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September 17, 2014

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Traveling the World Through Picture Books

Chosen for their compelling storytelling, superb artwork, and universal appeal, the titles featured here offer slice-of-life stories about children across the globe. Whether describing a Brazilian boy whose dreams shine as bright as the stars, a youngster’s first rollicking ride on a matatu (public minibus) in Kenya, or a Jamaican girl’s satisfaction at mastering a difficult task, these titles offer glimpses at particular places and lifestyles while touching upon themes that will resonate with children everywhere. Expand upon these offerings with studies of the featured country or culture, utilizing informational texts and online resources to provide additional context, background, and comprehension. Or share these tales to demonstrate to students that though the details of kids’ day-to-day lives may differ, children around the world are very much the same.

The Big Picture
atthesamemoment Traveling the World Through Picture Books
Clotilde Perrin’s charming picture book provides snapshot-style glances at a whirlwind of events happening At the Same Moment, Around the World (Chronicle, 2014; K-Gr 4). The action begins at the prime meridian and proceeds east across 24 time zones. At 6:00 AM in Dakar, Senegal, a boy helps his fisherman father tally up his catch. As Keita counts, Benedict savors a cup of hot chocolate in Paris (7:00 AM); Mitko chases after the school bus in Sofia, Bulgaria (8:00 AM); Yasmine plays while her mother shops at an outdoor Baghdad, Iraq, market (9:00 AM); Nadia watches construction workers from her window in Dubai, UAE (10:00 AM); and so on, page by page, zone by zone, until the story comes full circle.

Succinct text keep each stop brief, and the stylized artwork, done in brilliant jewel tones, conveys appreciation for each locale’s characteristics. A note about time zones is appended, along with a fold-out map bordered by portraits of the featured children. Touching upon a fascinating array of customs and cultures, this book also underscores the universality of day-to-day experiences. Divide students into groups to research additional facts about each location, and have them present the information to the class, pointing out their particular time zones on the map.

Family Moments
deepinthesahara Traveling the World Through Picture Books
Lalla, who lives Deep in the Sahara (Schwartz & Wade, 2013; Gr 1-4) in a village in Mauritania, West Africa, just can’t wait to don a malafa, the lovely veil worn by the women in her Muslim family to cover their clothing and heads in public. Observing her elegantly adorned relatives, she longs to be beautiful like her mother, mysterious like her older sister, a grown-up lady like her cousins, and mindful of tradition like her grandmother. Each woman patiently explains that wearing a malafa is about much more than these simple things. Their words finally become clear to Lalla when she hears the evening call to prayer, and tells her mother, “more than all the dates in an oasis,/I want a malafa so I can pray like you do.” Proud, Mama wraps Lalla in a shimmering cloth “as blue as the Sahara sky,/as blue as the ink in the Koran.”

Details of the desert landscape and local culture are seamlessly integrated into Kelly Cunnane’s poetic text and Hoda Hadadi’s exquisite collage illustrations. This account of a young girl beginning to define her place in her family and her faith is told with warmth and affection.

abuelo Traveling the World Through Picture BooksSet on the Pampas of South America, Arthur Dorros and Raúl Colón’s tale evokes details of gaucho culture while portraying a special family bond. As a young boy and his grandfather ride horses out onto the plains, Abuelo (Harper, 2014; K-Gr 3) lovingly transforms their experiences into illuminating life lessons–losing their way on the trail means learning to laugh at one’s mistakes; an encounter with a mountain lion conveys the importance of standing strong (fuerte) in the face of danger; the star-filled sky inspires a sense of wonder. When his family moves to the city, these moments provide both comfort and strength as the child faces new experiences with a smile, stands firm against a bully, and discovers that las estrellas also light the sky above his urban rooftop. Spanish words are incorporated into the heartfelt first-person narrative.

The stunning mixed-media paintings transport readers to a land of luminous wide-open landscapes, snow-capped mountains, and cotton clouds. Clad in traditional gaucho hats and colorfully patterned ponchos, the characters canter across the windswept countryside, their shared affection sparkling from the pages.

Youngsters can describe and compare the experiences and emotions of these two youngsters. Bring these tales home for students by having them write about a cherished family relationship, important rite of passage, or significant family memory, and comparing their own remembrances with those of the two protagonists.

Fun-filled Journeys
thematatu Traveling the World Through Picture Books
Two vibrant offerings focus on the often flamboyantly painted minibuses that roar along the roads of East Africa. Eric Walters and Eva Campbell’s lively picture book is set in Kenya, where Kioko is ready to commemorate his fifth birthday with a much-anticipated ride on The Matatu (Orca, 2012; K-Gr 3). Aboard the crowded bus, Kioko asks his grandfather why dogs always chase after matatus, and Babu shares an amusing story based on a Kamba folktale about a bus-riding dog, goat, and sheep (and the fares they pay–or don’t pay). Though lengthy, the narrative speeds along with delightful dialogue, evocative details, and loads of humor, and the soft-hued illustrations glow with warmth.

