If you have not been including multicultural books in your reading diet, this is a great beginner’s guide that will last you for the year. The books cover many important and diverse themes like tradition, travel, history, holiday, migration, art and culture. This is a fantastic potpourri of books for children aged three through 12 growing up to be global citizens of tomorrow!
Disclaimer: The following books in this article were sent to us as review copies but the decision to review them was all ours: Baba Didi and the Godwits Fly, A is for Activist, Tari—The Little Balinese Dancer, Irena’s Jars of Secrets
1. January Means New Year
This book won the prestigious Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award in 2009.
A holiday is always special. And when a loved one visits to celebrate, it becomes extra-special! A beautiful father-daughter reunion in this book also leaves us ruminating on the difficulties that families face, around the world and particularly in China, when a parent takes up a job far from home. With the special reunion in the backdrop, this well-written story introduces us to the traditions of Chinese New Year. What can be more beautiful than welcoming the new year with a touch of festivities from another culture! Happy New Year!
2. February is Black History Month
The author, Jacqueline Woodson, shares her birthday with Abraham Lincoln in February.
Annie and Clover are of different skin colors and on either side of a fence, longing to get together one summer. The girls know they shouldn’t. But one day, they gather the courage to get up on the fence and sit side by side. Soon, a friendship is born, one that breaks and transcends “fences” in segregated America.
“Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down,” Annie said.
And I nodded.
“Yeah,” I said. “Someday.”
Woodson’s book takes us back in time to celebrate history, great men and freedom.
3. March is for Migration as Spring is for New Beginnings
The godwit, a modest looking bird, is a true global citizen. It calls several countries—New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, Russia, United States—its home during its flight from spring to spring!
Suited for older children, this book teaches resilience—the “keep-goingness” that people who endure hardships have in them, when they have to pick themselves up and move on without giving up. Drawing a parallel with the incredible journey of a little brown godwit that flies over oceans and seas tirelessly, Baba Didi shares with her granddaughter the story of her emigration from Croatia to New Zealand in search of a new life. With an empowering narrative that instigates courage and hope, this book comes out with the truth that most often life’s far from a fantastical tale.
4. April is for Earth Day
The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.
A spirited little girl steps outside with a sack of seeds to green up the world! With her dog and a watering can in tow, and all creatures big and small in her lovely garden, she plants and later awaits. Short and sweet verses with lilt and rhyme celebrate the bounty of our beautiful planet for small children, with support from an explosion of detail and color on every other page. Happy Earth Day!
5. May Day
May Day is a spring festival in many cultures as well as International Workers’ Day is several countries.
If you think there is no real age to start talking to your children about humanist values (or ABCs!), then this book is your companion. The vocabulary might challenge kids but the alliterative and rhyming text will keep them interested. There’s even a little game of cat-hide-and-seek along the way to help little minds “digest” the content. Take it slow, make it fun and we have a meaningful, truly progressive and a delightful alphabet book great for older children and some smaller ones too.
Hip, hip, hooray!
It Must be May Day!
6. June Brings a Journey
Robert Ingpen is the only Australian to have received the prestigious Hans Christian Anderson award for children’s illustrations.
Ziba is reminiscing on an old fishing boat cuddled up with her mother. As the boat tosses against strong winds and rough waters, she thinks about all that she has left behind back home—mountains and cattle, laughter and mirth. Even the smell of spices. But she has also left behind war and fear. And right now she is hopeful of finding a new home and new friends with welcoming smiles.
This book is based on real stories shared by refugees from Afghanistan. And what’s beautiful is that it’s subtle and optimistic, making it a compelling read for children ready to take on such themes.
7. July is Time for a Tropical Vacation!
Legong is a dance form that enacts traditional stories and is danced by young girls. Balinese and Indonesian are the two most popular languages in Bali.
