Azaad, Dezh. The Carpet: An Afghan Family Story. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2023.
A refugee child describes all the ways the family gathers around their treasured carpet. They prepare food together, share meals together, read books, play games, remember the life they had long ago, and dream of the life they will have in a new land. Written by an Afghan refugee who lives in Germany and illustrated by a New York City artist, this colourful picture book is recommended as a read-aloud for children five to nine years old.
Khan, Rukhsana. Wanting Mor. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009.J
“Jameela feels relatively secure, sustained by her Muslim faith and the love of her mother, Mor. But when Mor dies, Jameela’s father impulsively decides to start a new life in Kabul where Jameela ultimately becomes an orphan after being abandoned in a busy marketplace by her father and stepmother. With only the memory of her mother to sustain her, Jameela finds the strength to face those who abandoned her when fate brings them together again.” – NVPL. [Afghanistan; Courage; Homelessness; Orphans; Sex role]
Stampler, Ann Redisch. The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan. Chicago: Albert Whitman & Company, 2012.
A wise Muslim shah in Kabul disguises himself in order to test a poor Jewish shoemaker’s faith in the goodness of God. Brightly illustrated by Carol Liddiment and recommended for ages 7 to 14. [Afghanistan; Faith; Folklore; Jews; Kings; Muslims]
McCormick, Patricia. Never Fall Down. New York : Balzer + Bray, 2012.
Arn is forced to serve as a child soldier in this vivid novel, based on a real story, by an accomplished author. It will be appreciated by mature readers in grades eight and up. [War; Survival; Cambodia; Soldiers; Genocide; Young adult fiction; Kidnapping]
Bell, William. Forbidden City. Doubleday Canada, 1990.
“…a story about a sixteen-year-old boy named Alexander, enthusiastic and out-going, with a fascination for war-related strategies and important generals. One of his favourite hobbies is making soldiers out of clay. When his father goes to China, he is excited to go along but that’s when a dilemma happens. He is caught in a student protest and has to choose whether to help the students – and risk being hurt, wounded, or killed by the government armies – or to run and flee from the soldiers. He gets caught and sent back to America where he writes Forbidden City to cope with his pain.” – Caleb in grade eight.
Evans, Rebecca. Alone Like Me. New York: Anne Schwartz Books, 2022.
Life is lonely for Liling when she moves to the city. Her parents have to take her along to their places of work, and she has to spend her days quietly not being noticed. When her father takes her to a park, she has to endure taunts from other children. But then she meets another lonely little girl and a gentle friendship begins. Set in China, this picture book shows what life is like for children who are not entitled to an education when they move from the place where they were born. A glossary and pronunciation guide are included, as well as an afterward telling more about life for children who move from rural to urban settings. Recommended for readers 6 to 11 years old.
Liu, Na and Andrés Vera Martínez. Little White Duck: a Childhood in China. Minneapolis: Graphic Universe, 2012.
Da Qin and her younger sister live with their parents in the city of Wuhan, China. This thought-provoking graphic novel – composed of 8 short stories – describes the author’s childhood in the 1970s. Emotive illustrations by the author’s husband – Andrés Vera Martínez – help to create a powerful portrait of life for two little girls in a changing world. Recommended for competent readers 9 years old and up.
Namioka, Lensey. Ties that Bind, Ties that Break. London: Puffin, 2003.
“Ailin’s life takes a different turn when she defies the traditions of upper class Chinese society by refusing to have her feet bound.” – WAFMS. A fascinating fast-moving story that follows a young girl from the age of four to adulthood during the mid-20th century. Highly recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [China; Sex roles; Immigration and emigration]
Noyes Deborah. Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2007.
A Chinese princess secretly takes along silkworm cocoons and mulberry seeds when she is sent to marry the king of Khotan. This exquisite picture book – illustrated by Sophie Blackall – includes a two-page explanation of the legends surrounding the history of silk-making. Highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.
The poetic description of everything the princess will miss when she has to leave her home is reminiscent of Shi-shi-etko by Nicola Campbell (Groundwood, 2005). Readers – and teachers – might like to compare the five senses details in the two stories.
Pennypacker, Sara. Sparrow Girl. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009.
“When China’s leader declares war on sparrows in 1958, everyone makes loud noise in hopes of chasing the hungry birds from their land except for Ming-Li, a young girl whose compassion and foresight prevent a disaster.” – CIP. A picture book recommended for readers 8-years-old and up. [Birds; China; Country life; Farms and farming; Historical fiction; Individuality]
Zihan, Mei. New Year. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2021.
Can you miss someone who is far away and be happy for them at the same time? In this wistful picture book, a father thinks about his grown-up daughter who lives in Paris. He wishes she could be back home with him in Beijing for Chinese Lunar New Year. But he is also proud that she has grown up into an independent person who has her own life in France. This extraordinarily beautiful story – evocatively illustrated in ink and watercolour by Qin Leng – is for mature readers who are able to see life from more than one point of view.
Teachers of creative writing may want to use this story to show how to subtly move from speaking about a person to addressing them directly. Teachers of literature may want to show how specific cultural details can be combined with universal emotions to create a story with timeless appeal.
Click HERE for a list of great stories.
Kling, Heidi R. Sea. New York: G. P. Putnam, 2010.
Fifteen-year-old Sienna accompanies her father on a trip to Indonesia to work with relief workers helping victims of a tsunami. She has no idea that the people she meets will change her life forever. Teen readers who enjoyed Alexandria of Africa by Eric Walters are likely to find this novel, with added romance, even more enjoyable. In both novels, the main characters are typical self-absorbed teenagers who unwillingly leave California to discover the wider world. [Tsunamis; Natural disasters; Orphans; Grief; Love; Humanitarianism]
Balouch, Kristen. Mystery Bottle. Northampton, MA: Crocodile Books, an imprint of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc., 2022.
What do you own that reminds you of another place, another person, another time? A boy in New York opens a package from Iran. Inside is a little bottle. And out of that bottle comes a wind that carries him from Brooklyn all the way to Tehran and into the arms of his loving grandfather. This beautifully designed picture book is highly recommended for imaginative readers 5 to 9 years old.
Reid, Megan. Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2021.
Are you a numbers person? Do you enjoy working with equations? Or are you a word person? Do you like reading and writing? Or do you like both mathematics and stories?
Maryam preferred stories. Until – when she was 12 years old – she discovered geometry. Now she could turn numbers into shapes! And shapes made stories! This inspiring picture book biography tells the story of the first woman and first Iranian to win the prestigious Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize. It is accompanied by additional facts and references at the end. Recommended for readers 7 to 11 years old.
Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise over Fallujah. New York : Scholastic Press, 2008.
“Robin Perry, from Harlem, is sent to Iraq in 2003 as a member of the Civilian Affairs Battalion, and his time there profoundly changes him.” – CIP. A young adult novel for mature readers 13-years-old and up. [African Americans; Iraq; War stories]
Rumford, James. Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2008.
In this picture book for adolescents, bombs and missiles fall on Baghdad while a boy uses the art of calligraphy to emotionally distance himself from the fighting.
Life lessons, I learned, can come from pretty much anywhere, whether it is my mom telling me to think ahead of what the weather will be like and to dress appropriately, or just me realizing I just did a stupid thing and telling myself, “Well, I’ll never do that again.” And many times I find those life lessons in books. Silent Music by James Rumford (Roaring Book Press, 2008) is one of the books from which I learned a good life lesson. At first, when I picked up this picture book, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that I needed to sign out two picture books so this was the one I grabbed off the shelf. Well, I guess this was the right one to pick because in the few pages this book had, there was so much meaning that a whole novel could be written on it. Some of the things that I learned are that inspiration can lead to great things, and that in a time of depression, desolation and war, not losing yourself is one of the most important things that you can do. This story is set in Baghdad and is the tale of Ali, a young boy, who loves to play soccer and dance, but most of all loves practicing calligraphy. He is inspired by the great calligrapher Yakut and so, totally trapped in a country where war and poverty are all around, he turns to what he loves to bring peace to his heart and to his mind. This was truly an inspiring story. (Luisa in grade eight)
Banks, Lynne Reid. Broken Bridge. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1995.
Two fourteen-year-olds, recently arrived in Israel walk unsuspectingly thorough the streets of Jerusalem. Two men jump out of a doorway and pounce on them. A few agonizing seconds later, one of the teenagers lies dead from the stab of a terrorist’s knife. Recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [Israel; Teenagers; Terrorism]
Kass, Pnina Moed. Real Time. New York: Clarion Books, 2004.
“Sixteen-year-old Thomas Wanninger persuades his mother to let him leave Germany to volunteer at a kibbutz in Isarel, where he experiences a violent political attack and finds answers about his own past” – CIP Recommended for readers in grade 8 and up. [Israel; Holocaust; Arab-Israeli conflict; Voyages and travels; Terrorism]
Zenatti, Valerie. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008.
Tal, a teenager in Tel Aviv, throws a bottle in the sea after witnessing a bombing. Soon, she receives an email message from a Palestinian young man and slowly, a friendship develops between them. A young adult novel for readers 12-years-old and up.
Click HERE for stories set in Japan.
Kadohata, Cynthia. Half a World Away. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014.
“Twelve-year-old Jaden, an emotionally damaged adopted boy fascinated by electricity, feels a connection to a small, weak toddler with special needs in Kazakhstan, where Jaden’s family is trying to adopt a ‘normal’ baby.” – CIP. While not of outstanding literary quality, this novel for 11 to 14 year olds is recommended for its depiction of a little-known country and the intricacies of the process of international adoption process. [Adoption; Emotional problems; Love; Kazakhstan]
Kim, Erica. Kimchi, Kimchi Every Day. Washington, D.C.: Soaring Kite Books, 2022.
While not set in Korea, this cheerful, rhyming book goes through the days of the week celebrating different ways of preparing of kimchi, the famous Korean dish based on fermented vegetables. Exuberantly designed with various fonts – all in the large letters – and brightly coloured full-page illustrations, this picture book is recommended for children three to seven years old. Explanatory notes – at the end – providing additional information make this a useful book for young students starting to do research projects.
Park, Frances. My Freedom Trip: a Child’s Escape from North Korea. Honesdale, PEN: Boyds Mill Press, Inc., 1998.
A young child is secretly helped to escape across the border into South Korea in this powerful picture book based on real events. (Korean War; North Korea; Night; Courage; Historical fiction; Voyages and travels)
Park, Linda Sue. The Firekeeper’s Son. New York: Clarion Books, 2004.
“In nineteenth-century Korea, after Sang-hee’s father injures his ankle, Sang-hee attempts to take over the task of lighting the evening fire which signals to the palace that all is well. Includes historical notes.” – CIP. A picture book recommended for readers 7-years-old and up. [Fire; Historical fiction; Korea]
Park, Linda Sue. When My Name was Keoko. New York: Clarion Books, 2002.
“With national pride and occasional fear, a brother and sister face the increasingly oppressive occupation of Korea by Japan during World War II, which threatens to suppress Korean culture entirely.” – CIP. Recommended for competent readers 11 to 15 years old. [Korea, WW 2; Courage; Brothers and sisters]
Perkins, Mitali. Bamboo People. Watertown, Mass.: Charlesbridge, 2010.
Chiko has been forced to join the Burmese army.Tu Reh has run away from a refugee camp to join his father fighting with the Karen people against the Burmese government. The two boys unexpectedly meet in the jungle. What will happen? This young adult novel of compassion and hope set in Myanmar is recommended for readers 12-years-old and up, especially ones who appreciated War Brothers by Sharon McKay and Shattered by Eric Walters. [Fathers and sons; Burma; Survival; Soldiers; Refugees; War stories; Courage]
McCormick, Patricia. Sold. Hyperion, 2006.
Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi lives in poverty with her mother and stepfather on a Nepalese mountainside. She hopes a better life awaits her when she is sent to work in the city. But instead, she discovers she has been sold into prostitution. A National Book Award finalist, this disturbingly realistic novel is for mature readers only. [Human trafficking; India; Nepal; Prostitution; Slavery]
Click HERE for an annotated list of recommended stories.
Papua New Guinea
Mikaelsen, Ben. Jungle of Bones. New York: Scholastic Press, 2014.
After joyriding in a stolen car, Dylan ends up in Papua New Guinea because his mother sends him to spend the summer with his uncle, an ex-Marine, who is on an expedition to find his grandfather’s bomber which was shot down in World War 2. Resentful, Dylan disregards warnings and gets lost in the jungle. Will he survive? Will he give up his perpetually defiant attitude? This quickly-paced novel will appeal to 11 to 15 year old readers. [Adventure and adventurers; Juvenile delinquents; Survival; Uncles; World War 2]
Walters, Eric. Wave. Doubleday Canada, 2009.
When the 2004 tsunami strikes Thailand, Sam struggles to survive while his sister, Beth, at home in New York City wonders if she will ever see her brother and parents again. Told from alternating points of view, this historically based novel is by a popular and prolific Canadian author.
Oral, Feridun. A Warm Winter. Hong Kong: Michael Neugebauer Publishing, 2016, c2015.
Little Mouse needs more firewood to warm his nest. But he’s not strong enough to pull the pile of sticks back home. Maybe some friends can help? This heartwarming picture book from Turkey – translated into English – will delight readers and listeners up to 9 years of age.
Pelliciolli, Anna. Song of the Old City. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020.
A delightful story set in Istanbul, Turkey. A young girl ventures out into the old city, meeting merchants, making friends, and passing along all the kindnesses shown to her. Cheerful full-page pictures filled with joyous movement illustrate this wonderful picture book highly recommended for readers 6 to 12 years old.
Ho, Van and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to Be Reunited with Her Family. Toronto: Pajama Press, 2018.
Imagine being left behind when your parents move to another country. That is what happened to young Van. She was left behind when her parents and older siblings fled from the communist rulers in Vietnam. Happily, Van was eventually able to rejoin her family in Canada. The large print and widely spaced lines make the book easy to read, but the story itself is not so easy to read. This 142-page true story – accompanied by photographs – is recommended for brave readers with compassionate hearts. [Communism; Grandmothers; Refugees; Vietnam]
Lai, Thankha. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins, 2011.
A ten-year-old girl tells of the journey she, her three brothers and her mother make from Vietnam to their new home in Alabama in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. A novel based on a true story for readers 11-years-old and up.
Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk with Tuan Ho. Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival. Toronto: Pajama Press, 2016.
In 1981, six-year-old Tuan escaped with his mother and two of his sisters. In the middle of the night, they got on a boat which took them far out to sea where they were rescued by sailors on an American aircraft carrier. Illustrated by award-winning Brian Deines, this powerful picture book tells the true story of one child’s journey as a refugee from Vietnam to Canada. Accompanied by historical and biographical information, as well as numerous photographs, this informative and inspiring story is recommended for readers 8 years old and up.