Jean Little

Jean Little – Part III of the series on Third Culture Kids authors

After reading about Jean Little’s childhood and early adulthood, in her autobiography, Little by Little, as well as reading a selection of her children’s books, I have become very fond of Jean. If you asked me today, what author I would love to sit down with over a cup of tea or coffee, I would say, enthusiastically, “Jean Little!”

Why? You might ask. Well, I see someone who has had to deal with more than her fair share of struggles as a child and yet, has used her gifts and abilities to impact children as a teacher, a speaker and a writer. Jean, at the age of seven, had to deal not only with moving back to Canada from Taiwan and all the adjustments that come with that, but overcoming physical disabilities, loneliness and bullying in school.

After graduating from high school, and although she was legally blind, she went on to attend the University of Toronto. During this time, her father – who believed in her, encouraged her and constantly urged her to pursue her dream of becoming a writer – passed away. She somehow, managed to pull herself out of her deep state of shock and grief, and finish on time, to earn her BA in English language and literature.
In her early twenties, as she was teaching in a school for physically disabled children, she realized that there were virtually no books about children with disabilities. In most of her favorite childhood books that she would read to her class, any child with a disability was somehow “cured” and went on to live a normal life, such as Colin in the Secret Garden or Clara in Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Most of the children that Jean worked with would never experience a miracle cure and would struggle the rest of their lives. Jean decided to write such a book – her first book was titled “Mine For Keeps” about a child with cerebral palsy. Her first book, published in 1962, won the Canadian Children’s Book Award. Since then, Jean has published over 50 books. She has written novels, picture books, poetry, short stories, and two autobiographical books. Her book “His Banner Over Me” tells the story of her mother, Flora Little, who was herself a TCK from Taiwan – another incredible story of hardship, loss, and courage.

Jean’s life story inspires me. I don’t know about you, but I need these “guiding lights” to whisper in my ear and urge me on, as I face struggles or difficulties: “Come on, Gail, look at Jean. If someone with all the struggles she went through, and all the losses and hurts can rise above and make an impact, so can you!” I want to say:

Thank you, Jean, for sharing your story and giving all us third culture kids, the courage to overcome and impact the lives of those around us.”
Books by Jean Little



Novels

  • Birdie for Now- 2002
  • Dancing Through the Snow- 2007
  • Different Dragons- 1986
  • Forward, Shakespeare- 2005
  • From Anna- 1972
  • His Banner Over me- 1995
  • Home From Far- 1965
  • Kate- 1971
  • Listen for the Singing- 1977
  • Look Through my Window- 1970
  • Lost and Found- 1985
  • Mama’s Going to Buy you a Mockingbird- 1984
  • Mine for Keeps- 1962
  • One to Grow On- 1969
  • Rescue Pup- 2004
  • Somebody Else’s Summer- 2005
  • Spring Begins in March- 1966
  • Stand in the Wind- 1975
  • Take Wing- 1968
  • The Belonging Place- 1997
  • The Birthday Girl- 2004
  •  The Jean Little Collection- 2001
  • Willow and Twig- 2000 (young adult book)

Poetry

  •  Hey World, Here I am- 1986
  • I Gave Mom a Castle- 2003
  • When the Pie was Opened- 1968

Picture books

  • Bats About Baseball- 1995
  •  Gruntle Piggle Takes Off- 1996
  • I Know an Old Laddie- 2003
  • Jenny and the Hanukkah Queen- 1995
  • Jess was the Brave One- 1991
  • Listen, Said the Donkey- 2006
  • Once Upon a Golden Apple- 1991
  • Pippin the Christmas Pig- 2003
  • Revenge of the Small Small- 1992
  • The Sweetest One of All- 2008

Autobiographies and biography

  • Little By Little- 1987
  • Stars Come Out Within- 1990
  • His Banner Over Me – 1995 – fascinating story of her mother’s life, also a TCK.

 

Although I have not read all of her books, I have read many and I would like to highlight a few here:
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From Anna by Jean Little (1972)

This is the story of Anna Solden, a visually impaired girl who moves from Germany to Canada with her family, as Hitler rises to power in the 1930s in Germany. From Anna is one of Jean Little’s most popular works and has many similarities with her own life story. I absolutely loved it! I think it ranks up there with my top 10 favorite chapter books. This is another great TCK story, as Anna and her family adjust to another language and culture, after living all their lives in Germany. I also liked that she tackled the issue of both cultural adjustments and living with disabilities not just in the school context but in family life. I highly recommend this book. (for ages 8-12)

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The Belonging Place by Jean Little (1997)

This historical fiction novel is set in the mid-nineteenth century. A young Scottish girl, Elspet, is adopted an aunt and uncle after her mother’s death. The family, including Elspet eventually immigrate to Canada. The theme of the search to belong is prominent throughout the book, as Elspet struggles with belonging in her adopted family and the family adjusts to their new home in Canada. If your kids like the Little House on the Prairie books, this is a must read. (for ages 8-12)
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Dancing Through the Snow by Jean Little

After being abandoned at the age of 4, Min has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Now a week before Christmas, she finds herself at the Children’s Aid office. Her foster mother no longer wants to care for her. She has no family, no birthday, no idea of where she came from. Jess Hart, a former Children’s Aid doctor, can’t take it anymore. She storms in and announced to the social worker that she is taking Min home with her for the holidays. Min, both grateful and fearful, slowly begins to allow Jess into her heart and life. A moving story perfect for Christmas, both for an older child to read on their own or as a family read-aloud. (for ages 9 and up)
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Lost and Found by Jean Little

The short novel with a big punch, this is one that after reading it, I thought, wow, that one I should add to my list of books on moving. This is the story of a young girl who is not excited about moving to her new home, and having to make new friends. An lost dog and his needs brings her out of her shell. I love the ending. (For age 6-9)

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Little by Little by Jean Little

In this first of her two autobiographies, which starts off with her life in Taiwan, Jean shares of her joys and struggles as she deals with change and her visual disabilities. I won’t summarize her life, there are way too many amazing stories but I will say: read this book! I will also include a short excerpt to wet your appetite – this is my favorite part of the book:
Jean describes, in this chapter, how she had to ride the streetcar home from school one day on her own. Since she didn’t recognize her street corner and couldn’t hear the driver clearly announcing her stop, she missed her stop and rode all the way to the end of the line, before the bus driver noticed her. He did take her back to her stop, she got off and ran home, into her mother’s arms, sobbing. Her mother held her, then told her to go get ready for bed. She brought her dinner up to her on a tray. Jean asked her mother to read to her. She adds: “I needed a story to come between me and the difficult things that had happened“. (I love that!). Her mom summoned her siblings then opened a book and began to read:
When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable looking child ever seen. It was true too.”

Jean, in Little by Little, goes on to explain:


“I laid down my spoon. From the first sentence, The Secret Garden seemed especially mine. I did not wonder what Mary Lennox looked like. I knew. She looked exactly like me…. I had make two journeys that day, one to the end of the streetcar line and one to Misselthwaite Manor. I never cared to ride to the end of the line again, but over and over I would return to that vast and mysterious house. And always, when I got to the long walk, Mary herself would be waiting to take me through the door to the secret garden.”  

