Travel is not the only way to expose your children to other cultures. Many great books for children have rich descriptions of how others live, dress, eat, work and play. They also may tell universal tales that kids can relate to, with stories of growing up, making friends, helping family, and making discoveries about themselves.
The following titles can help you introduce your kids to other cultures with tales found as far away as other continents and as close as your own back yard.
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins. Ages 8 to 12
In the small Bangladeshi village where Naima lives with her struggling family, only boys are allowed to work with rickshaws. But Naima has a talent with paint, and she longs to help decorate the elaborate carts. Naima finds a way to help her family while challenging the notion that girls have nothing of value to offer outside helping their mothers in the kitchen. Perkins richly details the foods and traditions of Bangladesh in this story of perseverance.
Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes. Ages 8 to 12
Forced to spend the summer with her grandmother in a small adobe village in New Mexico, Izzy learns a lot about Pueblo culture and neighbors who provide what’s needed when times are hard. Alongside Izzy ‘s journey of self-discovery, New Mexican food and culture come alive as vividly as the bright colors worn by many of the people who live there.
Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent. Ages 9 to 12
When Joseph has to write an essay about his ancestors for a school class, he’s not sure where to begin. As a Korean boy adopted into an ethnic Italian-American family that lives in New Jersey, he doesn’t know anything about his ancestors. At first he makes up a story, but then the assignment sends him on a quest to learn more about the Korean way of life and gives him a way to connect with his Italian upbringing.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Ages 8 to 12
It seems that no matter how hard Minli and her parents work in their village in China, they barely have enough to eat. The only thing that keeps her spirits up are the tales her father tells her of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man in the Moon. When Minli encounters a magical fish, she sets off to find the places in her father’s tales so she can change her family’s fortunes. The story is rich in Chinese folklore and its depiction of Chinese village life.
The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little. Ages 9 to 12
Livie’s mama lies in a coma inside their little home near a Louisiana bayou, cared for by her dad and sisters. But Livie harbors a powerful secret about the day of her mama’s accident. She thinks the only way to wake her mama up is to visit a traditional healer and complete the steps of a healing spell. The bayous of southern Louisiana and Cajun culture come to life in this mother-daughter tale of love, forgiveness and resilience.
Laugh With the Moon by Shana Burg. Ages 9 to 12
When Clare accompanies her physician father on a mission to a village in Malawi, Africa, she is determined not to like anything there. But when she finds people who are happy despite deprivation, she learns about honoring loss while celebrating life. Readers learn about Malawi culture, as well as the struggles children face in attending school and seeking education.
Cindy Hudson writes about reading and books at MotherDaughterBookClub.com. She lives with her family in Portland, Oregon.