Through a little girl, Tari, children take a peek into a great culture on a beautiful island. As we see Tari go about her routine visiting her school, dance class, temples and paddy fields, we are exposed to fascinating details and facets of the Balinese culture. Embedded in this journey, is a charming tale of how Tari processes her beloved grandmother’s death and eventually inherits her passion for the classical dance, Legong.
8. August is for Memories, Peace and Freedom
Irena Sendler was nursed by Elzbieta, (who was one of the babies she had rescued) before she died on May 12, 2008 at the age of ninety-eight in Warsaw, Poland.
Irena was raised to help people no matter their religion or race. As a social worker, she helped children and adults—Jewish prisoners of Nazi power in a Warsaw ghetto. She smuggled children out of ghettos and sent them away with non-Jewish families so they had a chance to live on, risking her own life several times. But why was she burying jars under a tree? What was she filling them with?
With an informative afterword, a helpful glossary and easily understandable language all through, this book based on Irena Sendler’s real life events, serves up an important slice of history for children ready for a true story of compassion and survival.
9. September is Back to School (in Chad)!
James Rumford who has studied more than a dozen languages, has lived in Africa, America, Afghanistan and Arabia. He now lives in Hawaii.
…but there are no classrooms. There are no desks. It doesn’t matter. There is a teacher. “We will build our school,” she says. “This is the first lesson.”
Little Thomas and his classmates make mud bricks, build mud walls and mud desks, and learn to put up a grass roof. They even get a chalkboard and their stationery. Their enthusiastic teacher later teaches them the alphabet and more. Soon, the year ends and school is over. The children run back home in the rain…. leaving behind their mud walls and desks to melt back to the earth! But September will come and there’ll be no classrooms.
It doesn’t matter. The letters have been learned and the knowledge taken away…
10. October is for Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
The Mid-Autumn Harvest festival, an important holiday tradition in Vietnam and Taiwan, among other countries, has different names in different countries—Mooncake Festival, Children’s Festival and Chinese Thanksgiving to name a few!
A night-time picnic? How fun! It’s definitely possible with a beaming full moon and several glowing lanterns around. And its easier to get comfortable and settle down with warm cups of tea and soft moon cakes. This festival, although originally a harvest celebration, brings families together in Asian cultures to thank the moon for a good year . Great for a younger audience, Grace Lin’s writing and pictures let children in on an important Asian celebration.
11. N is for November and N is for Native
The Ojibway people call themselves “Anishinabe” in their own language, which means ‘original person’.
This book is a visual treat from an artist of Ojibway ancestry (of the First Nations of North America). Using a unique technique which involves treating paper to look like leather, the illustrations are “leather shirts” depicting pictures in various designs, patterns and colors borrowed from museum visits, books and his own people. These spreads along with minimal text exude accord and tranquility, characteristic of the lives of the Natives. The book is also a beautiful celebration of the landscapes and horses of the prairies of North America.
12. December is Christmas, Mexican Style!
Eve Bunting, who was born in Ireland and later migrated to the U.S., has authored around 250 books addressing many diverse themes including racism, death and war.
Eve Bunting’s book authentically captures the bittersweet experiences in an immigrant’s life. We follow a family as they take a road trip and travel through the streets and towns of Mexico until they reach their hometown of La Perla for Christmas.
What seems like a very liberating and nostalgic time for Papa and Mama in their parents’ home, away from the rigor of their farm lives in California, also becomes a strange learning experience for their children who try to make sense of where they truly belong. And all of this is wrapped up in the spirit and festivities of a beautiful Christmas in Mexico!
13. Thank You, World!
The perfect book (and a bedtime one at that) to celebrate our human race and the world, round the year!
Children from eight countries—Mali, USA, France, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Bolivia—portray how similar our lives are, even amidst the differences in where we live, how we look and what we do.
Irrespective of the diversity, we are all grateful for rain and sunshine, for kites and swings that go up in the air everywhere, and for trees, birds and flowers! As nighttime falls, children around the world go to bed and dream on.