Moving is part of the package (no pun intended) of a third culture kid. Boxes, crates, suitcases, packing and unpacking were all fixtures of my childhood experience. By the time I was 13,our family had moved 9 times.
Each place has special memories, each new home or apartment has its own stories. I remember the purple irises all lined in a row in our home in Villeneuve-Le-Roi, the laundry shoot that went all the way to the basement in our home in Barrington, Illinois, the missionary closet filled with old clothes and the smell of moth balls in the TEAM apartments in Wheaton, the daisy bedspreads my mom made for me and my sister when we moved to our home in Maurepas, France.
Each move brought with it a sense of excitement and anticipation, but also anxiety and fear of the unknown. I have happy memories of moving to new homes and new locations, I think, because it was something we did together as a family, my siblings and my parents were always there, and it bonded us closer together as we braved the unknown united. I remember unpacking all my stuff after returning from a year’s furlough – It was like Christmas, as we re-discovered toys and books that we had forgotten about.
Starting in a new school… now that is a different story. I was a shy child and facing a new school, all the new faces, teachers and students alike, struck terror in me, I had to do this alone, my family could only wave as they dropped me off in front of that new school.
These are some of the reactions and emotions your child may experience during a move:
- Loss – so many losses: house, bedroom, school, often extended family, neighborhood, and for TCK, language fluency and cultural identity
- Sadness and grief as a result of all the losses
- Loss of control – just when your child is learning all the rules, the rug is pulled out from under them and they must relearn many things, especially if moving cross-culturally.
- Anxiety – fear of the unknown – will I make new friends? Can I learn or sometimes relearn a new language? When will I see my grandma and grandpa again?
- Anger – sometimes anger can be the result of deeper issues of loss, anxiety or lack of control
- Regression – in your children, moving can lead to regression – behaviors may resurface, or skills such as toilet training or sleeping through the night may be lost temporarily.
- Excitement – the level of excitement is contagious – if you are excitement and your attitude is positive and adventurous, your child will also feel excited.
The following books are great bibliotherapy for third culture kids. Be sure to stock up on books to help them cope with the changes and the emotions that are sure to surface as the boxes are packed and unpacked. A great time to start reading these books about the transition to your child is months before the big move. Knowing a character (even if they are fictional) or other children who go through similar emotions and feelings as a result of a move will help your child identify their own feelings and process them. This is a long list of books – I hope you can use it as a guide to selecting good books about moving to help your TCK through these times of transition. This is by no means exhaustive – I would love to her from you if you have found other helpful resources (please share comments and ideas in the comments on this blog post – thanks!)
Preschool picture books
If your kids are familiar with the Berenstain Bears, this is a great addition. There is something comforting about a favorite character going through the same experiences as you. Join Mama and Papa and brother bear (sister Bear was not born yet) as they move from their cave up in the mountains to their treehouse down in the valley.
GOOD-BYE/hello by Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Michael Bryant (1995)
Great for preschoolers, this is the story of a little girl who moves from a city to a suburb. The first part of the book she says good-bye to all the places and friends she has grown to love in her old neighborhood, the second part of the book she says hello to all the new scenes in her new home and neighborhood. (ages 2-5)
Bella And Stella Come Home by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise (2010)
This is a gentle and comforting picture book for preschoolers and young elementary. A young girl faces a wide range of reactions and emotions as she moves to a new house. l love the rich shades of yellow, pink and purples throughout the book, the adorable and expressive African-American girl, her elephant who becomes large and life like when she is especially frightened or anxious and needs his comfort and the humorous details throughout. Everything about the new house is strange and different – there are more steps going into her house than her old house, the new kitchen is yellow and “Stella thinks kitchens should be blue” like her old house. And the bathtub has feet! Night time comes and everything is even more frightening, but the next day, as they unpack all her things and meet their new neighbors, their new home begins to feel more like home. This book might just become a favorite, long after all the boxes are unpacked. (ages 2-6)
This humorous and heartwarming story is told from the perspective of a golden retriever, as he watches anxiously the chaos and confusion of a moving day. The colorful watercolor illustrations compliment the story well. I especially loved the page where Boomer is hiding under a chair while boxes, packing paper and movers scurry about him, followed by a blank page with only Boomer still crouched, look dazed with the text printed below: “Before Boomer knew it, the house was empty.” After a long and cramped ride, Boomer is deposited in another empty house. His anxiety is put aside, however, when he discovers the backyard where there are “things to sniff… holes to dig … squirrels to chase… and best of all…there are new friends to be made!”. The day ends with Boomer returning to the house to find his bed, his dish bowl and his favorite tennis ball. A gentle and comforting book as you and your family face the big day too. Your child will empathize with Boomer and his reactions to all the changes around him. (for ages 3-6)
In this preschool book, a young African American boy (I would say he’s around 3) is right in the thick of things, as his family begins packing up to move. Lots of bright illustrations focused on a young child’s perspective and at a child’s level (the adults are there and involved, but you rarely see their faces) and simple conversational style text make this an ideal book for a young child’s first move. (ages 2-5)
In this book, the story of a move from San Francisco to Santa Fe, is told from the perspective of a cat. Ernie loves his life and routine in San Francisco, the walks around town, the fog, the rain, the dragon in Chinatown, the smell of dinner rolls baking at Wong’s, the sound of the cable car bell and the wind of his fur. When they arrive is Santa Fe, Henry announces:
“Big Ernie, say hello to Santa Fe. This is our new home,” announced Little Henry.
