The World in Books for Children and Adolescents
Notes: This is just a sample of books published in the last 20 years that can introduce children and adolescents to different parts of the world.
*Books are grouped by geographic region. Such boundaries don’t always fit well. Some of those that cut across multiple regions may be found in a separate section at the end.
*Some regions are not well represented in children’s literature.
*Country names are in bold print within regions.
*Many books appeal to children of various ages. Books within each section are listed from P-H in parentheses as follows:
(P)=preschool through grade 3.
(I)=intermediate, grades 4-6.
(M)=middle grades 5-8.
(H)=high school, 9-12.
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree Press. 2009. (any age/picture book).
- The illustrations capture the palette of colors that conjure up Maasai country in Kenya. The story captures the generosity and kindness of these people as they extend the best they can offer to America in the aftermath of 9/11.
The Rain School by James Rumford. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. (P/I).
- On the first day of school in a village in Chad, the children arrive to find only their teacher—no school. They work with their teacher to build a new school. Next year they will do the same again. Although their school building is temporary, their education is important to them and they work together to make school happen.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Millbrook Press, 2016. (I).
- Informational picture book shows how a group of women in Gambia work together to help overcome community and even world problems. Timeline and author’s note.
The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can: A True Story by Tererai Trent. Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016. (I).
- The author tells the story of her childhood in Zimbabwe where girls were prevented from attending school. As a child, the author wanted an education. Her grandmother decided that she could be ” our eyes, to read and write for us,” and her brother secretly taught her to read and write. Life in the Shona village is beautifully described and the watercolor illustrations depicting the author reading to her grazing cattle, attending school with her brother, and growing up and sending her own children to school are lovely.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. (M/H)
- A true story of William, a boy living in Malawi during a period of drought and famine. His experiences spark his scientific and technological inquiries. Includes an epilogue.
I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifrenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016. (M/H).
- A chronicle of two penpals, one a young girls from the United States, and the other a young boy from Zimbabwe. While their correspondence teaches them about each other’s lives and cultures, it also transforms each of the penpals.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Clarion Books, 2010. (M/H)
- Nya walks 12 hours a day to fetch water for her family. Salva has become one of the “lost boys” of the Sudan, desperately trying to find his family. Their stories are told in alternating chapters that make clear the extreme hardships of living in a land ravaged by armed conflict. Both characters are well drawn and compelling and their story makes clear the challenges that face them in refugee camps, home villages, and when they finally find “sanctuary” in a new country.
A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk. Eerdmans Press, 2013. (I/M/H).
- Thirteen-year-old Shida (“Problem” in Swahili) must move to a new village in Tanzania where Shida hopes to go to school and become a nurse. When tragedy strikes, secrets are uncovered, and people must decide whether to remain in the new village or return to their former homes. Shida decides to convince her own family to remain. Author Quirk strikes a balance between traditional Sukuma tribal beliefs and modern ideas about medicine and education as Shida pursues her dream of becoming a healer.
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal & Surisha Sehgal. Illustrated by Jess Golden. Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2016. (P).
- Sehgal & Sehgal have written several books set in India. This one draws on the popular “wheels on the bus” song and delightful illustrations to introduce children to various aspects of Indian culture.
Good Night India by Nitya Khemka. Illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale. Penguin, 2017. (P).
- Reminiscent of Good Night Moon, this charming board book highlights the Himalayan Mountains, Golden Temple, Valley of Flowers National Park, Palace of Winds, Hawa, Mahal, Mehrangarh Fort, Goa, beaches, dolphins, lions in the Gir Forest, tigers in the Sundarbans, Darjeeling tea, blue train, and elephants in India.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi. Illustrated by Thi Bui. Capstone Young Readers Press, 2017. (P).
- A 2018 Caldecott Honor Book. Graphic novelist Thi Bui’s and acclaimed poet Bao Phi’s powerful look into the relationship between father and son―and between cultures, old and new—develops as the two go fishing in a small pond in Minneapolis and Bao’s father describes a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Striking art and prose make this a “must read.”
Voices of the Heart by Ed Young. Scholastic Books, 1997. (any age)
- Ed Young introduces 26 Chinese characters that describe feelings or emotions. The collage art is gorgeous and each page begs for some discussion about how each character represents an emotion and its cultural context.
AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, AND OCEANIA
Possum Magic by Mem Fox. Illustrated by Julie Vivas. Abingdon Press, 1983. (P)
- For sheer fun, enjoy a magical and very tasty tour of Australia from Anzac biscuits and minties to vegemite and pavlova with Hush and Grandma Poss, two possums who will please adults and children.
Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French. Illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Clarion Books, 2002. (P/I)
- In this delightfully funny and meant to be read out loud with enthusiasm, an Australian wombat tells its own story about digging holes, eating, sleeping and training humans.
Alfie and Dad By Shirley Hughes. Random House, 2017. (P).