Jean Little
Little by Little is for ages 9 and up – a great book for adults too

Her autobiography continues in The Stars Come Out Within – also a great read.

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His Banner Over Me by Jean Little

This book tells the story of Jean’s mother, Flora Millicent “Gorrie” Gauld. She was also born in Taiwan to missionary parents, but spent much of her life with relatives in Canada, separated from her parents. She became one of the nation’s first women doctors and a missionary herself. The books is a powerful reminder of the great sacrifices early missionaries made, including many years of separation from their children. A must read! (For ages 9 and up)

Facts about Jean Little

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  • Jean Little was born in 1932, in Formosa, now called Taiwan.
  • Shortly after her birth, doctors discovered that she had scars over both her corneas that caused severely impaired vision and crossed eyes.

  • Jean’s parents were Canadian doctors serving as medical missionaries under the United Church of Canada in Taiwan. Jean has two older brothers, Jamie and Hugh and a younger sister, Pat.

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  • The Little family returned from Taiwan to live in Canada in 1939 when Jean was 7. In Toronto, she was placed in a classroom for visually impaired children, a classroom where she flourished and felt accepted. They moved to Guelph in 1940, where she entered a mainstream classroom and although she did well academically, she struggled to make friends and was often teased or ridiculed by her classmates. Reading became her passion and her escape from loneliness and hurt.
  • She is one of Canada’s most successful children’s authors and the first to deal extensively with issues of disabilities.
  • Her own struggles as a partially sighted individual are reflected through her characters, who often deal with physical disabilities, or confront psychological difficulties involving fear or grief.
  • Jean writes her books using a talking computer that reads back the writing letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence or the entire file.

  • She has a retired seeing-eye dog named Ritz and a new one named Pippa, with whom she travels. Her and her sister also have other pets, including a talking great parrot named Henry Huggins.
  • Jean has written 50 books and has recieved numerous awards, including the Canada Council Children’s Literature Award and the Matt Cohen Award in celebration of her writing life.
  • When not writing, Little keeps abreast of her audience by working with young people in the church, schools, and community.

  • Favorite children’s books include The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

 

 

 

 

  • She now lives in Guelph, Ontario with her sister Pat.

Quotes by Jean Little

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Homesick, My Own Story

Jean Fritz –  part 1 in a series on TCK children’s authors
I am excited to begin a series here on this blog about children’s authors who are third culture kids. I have yet to find a list out there (anyone know of one?) but I am starting my own list. Here is what I have so far (a work in progress – please let me know if you know of any others I need to add to this list below):
Pearl Buck – TCK from China

Jean Fritz – TCK from China

Meindert DeJong – TCK from Netherlands

Rumer Godden – TCK from China

Rudyard Kipling – TCK from India

Jean Little – TCK from Taiwan

Anne Sibley O’Brien – TCK from Korea

Katherine Patterson – TCK from China

Mitali Perkins – TCK who spent much of her childhood overseas in Bangladesh, India, England, Thailand, Mexico, Cameroon, and Ghana.   (I did write a blog post about Mitali Perkins “Tiger Boy” – check it out – she’s an amazing writer)

Missing anyone? Let me know…
In this first post in my series of TCK children’s authors, I would like to highlight Jean Fritz.

She is an American children’s writer best known for American biography and history as I mentioned above. She won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her career contribution to American children’s literature in 1986. She turned 100 in November 2015.
If you homeschool or love history, you will definitely be familiar with Jean Fritz’s history books for children. Who has not heard of these famous books?

  •  And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?
  • Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt
  • Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?
  •  George Washington’s Breakfast
  •  Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln
  •  Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution
  • What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
  • Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus?
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?
  •  Who’s That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?
  • Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?
  • Why Not Lafayette?
  • You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?

In addition to these shorter works for younger children, she has also written chapter books about famous Americans in history including:

  •  The Double Life of Pocahontas
  • Around the world in a hundred years (a book about early explorers)
  • The Great Little Madison
  • Stonewall

Jean Guttery Fritz was born November 16, 1915 in China where she lived until 1927.  When she was 12, she returned to the US and settled in Virginia.


Her book Homesick, My Own Story is the focus of this post. It was published in 1982 . It is a Newbery Honor book, winner of the American Book Award and winner of the Christopher Award. This chapter book with illustrations and drawings by Margot Tomes, is geared from 8 to 12 year olds, although I have loved it as an adult, and I think teens would enjoy it as well, especially TCKs. There is a section at the back of the book with photographs of herself and her family, many of them in China, which brings her story to life.

Although she tells the story of her childhood in China and her subsequent years as she settles in the US and adjusts to life there, she admits in the preface that her memories of her childhood come out in lumps, often not sequential, so she weaves the story together with fictional bits. She says that she would have to consider this a work of fiction, but that “it does not feel like fiction to me. It is my story, told as truly as I can tell it.”.   



I have read this several times and each time I read it, I glean new insights about being a TCK and the joys and struggles that come with it: the loneliness, struggles at school, that sense of living between two worlds and longing to belong, that sense of loss at leaving one country to go to another.
My favorite section of this biography of her life, is when she is on the boat leaving China at the age of 12 – although she is excited about seeing the US and her grandparents and extended family for the first time, she feels as if she was in an in-between state – not in China, not in America – she describes it like this in Homesick My Own Story:

 

“It seemed to me that once we were completely out of sight of land, I would really feel homeward bound. But as I looked at the Shanghai skyline and at the busy waterfront, I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t moving away at all. Instead the land was slowly moving away and leaving me. Not just Shanghai but China itself…. I could even smell China, and it was the smell of food cooking, of steam rising from many rice bowls it hung in a mist over the land. But it was slipping away. No matter how hard I squinted, it was fading from sight.”


That “in-between” state that we all can relate to as TCKs – it seeps into you and never leaves you: never fully belonging, always longing for a place that feels 100% like home, knowing it will never come to be on this side of eternity.

Jean is not shy about giving you the whole picture of her childhood, the good along with the bad, the happy times as well as the sad times. Life was not easy for Jean. She was ostracized by the Chinese who call her a “foreign devil”. She didn’t fit in in the British school she attended. Her family faced war and violence, separation and anxiety, grief and loss, depression and loneliness. It’s all there, but the overall tone of the book is not negative. As a girl, faced with these difficulties, she learned to cope, she found those places inside herself to escape to, she had supportive parents and a Chinese nanny who herself struggled from being ostracized by her family. Jean is an example of one who takes what life offers, drank the bitter cups and decided to focus on the beautiful and the good she saw around her, like the wild flowers and the mountains, books, her cat, her relationships with family both far and near. Jean also learned to except herself, her weaknesses and hone in on her strength.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially to TCKs. I would love (and often do) throw it in to the boxes I mail out to family overseas. 

Fun Facts about Jean Fritz’s life :

  • She was born in Wuhan, China and lived there until she was 13. She still misses China. She has visited China three times as an adult. She can speak Mandarin, but did not learn to write the traditional Chinese characters.
  • She is an only child. When she was 11, her mother gave birth to a little girl, they called her Miriam but she was born premature and only lived a few weeks. She was often lonely. She loved to write and writing became her way of processing all her experiences and emotions.
  • Her interest in American history started as a child, when her father shared stories and tales of American heroes from the past. She says traces her love of history to her need for roots. As a child, she often felt disconnected. US history gave her a sense belonging.
  • She said she did not enjoy history as a child, but as an adult, she was fascinated by the different people who lived throughout history. She says:  “Sometimes it seems as if a person from long ago steps out from a page and speaks to me. Then I know I have to write another book.” 


  • She announced that she was going to be a writer when she grew up when she was 5 years old.
  • As a child, she read Peter Pan by Baum, The Secret Garden by Burnett and  Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Just so Stories was her favorite. One of her current favorite books is The Lemming Condition by Alan Arkin
  • Out of all her books (and she has written well over 50 books) she is most proud of Homesick, My Own Story because it is the story of her own childhood. Homesick, My Own Story is also her best seller. The title Homesick has a double meaning: yes, she was homesick for America when she was in China, but after returning to the US, she realized she was then homesick for China.
  • When asked if any of her great-great grand-children were to write a book about her, what would they title the book, she replied: “I think my children and I feel I’ve never quite grown up, so maybe something like She Never Grew Up.”
  • In China, she attended a British school. There she had to sing “God Save the King!” every morning. She did not want to do it. Even though she had never been to America, she felt that singing that song would be traitorous.  Fortunately, her wise father pointed out that the American song, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” had the same tune, so she quietly sang that instead.
  • One of the things she hated the most when she first attended public school in Virginia was having to learn cursive writing.
  • She loves rivers and oceans. When she was in China, she loved the Yangtse River and now she lives in New York beside the Hudson River. She also loves the ocean and vacationed for many years in Virgin Cordo, an island in the Carribean Sea. When she was younger, she loved to swim and snorkel. She still loves to go to the beach and just enjoy the beauty, sounds and smells of the sea. (A woman after my own heart! “A kindred spirit” as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables would say)
  • Of course, she also loves reading. She reads all sorts of books, not just history.
  • In 1983, she went back to her hometown in China and found her house, where she and her parents lived. She visited a school and showed the children a photograph album the children of Dobbs Ferry, NY made to show what their life is like.
  • Her favorite character from history?  She is crazy about LaFayette. She wrote a book about him called “Why Not LaFayette?“. She loves the fact that he was devoted to democracy. He was a very principled man. She is saddened by the fact that he is not studied in school that much any more.
  • She attended Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois.
  • She married Michael Fritz in 1941. She has two children, David and Andrea.
  •      Her birthday is November 16th 1915. She turns 101 in a few months.

Quotes from Jean Fritz:

When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.” ― Jean Fritz

Only when a book is written out of passion is there much hope of its being read with passion.” ― Jean Fritz

Books on moving and transitions for TCKs

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.

Move back to France – Fall 1970

 

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


Moving Day by Jan and Stan Berenstain (1994)

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)


Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge (1996), illustrated by Mary Whyte

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)


Moving Day – a Child’s Play book illustrated by Jess Stockham (2011)

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)


Big Ernie’s New Home – A Story of Children Who are Moving (2006) by Teresa and Whitney Martin

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


I Know Here by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James (2014)

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.


The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi (1993)

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.


Here I Am by Patti Kim, pictures by Sonia Sanchez

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.


Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catron

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.


Lenny & Lucy by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2015)

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.


Alexander, who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst

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.


Courage by Bernard Waber (2002)

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


B at Home by Valery Besanceney (for ages 10+)

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 by Emmanuelle Payot Karpathakis

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.


Pixie’s Holidays by Emmanuelle Payot Karpathakis

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.

Poetry


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


Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Alina Chau (2015)

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

Chapter Books



B at Home by Valery (see review above under “Books about moving and relocating, specifically for third culture kids”)

The Year my Parents Ruined my Life by Martha Freeman (1999)

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!
Workbooks

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.

An excerpt from my childhood scrapbook

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 by Valery Besanceney (written by the author of B at Home)

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.


Goodbye, House A Kid’s Guide to Moving by Ann Banks and Nancy Evans (1999)

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.


The Essential Moving Guided Journal For Teens: My Life and Thoughts, before and after by Sara Elizabeth Boehm

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.

Wonder 


Even though I read this book recently and it left a deep impression on me, I was reluctant to do a review of it here. I mean, there are currently 7,994 reviews of it on Amazon. Wow! that’s a lot of reviews… Do I really need to add my review?

I decided that if my review causes you to read this book than YES, it’s worth another review. Besides, I think this book is amazing and I just have to share it! By the way, even though this is a children’s book, it is more widely read and adults and children alike are reading it. The author notes with humor that it is more often the adults that cry, even weep, over the book.

I also feel like Wonder is tailor made for third culture kids. It addresses issues that are part of the fabric of our lives: being an outsider, showing kindness to other outsiders, and finding humor in difficult circumstances.
In this review, I have added excerpts from an interview the author had with Michelle Pauli on The Guardian Children’s Books podcast (which I’ve included below)

Being an outsider

No, most TCKs do not face the kind of ostracizing that a child with a severe cranial/facial difference faces, but we have all experienced some forms of rejection for being different and can empathize with Augie on some deep emotional level. This is what Patricia Pollacio says in the interview:

“Everyone can identify with that kid because we all know what it’s like to be the new kid, we all know what it’s like, or remember what it’s like, to be the outsider at some point in our lives and I think, for parents, watching our kids grow up is a way of reliving all of those heartbreaking moments in our own lives and trying to protect our children from having the same heartbreaks which, of course, is impossible.”. R.J. Palacio

As I read Wonder, I could identify with him on his first day at school, watching everyone around him chatting with friends and Augie, feeling so alone and isolated.

Showing Kindness

The second thing I wanted to mention about Wonder is the theme of compassion and kindness that flows throughout the novel. Yes, children can be cruel and unkind, but some kids have the courage and compassion to reach out to others, like Summer, who goes to sit with August and gets to know him. I know many TCKs are often like Summer because they can put themselves in the shoes of those who have been an outsider. There is that connection, there’s that “I know what that feels like” thread of empathy that draws us towards them.

“In some ways, yes, it’s a book about a kid with a cranial/facial difference, but for me, this was ultimately a meditation on kindness, the impact of kindness and the power of kindness to save our lives, to save the world. It is something that needs to be prioritized more in the way we approach raising our children.”. R.J. Palacio

I feel, as a TCK, deep empathy for the underdog and that person sitting alone in a crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always act on it – I am by nature shy, but when I do act out of kindness, it makes my heart glad I did.



Humor

Wonder is not just about heartbreaks, or showing kindness, but also the power of humor in difficult times.
I remember when I was in college, saying goodbye to my parents and sister at the airport as they returned to France, my brothers and I all heading off to our respective campuses. We were all huddled together, and someone or something – I can’t remember what it was – made us all laugh. We were laughing so hard, people were beginning to stare. But it was cathartic, the pain of saying goodbye dissipated in that humorous moment.