In Elizabeth Dale’s tale, cheery couplets describe how a multitude of children and adults carrying bags, boxes, baskets, chickens, and goats squeeze into (and on top of) Joe’s brightly decorated bus and head Off to Market (Frances Lincoln, 2013; K-Gr 3). When the overloaded vehicle grinds to a halt, it is young Keb who comes up with a solution that saves the day. Twinkling with vitality, Erika Pal’s color-saturated illustrations depict the Ugandan backdrop and a cast of smiling characters, including the charismatic and ever-helpful Keb.offtomarket Traveling the World Through Picture Books

Students can compare and contrast the specific experiences of Kioko and Keb, discuss the different narrative styles of the two authors, and make observations about each illustrator’s technique and visual approach. Expand the theme by asking students to write or draw about a memorable journey that they have taken—by bus, car, train, plane, boat, or foot—and include concrete details to recreate the event.

The Pride of Accomplishment
kingforaday Traveling the World Through Picture Books
The arrival of spring in Lahore, Pakistan, means it’s time for Basant, the annual kite festival, and young Malik heads to his rooftop, determined to win all of his kite-flying battles and be King for a Day (Lee & Low, 2013; K-Gr 4). Armed with only Falcon, a small kite that he designed and built for speed, the boy takes on the bully next door, using his superior skill to conquer and claim his adversary’s kites. Again and again, Malik, who happens to be in a wheelchair, expertly maneuvers Falcon to catch and crash numerous opponents. Assisted by his enthusiastic siblings, he ends the day with a pile of downed kites, a true sense of accomplishment, and dreams of once again triumphing the following year.

Rukhsana Kahn’s narrative soars with the exhilaration of competition and the protagonist’s unwavering self-confidence. Crafted from cloth, twine, textured paper, and other objects, Christiane Krömer’s illustrations gracefully depict the action, the setting, and the excitement of the holiday. An endnote provides background about Basant. This uplifting story of personal triumph will captivate youngsters.

agoodtrade Traveling the World Through Picture BooksEvery morning Kato makes a long trek from his small Ugandan village to the local borehole to fill empty jerry cans with water. Struggling to haul his heavy load home, he dawdles in the village square and peeks–eyes wide–at the tantalizing contents of an aid worker’s truck. Rushing through his chores, he spots a single white poppy in the garden and carefully picks it. He returns to the truck to make A Good Trade (Pajama Pr., 2013; Gr 1-3), handing the blossom to the smiling worker in exchange for magenta-colored sneakers.

Alma Fullerton’s spare narrative is extended by Karen Patkau’s sumptuous digital illustrations, which showcase details of the boy’s surroundings and way of life. The effects of war and economic hardship are subtlety included–the presence of armed soldiers, a youngster with a prosthetic leg, the poverty that makes brand-new shoes such a special treat–and invite discussion; however, the story brims with hope and the pride of accomplishment. This touching tale of kindness, caring, and generosity ends with a shoe-showing-off celebration.

annacarrieswater Traveling the World Through Picture BooksLike Kato, Anna Carries Water (Tradewind Bks., 2014; K-Gr 3) from the local spring to her home in the Jamaican countryside. The youngest of six siblings, she’s proud that she can help her family, but longs to be old enough to place her coffee-can container on her head like the other kids, instead of holding it in her hands. Sure enough, that day arrives when Anna, spurred on by her fear of Mr. Johnson’s cows (a group of rather benign-looking bovines), places the sloshy can atop her head and runs all the way home. She does not spill a single drop, and her triumph is commemorated by hugs from her proud family and happy cartwheels.

Told with rhythm, repetition, and gentle humor, Olive Senior’s narrative makes an appealing read-aloud. Laura James’s lavishly colored illustrations depict a verdant Caribbean setting alive with flora and fauna, caring family members, and the trappings of a cozy home.

Children who have struggled to master a new task (such as riding a bicycle), worked hard at a special project, or proven themselves worthy of an important responsibility will relate to the experiences of Malik, Kato, and Anna, as well as to the characters’ feelings of anticipation, excitement, and triumph. Have students compare the books to one another (examining specific details, narrative tone, and artistic styles), or use the stories to introduce more general discussion of childhood milestones, special accomplishments, and acts of caring and kindness.

