Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Year Abroad

Recently I learned that one of the families at my school is planning to take a year off and travel the world, following a parent whose job requires such global travel. They requested some books that might help them get a feel of the countries that they are visiting.
It has not been easy for me to narrow down my list. At the same time, I am sure that I am missing some great books.
For this list, I have left out two big sections. One is the many books that exist that offer facts about a country. Of course, any traveller will seek out these books and they abound. I would suggest finding such books before arriving at the destination and then looking for something published locally to complete the view. It may prove very interesting to see differences in perceptions of what is important to convey about a country and its culture.
Another good way to get to know a country is to look for folk tales from the culture. There is a reason that Melvil Dewey put folk tails in the social studies area of his organizational system. Such books abound, making it difficult to make specific suggestions. Take a look at any good library or bookstore for more ideas than you ever imagined could exist. Again, I would also look at my destination for books that might provide new perspectives.
In fact, finding local books is a good idea for all categories of books. My travels have taught me, however, that it is not an easy task when one is staying for a short time. One needs to get to know where to look. The bookstores aimed at tourists will be likely to have copies of books that originate in the United States or England and that you may well have read in your own backyard.
With all that said, here are some ideas for reading about some of the countries of the world. My comments about each title are brief so that at least a few people will struggle to the end of this very long post.
Books about multiple destinations
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz
is a picture book based on the author's memories of growing up and gazing at maps to help understand family history.
If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith is a book for all ages as it looks at the numbers of people of different languages, religions, economic status and more by imagining a village of 100 persons that would represent the statistics in an easier to grasp format.
My School in the Rain Forest: How Children Attend School Around the World and My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs offer lots of photographs and information about schools and libraries in unique settings.
You and Me Together: Moms , Dads, and Kids Around the World and A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley tell about life and love and peace with beautiful photographs from around the world.
Little Treasures: Endearments From Around the World by Jacqueline K. Ogburn is simply a charmingly illustrated list of what parents call their children in different corners of the world.
Around the World: Three Remarkable Journeys by Matt. Phelan presents the stories of three noteworthy world travellers--Thomas Stevens who was the first to ride a bicycle around the world, Joshua Slocum who sailed alone in 1884, and the famous Nellie Bly--in graphic format that will be best appreciated by students in grades five and up.
To see how folk tales change while staying the same try Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman.
Refugee Boy by Zephaniah Benjamin
focuses on the fighting in this region by looking at a boy trying to survive as a refugee in England. This is a difficult topic for mature middle school students and older
Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem is another book that looks at the live of young people in a troubled country, this time through the eyes of the ambassador's daughter.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeannette Winter
and Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Clare A. Nivola both look at the life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner who encouraged the women of Kenya to begin planting trees. Both are presented in a picture book format that will be appreciated by all ages.
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy is the true story of a Kenya man who convinces his village to send a cow to the United States after September 11, 2001. It is another picture book for all ages.
Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savannah by Joseph Leasolai Lekeuton is a memoir for grades five and up that tells of one young man's life in modern day Kenya.
Hippos in the Night by Christina Allen will appeal to students in fourth grade up who want to read about wild animal adventures.
Forest of the Pygmies by Isabel Allende is part of a series of adventures that Allende has written taking the protagonist to interesting and remote parts of the world. This is the second in the series. The first, City of the Beast, is set in the Amazon basin. The books will appeal to grades 5 to 8.
Akimbo and the Elephants (and others in the series) by Alexander McCall-Smith may not technically take place in Kenya but it is the National Parks of the African savanna that is location for these simple (grades 2-4) novels about a boy helping his father solve mysteries and save animals.
South Africa
Zulu Dog by Anton Ferreira
(grades 5-8) and Journey to Jo’burg by Beverly Naidoo (grades 3-6) look at relationships between the races in South Africa.
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me by Maya Angelou is a bright, happy picture book with photos about a child living happily in South Africa.
A Long walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
is a beautiful little book that tells the story of the Lost Boys and the horrors that one in particular suffered as he made his way to the United States and couples it with the story of how this young man today builds provides wells and clean water to villages in Sudan today. This will be appreciated by upper elementary students.
A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer
is filled with adventure and mystical realism as it tells the story of a young girl who runs away via the river to escape marriage to a much older man. It is beautifully written and will be enjoyed students in grades five and up.
Gugu’s House by Catherine Stock is a lovely picture book that offers a glimpse into life in a small village as seen through the eyes of a granddaughter.
Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan
is a non-fiction book that records the voices of young people surviving the fighting in their homeland. I suggest it for students in grades five and up.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter is a picture book format non-fiction look at a young woman who is sent to a school for young women under the strict Taliban rule.
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (Young Reader’s edition) There is little new to say about this true story of one man's work to bring schools to remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, except that many people feel this young reader's edition for grades five and up is a more enjoyable read than the adult version. There is also a picture book edition Look to the Wind which has lovely illustrations but loses much because of the simplification for the youngest audiences.
