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Go Global! Multicultural Books for Children and Young Adults

by the CL/R SIG
 | Aug 18, 2014

Just as multicultural literature for children and young adults allows readers to understand and appreciate the world around them, international and global books can help them understand the history, languages, and culture of nations around the world. The authors of Children’s Literature, Briefly (Pearson, 2012) remind us that while many international books are written in English and first published in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, others must be translated into English from their original language. Many countries in addition to the United States also have their own children’s book awards. For this week’s book reviews, members of the International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) examine some recent international and global favorites that caught their attention.

Grades K-2

Adderson, Caroline. (2014). Norman, Speak! Illus. by Qin Leng. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.

It’s love at first sight for a boy and his dog. After the family brings the canine home from the animal shelter, the boy and Norman quickly bond. Despite his friendliness, though, Norman clearly isn’t smart enough to respond to any of their commands. Once they realize why the dog has been ignoring them, Norman's human companions are the ones that don't feel very smart. The text and the illustrations, drawn in ink and digitally colored, may cause readers to question their own assumptions not only about how animals communicate and whether humans are smarter than animals but also their assumptions about those who speak a language other than English.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Campbell, K.G. (2014). The Mermaid and the Shoe. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.

K.G. Campbell is best known for illustrating Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery-winning Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. In this original tale, King Neptune’s pride and joy are his 50 beautiful mermaid daughters. Each possesses a remarkable ability except for Minnow, the youngest, who asks annoying questions that no one can answer. For instance, she wants to know where bubbles go, why crabs have no fins, and what lies beyond their kingdom. One day something new and lovely drifts into Minnow’s life. She and her sisters have no idea what this strange object could be. As she travels to learn more about the object, she discovers many beautiful and interesting things in her journey to the ocean’s surface, including the answers to many of her questions. While there, she learns where bubbles go, why crabs have no fins, and what lies beyond their marine kingdom. She also discovered a “landmaid” wearing not one, but two of her remarkable discoveries—shoes on her “leg-hands they were made to hide” (unpaged).  This journey enables Minnow to discover her dual talents as an explorer and storyteller.

Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Goble, Paul. (2014). Horse Raid: The Making of a Warrior. Foreword by Joseph Bruchac. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales.

This is a revised and updated version of Lone Bull’s Horse Raid published in 1973. In the forward, Joseph Bruchac notes that Paul Goble’s writing “is as clear as a Lakota elder recounting the tale to his grandchildren. The story moves at a pace as rapid and exciting as the horse raid it describes” (unpaged). Lone Bull, a 14-year-old Oglala Sioux boy, wants nothing more than to make a name for himself by capturing horses from the Crows, an enemy tribe. He and a friend are disappointed when his father tells them that they cannot go on the horse raid. With the help of his grandfather, Lone Bull and his friend Charging Bear follow and eventually join the warriors. The danger and intrigue of the horse raid make for great reading. Likewise, in a palette of brilliant earth tones, Paul Goble’s paintings capture the detail of the Native American clothing, customs, and surroundings, greatly enhancing the compelling text.

Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Trochatos, Litsa. (2014). Don’t. Illus. by Virginia Johnson. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.

After providing a list of don’ts and giving suggestions for things you should never, ever do, the author/illustrator offers one very important piece of advice about playing with a hippopotamus whose weight just might cause a dangerous imbalance on the seesaw. The scenarios are outlandish but also make sense in a lot of ways; for instance, it would be challenging to try to find a creature that can assume the colors of its surroundings so "Don't play hide-and-seek with a chameleon" (unpaged). Additionally, the watercolor illustrations are delightful, and the last page with its rear view of all the animals encountered in the book is amusing. Perfect for sharing with youngsters, this book will have many of them and their adult companions giggling all the way through. While there are many things you shouldn’t do, laughing is not one of them.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Yamada, Kazuaki. (2014). My Red Balloon. Hong Kong, China: Minedition.

Balloons, especially red ones tied to a string and floating in the air, have a universal charm, and there’s nothing quite as fun as sharing the joy a balloon brings with friends. In this endearing story of unexpected friendships, a girl proudly carries her balloon onto a bus. Somehow, she accidentally lets go of its string when she is showing it to one of the other passengers. As the bus driver picks up new passengers, it also follows the path of the balloon. The animal passengers are every bit as eager to make sure the balloon is returned to the little girl as she is to have it back. Although their rescue mission fails, they come upon a different sort of red balloon, one that is even better than the original balloon. Filled with all sorts of colors and whimsical touches, the illustrations are simply lovely.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 3-5

Pittau, Francesco. (2014). The Open Ocean. Illus. by Bernadette Gervais. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