NEW HOME? How could this be home?
The colors were all wrong….
…And everything felt different, too….
This couldn’t be home.
Big Ernie was mad, and a little sad.
He had trouble sleeping.
Sometimes he ever got into the red box,
hoping it would take him back to his old house.”
Ernie gradually starts to notice things about his new home that he likes and his sadness dissipates. His zest for life and adventure returns. Another comforting book for preschool children facing similar changes. In the back of the book, there is a note to parents written by Jane Annunziata, a clinical psychologist, with information and tips of how explain a move, timing the news, reactions and feelings and reducing the stress during this time of transition. (for ages 2-6)
Picture books for older kids
As she receives news that her family is moving to Toronto, an eight-year old girl shares all the things she knows and loves about her home in Saskatchewan, Canada. She asks herself: “Have people in Toronto seen what I’ve seen?” – the dirt road with the eight trailers all lined up in a row, the cry of the wolves at night, the pond where her sister catches frogs, the old moose standing in the water at dusk, her small one -room school, the forest fires. When her teacher suggests that she draw all the things that she wants to remember about her life here, that is exactly what she does. She says; “I will fold my drawing up small, put it safe in my pocket and I will take the road with me. To Toronto.”. The vibrant illustrations will resonate with children, painted from the perspective of a child. In the sequel From There To Here, the little girl shares what her life is like now, in Toronto and how it compares with her life in Saskatchewan. I highly recommend these two books, especially to families moving from a rural setting to a larger city.
Cranberry Moving Day by Wende and Harry Devlin (1994)
I love the Cranberry picture books so I just had to add this one to the list. In Cranberry Moving Day, Maggie, Grandmother and Mr. Whiskers just how to welcome their new neighbors. This is a great story to share with your child where they learn how important it is to BE the new friend and the helping hand in times of transition.
In this moving story of a Vietnamese family’s plight as they are forced to flee from their home land, a young Vietnamese girl saves and treasures a lotus seed she plucked from a lotus pod in the Imperial garden. The author’s interest in Vietnam grew as she befriended Vietnamese families. Her desire was to show “how a family’s heritage is passed on from one generation to the next, and how hope, like the lotus seed, can survive through the worst of circumstances.” Having objects or traditions that families carry with them, no matter where they live, is a great way to help your children cope with change and loss and bridge the gap between space and time. Each illustration by Tatsuro Kiuchi, a native of Tokyo is a painting in itself – I love the painting of the pink lotus flower and the one of the grandmother crying in the window seat at night, the moonlight streaming in through the window.
All I could say after reading this book was “Wow”. This story, told without words, describes the journey of a young Asian boy as he immigrates to the United States, settling in the heart of New York city. The range of emotions the child feels as he steps off the plane, and is subjected to all kinds of new and strange sights and sounds, jump out at the reader through the cacophony of graphic images. Sadness but also fear keep him indoors until he accidentally drops a special red seed pod, his link to his former life, out the window. In a commentary at the back of the book, the author puts it this way: “what happens to us when we forget to be afraid? We loosen our firm grip on what belongs to us. We open our hands. We share. We give.” As the young boy steps out of his comfort zone, he begins to explore his new world, and finds joy in the hustle and bustle of city life and friendship waiting just around the corner. This book is a visual delight and new discoveries will be made with each reading. A great book to “read” with your child. Let them tell the story, add their comments and explore their own emotions, as they relate to the character on the pages.
Molly Lou Melon is a first grade girl. She is feisty, brave and determined. But she is also the shortest girl in the first grade, she has buck teeth, a voice that sounds like a bullfrog, and is not always very coordinated. Her grandma gives her four pieces of advice (I love that it’s grandma!):
“Walk as proudly as you can and the world will look up to you.”
“Smile big and the world will smile right alongside you.”
“Sing out clear and strong and the world will cry tears of joy.”
“Believe in yourself and the world will believe in you too.”
When Mollie moves away and has to start at her new school, she must prove herself to her new classmates and face the school bully while everyone looks on. With her grandmas advice and her spunk, she faces each challenge with humor and determination. A great book about believing in yourself in spite of physical limitations and facing new situations with courage. I like the fact that it is focused on adjusting to a new school as well as a child’s relationship with her grandmother.
Philip and Erin Stead are the author and illustrator of the 2011 Caldecott Medal book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee (a great book too!). This is their third book together. Peter and his faithful dog, Harold, move to a new house. The story begins with: “Winding along a bumpy road, through the dark unfriendly woods, Peter said, I think this is a terrible idea.”. Moving to a new house, a new neighborhood is a scary experience for children. Everything is frightening and foreboding. Erin Stead uses black and white illustrations to highlight how foreboding the whole experience can be. To ease their fears as darkness approaches and eery shadows appear in the woods just over the bridge, Peter creates Lenny and then Lucy out of pillows and blankets to stand guard over their new house. Lenny and Lucy are simply the best companions and comfort to the young boy, and he and his dog can’t resist joining them outside in the cold, with mugs of hot cocoa. A warm and comforting “read it again” kind of book – one of my favorites.
From the author of Alexander, and the Terrible, Horrible, no good, very bad day comes a book about moving. Alexander says he is not moving….”never. not ever. No way. Uh uh. N. O.” He tries to figure out ways to avoid this unwelcome change in his life, like moving in with the neighbors or his best friend, or hiding in places where they can’t find him. But Alexander still says his goodbyes as he looks one last time at all the places that are special to him: Albert’s house, to his school, the park, his friends, his neighbors. I like the fact that the author includes plenty of humor – laughter is a great release in the midst of change. This book goes through the gamut of a child’s emotions and thoughts as the big day approaches and helps kids feel that despite all the changes, and lack of control they feel over their lives, it’s OK to express your feelings.
From the author of Ira Sleeps Over and The House of East 88th Street, Waber explores courage and the ways we can show courage in everyday situations, from a child’s perspective (as well as from their dog’s perspective). Some examples are light-hearted, others poignant and others thought provoking. My favorites are “courage is being the first to make up after an argument” and “courage is sometimes having to say good-bye.” The whimsical and amusing pen and ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly illustrate the different facets of courage in a child’s life. This would make a great read-aloud, igniting lots of dialogue along the way – your child may even have a few of his/her own to add! A perfect way to talk about fears and emotions.
Books about moving and relocating, specifically written for third culture kids
Valéry Besanceney, born in the Netherlands, is herself a third culture kid and moved several times during her childhood to different countries. As an adult third culture kid, an international school teacher and the mother of two children herself, she desires to create through this book as strong sense of home, but also highlight the emotions that children have during transitions.
As I read through it, here are some of my thoughts and reactions:
- Emma lives in the Netherlands, a great way to introduce and talk about cultural differences
- Thoughts and reflections are interspersed throughout from the perspective of her teddy bear, who has been around Emma since she was an infant and has plenty of wise advice and insight of his own to add
- The author weaves into the story coping strategies and helpful suggestions such as keeping a moving booklet (see ideas below under workbooks) or planting a tree in each place you live.
- Emma processes her emotions and feelings by talking them over with her parents and her friends, even her teacher. The adults in her life are supportive.
- Emma is a strong female character who is smart and tackles the changes in her life with maturity and courage.
- I highly recommend this book for ages 10+. It’s a one-of-a-kind book. Valérie Besanceney just received an honorary mention for her book, B at Home, Emma Moves Again in the 2016 Purple Dragonfly Awards for children’s books. Congratulations, Valerie!
– Note: I only wish there was another version written about with a boy as the main character. (Moving Day – Poems by Ralph Fletcher (see notes below) is a good book about moving written from the perspective of a 12-year old boy.
Pixie’s New Home is a comforting story for your young children who are facing a new move. Pixie, a little donkey, is moving to a new house. She is especially sad about leaving her best friend and playmate. When she arrives at her new home, she meets another playmate. I like the fact that this book doesn’t downplay the sadness of moving away, the loss of her friend, and emphasizes that even though she makes a new friend, she still misses and feels a sense of loss at what and whom she left behind. This books shouts out loud and clear: “you will feel sad. It’s OK to cry and express your sadness” – an important message for third culture kids.