The Breadwinner, Parvana's Journey, and Mud City by Deboarh Ellis are a trilogy of books that are well loved by girls in the middle grades the looks at the very difficult life of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Elephant Run by Roland Smith
is set during World War II when young Nick is sent from London to an elephant camp in Burma, in hopes that life will be safer there. However, the Japanese soon invade and Nick's father is taken prisoner. It has all the action and excitement that young boys in the middle grades enjoy.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
is a magical story of a young girl's trip to find the Old Man of the Moon and help change her family's fortunes. Dragons, mythical creatures of all sorts, and an array of intriguing characters people this beautifully illustrated, Newbery Honor book for everyone who is comfortable reading mid-length chapter books.
The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young is an interesting memoir by a beloved storyteller and artist. It looks at good times and bad for Young's once wealthy family. All ages will enjoy the illustrations but it takes a mature reader to understand all the nuances of the story. Take a look at Young's Beyond the Great Mountains: A Visual Poem about China for another look at the country he so clearly loves.
Tai Chi Morning by Niki Grimes is a memoir of time spent in China with writing as lyrical as you would expect from this much acclaimed poet. The word pictures of China will appeal to those in grades six and up.
Liu and the Bird: A Journey in Chinese Calligraphy by Catherine Louis is one of many book available that look at how Chinese characters look like the things they represent. The picture book format makes it accessible to young and old.
Monsoon Afternoon
by Kashmira Seth and Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami are both picture books that give a feel of how much the arrival of the monsoon is appreciated after a long, hot, dry spell.
The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a mystical, magical tale that also captures the feel of life in India before the protagonist sets off to conquer dragons. Also consider the sequels, Mirror of Fire and Dreaming and Shadowland for students in grades four and up who like fantasy and adventure.
Going to School in India by Lisa Heydlauff uses vignettes to tell about school children across India. Students in grades four and up will find interesting nuggets of information and lots of eye-catching pictures here.
Allan Say
has a wide array of picture books such as Kamishibai Man, Grandfather's Journey, and Tree of Cranes that offer insight into life in Japan and as a Japanese immigrant to the United States. Now he offers older readers a beautifully illustrated memoir of growing up in Japan and finding his talent for art and a mentor to guide him in the memoir Drawing from Memory.
Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner (a picture book for grades one to three) and Hachiko Waits by Leslea Newman (a short chapter book for grades three to six) both tell the story of a faithful dog who waited for years at the train station for his master who has died to return. Eventually a statue that still stands was erected in Hachiko's memory.
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Freidman and The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima are two picture books that will appeal to those in third grade or younger. Both talk about life in Japan in a simple and enjoyable way. The first is a story of the author's parents who meet in Japan when her father, an American soldier, is stationed there after the war. The second is a compilation of information presented in a light and cheery manner, rather than a plot driven story.
New Clothes for New Year’s Day by Hyun-Joo Bae
uses few words and beautiful illustrations to describe the clothing and activities of a typical New Year's day for a little girl in Korea.
The Year of Impossible Good-Byes and Echoes of the White Giraffe by Sook Nyul Choi are two novels about Sookan, a young Korea girl who flees the cruelties of the Japanese who occupy her homeland in 1945 and then the family's difficulties settling in as refugees in South Korea. These are intense, first person tales that will be appreciated by readers in grades five to eight.
When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park is another tale of Korea under Japanese occupation. It is based on the experiences of the author's family and told in the voices of a sister and brother. This is a book for students in grades five to eight.
The Unforgotten Coat
by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a surprisingly moving book which also has plenty of humor and social issues. When two Mongolian boys show up in Julie's school in England, no one is quite sure what to make of them. One of the boys appoints Julie as their guide and she strives to understand Mongolia and the interesting customs of the boys without losing face with her classmates. Students in grades three and up will find this to be an interesting story that gives them a feel for Mongolia as well as the difficulties of immigration.
Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo
is fiction for grades four to seven that is based on the real Iqbal Masih who spoke out against the treatment of children working in the carpet making factories.
Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsan Khan features a young girl in rural Pakistan who is in frightened of the chickens in her courtyard until she defends her grandmother from what she assumes is a snake. This is a nice picture book about courage and believing in yourself wherever you may live.
The Umbrella Queen by Shirin Bridges is a picture book (kindergarten through third grade) set in a village somewhere in the mountains of Thailand where the women are known for the beautiful umbrellas they decorate with flowers and butterflies. Noot is thrilled to finally be old enough to decorate umbrellas but she is soon bored with the traditional paintings. How can she win the title of Umbrella Queen if she won't follow the rules.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
is one of the most beautifully written books I have found this past year. In free verse, it recounts life in Vietnam for ten year old HA, the family's evacuation from Saigon as the city falls, and the difficulties they all face settling in to life in Alabama. People in grade five and up are promised a moving, sometimes humorous, story in this lovingly written book.
The Hermit and the Well by Thich Nhat Hanh is a beautifully written account of an event that happened to Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh when he was a young boy in war torn Vietnam. The picture book format makes this book accessible to all ages.
My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood by Rosemary Wells and Secundino Fernandez
offers just what the title states to readers in grades three and up. It is a well and lovingly told story.