More than 50 exquisitely detailed shells and sea inhabitants fill the pages of this stunning and cleverly-engineered book. On some of the oversize pages, readers lift up black flaps with white cut outs to reveal colorful images of creatures such as a moray eel or a swordfish. On others, the lift-up flaps contain close ups of other marine life such as sea urchins that are revealed in their entirety when the flap is lifted. The final pages consist of four rows with three layers of flaps that show an orca and a Bluefin tuna, among other marine animals. Figuring out exactly how to manipulate those flaps may be a bit challenging at first, but the result proves worth the effort as these extraordinary animals are revealed in their natural beauty and wonder. This is another exceptional title from the creative team responsible for Birds of a Feather (2012) and Out of Sight (2010), both of which also offer equally fascinating glimpses of the natural world. It may be hard for teachers to tear themselves away from this book long enough to share it with their students.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Saumande, Juliette. (2014). In Search of Happiness. Illus. by Eric Puybaret. Paris, France: Auzou.

Kalim is bored with the safe life he lives with his grandfather and longs for a life of adventure. Despite his grandfather's caution, he leaves his home behind and embarks on a series of adventures. A songbird guides him along his journey and watches as he samples the candy that grows from trees and turns rocks into gold. Some of his decisions introduced him to new pleasures while others aren’t all that satisfying. Throughout his travels, though, as he searches for the Land of Happiness, he never forgets his grandfather and sends him a series of postcards chronicling his journeys. Interestingly, by the time he returns home, his grandfather is no longer so reluctant to take a risk and seems ready for an adventure of his own. Filled with sumptuous artwork and reminders that being too cautious may be just as bad as always seeking the next adventure, this picture book reminds readers that there is no place like home. It’s especially welcome at the conclusion of a long journey, no matter where you’ve been. 

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 6-8

Abirached, Zeina. (2014). I Remember Beirut. New York, NY: Lerner Publishing Group/Graphic Universe.

Following up on her moving graphic novel A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return (Graphic Universe, 2012),  the author/illustrator returns to Beirut, Lebanon, to share personal remembrances from the war that raged in its city streets during the 1980s when she was growing up. She relies on stark black and white colors to depict vividly the daily tolls war takes on someone’s life. Sometimes it’s not only the violence and deaths that cause problems during a conflict such as this one but the lack of conveniences and the constant noises. While war rages between the Christians and Muslims in Beirut, she and her family must deal with the lack of running water, no bus transportation to school, and constantly replacing the windshield in her mother’s car. Trying to leave town for even a brief period means dealing with endless traffic jams and little movement from one spot to the next. Once things have become more normal, she realizes that her street actually continues on into the rest of the city where she has not ventured. Interestingly, this take on war is quite personal since readers only occasionally see the effects of the conflict in a once-bustling market whose shops have been destroyed.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Goble, Paul. (2013). Custer’s Last Battle: Red Hawk’s Account of the Battle of Little Bighorn. Foreword by Joe Medicine Crow. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales.

Based upon accounts by actual survivors of the battle, Goble retells this historic event from a Native American perspective through the eyes of Red Hawk, a fifteen-year-old Oglala Sioux warrior. On June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer led 700 soldiers as they attacked an Indian encampment near the Little Big Horn River. Custer was unaware that he was leading his soldiers against the combined forces of the Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne tribes. Even though his Indian scouts advised him not to attack, still he led his troops onward and suffered a severe defeat. Throughout the book Goble provides “explanatory passages in italics to give the reader an overview of what might have taken place” (unpaged). Joe Medicine Crow, the former Crow tribal historian whose grandfather was one of Custer’s own scouts, offers this observation about Goble’s ledger-book artwork: “His paintings are accurate in all the details. They bring the story of the Custer battle to life” (unpaged).
Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Gregg, Stacy. (2014). The Princess and the Foal. New York, NY: Philomel.

Readers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this is a sweet fairy tale from the book’s title or cover. While it is a story about a princess and her horse, it is also a tale of adventure, survival, and determination. It’s a reminder that it is possible to heal from great losses. Based on the life story of the real Jordanian Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, the book describes her childhood and the loss of her mother when she was very young. Determined and independent-minded, Haya has a special bond with horses, and raises an orphan Arabian that she names Bree. As she battles with her strict governess Frances, who wants her to behave in a ladylike fashion as a princess should, she also conquers her own fears and teaches her horse how to race and jump over obstacles. Readers' hearts will first swell in sympathy as the mischievous little princess copes with heartache, and then they will applaud her determination to break the gender barrier in becoming the first female to compete in the King's Cup. The photograph in the back matter of the seemingly-fearless Haya and Bree flying over barriers, including an expensive car, has to be seen to be believed. The book’s unique protagonist is a superb role model for all the possibilities that await young girls.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grill, William. (2014). Shackleton's Journey. London, England: Nobrow Press/Flying Eye Books.

