We don’t get out much. I would blame it on the fourth baby or on this “hectic” season of life, but I can’t really. Even before we had kids, we didn’t get out much. We just like staying home.
When I opened my Instagram account a few months ago and started seeing all the amazing places my friends take their kids, I began to feel a little guilty about that, like maybe we should be putting our kids in backpacks and trekking up mountains and stuff. And maybe we will once, just so they know what it’s like. But I grew up doing things like that and somehow, it never took. I’d just rather be at home, having dinner with the neighbors and harvesting tomatoes until my hands smell like tomato plants, putting the kids to bed on time and then watching The Clone Wars with my husband.
We don’t see ourselves as a family who will travel a lot, at least not for the sake of exploration. We would like to show our kids some parts of the world, yes. That sounds pretty cool. But we have always had a clear vision of our home as a place of refuge, a place our children return to when they are grown and need a rest from their travels, and shaping that refuge (wherever it eventually is) is a daily work that we find it hard to walk away from.
Just because we may not take our children around the world ourselves, though, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t know what’s out there. I find myself looking for more and more ways to broaden their borders so that they grow up grounded but not sheltered: we have dinner with friends from other countries and host foreign exchange students (okay, we did that once, before we filled our house to capacity with babies. But it was a wonderful experience for all of us). We look up every little thing on Google Earth, and bring home stacks of library books about life in other countries.
Many of the books on this list came to my attention through Jamie C. Martin’s beautiful book, Give Your Child the World. If anything on this list whets your appetite, then please: read her book first. It’ll fill your cart with incredible titles and your heart with stories of life around the world. The rest of the books on this list are family favorites.
This books describes children not as “black” or “white,” but as “cinnamon, walnut, wheat” and more. Hamanaka uses both her words and her illustrations to celebrate the many different ways children can look. (Read my full review.)
Set in the Maasai culture of Africa, Papa, Do You Love Me? follows the questioning of a young child as he asks his father, “What would you do if I was cold? If I was hungry? If I did wrong?” The papa’s patient and generous answers show that the love of a father for is child is truly cross-cultural. (Read the full review.)
BEGIN, by Philip & Erin Ulrich
A book about a talking bear may seem like an unlikely choice for this list, but I loved the way that the authors present Growly’s exchanges with other animals: as he runs into cultural differences and language barriers, he meets them with humility and respect. This is a lovely story about a young bear whose world is much larger than he originally thought.
PEOPLE, by Peter Spier
This book is an impressive, “big picture” look at people: the many ways they can look, the things they do, the places they live, and more. It’s a fun one to read together or to study alone (the illustrations are incredibly detailed). By looking at the many ways we differ and the few things we have in common, Spier creates a fascinating portrait of the human race.
Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa, amazing Africa, and Atinuke celebrates that by exploring her daily life in Africa through Anna’s charming perspective. These are early chapter books and heavily illustrated, so they’re perfect for sharing with a beginning reader. In fact, my beginning reader likes to follow me around while I do housework, reading aloud from them like she is my own private audio book. (Read the full review.)
My girls found this book enchanting. Dozens of countries appear in its pages, represented by one or two children who give a glimpse into their daily lives. We found ways in which those lives differed dramatically from our own, of course, but we also found many things that our families have in common. If People is a big picture look at humanity, this is a close-up detail shot that focuses on one child at a time.
Jude Daly uses the familiar passage from Ecclesiastes 3 for the book’s text, but places her illustrations in South Africa. By having one family enact the different “times” described, she gives a fascinating portrait of life in the South African countryside. (Read my full review.)
Jamie C. Martin makes a compelling case for why we should read things that expand our children’s understanding of the world. She isn’t bossy about it, though: she makes her case quietly, by sharing what has worked for her own multi-cultural family and describing their favorite books so enthusiastically that I found myself filling an Amazon cart as I read (oops . . . ).
What are your favorite books about life outside your own community?