Traveling with young kids isn’t always a possibility but exposing your children to the world through books is simple. These 27 books can turn your living room into Africa, Asia or New York City! Kids can learn about differences and similarities with children an ocean away while snuggled in their bed. These multicultural books let your kids see into other children’s lives and imagine themselves in that shoes. Take time to read and talk about these books, research the countries further, try some new foods, just keep the learning going. Check out some crafts from around the world here too! Do you have a favorite book about another country or culture? Add it in comments, so we can keep this list growing.
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Madeline in London by Ludwig Bemelmans. Madeline takes her fearlessness to London in this follow-up to the classic Madeline story. Like the original, the text is a rhyming masterpiece, and I love that this story includes real London sights in its illustrations, such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square. Do be forewarned that there is a little reference to making glue out of dead horses after a horse in the story is believed to be dead. Not to worry though the horse is not dead after all and the glue reference should sail right over kids heads. After reading this to my Pre-K class, we got down a globe and found where Paris and London were. For weeks two little girls played airplane, and their destination was always London. A single book can really open doors!
My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone is a book I got to know very well when writing lessons for Itty Bitty Bookworm preschool curriculum using it. This a really fantastic book that is filled with language arts, geography and math lessons. Granny is a traveler, and everywhere she goes she picks up a number of souvenirs. Not only are a number of countries like Switzerland, Mexico and Peru visited, but the souvenirs she buys relate to the country’s culture and offer even more learning opportunities for interested kids. The rhyming text will enchant even the youngest world traveler, this is a must for any jet-setting family!
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting is a treat. Sometimes learning about the world means learning about people next door to us. The book is not about apples really at all. Instead, it’s about Farrah, a little Muslim girl who has come to the United States from an unnamed country and her first day at school. The day is spent on a field trip to an orchard, where the children pick apples and make apple cider. I immediately related to this as my first day of work at a school in my new country was trying, although I could speak the language unlike Farrah it was still daunting to be new in unfamiliar territory. The melting pot analogy is turned into an apple cider one as all the children throw their apples in and work together to press it into cider, even Farrah helps.
D is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet by Carol Crane is a valuable book when teaching about China and Chinese New Year, it is more than a simple alphabet book, going into detail about lanterns, chopsticks, panda bears and so much more. What I love about these books is that younger children can be shown the pictures and given an easy to digest synopsis of the text, while older children can read the whole book. The illustrations by Zong-Zhou Wang will make the most reluctant traveler want to get on a plane to China, they are simply spectacular!
Learn the Alphabet with NorthWest Coast Native Art by Ryan Cranmer (and others) was an amazing gas station find. Yes, I said gas station. I ran in for some diet coke and came out with an alphabet book! This book is amazing, bright beautiful and even though I bought it for my daughter since it’s bright colors and sturdy pages are perfect for a baby, my almost four-year-old son adores it. What I love is when he reads it to her. The Native art is gorgeous, and if you are unfamiliar with North West coast art, you are in for a treat.
Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley is a fantastic book! The book follows a sister who is looking for her brother in their San Francisco neighborhood. As she goes from door to door, each neighbor invites her in to eat some of their suppers. Everybody is having some kind of rice dish even though they are all from different countries. My six year old enjoyed this book and understood the message well, my three-year-old sat through it no problem too. There are so many future lessons about geography, nutrition, and travel packed in this one little book! Awesome find.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. I had the absolute pleasure of writing a unit of study for Itty Bitty Bookworm using this book as the base. I often feel sick of the books we use for curriculum after reading it thousands of times, brainstorming lessons and activities. Not this book, every time I read it I get goosebumps. The book is simple and talks about the differences of little children all over the world, but focuses on what they all have in common. Children of various cultures are shown, smiling, laughing, crying and the reader can see that even if the clothes, or houses or food are different the insides are the same. I always choke up reading this book because it’s so beautiful and a great reminder for all of us that while we so often focus on what we see as different most of what we have is in common.
All the Colors of the Earth by Shelia Hamanaka is a simple book that makes a great point. Children come in all colors. The text is very brief but very descriptive comparing children’s coloring to caramel, golden wheat and more. My just three years old loved this book, and it matched her recent discovery that people do come in all colors and that is something to celebrate.