 

Saying good-bye and having a good laugh at O’Hare airport 1982

The author said in the interview:

“I met once with a family who had a child with a cranial/facial difference and what they liked the most about the book was the humor throughout… the father said to me: “In a way we have to find the humor in all of this” and they started telling me some really funny stories about the way people reacted to their child. They were making the best of it and finding humor whenever they could.”. RJ Palacio

Humor is a soothing ointment for difficult or painful experiences.

I urge you to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s a powerful and moving story.

I think this novel would work well as a read-aloud and can lead to some great discussion, but just as a precaution, keep a box of tissues on hand.

Note: This is NOT a sad story. It is ultimately about kindness, about friendship, about love, hope, humor and families being there for you in the midst of it all.

Check out this cool episode: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/childrens-books-podcast/id423549679?mt=2&i=358906814

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

  On April 12, Beverly Cleary, famous children’s author, turns 100!

Three of her most popular works are Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.  There are also more than 40 Cleary titles in print. 

  Her most serious book Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Award in 1984. It tells the story of Leigh, who begins the novel as a school assignment, writing letters to a favorite author. He shares with him about his parent’s divorce, his relationship with his father and being the new kid in school.  

About Beverly Cleary

  

Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon. She lived on a farm in Yamhill, a small town with no library. Her mother went the extra mile to ensure her children had books to read. She requests books from the state library and became the town librarian, setting up the books in a lodge room upstairs over a bank. Thus started a love affair with books for the young Beverly. When their family moved to Portland, and she attended school, to her dismay, Beverly was put in the lower reading group in her class, an experience she will never forget. She continues to be an advocate for struggling readers. Before long though, she was a fluent reader and was reading her way through all the books in the library. It was her school librarian who took note of Beverly’s voracious appetite for reading and suggested to her that she should write books herself someday!  

  

 These eight highly amusing and easy-to-read novels for ages 8-12 center on Ramona, a fiesty little girl, her older sister Beezus and her best friend, Henry. The first book Beezus and Ramona is the only book written from the perspective of Beezus, the older sister. Two books in the series were named Newbery Honor books, Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8; Ramona and Her Mother received the National Book Award. 

  •  Beezus and Ramona (1955)
  •  Ramona the Pest (1968)
  •  Ramona the Brave (1975)
  •  Ramona and her Father. (1977)
  •  Ramona and her Mother (1979)
  •  Ramona Quimby, age 8 (1981)
  •  Ramona Forever (1984)
  •  Ramona’s World (1999)

  

Also, be sure to read the exploits of Henry and his dog, Ribsy. Henry is Ramona’s best friend and neighbor. This series, which include Ramona and her family, is great for boys, although my kids (1 boy and 2 girls) enjoyed both series equally.

  •  Henry Huggins (1950)
  •  Henry and Beezus (1952)
  • Henry and Ribsy (1954)
  • Henry and the Paper Route (1957)
  • Henry and the Clubhouse (1962)
  • Ribsy (1964)

  

Of course, no celebration of Beverly Cleary’s life and works would be complete without The Mouse and the Motorcycle!

On April 12th, to celebrate Beverley Cleary’s, children everywhere are asked to participate in D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) to commemorate Cleary’s contribution to children’s literature. If you are not familiar with The Read-Aloud Revival (http://amongstlovelythings.com), I would encourage you to check it out. Sarah MacKenzie is a homeschooling mom of 6 who is passionate about reading. There is a blog, reading lists (hot off the press), podcasts and more. She is offering a FREE downloadable D.E.A.R. Whole Family Book Club Kit, offers suggestions for activities and a Beverly Cleary walking tour.  

  Note: I have multiple copies of all of the above books for families living overseas.

The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

  
I just read this amazing 2016 Newbery Honor book and I highly recommend it. It was a book that kept me reading late into the night. If you are reading it to a child, it will be one of those “one more chapter, pleeeassse” kind of book.
 

My grandmother Ada, with Wendy, my mom, Noreen and Brian during World War II

 

There’s a soft spot in me for courageous World War II stories which take place in Britain. As many of you know my mother is British. My mom, Noreen was three years old when the war broke out. Her father and mother and older siblings Wendy and Brian lived in Harrow, near London, so she was in the thick of things. 

 She remembers the black out restrictions, the air raids, the damp and cold bomb shelters, the sound of enemy planes overhead and the few seconds between the dropping of the bomb and the explosion that ensued.

 She remembers the long lines to buy a piece of meat, or a bag of tea. 

She remembers her father’s absence at the dinner table, not knowing when or if he would return. 

She remembers Winston Churchhill’s booming voice on the radio. 

 She remembers being evacuated from the London area several times, spending weeks at her grandparents house and on another occasion, in a small coastal village. 

 She remembers how strong her mother was, managing the home with three children and working to make ends meet, while her husband was away.  

I have enjoyed hearing my mom share about her life during the war and the challenges their family faced. It has made her who she is, resilient, adaptable, better able to cope with all the changes she has faced throughout her life, as our family moved from place to place, (she has lived in 16 different places throughout her life) living in the England, US, France, Australia and now back in the US. Her experiences during the war have made her treasure family, relationships and hard work, not things or recognition. Her faith in God and her deep love and commitment to Him and His kingdom has also sustained her and continues to sustain her as she faces health issues and her dispersed family. She still misses England – the sights, the sounds … it will also be home for her…. I know she will enjoy this book.  

In this novel, The War that saved my Life, Ada (that was also my grandmother’s name!) is a 10 year old girl, born with a club foot. She cannot walk and her mother, abusive and ashamed of her daughter’s deformity, does not allow her to leave her small flat in London. The story is set in Britain as the beginning of World War II. When her younger brother Jamie tells her they are evacuating children to the countryside, Ada jumps at the opportunity to leave her “prison” and escapes to the countryside along with her brother. Susan, a town recluse, is forced to take them in. Thus begins the story of Ada, Jamie and Susan as they each come to terms with who they are and discover the power and healing that love and acceptance brings. A deeply moving story. It’s amazing to see how the author manages to transform Ada from a fearful, dejected child into a blossoming young girl full of courage and hope in just 316 pages. As we witness her transformation, the reader is reminded of one’s own ability to be resilient in the face of life’s challenges and the difference we can make to those around us who need our love and affirmation. The book is also filled with historical facts related to World War II and is a great launching pad for a World War II study.

  • A Newbery Honor Book
  • Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School)
  • Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2015
  • New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing
  • Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books 2015
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2015
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2015
  • Horn Book Fanfare Book 2015 

An astounding novel. Will you cry and rejoice and hold your breath? Absolutely. Will you find the book as exciting, wise, and profound as I did? Yes. This book is remarkable.”. – Karen Cushman, author of Newbery Medal winner The Midwife’s Apprentice.