- These stories by British author Shirley Hughes follow the experiences of Alfie, his family and friends. Any of Hughes’ books will be a treat to share with pre-K and kindergardten children as they will recognize themselves in these gentle, funny and appealing stories.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. (I/M/H).
- Caldecott Award winner. Graphic novel set in a train station in Paris where Hugo, an orphan, clock maker and thief hides. His meeting with a young girl and an old watch maker begins a set of intrigues that jeopardize Hugo’s secrets. Beautiful story, wonderfully illustrated.
CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood. Illustrated by Sally Comport. Simon & Schuster, 2016.(I).
- Ada Rios wanted to play music, but there weren’t enough instruments to go around, but her music teacher had an idea. Amid the rubble piles the children played in they found oil drums, water pipes, aluminum baking pans and more. Before long the children turned them into flutes, cellos and violins. Their story is old through compelling collages that capture the feel of the landfill, but emphasize the resourcefulness of the children and the warmth of their families.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.(H)
- Memoir of Engle’s years as a Cuban American during the Cold War. Told in verse, Engle grapples with two cultures, travel bans, acceptance and patriotism. Includes timeline and author’s note.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz. Scholastic, 2012. (M/H).
- Set in the Great Depression era, Esperanza’s story begins with her privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico, where a sudden tragedy forces the family to flee to California. At a Mexican farm labor camp, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances because Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it. Compelling story—award winning, too. Look for other books by Pam Munoz.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story by Jeanette Winter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. (P/I).
- When war looms in Iraq, the librarian of Basra organizes her friends and hides more than 30,000 volumes. The author/illustrator’s folk-art style emphasizes the librarian’s bravery rather than providing extensive detail on the nature of the war that engulfs the library. Recommend careful pre-reading as this book will require some explanations before sharing with young children.
My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne del Rizzo. Pajama Press, 2017. (P/I)
- A Middle East Picture Book award winner. This gentle story follows Sami, a Syrian boy who trudges with so many others to escape bombing in his home city while mourning the birds he had to leave behind. The author very gently lets readers see Sami’s pain and the slow process of learning to live again after such an ordeal.
The Wooden Sword:A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan by Ann Redisch Stampler. Whitman & Co., 2014. (P/I).
- Versions of this tale in which a poor but good person outsmarts a powerful one, appear around the world. In this beautifully illustrated telling, a shah disguises himself to test the optimism of a poor Jewish shoemaker. The result is predictable, but satisfying.
The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour. Dial Books, 2016. (M).
- After winning a Koran competition, Wadjda plans to purchase a bike even though it is considered improper for a girl in Riyaad to do so. Based on a film, the book weaves elements of Saudi culture into Wadjda’s story.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. (M/H).
- A Pakistani girl’s dreams of an education dissolve when she is forced into indentured servitude. As Amal narrates her own story, readers will encounter her passion for learning, love for family, and despair at her circumstance. Inspired by the experiences of girls such as Malala Yousafzai this book is a celebration of a girl’s resistance and of justice.
A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi. Philomel, 2018. (H)
- This heartbreaking story of the Syrian refugee crisis begins with Mr. Rogers’ mother’s admonition to “look for the helpers” in bad times, is narrated by Destiny and sounds like a parable. It is, however, the story of a very real humanitarian crisis that moves readers from Syria to Istanbul to a boat full of refugees seeking safety on Greek soil.
NORTH AMERICA (Canada & Mexico as well as U.S. Indigenous, immigrant & refugee stories)
Dia de los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong. Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros. Albert Whitman & Company, 2016. (P/I).
- Rhyming picture book that describes Dia de los Muertos traditions for honoring the dead. Includes Spanish words for readers to learn in context.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams Books for Young People, 2016. (I)
- The life of Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Illustrations blend Posada’s original works with the author’s. Posada is best known for his Calaveras (skeletons) that have become synonymous with Dia de los Muertos fiestas.
Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People by S.D. Nelson. Abrams Books for Young People, 2016. (I/M).
- Powerful story of the Lakota Warrior, Sitting Bull told in first person. Primary sources add evidence for the perspectives in the book. Timeline.
Under the Mambo Moon by Julia Durango. Illustrted by Fabricio VandenBroeck. Charlesbridge, 2011. (I/M).
- On the summer nights when Marisol helps Papi at the music store she meets people who share their stories from their home countries and the music that marked their lives. Illustrations and poetry capture the joy and variety of Latin music and culture. Includes a map and author’s note. Good read aloud!
Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Greenwillow, 2017. (I/M).
- 2017 Newberry Award. Told in alternating perspectives (including one villain), this story of friendship and heroism finds Chet, a Filipino American, trapped in a well. An unlikely trio of friends findis well worth reading.
If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Larouche. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. (P/I)
- Beautifully illustrated tour of world architecture invites readers to “step into homes from around the world and discover the many fascinating ways people have lived and still live today.”