kids as young as 2, just leafing through and talking about the pictures together. Great springboard into further reading.

Take Shelter: At Home Around the World, by Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton
published in 2014 by Orca Book Publishers

This survey of the immense variety of dwelling places people call home will suit children with  longer attention spans than some of the easier picture books.

Short paragraphs explaining everything from an underground opal mine community in the Australian Outback, to a capsule hotel in Japan, to reed houses floating on the surface of Lake Titicaca in Peru are accompanied by small but vivid photos.

This book isn’t just about seeing different houses. You will also learn a little about why houses might be built underground or built with mobility in mind; find out how available materials and environments impact the way homes are built; discover all kinds of innovations to tackle disaster-relief or homelessness. Brief, interesting, thought-provoking for kids ages about 6 or 7 and up.

Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World, written by Beatrice Hollyer, images by multiple photographers
published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company in association with Oxfam

This is one in a series of books published in conjunction with Oxfam, an international association of charities working to eradicate poverty around the globe. I really like what they’ve done. It is similar in concept to the first book in today’s post.

They first dispatched photographers to spend time with six families around the world. Each family has a child around the age of 7. The photographs of these families accompany short narrations telling how they go about their days and especially their relationship with water. With families in arid Ethiopia and Mauritania, as well as flood-prone Bangladesh; families in the mountains of Peru and Tajikistan, and in the city of Los Angeles — the way they obtain water, the amount of water available to them, and how they use water, are all strikingly different and thought-provoking.

Well-written at a level that’s accessible to children as young as 4, these accounts provide a more in-depth look at family life than the other books in today’s post. There are several others in this series. I’ve reviewed one in the past:

Let’s Eat: What Children Eat Around the World (2004)

You can read the review here, if you wish. It’s the exact same format as this book.

Wake Up World (1999)


Here are links to a few more favorite books I’ve previously reviewed which would make grand Start-Your-Engines sorts of books for traveling the world. Click the link to read my review. The last book is especially well-suited to older kids:


Atlas of Adventures

At the Same Moment Around the World

Around the World with Mouk: A Trail of Adventure

A Ride on Mother’s Back: Baby-Carrying Around the World

Where Children Sleep

You can find lots more books like these surveying global schools, homes, grandparents, languages, and more in my Subject Index. Scroll down to Cultures and look in the section called Multiple Cultures. Every title is linked to its review.

Happy travels!


Don’t want to miss a single stop on the tour? Follow the blog and the posts will be delivered to you by email.

Know someone who would love to travel with us? Share this post via social media or word of mouth.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: