5 Must Read Multicultural Children’s Books to Learn World Cultures – Part 1
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Reading to your child is the best thing any mom can do. It’s good quality time and teaches the child moral stories. But wouldn’t you want to raise a cosmopolitan child exposed to world cultures while learning about their geography too? I would! Here, I am sharing with you the 1st part of a series of multicultural children’s books from different parts of the world that will help your child develop curiosity and love for other cultures through reading.
At this day and age, world interconnectedness is at its peak thanks to all the smartphones and readily available net connection. However, a 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office reveals grim data.
According to the report, nearly three-quarters of American 8th graders were below proficient in geography! That’s not a surprise, since the report also shows that geography received 10% or less of social studies instruction time.
That is unacceptable and until it is fixed it is our responsibility to teach our children about other countries and cultures and what’s better than doing it with reading? It’s fun activity for children and educational too.
The list below is not, by any means, exclusive. Rather, it is an introduction to children’s books from around the world, some of which are decades old. You can learn from them too 🙂 Also, although I believe you can read anything and everything to your children to instill in them the love for books, some of the books suggested here are for older children. They’ll get more out of them. I included the age group for reference only.
Babar – Book Series (France) – Ages 2 & above
This series has a special place in my heart. I grew up with Babar.
Babar is a French series of stories by author Jean de Brunhoff first published in 1931! In the 1980s, the book turned into TV series & I was hooked!
The main character, Babar, is an elephant. In the main book, as a calf, Babar looses his mom who was killed by a hunter. As a result, Babar runs away from their habitat into a big city.
There, he grows up but later decides to return home. After his return, the King Elephant dies and Babar is appointed as the new King because of his extensive travels and exposure to a different civilization.
The books and TV series tell stories of King Babar, his wife Celeste, their children and a number of other characters as they follow him on his adventures while ruling the Kingdom. You’ll meet different African animals and teach your munchkin their names. The illustrations also show many of French landmarks. That helps kids learn about the French culture.
I really loved watching Babar TV series as a kid. Couldn’t tell you what it is that I liked, the story or the production of the series. But it certainly stuck with me almost 30 years later! So much so, that I refer to my lil’ one as Little Prince, after Babar’s son, and his nursery theme is elephant-centered. The biggest win is that he loves it when I read him his Babar book collection #passingonatradition.
Possum Magic (Australia) – Ages 3 – 10
This book by Australian author Mem Fox takes you through a journey of a little possum, Hush, who travels with her Grandma Poss through the Australian bushes. After Grandma Poss makes Hush invisible to protect her, it doesn’t take her long before she wants to be visible again. But, in order to become visible Hush must eat some magic people food. And the journey begins…
Actually, I found this reading of the book on YouTube by Rockin’ Ree Ree Reads. Check it out!
After being published in early 1980s, this book has become a classic well liked by Aussie kids. It even had some series of Australian coins minted in its honor. Now, that’s an accomplishment!
Possum Magic has really beautiful illustrations that follow the story. The language is also very easy and to the point. You get to visit several Australian cities, even Tasmania, eat traditional Australian foods (vegemite, anyone?), and meet kangaroos, emus, snakes, and koalas among other Australian animals. In short, a comprehensive exposure to Australian culture.
As a bonus, some editions of this book have a nice glossary to describe some local dishes and also include a map of Australia with the trail that Grandma Poss and Hush took across the continent.
We All Went on Safari (East-Africa/Tanzania) – Ages 3 & above
The author, Laurie Krebs, beautifully combined bilingual learning with story-telling. Teach your child how to count to 10 in both English and Swahili.
Swahili is spoken by over 5 million people and is the native language in Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Kenya, and Rwanda as well as other African countries and even the Arabian Peninsula.
But you won’t only learn that. By joining a group of friends on their journey, or Safari, the book presents facts about the Maasai people who still, to date, lead a pastoral lifestyle and have awesome dancing rituals [ I highly suggest you check it out].
This beautiful book has amazing illustrations featuring the fauna and flora of the Savannah as if you’re on a Safari trip #dream. Lions, elephants, monkeys, ostriches, leopards and acacia trees galore!
The story presents a lot of learning opportunities on a region that is often overlooked. In particular, exposing a child to a foreign language at a young age and through story time, has immense benefits on a child’s brain even if they don’t intentionally study it.
Grab it for a magical Safari trip from the comfort of your home 🙂
Fiesta Babies (Mexico/Latin America) Ages 2 – 5
This short book is only 24 pages long, but boy is it festive and fun! It’s in the title.
Through rhyming words and aaaaahmazing bright illustrations, Carmen Tafolla and Amy Cardova teach children English and Spanish. Of course, there are pinatas, serapes [I learned this word from the book!], flower coronas, and sombreros that not only introduce your child to Mexican culture but the Latin culture as a whole.
With the children in the book having a big fiesta where they dance to mariachi music and do salsa, your child will have a nice siesta after reading it 🙂
In addition to learning some Spanish words with their character peers, your child will notice the diversity pictured in the book (even if subconsciously). Boys, girls, black, white and brown, all representative of the Latin array of ethnicities.
You’d be surprised that in this day and age, some children still get scared when meeting a person with different looks that what their family members look like.
Well, my sister was scared for a long while of anyone without glasses [my immediate and extended family all wear glasses], and that’s kinda funny and cute. But, when it comes to different skin tones, facial features or hair texture, it actually is sad.
Think of Fiesta Babies as Dora the Explorer x10. More characters and more festive. Thanks to my Colombian friend, now my Spanish vocabulary is richer and so is my son’s. Win-win situation.
Moomins/Mumins – Book Series (Sweden/Finland) Ages 7 & above
Another childhood favorite! I will never forget the big thick book my mom gave me when I was 9 years old. It kept me busy for the next 3 days on a train trip.
As I was compiling this list, the image of the Moomins was so vivid in my memory and the joy I experienced reading the book was very tangible. There is a big smile on my face even if I don’t remember the exact story lines.
Just look at the image here. Aren’t these creatures adorable?
Written by a Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning author, Tove Jansson, a Swedish-Finnish writer, this series/comic strips teach children the importance of harmony and happiness in life.
The main characters, the Moomins, are cute white trolls with large snouts, go through nature experiencing various magical adventures filled with life-lessons that ultimately give kids valuable takeaways such as family togetherness, sense of community and compassion.
It’s just an idyllic piece of children literature. I remember sketches from the book with Moomins walking through forest or hugging/cuddling together as a family.
There you have it! My first 5 must-read multicultural children’s books.
I do hope you find the stories interesting as I do. There are so many other books out there from every corner of the world, but I chose those 5 as a starter so I can provide more details.
What about you? Are there any interesting multicultural children’s books that you’d recommend?
Don’t be shy. All suggestions are welcome for the 2nd part of the series 🙂
Thanks in advance!