Children's "Hot Picks" for Summer Reading Fun

Kids can "Go Global" this summer with a selection of great books to read from Maryland Education Assistant Professor Jennifer Turner.

As summer approaches, many parents and children prepare to go on vacation. We may plan trips to places nearby, such as the beach or to amusement parks, or we may travel cross-country by car or by plane. No matter where we go, the fun and excitement of traveling is what makes our vacations most memorable.

This summer, I have selected a group of books that help readers to travel globally - to experience some of the cultures, customs, and traditions of people from different continents. Oftentimes, we have seen people from different countries in our schools, neighborhoods, or in the workplace, but we may not know much about their families, their cultures, and their lives. This list of books helps us to cross those boundaries to experience and celebrate the global diversity within our world - without ever leaving home!!

Note: All of these books are written in and/or translated into English. Some are available in other languages. For more books in various languages besides English, visit the International Children's Digital Library on the web at


African Literature

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (John Steptoe, 1988, HarperCollins Childrens)

For those who love the classic Cinderella story, this African folktale captures the relationship between two sisters, one who is selfish and one who is selfless and loving. Although the contrasting qualities of the two sisters is important, even more essential is the fact that the sisters have beautiful brown skin and wear traditional African clothing. This helps to put a new cultural spin on Cinderella and helps readers to expand their ideals about beauty.

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (Verna Aardema, 1981, Dial Press)

Featured on Reading Rainbow, this is a simple story about a cattle herdsman and his wish for rain on the African plain. This is a memorable story, even for young children, because it is very simple to understand and has a powerful musical quality that makes for engaging read-alouds. Or, if you want to hear the narration of this story by James Earl Jones, download the clip from Youtube (search Reading Rainbow, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain).


Latino/a Literature

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chevaz (Kathleen Krull, 2003, Harcourt New York )

In this nonfiction picture book, the story of Cesar Chavez and his fight for justice for immigrant workers is told through beautiful illustrations and words. My sons had not learned anything about Cesar Chavez in school, so they were very interested in this story. It's a great way for parents to talk about equality and justice, and the difference that one person can make in the lives of others.

I love Saturdays y Domingos (Alma Flor Ada, Aladdin Publishers, 2004)

This story is an affectionate portrait of a bilingual girl's weekend visits to her two sets of grandparents. On Saturdays, she speaks English with her paternal grandparents and on Domingos (Sundays), she speaks Spanish with her Mexican-American Abuelito and Abuelita (grandfather and grandmother). This story is wonderful because it combines Spanish and English in a beautiful text.

Any small goodness: A novel of the barrio (Tony Johnston, 2001, Blue Sky/ Scholastic)

This powerful novel relates the story of the Rodriguez family, who comes north from Mexico to Los Angeles in search of better work and a better life. However, life is quite difficult for Arturo and his family, because their new barrio is filled with crime and dangerous gangs. The novel also describes how Arturo must deal with the tensions around remaining who he is and becoming gringo-ized (forgetting/devaluing your roots), and the choices between doing good and evil within his family and community. (Note there is some bad language in Spanish on page 81).


Asian Literature

Grandfather's Journey (Allen Say, 1993, Houghton Mifflin)

Told as an "immigration" story, this book shares the experiences of Allen Say's grandfather, who came to the United States from Japan in the 1940s. The illustrations are beautifully done, and convey the excitement, sadness, and hope that Say's grandfather feels as he sees himself as a part of two different worlds.

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi, 2001, Alfred A. Knopf, New York )

This poignant story is about a young girl named Unmei who comes to America from Korea . She becomes sad when she is teased by children who make fun of the pronunciation of her name. Unmei considers changing her name to an "easy" American name, but ultimately learns to accept the uniqueness and beauty of her Korean name. Parents, this is one that you may want to talk about with your children. My boys, both of whom have Korean friends, were horrified that others would make fun of their names and that they would feel so sad that they would consider changing it. This book teaches an important lesson for everyone.

When my name was Keoko (Linda Sue Park, 2002, Clarion Books)

This novel describes the Japanese occupation of Korea in WWII from the perspective of Keoko, a 10-year old girl. Her life changes in devastating ways; Korean is banned, food becomes scarce, and all are terrified by the harsh ruling of the Japanese military. This novel describes how Keoko and her older brother eventually learn to survive these atrocities through acts of resilience and resistance.


Middle Eastern Literature

The librarian of Basra : A True Story from Iraq (Jeanette Winters, 2005, Harcourt New York )

This book tells the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian of a Basra , a small town in Iraq . When the war came, Alia asked a neighbor to help her save the books. With the help of her neighbors, Alia saved 30,000 books from the library, nine days before it was burned to the ground by soldiers. I read this book to my sons, and it really demonstrated to them how wars change the lives of innocent people. And, the ending is filled with hope, which I also believe was a good message for my sons to hear.

My name was Hussein (Hristo Kyuchukov, 2004, Boyds Mills Press)

In this vivid picture book, Hussein, a young Roma boy, lives in Bulgaria . He describes the rich cultural traditions that his family has celebrated, including an Arabic name that was passed down through the generations. When communist soldiers arrive in their village, their freedom is curtailed. Hussein and his brother miss the ethnic celebrations in their villages, and worse yet, are forced to adopt "Christian names." This story brings up issues of prejudice and discrimination that should be discussed with children after reading the book.


Eastern European (Slavic) Literature

The Keeping Quilt (Patricia Polacco, 2001, Aladdin)

In this beautifully-illustrated book, Polacco tells the story of her great-grandmother Anne who emigrated to America from Russia . In New York City , great-grandmother Anne and her quilting bee friends sew a quilt composed of scraps of fabric from little girls' dresses, the aprons of aunts, and so on. The quilt is highlighted in various family occasions through four generations, serving as a quilt, a tent, a huppah at a wedding, a tablecloth, and so on.

Thundercake (Patricia Polacco, 1997, Putnam Juvenile)

This is a heartwarming story of a young girl who is afraid of thunder, and her Jewish grandmother who helps her to overcome her fear by cooking with her when a storm threatens. The girl and her grandmother (Babushka) make thundercake, and talk about the different ways to make thunder less frightening. My boys (ages 5 and 7) used the chocolate thundercake recipe in the back of the book, and it was delicious!!