Dream Big
soccerstar Traveling the World Through Picture Books
Young Paulo dreams of the future when he will “light every home in Brazil” as a Soccer Star (Candlewick, 2014; K-Gr 3). But for now, he and his teammates must toil at jobs in their impoverished favela to support their families–Paulo casts nets on Senhor da Silva’s fishing boat, Carlos shines shoes, Givo paints carnival floats, etc. At home, Paulo shows his younger sister Maria ball moves, while she teaches him math from school. After the day’s work is done, everyone heads to the beach for an important match. However, a dilemma arises when the goalie is injured; should Maria be allowed to play on the traditionally boys-only team? Paulo casts the deciding vote–a resounding yes–and Maria scores with an amazing bicycle kick. Mina Javaherbin’s spirited text and Renato Alarcão’s warm sepia-ink artwork convey the setting and underscore Paulo’s resilient attitude and willingness to embrace change. Readers will be inspired by the determination of a boy who refuses to let anything get in the way of his dreams.

theherdboy Traveling the World Through Picture BooksEvery day, The Herd Boy (Eerdmans, 2012; Gr 1-4) takes his grandfather’s sheep and goats to the grazing slopes of rural South Africa and watches over them. It’s a big job, and Malusi works hard to keep the animals safe. As he and his friend play at stick-fighting and football, they share their aspirations for the future–Lungisa wants to play soccer for the national team, but the more thoughtful Malusi plans to be president. When a baboon attacks a baby lamb, the boy demonstrates his courage and unwavering responsibility. As he tenderly carries the injured critter home, a shiny new car pulls up, and the passenger, a dignified older man (Nelson Mandela), reaffirms the youngster’s dreams by telling him, “a boy who looks after his herd will make a very fine leader.” Illustrated with stunning images of the South African grasslands and sprinkled with Afrikaans and Xhosa words (defined in a glossary), Niki Daly’s eloquently told tale depicts the details of Malusi’s world and inspires all children to follow their dreams.

Color Your World
goldendomes Traveling the World Through Picture Books
In Hena Khan’s Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns (Chronicle, 2012; K-Gr 3), simple rhyming couplets introduce the traditions, customs, and clothing, of Islam. Each handsome spread highlights a different hue–“Blue is the hijab/Mom likes to wear./It’s a scarf she uses to cover her hair,” or “Orange is the color of my henna designs./They cover my hands in leafy vines.” Mehrdokht Amini’s surrealistic illustrations are filled with radiant earth tones, intricate patterns, and striking architectural elements, depicting a modern-day Muslim family as they celebrate their culture and their faith. Instances of familial respect and affection, devotion, generosity to those in need, and well-loved traditions shine from the glossy pages. A glossary provides clear explanations of the Arabic terms used throughout the text. An enchanting foray into the Islamic world.

greenisachilepepper Traveling the World Through Picture BooksTaking a similar approach, Rosanne Greenfield Thong and John Parra’s Green Is a Chile Pepper (Chronicle, 2014; K-Gr 3) equates colors with foods, objects, and celebrations of Mexican origin. Jaunty rhymes and vivacious folk-style illustrations follow two children as they explore their neighborhood, discovering rojo in a brightly decorated kitchen (“Red is a ristra./Red is a spice./Red is our salsa/on top of rice”); naranja during a special holiday (“Orange are the marigolds/on Day of the Dead./Orange are the platos/for special bread”); amarillo in their favorite dishes (“Yellow is masa/we use to make/tortillas, tamales, and/sweet corn cake!”); and much, much more. The colors are named in both English and Spanish on each of the eye-catching spreads, along with lots of action and delightful-to-explore details. The meaning of many of the Spanish terms can be gleaned from context, but a glossary also provides translations and cultural context.

The book ends on a friendly and festive note–“The world is a rainbow of wonder and fun:/ribbons of colors rolled into one./In ponchos, serapes, and xylophones, too,/these beautiful colors are waiting for you!”–a resounding call for readers to explore their own communities in search of the wonders that await. Students can observe their surroundings, consult with their family members, and compile a classroom guide that matches colors to objects that have special meaning for them.

Additional Resources for Educators
readingtheworld Traveling the World Through Picture Books
Organized by continent then alphabetically by nation, Nancy J. Polette’s Reading the World with Picture Books (Libraries Unlimited, 2010) provides an annotated list of titles (contemporary stories, folktales, biographies, illustrated nonfiction–all with grade levels), set in approximately 100 different countries. Also included is a wide range of activities for beginning researchers as well as more advanced students that are keyed to correlate with national standards in language arts and social studies.

Now in its second edition, Travel the Globe: Story Times, Activities, and Crafts for Children (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) compiles “a plethora of ready-to-use materials” and ideas for introducing 14 featured countries to young people. Alphabetically arranged chapters feature sample story times (one geared toward preschoolers, the other for Kindergarten through third grade), annotated lists of books, stories to tell or represent on flannel board (reproducible patterns are included), songs and rhymes, media resources, and crafts and activities.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:

RL 1.1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
RL 3.2. Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
RI 1.9 Identify basic similarities and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).
RI 2.6 Identify the main topic of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
RI 2.9. Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.
W 1.2. Write information/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and prove some sense of closure.
W 2.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects.
SL 1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud….

This article was featured in School Library Journal's Curriculum Connections enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered every month for free.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who lives in southern Colorado. She spends most of her free time meeting the needs of the three voracious readers in her household.

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