This sequel to Pixie’s New Home is a one-of-a-kind book, tailor-made for TCKs. Pixie returns to the place her and her family once lived. She is so excited! However, as many children do, she expects everything to be exactly as it was when she left. The focus of the book is on Pixie’s friendship with her old friend, Lila. Pixie can’t wait to see Lila again, but when she arrives, Lila doesn’t recognize her or remember her. As in Pixie’s New Home, the author stresses that it is OK to feel sad and express your emotions and sense of loss. The story doesn’t end there, though, Pixie reconnects with Lila and even makes a new friend.
The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad by Simone Costa T. Eriksson and illustrated by Meri
This is a fun book geared for elementary age children is specificallyf focused on moving to another country. This book has chapters and explores the different questions children might have about moving overseas. Do I get to keep my stuff? Will I make new friends? Will my old friends forget me? How will I communicate in another language? Written from the perspective of an elementary age boy and his friends who thinks of themselves as detectives, Mike and his friends tackle the mysteries of moving and address each “mystery” one at a time. I like the fact that Mike and his friends invite the adult in their life into their dialogue and ask for advice. In turn, the adults take time to answer questions, explain things and offer solutions to alleviate their children’s fears. This book, although written for children, offers helpful insight and tips that parents can use with their own children throughout the transition.
Note: the only issue I had with this book is there are a few remarks here and there that stereotype girls and boys. Comments like “Even boys can be caring sometimes.” or the fact that Mike younger sister cries a lot, seems to only wear pretty dresses and her main concern is what will happen to all her dolls. My advice when there are things that crop up in a book that you don’t agree with? read it with your child and TALK about it with them.
About the authors and illustrator of The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad: Simone T. Costa Eriksson is psychologist as well as a intercultural coach. She lives in Brazil. Ana Serra is a poet and author, whose works have been published in anthologies. She lives in Argentina. The illustrator, Maria Isabel Vaz Guimaraes who uses the nickname Meri, has illustrated 12 books. She has moved 16 times during her childhood.
Sammy’s Next Move by Helen Maffini
Sammy’s Next Move is the story of a snail named Sammy who lives around the world with his parents. He often moves to new countries and has to change schools and make new friends. Sammy experiences the feelings and thoughts common to children in similar situations. However, Sammy is a snail. He carries his home with him wherever he goes, just as a third culture kid does by knowing that home is where their heart is. This story also includes two pages of practical tips and activities for parent and children to do during a move abroad. The author of Sammy’s Next Move is a ‘third culture kid’ who lived in Japan as a teenager. Since then she has lived in ten countries and has two third culture kids herself.
Moving Day – poems by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Jennifer Emery (2006)
In a series of short, free verse poems, this book chronicles a 12 year old boy’s journey as he moves from Massachusetts to Ohio. The strength of this book is how each poem captures so well the sense of loss and confusion a young boy feels in the midst of such a change. The simple pencil drawings and watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the emotions of this transition. I can’t recommend this book enough – although poetry may not be something that you are familiar with or drawn to, this free verse book will win you over.
“While many books deal with the experience of being a new kid in town, few focus in such depth on what was left behind.”
School Library Journal
This picture book, written in free verse, follows a Chinese American girl and her little brother on a journey, moving from their home in San Francisco to Asia. Their grandmother gives each of the children a box, a memory box, a happiness box. She tells the children to fill it with four treasures each – treasures that will remind them of happy times and of being loved – and this box will go with them wherever they go. As they set out, each child begins to fill their boxes with memories – a panda from grandma, a marble, a snake, a picture, a leaf. I love the idea of a memory box. This book is beautifully illustratred by Alina Chau – a visual treat (for ages 5-8)
“A great recommendation for relocating families with young children.”–School Library Journal
Sixth grader, Kate Sommers’ life is about to change drastically. When Kate’s father’s job takes the family from sunny and warm California to snowy and cold Pennsylvania, Kate faces more than severe weather as she transitions to life in a new home, new neighborhood, town and new school (for ages 9-12). What I liked about this book was that it highlights all the differences between the two “cultures” and way of life. I think this book would help those coming from a tropical or warm climate and the adjustments to cold, snow and ice winter days. I disliked the focus on dating and the boyfriend/girlfriend culture, Kate’s mom obsessing about her weight, and a 6th grader caught smoking in the bathroom (although I sometimes feel that kids are better prepared for the negatives in US culture if they can read about it and digest in a novel first) I like the humor, the focus on a pre-teens love/hate relationship with her parents and sibling, and her coming to understand that everything about her former life was not the picture perfect life that she imagines. Pennsylvania does begin to feel more and more like home as the story unfolds.