If you are looking for other World War II books in addition to the Dairy of Anne Frank, I would also recommend the following:
  

Good Night, Mr. Tom
by Michelle Magorian (1986)

This is very similar to The War That Changed My Life. It is one of my favorite British books. Michelle Magorian was born in Portsmouth, England. This novel won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, an International Reading Association Award and was also made into a film. Also, set in Britain during World War II, a young boy named Willie Beech is evacuated to the country side and is taken in by an older man, Mr. Tom, who seems gruff and distant. Raised by an abusive mother, Willie is thin, malnourished, and afraid of everything, especially adults. As the story unfolds, a beautiful relationship develops between the young evacuee and the elderly man, both blossoming in their own ways. When a telegram comes requesting Willie’s return to London, Willie must comply. After Willie leaves, Mr. Tom decides to go search for Willie, whom he has come to love and wants desperately to save and protect. A powerful story. Read this together with The War That Changed My Life, and compare the two stories. (**note: there is a very sad, and disturbing element at the end of this story that may be intense for certain sensitive children). (for ages 10 and up)

For Younger Children:

Picture books

  


The Butterfly
by Patricia Pollaco

Wow, Pollaco has done it again – packing in some real punch into a picture book. This story takes place in France during WWII. In a small village, a french family hides a jewish family in a cellar. When the little girl sneaks out at night to play with the little French girl, they become close friends. When a neighbor sees her through the window, the family fears imminent arrest and the Jewish family is quickly hustled out to a safer location.  

  Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. (1993)

This picture books captures well the struggles and heartaches of a young Japanese boy who is sent to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There, fighting the heat and dust, as well as loss of respect and dignity, Shorty and his father decide to build a baseball diamond and form a baseball league in the camps. (for ages 6-11)

Easy chapter books

 

 Ten and Twenty by Claire Hutchet Bishop

This book tells the story of how twenty school children hid ten Jewish children in occupied France during World War II. This book is suspenseful, but it does not go into the details of atrocities, so it is suitable for younger children. (ages 8 +)

   Snow Treasure by Mary McSwigan (1942)

In this classic tale of courage and adventure, McSwigan tells the story of a group of children in a small Norwegian village who hid millions of dollars in gold on their sleds and slip right past the Nazi guards to save their country’s treasure from the invading Germans. . This classic has been in print since 1942 (in 1958, the publisher added black and white illustrations by Andre LaBlanc). A must read. (for ages 8-12)

 

 Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (1977)

Based on a true story, this novel tells the tale of Sadako, a Japanese girl who is diagnosed with leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb. After her diagnosis, she begins to fold paper cranes. She is inspired by the Japanese legend that those who fold one thousand paper cranes, are granted a wish. (for ages 8-12)

An extraordinary book, one no reader will fail to find compelling and unforgettable.”. Booklist


Chapter books

  

Lily’s Crossing
by Patricia Reilly Giff (1997)

A Newbery Honor book, we get a glimpse of World War II through the eyes of a young girl growing up in New York. It’s 1944. Lily heads off to Rockaway Beach with her grandmother for the summer. There, Lily befriends a young Hungarian refugee. This story is about friendship between two children, forged by loss, grief and loneliness. Again there are no atrocities mentioned – the emphasis is on the bond of family and friends in the midst of difficult times. I highly recommend this book. (for ages 8-12)

  

When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (1971)

Based on the real-life story of the author, this moving, suspenseful novel has been a favorite children’s World War II book for many years. This story chronicles the war time years of a young Jewish girl and her family who escape Berlin, for Switzerland, and spend several years in exile, going from country to country, coping with learning new languages and culture, being poor, and searching for a place to call home. (ages 8-12)

  

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (1988)

Winner of the National Jewish book award, The Devil’s Arithmetic is about Hannah Stern, a Jewish girl who lives in New York. During Passover Sader, Hannah is weary of listening to old family stories from the past. However, this year everything changes for her when she is transported back in time to 1942 Poland, during World War II and learns first hand the horrors that her family endured. (ages 10 and up)

 “A triumphantly moving book.” -Kirkus Reviews.

  

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)

Winner of Newbery Award, this is also a classic World War II tale, based on real events. In 1943, when the German invaders begin arresting the Jews in Copenhagen, Denmark, AnnaMarie’s family make the decision to take in her best friend Ellen and pretend she is part of their family. (for ages 9-12)

  

When My Name was Keako by Linda Sue Park (2002)

This award-winning novel takes place in Japanese-occupied Korea, from 1940-1945. The new government forbids the Korean language from being spoken and requires all citizens to change their names. The story of life during Japanese-occupied Korea is told through the eyes of Sun-hee (who becomes Keoko) and Tae-yul, sister and brother. With lots of cultural and historical details, this novel introduces children to the struggles faced by families in Asia during World War II. (for ages 9 and up)

 

 The Year of the Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi

This novel also explores the world of Japanese-occupied North Korea, however the tension mounts for Sookan and her family at the end of the war as they make plans for a dangerous escape to South Korea, their only hope for freedom, as the Russian Communist troops take control of their country. (for ages 9 and up)

For older children and young adults
  

The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (1968)

This is a memoir of a young Polish girl and her family who were arrested by the Russians and exiled for five years in Siberia. There they were forced to work weeding potato fields and working in the mines, struggling to survive. It’s about courage, about strong family bonds, about grief, and above all, about hope that sustains us in the darkest of times. (ages 10+)

  

I am David by Anne Holmes (1968)

Anne Holmes (1922-1998) was born in Denmark. She started her career as a journalist. Her novel, originally published in Denmark, became a million-copy bestseller and received numerous awards. David does not remember life before the prison camp, but when the guard gives him a chance to escape, he flees with only a compass and instructions to head North towards Denmark. The beauty of this novel is watching a child experience the world outside a prison camp for the first time. (ages 10+)

 

 Escape from Warsaw (original title: The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier (1956)

In this gripping story, based on actual accounts, The Balicki children fight for survival after their mother is arrested in Warsaw, Poland in 1942. Edek and Ruth get word that their father is now in Switzerland and set out on a dangerous and uncertain journey to find him. A gripping and moving story that is hard to put down. (for ages 12 and up)

What is the Newbery Award?

The 2016 Newbery Medal book was just recently announced….And the winner is:
  
Last Stop On Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. 

Well known for his realistic YA novels that explore class and racial identity, de la Peña became the first Hispanic author to receive the John Newbery Medal. Though it’s not unheard of for the Newbery to go to a picture book, this is only the second time it has happened (A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won the 1982 Newbery Medal). Last Stop on Market Street follows CJ, an African American boy and his grandmother, as they take a city bus through their neighborhood after church. It is a tender story, with a focus on relationships, gratefulness, contentment, being kind and giving to others. I love the series of questions raised by the child and the Nana’s responses – her gentle way of steering the child to see the world through the eyes of others and seeing the good around you instead of the negative.
  
In one of the book clubs I’m in, we just read the 2012 Newbery Medal book Deadend in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, which we all enjoyed and highly recommend. The story chronicles the summer of 1962 in the life of an eleven year old boy growing up in a small town in Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Jackie is grounded the entire summer for cutting down his mom’s corn. His only reprieve is the trips he makes to his elderly neighbor’s house, where he helps her with chores and writing obituaries for the local paper. It’s a humorous story, part memoir, part tall tales, interspersed with local and national history. A fun read!

My friend, Martha, and fellow book lover asked me to recommend my favorite Newbery Award winners. So, this blog is for you, Martha!

(Martha just recently made a trip to Malaysia and hand delivered a bag of children’s books for me to a family there. Thank you, Martha!)

What is the Newbery Medal?
  
The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the American Library Association (ALA). The award is given to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century English publisher of juvenile books, this award became the first children’s book award in the world. Every book considered must be written by a US citizen or resident, and must be published in the US. For the complete list of Newbery Medal and honors, go to ala.org.