A South African Night by Rachel Isadora was loved by both my children but for different reasons. The book is very simple and great for kids 4 and under although my six year old was interested because my husband and I have traveled to South Africa and visited the places in the book. The book shows glimpses of the urban South Africa as well as the rural Kruger National Park where many of the great species of wildlife roam. I think many children see Africa as only the rural wildlife filled half of the equation and didn’t think of the urban half. This book shows both sides for a more complete, although still simplistic, picture.
Everybody Bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman was such a find! I adore Paris, so my review of this book may be slightly biased. I love it. I love the simplicity of a little girl going to Paris and saying as well as hearing “Bonjour” everywhere she goes. She stops at many of the major tourist’s attractions and at the end of the story there is a short guide for the sights she sees with her family. Also, it should be noted that there are many pages that contain opposites on them, so children will enjoy being able to anticipate the story. I love the illustrations by Sarah McMenemy they give a retro feel to a very cute book. My son really liked it especially since he was just learning “Bonjour” the other day and happily helped me say it with each turn of the page.
Colors by Julia Pimsleur Levine is a dynamic lift the flap book in three different languages. What I think is so powerful about this book is that because it has three languages, it exposes children naturally to the concept that there are many cultures and languages, not just the one or two they may hear around their city or neighborhood. My three-year-old loves the Little Pim Panda and the flaps and tabs kept her interested and engaged while reading the book. Please note I do have a working relationship with Little Pim but was not asked or paid to include this book in the roundup. Like all the rest of these books, we took it out from the library!
Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan is a calm, gentle story that follows a day in the life of a little baby and his mama in Tanzania. The illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon are stunning, and I love that it takes readers through a typical day for this little family. My daughter loves babies, and this is a great book to talk about the little differences and big similarities between what she did as a baby and what this baby does.
Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani is a simple yet rich story about a little girl and her desire to dress in her mama’s clothes. I think I would be hard pressed to find a woman who doesn’t remember watching in awe as her mom got dressed for a special event and wanting to dress just like mama. The narrator is Hindu, and her mama wears a sari for special occasions, and she is stubbornly trying to get her mom to let her wear one for her 7th birthday. The illustrations are beautiful, especially the jewel tones of the various saris. This book would be a great one to read before playing dress up, or other pretend play. The story is touching, and although it’s too long for toddlers, it’s a great book for preschoolers!
There’s a Dolphin in the Grand Canal by John Bemelmans Marciano is a silly book that enchanted me. It’s all about a little boy stuck helping out in his families cafe in Venice wishing he was somewhere more exciting than Venice. Then something very exciting happens but no one believes him! What I love so much about this book is that it gets to the heart of why people travel, to see things that they have never seen before. If you live in Venice St.Marks Square and The Rialto Bridge are ho-hum but if you are from Winnipeg they rock! I also love that there are tourists in this book using all different languages that are explained in an appendix at the back of the book. Very cool find!
The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff. Learning about the world around you can mean an ocean away or right next door. This is a cute book about a little girl named Jennifer who is the only one in her class who celebrates Hanukkah. Soon she finds out that there are lots of “Only Ones” in her class, like the only one with red hair, the only one who wears dresses every day and the only one with a unique last name. I like the message this book has, that we should celebrate our diversity and tell our kids it’s not a bad thing to be unique.
Kokeshi: Yumi by Annelore Parot is overwhelmingly cute. The book is all about a little wooden doll ( Kokeshi ) named Yumi from Japan. Readers follow along with Yumi as she gets ready and goes to a costume party. The book has many dynamic elements in it that will delight your kids. I would not read it with an exuberant toddler though because it’s not a board book and with so many different kinds of lifts, folds and flaps it’s bound to get ripped. The illustrations are amazing, and the facts about Japanese culture like kimonos, sushi, and fish kites are woven perfectly into the cute story.
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes is a cute adaptation of the Indian legend of how Ganesha came to write the epic Mahabharata. Kids will love this book without ever knowing the historical significance of the original story. My daughter absolutely adored this book because it has two of her favorite things an Elephant ( at least she thought Ganesha was one ) and candy! Ganesha breaks his trunk on a jawbreaker in this story and while having a bit of a tantrum is asked to use his broken tusk to scribe an amazing epic … he agrees as long as he can eat candy while he does it. The story is cute, but the illustrations by Sanjay Patel are bright completely suck kids in, it’s no shock that his day job is as an animator for Pixar.
