3 Picture Books about Our World

Marwan_s Journey by Patricia de Arias

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, illustrated by Laura Borras (9789888341559)

Marwan is a little boy on a long journey filled with walking and heading to a place he’s never been. When his home was attacked by soldiers in tanks in the middle of the night, Marwan had to start walking. He thinks often of his mother and father, their little house where they lived happily together filled with sunlight. Now he must walk through the desert to a new homeland carrying a pack of hope on his back.

This picture book is imported from Spain and has the feel of a European children’s book. The language used is poetic and beautiful, showing the emotions rather than telling about them. Here is one example from early in the book: “I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.” You can feel it right in your bones. The illustrations have a gorgeous depth to them, filled with deep blacks and rounded out by earthen colors. Throughout the book there is a sense of peace and a hope of a better place at the end of the long walk.

An important book that beautifully captures the dangers and loss of a refugee child. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Edelweiss and Minedition.)

Sea Creatures from the Sky by Ricardo Cortes

Sea Creatures from the Sky by Ricardo Cortes (9781617756160)

The illustrator of the incredibly popular Go the F*ck to Sleep has created a picture book that truly shows his skill. Told from the point of view of a shark, this picture book tells the unbelievable story of things in the air, above the sea, who are not birds. They are creatures with beards, with two ears, with hair. Creatures who hook sharks, take them out of the ocean and into the air, poke and prod them. Just to return them back to the sea, where no other creatures believe their tale of being taken.

In rhyming lines that have a humor and rhythm, the shark tells his story. The tale is accompanied with luminous paintings that show the beauty of the ocean, the many creatures who live there, and the drama of being taken out by researchers. Gorgeous illustrations accompany this shark’s tale and make for one dynamic picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Black Sheep.)

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (9781610677226)

This book offers examples of untranslatable words from around the world. These are words that some cultures can use just one word to capture but in other languages it takes entire sentences to explain them. The words come from all over the globe, and while some may be familiar others are entirely surprising and fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting part is how these unique words offer a glimpse into the culture they come from. The illustrations of the book are show places and people around the world acting out each word. They are bright and friendly. The text offers the word, a definition and then additional information on where it comes from. Enjoy exploring words like nakama, tartle and gluggavedur! Appropriate for ages 8-11. (Reviewed from copy provided by Kane Miller.)


This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe (9781452150185, Amazon)

The lives of seven children from around the world are documented in this engaging nonfiction picture book. A child each from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Russia and Uganda share their daily lives. They talk about what they eat, where they live, their schools, how they play and where they sleep. This is an intimate look at these children and their lifestyles that offers a way to look at how cultures are different but also how certain things are universal as well.

Lamothe worked with seven real families to create the book, showing photographs of them at the end of the book. The focus on concrete things that make up our lives offers a tangible way for children to see cultures and explore differences and similarities. It’s a clever way to invite children to explore and learn.

The illustrations are phenomenal and with their fine details offer the same sort of window as photographs. While it is great to see the photographs at the end, they offer a sort of confirmation that the illustrations truly have captured the lives of these children. These are illustrations to pore over and enjoy, allowing them to transport you around the globe.

Wonderful for classrooms and libraries, this nonfiction picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.


Review: What We Wear by Maya Ajmera

what we wear

What We Wear: Dressing Up around the World by Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, and Cynthia Pon

This bright, colorful picture book shows cultural apparel from around the world.  The book revels in the unique colors, structure, beading and design.  Filled with images of children with smiling faces wearing their unique clothing, the book does contain some simple information on the clothes.  They are grouped in categories like dance and play, school clothing, and celebrating who we are.  The simple structure and basic information makes the book more appropriate for preschoolers than elementary students.

Because of the simplicity of the text, this book’s quality rests solely with the clarity of its images and the way they are presented.  Happily, the book has photographs of children of a variety of races, dressed in gorgeous colors and clothing.  They are shown on pages of equally bright colors that really add spice to the design. 

A very friendly look at costumes throughout the world, this book is a solid addition to preschool nonfiction collections.  It reminded me of looking through my mother’s Unicef calendars as a child.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge Publishing. 

Review: If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche

if you lived here

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche

This book invites readers to explore the different types of houses that are lived in throughout the world.  Beginning with the phrase, “If you lived here…” the book then describes some unique features of that particular type of home.  There are homes that you would have to go outside to get to the kitchen, others where you would not have to go out to even get to the barn, others are built around caves, still others are close to water or surrounded by it.  The book then defines the type of house, what materials it is made from, where this type of house is found, the date that this house first appeared, and a fact about them.  The tone is kept light and interesting, which will invite young readers to explore this subject in depth.

Laroche’s writing is welcoming and light.  He finds the most unique features of a home and describes them in simple and inviting ways.  Even the information on the materials and location are kept short and contain only the most interesting details. 

The illustrations, done in paper, have a three dimensional effect.  The homes are done in exacting detail that includes individual shingles, decorative features, and even the ability to peer closely and see into the windows to the rooms beyond.  There is a physical quality to this, creating almost a model effect where you lean in closer to see even more.  The illustrations are a delight and truly bring the structures to life.

