It is important and enormously enriching for children to read books that encompass diverse cultures, places and languages from the wider world outside of them. And it is never too early to start this habit. But sometimes finding these types of books for very young children can be challenging. Reading early literacy books and other simple stories that are also culturally flavorful is the best approach. So, here is a fantastic assortment of books that stretch the borders and take your little ones, and your really little ones, to faraway Australia, Vietnam, India, Armenia and a whole bunch of other fascinating countries and cultures!
Kangaroos Hop Kangaroos Hop by Ros Moriarty& Illustrated by Balarinji
In this book we travel to Australian landscapes filled with kangaroos, echidnas, lizards and goannas! A cumulative tale with repetitive lines makes it fun and interesting for small children. But what makes the book very special is the accompanying artwork. The art comes from the Balarinji studio—Australia’s leading indigenous art and design group.The author who is also the director of the studio is passionately involved with projects that support Australia’s indigenous people. The Aboriginal art in the book is vibrant and bold with distinctly styled patterns and designs throughout.
A translation in Yanyuwa language (spoken by Aboriginal families in Australia) completes the book. Ultimately, this book is so much more than a children’s book on animals. Ten Scared Fish, also delivered by the Balarinji studio, is a counting concept book similar in style and content.
1,2,3 Vietnam!: A creative Vietnam-themed picture book for young children (Volume 2)‘ 1, 2, 3 Vietnam!’ and ‘Vietnam A to Z: Discover the colorful culture of Vietnam! Vietnam A to Z’ by Elka Ray
I love concept books that are culturally informative; they offer much more than what mainstream concept books give us. They are also wonderful resources to celebrate diversity and open up the world to children early on.As the titles above indicate these are Vietnam–themed early childhood concept books. Author and Illustrator Elka Ray is based in Ho Chi Minh, and her stories are often set in Vietnam. In these books children are exposed to the landscapes, foods, everyday things and traditions of Vietnam. Simple ‘color-pencil’ drawings visually aid and explain words and practices. Translations in Vietnamese appear alongside on every page making it a great way to introduce or use the language.
Ranganna by Arthi Anand Navaneeth& Illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale
Ranganna, a small blue elephant who loves color wishes to have his toe nails painted. And each a different color! With help from two little girls his wish is fulfilled. The setting in India, where Ranganna lives, turns out to be the prefect canvas for strikingly colorful artwork in this book. The spreads showing Ranganna wandering near a busy temple and along the river bed filled with trees and sun-drying saris explode with color and charm. Ranganna is a simple tale for fun and flavor!
The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale The Greedy Sparrow by Lucine Kasbarian & Illustrated by Maria Zaikina
Great for read-alouds, this fable that was passed down in the author’s Armenian family is about a trickster sparrow who wants it all but eventually loses everything. With references to several Armenian places and details, Kasbarian’s love for ethnic traditions and lifelong involvement in the Armenian-American community comes through. Outlined in thick black lines, Zaikina’s illustrations are refreshing. Her extensive research of the culture is transparent in her work, particularly in the Armenian wedding scene. Featuring a baker, shepherd, bride, a minstrel and more, young children will be left with a lesson to learn and a quick-paced tale to love.
I See the Sun in…. Book Series by Dedie King& Illustrated by Judith Inglese
While most books in this set are ideal for a younger audience, all of them are great even for older kids. Every story starts off with a child waking up to the morning sun in a faraway country. We follow the routine of the child through the day and until dusk sets in. Children can easily relate to the similarities and at the same time recognize the disparities in many lifestyle details. Real lives inreal places provide an amazing (virtual) travel and learning experience crossing cultural and geographical boundaries.
Personally, I was introduced to many new words in different languages and names of places in diverse countries. I even liked the choice of countries—Nepal, Afghanistan, Russia, China and Mexico! The authenticity in the details clearly comes from the author’s enriched world travels and cultural immersions. With bilingual text to add value, brilliant collage art (in a combination of drawings and photographs) to bring the stories to life, and a useful glossary at the end, the “I See the Sun” series of books can be a fantastic addition to any library, classroom or book shelf.
Disclosure: We received free copies of the books but the choice to write the review was all ours.