Blue Willow by Doris Gates (first published in 1940)
A moving tale, set in the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, explores the challenges of a transient life and the need to belong. Janey is the daughter of a itenerant worker, moving from place to place, following the crops. Her mother died years ago, leaving Janie with her one treasured possession, a blue willow plate. She longs to and dreams of, someday, placing that plate, over the mantel of a fireplace, in their very own home – a permanent home. Then, on one of their many stops, they move into a shack next door to the Romero family who have a girl right around Janey’s age. Lupe and Janey become close friends. When Lupe’s mom becomes seriously ill and they are unable to pay for a doctor, Janey gives up her one prized possession to help the family. Her sacrificial act changes her family’s life and future. This book is a great read-aloud, perfect for third culture kids, who will empathize with Janey and her longing for roots. A Newbery honor book. Highly recommended!
I’ve included in this post, a list of workbooks that have cropped up recently, specifically focused on moving. I think a workbook would be a helpful tool, especially for the introverted child or one who has trouble identifying and/or expressing their feelings.
When I was a child, I made up a sort of scrapbook about myself, and when I moved, I included pictures and notes written by my friends (see above) It was a real comfort to me and I still have it to this day (I won’t tell you how many years ago this was). Here an excerpt:
My moving booklet is designed to help children through the initial stage of moving, with activities such as drawing, writing and crafts. This booklet can turn into a keep-sake, to remind the child of that event in their lives. Valery describes her booklet this way: “In many parts of this booklet, they will have the opportunity to either write about it, to draw a picture, or to glue on a photograph. This is their own unique story that one day will serve as a keepsake of a life-changing event.” This booklet is a great compliment to the novel B at Home. The girl in the story is given a moving booklet by her teacher and it is an integral part of the novel.
This workbook, although for older kids, is another keepsake scrapbook, covering everything from favorite memories of the home you are moving away from, details of the move, thoughts including likes and dislikes of the new home, and even a section on adjusting to a new school. Lots of activities and journaling options. Stickers included. This would work for grade 3 through 6, or for younger children with help from mom and dad.
Books and journals by Sara Boehm
Sara Boehm has lived the world of corporate relocation, moving 12 times as a child and as an adult. Taking her own experiences in moving as well as those of friends and family, Boehm provides practical advice and encouragement to all going through the process of relocation, especially focusing on those moving their children. Boehm is Founder and CEO of Essential Engagement Services, offering resources and guides to help employees and their families whose lives are being disrupted by relocation. Besides her book for parents The Essential Moving Guide: Practical advice to create a smooth transition and sense of belonging (2015) (I haven’t read this book, so can’t recommend it – but it does look like a helpful resource) she has created 2 workbooks, one for pre-teens and one for teens:
The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Pre-teens All About Me, All About my Move by Sara Elizabeth Boehm
The pre-teen years are a time of transition in a child’s life on many levels and a move can be very challenging for this age group. This workbook provides tips, journaling prompts and games and activities throughout the transition. I like the fact that it goes beyond the details of the move to asking questions related to how the child is feeling, as well as asking other families members to share their own feelings about the move.
Geared specifically for teenagers, this workbook is more of a guided journal than a scrapbook, with lots of space for writing out thoughts and feelings, for example: “When I first heard we were moving, I felt… “, “Now I feel…”, or “The hardest part about moving will be…” and “what concerns me most about moving is… “. Good prompts that help your teenage identify and express their emotions and thoughts.
My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move: A Workbook for Children Moving to a New Home by Lori Attanasio Woodring.
The strength of this workbook is that it is not writing intensive (probably geared to elementary age children who can read and write). The workbook includes games and activities, as well as information at a child’s level. It is colorful, with amusing and eye catching “cartoon like” illustrations. I also like the chapters that focus on feelings: Feelings about Moving, When you are sad, When you are mad, When you are worried. The chapter on feelings has a checklist of possible emotions that a child can check off to help them identify the confusing and often conflicting emotions during a time of transition. This book is also available in Spanish. This workbook has won several awards, including the Independent Publisher Silver Award Winner for Outstanding Children’s and Mr. Dad Seal of Approval Winners for Winter Holidays 2014 award. (for ages 5-11). The author, Lori Attanasio is a licensed psychologist who works with children and is a national and international speaker.
**Note: There is currently a kindle edition for $1.99 on Amazon. I would convert this to a pdf and print it out, as it is more of a workbook/scrapbook that your child will want to add photos, drawings and writing to.
Please note: Please check my librarything.com for the above books. I try to keep the books I list in stock for families living overseas. I do not currently have any of the journals, except for Goodbye, House – A Kid’s Guide to Moving by Ann Banks and Nancy Evans.