Dominican Republic
Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez
is a semi-autobiographical novel that looks at the difficulties for children whose parents suddenly fell out of favor with regime changes and the family must flee the country that they love. Readers in grades six to nine will find much to keep them reading this slim novel.
Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian
is an often gruesome story of a young Armenian living in Turkey in 1915 who watches his family destroyed before his eyes. This young adult book carries a strong message and is not for the faint of heart.
Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis
is a beautifully and intricately illustrated account of growing up under Communism as bits of culture occasionally slip under the wall. Sis is one of the most inventive illustrators alive today. This book can keep the attention of a third grader while providing insights and information for much older readers.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
is a great story that also gives readers in grades five to eight a feel of life in modern England. It is told through the eyes of an autistic boy who solves the mystery of his cousin's disappearance on the huge Ferris Wheel known as the London Eye.
A Dog For Life by L. S. Matthews is a touching and often humorous tale of John Hawkins who travels across England with his dog to help save his very ill brother Tom. Along the way they meet a variety of interesting characters. This story for grades four to six is filled with adventure, magic, and meaning.
This is Paris by M. Sasek
is an oversize picture book that was originally published in 1959 by this illustrator who was trained as an architect. It is a lovely introduction to the City of Light. Look also for Sasek's This is Paris and This is Rome.
Chloe’s Birthday…And Me and The Year I Didn’t Go to School by Giselle Potter are delightful picture books for kindergarten through third grade that are semi-autobiographical looks at the time Potter and her family spent living and traveling around Europe, specifically France in the first title and Italy in the second.
War Games: A Novel Based on a True Story
by Audrey Couloumbis and Akila Couloumbis is based on Akila Couloumbis' experiences as a boy living in Greece during World War II. Petros and his older brother Zola are busy enjoying childhood until the Germans invade and suddenly nothing is normal, especially when the boys discover that their cousin is a member of the resistance. Readers in grades five to eight will be pulled into this story of games that become all too real.
Russia and Lithuanian
Between shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
is a beautifully written tale of a Lithuanian family that is carted off to Siberia. Lina, the narrator, uses her art to calm her nerves and to communicate with the outside world.
Silent Music—A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford
is a beautiful illustrated story of a boy named Ali who drowns out some of the sounds and fears of war by creating beautiful caligraphy. This picture book will appeal to all ages.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter (picture book format for grades two to five) and Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty (graphic format for grades five and up) both tell of the librarian who saved the Basra library from the bombs of war.
Israel and Palestine
Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis
is a collection of interviews with children ages 8 to 18 who discuss their hopes and dreams about a wide range of topics beyond the conflict which affects their daily life. Readers the ages of the interviewees appreciate this book.
Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat is a memoir of living through the Six Day War in 1967 that will be enjoyed by readers in grades seven and up.
When the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah follows the journeys and risks that a young Palestinian girl takes to save her family. It will appeal to middle school readers. Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye tells a very realistic (and perhaps autobiographical) story of a young girl whose father moves the protagonist, a young girl, and her family from St. Louis to Jerusalem to be near their Palestinian grandmother. It is a touching story of the difficulties of settling into a new culture that will be enjoyed by readers in grades five to nine.
Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye is a lovely picture book that tells of a young girl meeting her grandmother for the first time and learning, despite the differences of language, to appreciate her grandmother's dreams.
Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi was originally published in Hebrew. It begins when Samir, a young Palestinian boy, injures himself in a bicycle accident and ends up in a Jewish hospital. He learns about the Jewish children in the hospital, especially Yonatan who befriends him, and gradually tells them his story as well. This is a moving book for middle school readers.
How to Scratch a Wombat: Where to Find it, What to Feed It and Why It Sleeps All Day by Jackie French
is the non-fiction book for grades three and up that beautifully compliments French's very fun picture book, Diary of a Wombat. Both books made me want to go out and find a wombat to share my life.
New Zealand
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery with photos by Nic Bishop
is filled with amazing photographs and fascinating narrative as it tells the story of scientists who are working to save these adorable and quirky birds that live on a small island off the coast of New Zealand.
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera comes in an illustrated version that will appeal to people who have never seen the movie and those who have. Alas, I don't know if it is available outside of New Zealand, but mentioning this children's book gives me the opportunity to encourage adults to read Ihimaera's adult novel whenever you can find them. He is a master storyteller.
Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee is a fantastical journey under the dead volcanoes of Aukland. The story is filled with creepy creatures and mystical meanderings that will be enjoyed by ages eight to eleven. Gee has several more novels about New Zealand that are also worth reading.
Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeannette Winter
is a lovely little picture book that tells the true story of a man who takes books to remote villages in Colombia. Follow this link to see a video of Luis Soriano at work. Kindergarten students will enjoy this book, as will others of all ages.
Amazon River Basin
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson is set in 1910 and tells the story of an English orphan sent to live with a distant relative who owns a rubber planation along the banks of the Amazon river. Maia does not know what to expect but soon finds more adventure than she ever could have imagined as she avoids her strange cousins and gets to know the indigenous people of the area. This is an action packed story for readers in grades four and up.

Please feel free to leave me comments and suggestions for other good reading for world travellers.