Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is ordinary life like in cosmopolitan Mexico City?

In fishing villages along the Pacific Coast?

In the rugged, hot north?

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

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

The Caribbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haiti My Country

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

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

British Virgin Islands

Little Man

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

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


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

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

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

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

Trinidad and Tobago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the links thus far:

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

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

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese



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¡Hola!  Olá!   K’ulaj!

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

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

Santiago de Chile, Chile

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant kites of Santiago!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El Salvador

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Here are links to our previous destinations:

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

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

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese


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!

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I have a new Musings post up.

As I’ve dug through stacks upon stacks of kids’ books looking for the best ones to share in my Tour of the World series, I’ve run into some interesting questions and thoughts. If I hadn’t been attempting such a broad survey, I wouldn’t have bumped into these questions in quite the same way.

What kind of world do our books portray to our children? How accurate is that portrait? And why does it matter?

These questions would all make for great, lengthier conversations. My musings post is only a starting point, but it’s a worthy starting point, one which I hope will raise your awareness as you nurture the children in your lives.

You can read the post by clicking here, or by using the Musings tab at the top of the page. Click on the title — a world of swiss cheese.

Want to join our world tour? Here are links to the first few posts:

buckle up for a tour of the world
Tour the World: a sampler of cultures
Tour the World: Australia, New Zealand and Micronesia
Tour the World: East Asia


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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 🙂

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Today’s books fairly dance with the mysterious allure of languages. Each would make a great gift for a wide age-range.

Travel around the world to hear a fascinating array of languages, plus put on your thinking caps to delve into a fantastical world with its own new mother tongue. J.R.R. Tolkien would be so very happy!

du-iz-tak-cover-imageDu Iz Tak? written and illustrated by Carson Ellis
published in 2016 by Candlewick

It’s hard to forge new territory in children’s literature. What is it that’s never been done before? Well…this.

Carson Ellis voyages into the literal-unknown with this fascinating picture book. First, her enchanting, stylized illustration work creates a small woodland world. It could be contained in just about a cubic meter. Yet it’s a busy, happening place!


Seasons pass. Occupants arrive. Growth and change occurs. Plans are carried out. Problems are solved. Perilous adventures transpire. It’s your job to carefully observe all this commotion. That’s always the case in picture books, but it’s especially critical here because…

…the folk in this world speak an unknown language.

“Du iz tak?” one damselfly asks another. “Ma nazoot,” her companion replies. What can they be saying?


Press in to the text and the visual storytelling, and you will eventually decipher this newly-concoted vocabulary! Such a triumphant feeling!


Any of you linguistic-types out there will love this, whatever your age. Young children will be drawn to the illustrations, the storyline, and the unique sounds of the language. It takes patience and deductive reasoning to puzzle out the meaning of the words. Possibly some early-elementary children will help you out with that. But it’s a treat of a challenge for even college-educated persons. Highly recommended.

Here’s the Amazon link: Du Iz Tak?

the-hello-atlas-cover-imageThe Hello Atlas, written by Ben Handicott, illustrated by Kenard Pak
published in 2016 by Wide Eyed Editions

Now that you’ve got your feet wet with an utterly-foreign language, you really ought to dive headfirst into this extraordinary atlas of more than 100 world languages. Oh, Wide Eyed! How I love you!

Travel the world, visiting all seven continents, meeting folks from a multitude of climates, traditions, cultures, and above all — languages. Kenard Pak’s warm, textured, striking illustration work whisks us into the environments where these kids live.


Architecture, clothing, weather, activities, wildlife — there’s so much to absorb in these deceptively-simple panels which carpet the pages in engaging scenes.


Everywhere we go, children introduce themselves in their mother tongue. Find out the names of these languages, read the translation of the phrase in English, and see it written out in the Roman alphabet. But, but, but…

…the most amazing thing yet is that they’ve made a free app in which over 130 native speakers are recorded, speaking these lines!!! What a magnificent effort! It’s a beautiful, smooth, elegant app that allows you to flit around to any of the countries and languages represented.


With one little tap, someone rattles off these words. I loved imagining just who that speaker was as I listened to all the different voices. At the end of the book, pages and pages of further phrases are listed, not illustrated, and these, too, are included on the app.


Kids are information-magnets. They are little linguists. What a fabulous way to engage them in the wide world, to rev up enthusiasm for others and the loveliness of a worldful of languages. Ages 2 through Adult.