  
In 1937, the American Library Association added the Caldecott Medal, an award for the artist with the most distinguished American picture book for children published in the United States.
There are 95 Newbery Medal books. I have read 90 of them (still working on it!)

I have many of them on my list for Kids Books Without Borders available to you if you and your family are living overseas. I just wanted to highlight 12 of my favorites, both older and newer – it was very difficult to narrow it down to 12!
  

The Wheels on the School
by Meindert DeJong – 1955 Medal winnerI can’t recommend this book enough. The setting is a small village in Holland. A group of elementary school children are puzzled as to why the storks do not nest in their village. Their teacher encourages them to investigate and they set out on a project to find a solution to this problem. Meindert De Jong was a Dutch-born American writer of children’s books. In addition to winning the Newbery Medal, he also won the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1962. A beautifully written book, with great character development, a suspenseful plot and a climatic ending. A book that will linger with you and your child for a long time. I recommend it as a read-aloud. (For ages 8-10)

  

The Bronze Bow
by Elizabeth George Speare – 1962 medal winner

Set in the time of Christ, this riveting novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin. Filled with hatred, Daniel is intent on one purpose and one purpose alone – to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the Romans, joining with the rebels to fight the Romans. Then, he encounter’s Jesus who gently and lovingly shows him another way. Jesus says to him: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” A powerful story, still relevant today. (Ages 10 and up)

  

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nim
by Robert C. O’Brien – 1972 Medal Winner

If you love animal fantasies (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Redwall series by Brian Jacques etc.), this book will have you hooked from the first page on. A young mouse is desperate. Her house is about to be plowed and her youngest of 4 is too sick to escape. She recruits the help of a colony of mysterious, but highly intelligent mice who live under the rose bush. They come up with a great solution to her problem. So begins an wild adventure that will carry you along till the very last page. Don’t miss this one! (For ages 8-12 – another great read-aloud)
  
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley -1985 

If you are looking for a fantasy and adventure with a strong female character, look no further. This is a great book to introduce your child to the world of high fantasy. Aerin, the daughter of Damar’s King, has never been accepted as the true heir. She sets out to find out the truth about her mother. With the help of Wizard Luthe and the power of the Blue Sword, she not only unravels a mystery and becomes a Damarian hero.  

Splendid high fantasy… Filled with tender moments, good characters, satisfying action and sparkling dialogue.” School Library Journal

If you love this book, be sure to read the prequel  The Blue Sword, a Newbery Honor book. (For ages 10 and up)

  

Whipping Boy
by Sid Fleishman – 1987 Medal Winner

This is a short and easy read, with black and while illustrations by award winning illustrator, Peter Sis. This is an action-packed, humorous, suspenseful story, filled with lively characters. When a prince and his whipping boy trade places, they are caught up in a world of high adventure and mistaken identities. (Perfect for boys ages 8-12)
  
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor – 1997 Medal Winner

In this historical fiction novel, set in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression, Mildred Taylor chronicles the struggles of the Logan family, an African-American family of land owners. In the midst of a climate steeped in racism, intolerance, and social injustice, this close-knit and loving family must fight to maintain their values and their independence. This rich and moving story is a must read. The Logan family saga continues in the two award winning sequels Let the circle be unbroken and The Road to Memphis. (For ages 9 and up)

  
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman – 1996 Medal Winner

Set in Medieval England, this is a beautifully woven story of an orphan girl, who has no family, no home. She apprentices herself to a midwife. As she learns midwifery, she not only gains self-confidence, she finds a world where she belongs and is needed. A poignant story of self-discovery and courage. (For ages 10-12)
    
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse – 1998 Medal Winner

Written in free verse, this is a quick read, but also a gripping story of hardship and loss during the Great Depression. As the words flow from the pages, you will feel yourself drawn into the life and heart of Billie Jo and rooting for her as she struggles for survival, love and hope. (For ages 11-13)

  

 Holes by Louis Sachar – 1999 Medal winner

This quirky novel, written for older children, will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next. Stanley Yelnats is a 14 year boy whose family is cursed by the actions of Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” Stanley is wrongly accused of theft and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility known as Camp Green Lake. There, in the middle of the desert (no lake, no water even and definitely not a camp), Stanley and the other “campers” spend their days digging holes in the hot sun to “build their character.” Holes is an action-packed story, with colorful characters and strong voices and a complex plot that with keep you and your child reading way past bedtime. This book is a masterpiece and a wonderful book to read aloud. (For ages 10 and up)

  

 

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park – 2002 Medal winner

If I could only pick one Newbery winner, this would probably be the one I would choose. This story takes place in 12th century Korea. It is a deeply moving tale of perseverance, courage and devotion. A young orphaned boy, Tree Ear, sets out on a long journey to deliver his master’s pottery to the royal court. Disaster strikes and robbers shatter the pottery. Tree-Ear, although devastated, decides to present his master art, even if it is only a single shard. (For ages 10 and up)

  

Crispin – The Cross of Leads by Avi – 2003 Award Winner

This is a suspenseful historical narrative that follows a 13-year-old peasant boy in 14th century England as he flees for his life after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a page-turner, and it’s hard to put down, with lots of twists and turns in the plot. It’s also a moving tale about an orphan and his relationship with Bear, a traveling juggler, who offers him shelter, companionship and help along the way as he faces this treacherous journey (For ages 10 and  
   Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata – 2005 Medal Winner

Written for older children (grade 6 and up), I’ll admit, this is a real tear-jerker. Sad and tragic, yes, but there is hope and redemption in the midst of the tragedy, so don’t pass this one over. It is the story of a Japanese family who move to a small town in rural Georgia, where they face prejudice and poverty. The parents must work long days at a chicken-processing plant to make ends meet. Katie is left with the care of her younger siblings. When her sister becomes ill, Katie finds a way to lovingly care for her and keep the family together, against all odds. A deeply moving story that will carve it’s way into your heart. (For ages 10 and up)

Many of the Newbery Award winners are geared to older children and teens – a topic of discussion and criticism of the Newbery Awards. Here is a list of Newbery Awards for younger children that I highly recommend:

Easy chapter

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman (1987)

The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (1942)

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (1950)

Other books for younger children – many of these are great for reading aloud:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2013) – reviewed on a previous blog post 

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (2004)

*The Wheel on the School by Elizabeth George Speare (1959)

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (1948)

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1952)

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1945) 

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946)

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939)

Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1936)

The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)

List of multicultural Newbery Award winners that I recommend:

*Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005) – Japanese immigrants

*A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2002) – Korea

Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000) – African Americans, Michigan

*Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977) – African Americans, Mississippi

The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (1974) Africa, African Americans

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1973) – Native Americans, Alaska

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1973) – Denmark during WWII 

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (1966) – 17th century Spain

The Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (1965) – Spain

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1961) Native Americans, Pacific island

And now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (1954) Hispanic-Americans, New Mexico

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (1953) – Peru

*The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (1952) – The Netherlands

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1951) – African Americans, Africa, Massachussetts