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman cost me a total of 15 cents at a thrift store. It is worth so much more than that. This book is a gem! Perfect for older preschoolers who are getting a sense of the world beyond their own home and city, this book takes you on a ride around the world! You follow the little girl to Italy, France, Sri Lanka, England, Jamaica and back to Vermont! As soon as I read this, my mind was racing with classroom activities ! I will be posting some soon. I LOVE this book; I just wish I had read it when I was still teaching it would have been so much fun to teach geography with!
The Falling Flowers by Jennifer B. Reed .The story is very sweet; it’s about a grandmother taking her young granddaughter on a surprise outing in Tokyo. It turns out that she is taking her to see the cherry trees in full bloom just as her grandmother had done with her. It’s a nice look at the softer side of Tokyo, a city I know I always imagine as only steel, cement, and neon lights!
D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet by Nancy I. Sanders is the type of book that will fit your family for many years as it can be read and multiple levels. This book will teach children of many ages about African American history; the letters are really just a great organizational tool. I love this structure of book because of younger children you can simply go page by page letter by letter simply identifying the illustrations, but older children can read the poem on each page or even the in-depth text on each page. This book would be a perfect tool for a great history lesson connecting political and social history with contemporary issues the African American community still faces today.
Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger is a book that makes me crave dumplings something fierce but my daughter seems to like the rhymes and pink and red colors throughout. The book explains in a zippy text all about Dim Sum. It’s a board book targeted to babies it’s really useful to use to teach children about foods they may be unfamiliar with. There is even a little appendix with Chinese words for all the items mentioned in the book like tea, rice, and tarts.
Somewhere in the World Right Now by Stacey Schuett is brilliant. This book very simply illustrates that while we sleep others in far away places are getting up to eat, heading off to work, and going to school. As the reader turns the pages, different locations around the globe are displayed with simple every day events. I love that the text doesn’t tell you where each place is even though the illustrations usually give it away with pictures or sometimes words. Kids will love noting similarities and differences. Be prepared to tell your kids what time it is all over the globe after reading this book.
It’s A Small World by Richard M Sherman, and Robert B. Sherman is a bright and colorful book that you won’t read, you will sing. It’s the familiar tune from the favorite Disneyland ride It’s A Small World. The illustrations by Joey Chou bring it to life! The children from all over the globe look similar to the dolls in the ride but bring their fresh spin on it too. My three-year-old adored the ride when we were in Disneyland in January and enjoyed this book too. There are so many details to talk about in the illustrations that I found I didn’t really read it so much as turn each page and discuss.
Elizabeti’s School by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen is a wonderful book for elementary aged kids. The story is about a little girl in Africa who is excited about getting ready to go to school for the first time. What I adore about this book is that it teaches children that school may be seen as a burden to children in wealthy nations it’s a privilege to many in poorer places. Children are lucky to get a chance to go to school and without being preachy at all this book gets that message through to readers. The another thing that it gets through so beautifully is that while school systems are obviously different that family life and people are not all that different even on a far away continent. Both my son and I liked this book.
M Is For Maple: A Canadian Alphabet by Mike Ulmer. This book will make you feel proud to be from Canada if you are Canadian and teach you something about your neighbour ( We spell it with u in Canada ) if you aren’t. It will also teach your children things about the country they live in and why we feel pride when we hear names like Terry Fox, Anne with an E and Gretzky! I love this book and have since I first read it during teacher’s college in Thunder Bay if you can be happy about being in Canada during a very cold Thunder Bay winter you can be happy about it anywhere.
ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill and K.B.Basseches, wood sculptures by Moises and Armando Jimenez. This is a simple but amazing book. The text simply labels in both English and Spanish for the bright and wonderful photographs of the matching sculptures. I loved that for X the sculpture is a mythical animal, and the book asks the reader to make up a name beginning with X, very clever!
All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino is a wonderful story about immigration and family tradition. My kids both liked the story of the Yaccarino family and how they came to settle in America from Italy. Throughout the story, there is one little shovel that gets used for all different things generation after generation. It’s a great symbol for how family roots can stay strong even if how we express them changes. I liked being able to compare it to my own immigration to the United States and how different it was for me in 2003 vs. the author’s great-grandfather over a hundred years earlier. A good book to talk about how people came to the United States and why people move from country to country.
Another whole series I love but simply did not have time to review each one ( they are all long but wonderful books ) are the This … by Miroslav Sasek. You can read more about them here.
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