Here’s the Amazon link: Hello Atlas

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I can only think of a handful of novels I’ve read with a sports theme. Not something that usually draws me in.

If you are like me in that regard, please do not overlook the titles I have for you today! Although these two novels surround us in athletic worlds, they go far beyond that as well, entering the lives of kids coping with tremendous struggles that are worthy of our attention. I found them both exceptional.

a-long-pitch-home-cover-imageA Long Pitch Home, by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
published in 2016 by Charlesbridge
245 pages

Okay, I rarely do this on my blog but I’m going to take issue with this book’s cover. The reason is that if you are anything like me, you have already been led astray as to who would like this book.

This book is a great read for boys (and girls) ages 9-12. So although the cover is beautiful, drawn by a crazy-talented illustrator — I think it will be a hard sell for that demographic. Which is really too bad because it’s a fantastic, important read. I hope I am dead wrong.  And I sincerely apologize if I just wounded anyone. But I think it might take some extra strategizing to convince middle grade boys to pick this up.

Clearly this is a book about baseball and if you’re savvy you’ll also note the Islamic crescent moon there. That’s a great clue as to one of the reasons this book is such a timely, far-beyond-baseball read.


Bilal is a 10-year-old, Pakistani boy. He’s a member of a loving, tight-knit family living in Karachi, and he’s one  of the best young cricket players around.

Life is jolted completely out of it’s socket, however, when his father, Baba, is summarily arrested. Just one day — boom — he disappears. When he returns three days later, Baba declares that “it is high time we leave Pakistan to live with your Hassan Uncle and Noor Auntie in America.” That’s a closely-guarded secret, though. No goodbyes allowed.

Baba is barred from leaving the country for an indefinite time, so Bilal, his mother, and his younger sister make the journey alone and begin the utterly-disorienting transition to a new language and culture. Lorenzi, who moved extensively in her childhood and has lived internationally, portrays the painful acculturation process masterfully.

Bilal’s changeover from cricket to the weird new game of baseball, his struggles with English idioms and new friendships, intensify his homesickness. That, compounded by profound worries over his father and the travel ban keeping him from them, is a great deal for a young boy to manage — but this is what so many newcomers to our schools and neighborhoods face every day. I love this window into their world.

Combining breezy middle-grade life, competitive sport, warm families, a serious treatment of Bilal’s Muslim faith, real anxieties affecting immigrants and refugees, light humor, a dash of girl-power, and a huge helping of culture clash — this is a complex, perfectly-paced, well-told story. With gobs of baseball, to boot. I hope your middle-graders will give this a whirl.

ghost-cover-imageGhost, by Jason Reynolds
published in 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
180 pages

Jason Reynolds grabbed my attention with his gripping, co-authored novel, All-American Boys, which I reviewed here. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this, his newest novel, written for a younger, middle-grade audience. It’s the first in a series about Track and a group of extraordinarily-talented kids aiming for the Junior Olympics.

Ghost is not one of those kids. Although he can run remarkably fast, Ghost just doesn’t see any point in sprinting around a circle, or toeing the line of some short, bald coach. Just stupidity, that is. Ghost runs fast because his life has depended on it. Literally.

Three years ago, when Ghost was a fourth-grader, his alcoholic sunflower-seedsfather hit his worst mean streak ever. Pulled a gun on Ghost and his mom. Ghost has no problem recalling the fear of getting yanked out of bed, terrified, dumbfounded, as his dad, in his drunken rage, shot at them. And yes, he ran. Faster than he ever thought it was possible for legs to move. Think that’ll do something to your heart? Your soul?

When this angry kid encounters the track team, Coach sees his potential and signs him up. That’s a recipe for immense conflict for Ghost, both externally and internally, and this book does not sprint past the pain, stupid choices, mouthiness, and bad attitudes. Simultaneously, Ghost is a kid that gets under your skin. His wounds, shame, yearnings, love for his mom, conscience, good heart; the fragile person sheltering beneath a tough shell, all make us root for him. It’s an honest, no-nonsense, deeply empathetic look at the cost of betrayal and the tenacity required to heal.

silver-track-shoesReynolds superbly establishes the contemporary urban setting. References to athletes like Usain Bolt and LeBron James also help create a strong, current feel. Expect a page-turner with a cliff-hanger ending. Pitch it to an older reluctant reader for sure, as well as boys and girls ages 10 and up. Perfect boys book club read.

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