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (1943) – Medieval England

Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1941) – Polynesian Islands

The White Stag by Kate Seredy (1938) – Hungary

Dobry by Monica Shannon (1935) – Bulgaria

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze By Elizabeth Lewis (1933) – China

The Cat Who Went To Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1931) -Japan

The Trumpeter of Kraków by Eric P. Kelly (1929) – Poland

Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (1925) – 19 ancient folktales from Central and South America 

*summarized and reviewed above

List of fantasy Newbery Award winners that I recommend:

  
The Grey King by Susan Cooper (1976) – I highly recommend the entire Dark is Rising series, which includes Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree. (For ages 9 and older) This series is one of the most celebrated fantasy sequences of all time. The Dark Is Rising, based on Celtic and Welsh legends, has won numerous awards.(For ages 9 and up)

  

  

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963) This is also a part of a series – if you are thirsty for more, when you finish A Winkle in Time, look for the other books in The Wrinkle in Time Quintet: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time. (For ages 10 and up)

  
The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1969). Ok, so again this is also part of a series called The Prydian Chronicles, which is one of the most widely read series in the history of fantasy. Based on Welsh mythology and brimming with suspense, humor and adventure, The Prydian Chronicles includes  The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron (winner of the Newbery Honor), The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King. (For ages 8 and up)

CAT TALES

Recently, our friends Rick and Melissa adopted a little grey kitten. We are owners of two dogs (who do NOT like cats) so I had forgotten how soothing it is to have a purring cat in your lap. My childhood home always had a slew of cats, roaming about. We never lacked for a furry cat to fill our laps or curl up in the curve of our legs at night. Luna, our friend’s little kitten, brought back memories of home, comfort, and the joys of cats.
   Luna  with my daughter, Lindsay

Luna also reminded me that I had a book in my tottering, to-be-read pile by my bed – a gift from close friends, Dan and Carol, from our early marriage. The book was written by Dan’s mother, published by his family’s press and illustrated by their daughter, Ruth Anne. I reached for it the other night, and I sat down and read through Cat Tales – the Adventures of an Old Black Cat and her Family by Pauline Brown.


OBC (Old Black Cat) is adopted as a kitten by a family in Pakistan. OBC becomes part of the family and joins them as they travel many miles across Pakistan: trips to and from boarding school, trips to villages and big cities, trips to mountains and to sea. It’s a story full of adventures, family life, joys, tears, hellos and good-byes, a story of God’s provision and care for His creation both great and small. A wonderful TCK story your family is sure to relate to.  Marilyn Gardner, her daughter, has a blog called Communicating Across Boundaries and she wrote a review of her mother’s book there Cat Tales – A Review.  If you’ve never seen her blog, you are in for a treat.  She is a gifted writer and writes insightful posts about cross-cultural communication and TCK issues.

In addition to this third culture kid read, if you are a cat lover (or not), you might also enjoy these:

How to Talk To Your Cat (1985) by George Craighead George, illustrated by Paul Meisel.

Did you know that the purr distinguishes the cat from all other animals? Or that the cat never purrs when it is alone? This non-fiction picture book, by a Newbery Medal winning author of many books on nature and animals, is filled with fascinating information about the mysteries of cats and how to communicate with them. This book is a mix of lively and cartoonish illustrations of cats in various poses, interspersed with photos of the author interacting with cats. This is an eye-catching and informative book for all cats lovers.


Oscar, Cat-About-Town (1990) by James Herriot and illustrated by Ruth Brown

If you have not experienced the stories of James Herriot, then you have missed out on some great animal tales. James Herriot is a British veterinarian and writer who shares his love of animals. He is the author of All Creatures, Great and Small and All Things Wise and Wonderful (adult novels). He also wrote picture books for younger children. Oscar, Cat-About-Town, is a heart-warming story about a cat adopted by the Herriot family (or should I say, that adopts the Herriot family). When Oscar goes missing over and over again, they discover their cat just loves to sneak off and join in the social events in the local village. I also recommend Moses the Kitten, and The Christmas Day Kitten, two other endearing and amusing cat stories by James Herriot.


Cross-Country Cat (1986) by Mary Calhoun, illustrated by Erick Ingraham

A fun story about a cat who is left behind at a winter cabin and travels through the snow on a pair of skis especially made for him to find his family. Cheer on this feisty and brave cat who sets off on a perilous journey through winter woodlands.


Mog the Forgetful Cat (1970) by Judith Kerr

This classic book, over 30 years old, is the story of a cat whose forgetfulness gets him into lots of trouble until one day it actually works in his favor. An irresistible, humorous story the whole family will enjoy.


Pete the Cat I love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean

Eric Litwin has created a unique series of books about a Cat named Pete, that combines simple text and songs (which you can download for free). James Dean created the character based on a cat he adopted from a shelter. I love My White Shoes is the first in the series. Fun and light reading for preschoolers and early readers.


Leo the Magnificat (1996) by Ann M. Martin

Based on a true story, Leo appears one day at a small country church and soon becomes a favorite of everyone in the parish, joining in on all the church activities. He lived at the church for years and had many adventures. Every church should have a resident cat, don’t you think?


April’s Kittens (1940) by Clare Turlay Newberry

Clare Newberry’s books about cats are true and based on her own experience as a cat owner and lover. All her cat stories are drawn from life. This picture book, a Caldecott honor book, is a timeless classic. It is the story of a little girl who lives in a very small apartment in New York city with her cat. When her beloved cat has kittens, April must decide whether to keep her cat or one of the kittens. “This is not a two cat apartment” her parents tell her. What will she decide? Other cat stories by Newberry include Mittens (1936), Babette (1937) and Smudge (1948).


Mrs. Katz and Tush (1994) by Patricia Pollaco

This is more than a cat story, it’s a story of friendship that crosses generations and race. When Larnel, a young African-American boy gives his elderly, Jewish neighbor a cat to ease her loneliness after her husband’s death, the two become close friends, sharing stories and special times together. A very moving and original story and one of Polacco’s many masterpieces. (ages 3-7)


Mr. Putter and Tabby series (1994) by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

In these beginning readers, elderly Mr. Putter and his tabby cat share a series of adventures. Although Tabby is old, she loves a bit of excitement, with her best friend and constant companion, gentle Mr. Putter. Whether it’s picking pears, or buying goldfish, or making soup, she loves to be in the thick of things. The whimsical illustrations are a perfect compliment to these short and humorous stories. There are 17 beginning readers in this series. (ages 6-10)


The Christmas Cat (1976) by Efner Tudor Holmes, illustrated by Tasha Tudor

This gem was written by Tasha Tudor’s daughter and illustrated by Tasha Tudor. A simple, tender Christmas story to warm any animal lover’s heart and a great read at Christmas time. The book includes a recipe for gingerbread animal cookies. A good book, cookies and cats, what more does one need?


Won Ton – A Cat Tale in Haiku (2011) by Lee Wadlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin.

This story is told in a series of senryu (SEN-ree-yoo), a form of Japanese poetry similar to haiku (Hi-koo). A cat arrives at a shelter –

Visiting hours! 

 Yawn, I pretend not to care.

  Yet – I sneak a peek.”