Although Ernest Shackleton and his crew attempted to explore the southern regions of the Earth more than a century ago, his story of grace under pressure and determination to insure the entire crew’s survival still fascinates many young readers. Even from the perspective of modern times, traveling across the frozen ice seems daunting, especially when one considers how quickly the ice packs could form. With detailed colored pencil illustrations set up against a backdrop of white, this book is visually appealing while telling a true story of determination and heroism against great odds. As the men on the Endurance battle nature and the ice creeps closer to the ship, applying considerable pressure, readers know that the ship cannot survive against Nature’s relentless force for long. Readers will surely wonder once the ship has been lost, how the men will ever go back home. The book is readily accessible to younger readers because of its abundant drawings and the brief descriptions of how the men amused themselves as well as their bonds with the dogs that accompanied them. The inclusion of information about the Ross Sea Party whose job was to leave supplies for Shackleton's crew along the path they planned to take is a bonus since that part of the story is often omitted in most accounts of Shackleton’s journey.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 9-12

Bass, Karen. (2013). Graffiti Knight. Toronto, ON: Pajama Press.

Sixteen-year-old Wilm is fed up with how the Soviets and some of the locals treat the German citizens of his hometown, Leipzig. Embarrassed by his father’s helplessness and frustrated with life after WWII, he starts quietly with silly pranks and graffiti messages that escalate to missions that become increasingly more daring and that ultimately necessitate that Wilm and his friends must flee the city. The author makes palpable the slowly simmering hatred building in Wilm toward his country's oppressors as well as toward Ernst, someone he once admired but now a puppet of those oppressors. An unlikely friendship with Otto, an engineer who points Wilm in a more positive direction, offers him hope and a possible way out of the mind-numbing existence he is leading. The book makes it clear how war and its aftermath touch everyone, even his sister. Incidents such as the Soviets’ allowing much-needed butter to spoil in the sun due to incompetence or a lack of concern help readers understand Wilm's anger. The book offers a fresh perspective on life for the Germans after WWII.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Ellis, Sarah. Outside In. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books. 

If it weren’t for her supportive two best friends, Lynn isn’t sure what she’d do. Once again, her free-spirited mother fails to consider the consequences of her actions, and Lynn becomes angry and impatient with her mother's choices. After Blossom, a girl whose family lives off the grid, saves her life, Lynn is drawn increasingly to the world where Blossom lives. Their friendship causes her to question what really matters and her own conspicuous consumption. The book makes readers think about their own values while glimpsing the lives of those who live and think outside of the boxes prescribed by society. Sometimes red tape seems to complicate things, but at the same time rules and conditions are intended to protect those who need protecting. While Blossom's family has everything worked out, that might not be the case for everyone in their particular situation. They come perilously close to losing everything through the thoughtlessness of Lynn’s mother.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Lindelauf, Benny. (2014). Nine Open Arms. Trans. by John Niewenhuizen. Brooklyn, NY: Enchanted Lion Books.

Originally published in Dutch a decade ago, this story revolves around one family and its trials and tribulations. Since there are nine members in the family—four older brothers, three sisters, a father, and a grandmother—they name the odd house in which they settle after moving several times as "Nine Open Arms." The three girls hope that this is the last move for them. After all, their well-meaning father is known for dreaming up moneymaking schemes, and they have moved countless times. As is the case for all families, theirs takes comfort from following traditions and rituals; for instance, their grandmother has packed away several family photos in an old suitcase they call the Crocodile, and every now and then, she takes out a photograph and tells a story about the individuals in the photo. It turns out that there are truths (but also some lies) hidden within the stories she tells, and the "tragical tragedy" that one of the girls always imagines to be happening turns out to be closer to home than they had ever imagined. Ultimately, readers will appreciate the skillfulness with which the author weaves into the narrative stories from different time periods and characters that seem to have nothing in common but turn out to be pivotal in the end. The book is filled with humor but also with deep sadness and will encourage readers to reflect on how long love can last.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Rae, Andrew. (2014). Moonhead and the Music Machine. London, England: Nobrow Press.

Joey Moonhead is like most other teens in every respect but one. For reasons that are never explained, the teen has a moon for a head. He longs to attract the attention of Melissa, the hot girl at school, ignores his real friend, Sockets, contends with bullies who belittle him and tease him about his imperfections, and dreams of someday becoming a rock star. When the mysterious Ghostboy decides to help him build an amazing musical instrument and perform in the school talent show, Moonhead is thrilled. Suddenly, everyone notices him—in a good way—and the music has an unusual effect on some classmates. At its heart, of course, this graphic novel about bullying and having faith in oneself tackles some familiar themes, but it does so in a uniquely humorous way. And oh, how sweet is the revenge dished out to those that would wrong this musical soul! This might be the perfect book to discuss with students on the first day of class since it addresses several self-esteem issues.

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Reading Today Online

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