When I first started reading this book, I wondered who would be the audience for it.  The entire book is so appealing that it will have no trouble being enjoyed by young readers interested in architecture, history, or travel.  Appropriate for ages 8-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

What Will You Be, Sara Mee?

What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Sara Mee is about to celebrate her first birthday.  For Korean Americans, that means that she will participate in a special game called toljabee which will predict what she will be when she grows up.  Her older brother Chong can’t wait to see what items she will pick from the table.  But first there is plenty of preparation for the big day, including special clothes for Sara Mee, great food, and music.  When the time for the game comes, Chong is allowed to help set the items before Sara Mee.  What will she pick?

Part of the specialness of this book is the depiction of the extended Korean family, some who still live in Korea and others who live in the United States.  There are grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more who bring the event and the book to life, filling it with faces and noise.  Avraham’s text is sprinkled with Korean words and written in a light tone that invites the reader into this family get-together.  O’Brien’s art is done in ink and watercolor.  The smiles on all of the faces as well as the use of bright colors really create a book filled with joy.

A welcome book about Korean Americans and traditions, this book should find a place on library shelves across the country.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Cora Cooks Pancit

Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant

Cora always got stuck with the kid jobs when her mother cooks like licking the spoon and drawing in the flour.  So when her older siblings head out of the house, Cora asks her mother to make pancit.  Cora’s mother gives her the red apron that belonged to her grandfather who was a cook.  After washing her hands, Cora gets to help with grownup jobs like shredding chicken, checking the soaking noodles, and stirring the hot pan.  When the family sits down to dinner, Cora is nervous.  Will her pancit taste good?

This is a very warm book with a bustling, busy family.  It really speaks to the relationship of a mother and daughter, the way that traditions and foods are handed down to the next generation, and the pleasure children get from being part of creating and learning.  Gilmore’s text is joyful as it explains Filipino foods and heritage, giving us glimpses of the family history along the way.  Valiant’s art with its warm, deep colors show us a family that is familiar but has its own particular culture. 

A glowingly friendly look at a loving Filipino family, this book will have you hungry for your own family recipes and offers a great venue to discuss everyone’s particular family heritage through food.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Interview with Kristi Valiant at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog.

Also reviewed by Paper Tigers, The Picnic Basket, Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup, and BookDragon.

My Friend Mei Jing

My Friend Mei Jing by Anna McQuinn, artwork by Ben Frey, photography by Irvin Cheung

Following My Friend Jamal, this book captures the friendship of Monifa and Mei Jing.  The two friends both love art, the color purple, and they both plan to be veterinarians when they grow up.  Even when the two friends are different, there are things that resonate in their cultures.  Both of them have names that mean something in the language of their grandparents.  Both have grandmothers that make really weird food like chicken feet and cow foot.  And best of all, both of them are best friends!

McQuinn has created a series where our differences and similarities are celebrated side-by-side.  The power of friendship is at the core of the book and that friendship is based on the fact that the girls are so similar in personality and what they enjoy, even though their backgrounds seem very different on the surface.  The art in books is a vibrant combination of photography and painting.  Though the girls are seen with their heads as photographs, usually their clothing is painted and so is most of their surroundings.  This technique makes for visually interesting illustrations.

A book that will get all children seeing how they are more alike than they are different, this book should have a place on most school and public library shelves.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Our World of Water

Our World of Water: Children and Water around the World by Beatrice Hollyer

This book focuses on one of the world’s most precious things: water.  Water and its use is seen through the eyes of six children who live around the world.  From Peru to Mauritania, from Tajikistan to Ethiopia, from the United States to Bangladesh, each child uses water to bathe and drink, but there the similarities end as we see deserts and monsoons.  Hollyer’s use of bright, clear photographs helps to bring our understanding of our own relationship with water into clarity as we also learn about the hardships of other cultures from other parts of the world. 

Hollyer’s photographs are windows into the lives of these children.  They show their homes, siblings, families, and daily lives.  Though it focuses on water, readers will also get a sense of the overall culture as they read.  Hollyer has written the prose with simplicity and a great feel for the young reader.  There is just enough detail to be easy to read and interesting. 

Expect a lot of conversation after sharing this with a group of children or even one child.  This is a winning look at our world and our water.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

My Little Round House

My Little Round House by Bolormaa Baasansuren.

Jilu was born into a round world.  His cradle was round and soft.  His home, a ger, was round with a round hole at the top.  And the nest he rode in when they moved was round.  Jilu lives in a nomadic Mongolian family, moving each season.  Each time they move, they rebuild their round home, living there until another season has passed.  When summer comes around again, Jilu is a year old, happily playing under the largest roundness of all, the sky.

This book is a vivid depiction of a culture we know far too little about.  Created by Baasansuren, a native Mongolian, the illustrations are filled with small details of daily life.  Resembling folk art, they are warm, familial and colorful.  The words of the book are simple and a pleasure to read, offering the same rhythm as the seasons.  There is a sense of time here that is unusual in our culture as well as a connection to the earth.  People in the U.S. are struggling to find this sort of easy relationship with time and our world.  Here is a picture book that exemplifies a culture where that is simply a part of daily life. 

Highly recommended as a great glimpse into another culture and way of living, this book is appropriate for ages 5-7.