He is chosen by a family and settles into life in his new home. The independence and pride of the cat are contrasted with his vulnerability and his desire for love and belonging. This beautifully crafted book with bright eye-catching illustrations by Eugene Yelchin is sure to melt the heart of any child. (ages 4-8)

Chapter books

The Cat who went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

In this short Newbery Award winning novel, a Japanese painter, commissioned to create a painting for the village Buddhist temple, works diligently, under the watchful eye of his white cat. According to Buddhist legend, the cat was not given Buddha’s blessing because it was proud and did not follow his teachings. Will the painter risk his livelihood by painting a cat among all the other animals? Horn Book says this is “one of the thirty twentieth-century books that every adult should know.” (for ages 8+)


Warriors (2003 to 2013) by Erin Hunter

If your child likes cats, this fantasy series will become a favorite. This series has a real following and can be highly addictive. It is written by authors Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Tui Sutherland, with the plot developed by editor Victoria Holmes, who collectively use the pseudonym Erin Hunter. There are six sub-series, each containing a set of six books. To get started, try the first series called Warriors: The Prophecies Begin. These books are animal fantasies, involving different clans of cats –ThunderClan, ShadowClan, WindClan, and RiverClan—and their many adventures in their forest and lake homes. These are fast-paced, with lots of action and suspense, intrigue and cliff-hangers. To learn more about the Warriors series, check out Erin Hunter’s website at http://www.warriorcats.com. (great for ages 10+) I have lots of these books in stock.


Martin’s Mice (1988) by Dick King-Smith

King-Smith, author of Babe, The Galant Pig, tells a humorous tale about a cat who lives on a farm and unlike the other cats, does not eat mice. He thinks they are cute and does his best to protect them from the rest of his family. This fast-paced, humorous story is a great read-aloud. (for ages 8-12) Be sure to check out King-Smith’s other animal novels as well.


The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly (1996) by Luis Sepulveda

This book, originally published in Spanish, is heart-warming and full of colorful feline characters. Zorba, the big black cat, makes a promise to a dying seagull to not eat her egg and instead watch over it until it hatches and make sure the baby seagull learns to fly. Along with her feline friends and a human, Zorba does just that, and in the process learn the joy of helping others. This book is a gem and makes a great read-aloud. School Library Journal describes Sepulveda’s novel as “a book with heart and soul.” I also have this book available in Spanish.

Note:  All the above books are available to you and your family if you are living overseas. Don’t worry, dog lovers, I will also do a post about dogs soon.

Family Stories from Around the World

I have to admit when I was a child, I thought any novel that was set in America seemed exotic to me. Stories about large extended families, small communities, one-room schools, scorching hot summers and snowed-in winter days fascinated me, as they were so alike my world in the suburbs of Paris. I devoured books like Little House on the Prairie. Curled up on the couch, I entered their world, gladly trading in my umbrella for a snow shovel, my pain au chocolate for golden maple syrup and corn bread. Of course, I also enjoyed stories about French children or British children that I could relate to, but there is something special about books that take you on a trip to places you’ve never been.

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I have a clear memory of reading The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, the biography of Gladys Aylward. This true story of courage, faith, sacrificial love and service to God inspired me. I remember thinking “I too was only five feet tall and if God could use Gladys, He could also use me.” But the book also widened my worldview and opened my eyes to another whole world that was completely foreign to me.

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Another book that left an impression on me was A Boy Ten Feet Tall by W. H. Canaway. Written in 1960, it is a fictional story of a young boy right after the bombing of Port Said, Egypt in 1956. His parents were killed and the boy travels 5000 miles; the length of the African continent, in search of his only living relative, his mother’s sister. It is a captivating story of survival and courage. As I journeyed along side the young boy I too took in the land, the culture, the wildness, the beauty of the continent of Africa.

I think TCKs can better appreciate and enter into other cultures as we already straddle several cultures and we are more culturally attuned and sensitive to the struggles faced by those who must cross geographical and cultural borders.

I promised you in my last blog (sorry it took so long to get this one posted) I would share some multicultural family stories. So, hop on a plane whereever your country of origin and let’s go on a trip around the world.

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Anna Habiscus by Atinuke – This series is about a family living in Africa (the author does not actually identify a specific country). Anna lives, not just with her immediate family, her Canadian mom, her African dad, and her twin baby brothers, but her whole extended family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. These easy chapter books with warm illustrations by Lauren Tobia, will introduce your younger children to Africa, as well as being in a blended family, and African rich traditons centered on family. (for ages 5-7)

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A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park: Set in Korea during the 12th century, this is a beautiful novel whose central theme (in my opinion) is family. A love-starved orphan boy meets up with a gruff, grieving lonely old potter, and the two find a way into each others hearts and lives, despite their differences and hurts. It is also a book about beauty, art and courage to persevere against all odds. This is one of my favorite Newbery Award books.

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Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan – This story begins in Mexico, where we meet a young girl coming of age in the midst of a loving family on her family’s ranch. Tragedy cuts short Esperanza’s happy childhood. Escaping to California, Esperanza and her mama settle in a migrant workers camp. Although faced with hard working and living conditions, Esperanza fights with courage and dignity to keep her family together and make a new life for herself and her mama. (12 years and up) I also recommend by the same author Becoming Naomi Leon.

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Nicholas (Le Petit Nicolas) by Goscinny & Sempe – Ok I had to throw in a French book into the mix. These hilarious (and very French, I may add) stories of Nicholas’ adventures, both at home and at school will make your children laugh. The black and white sketches by Goscinny (The author of the famous Asterix and Obelix series) are a treasure in themselves. Join Nicholas, his friends and family for a fun adventurous ride and a peek into the lives and culture of French school boys. (ages 8 and up) If you enjoy this book, try the other stories of Nicolas including Nicholas on Vacation, Nicholas and the Gang and Nicholas in Trouble.

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Dobry by Monica Shannon – Set in a small farming village in Bulgaria, this is the story of Dobry and his family, a widowed mother and grandfather. Dobry, although raised as a farmer and herder, discovers his talent for sculpting and longs to become an artist. This novel, also a Newbery Award winner (1935), is rich in cultural details of the family life and traditions of Bulgarians. (ages 10+)

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The Good Master by Kate Seredy – This story, set in Hungary, before World War I, describes a year in the life of a young, recently orphaned girl from Budapest, who moves to her aunt and uncle’s farm in the Hungarian countryside. Her older cousin, Jansci, although initially not too thrilled to have a new family member, comes to love his fun-loving, energetic cousin who helps him see beauty in his every day life. The two set out on many adventures. It is definitely a story about the transforming power of love within the security of family life. The father – the good master – is loving and understanding, and guides the children with gentleness and wisdom. This is a masterfully-written family story from Eastern Europe that will remain with you for years to come. (ages 8 to 12 – this will appeal to both girls and boys) Don’t miss the sequel to this book entitled The Singing Tree.

There are also many great children’s novels which depict ethnic diversity within the United States and the experiences of multicultural families. I will just highlight a few here (and I will expand this topic at a later date – there are so many amazing novels in this category):

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor – This novel shares the lives of an African American family living in the South during the Great Depression, as they struggle to keep their land in the midst of financial difficulties, prejudice and segregation. A powerful story of strong family bonds that sustain us in the midst of hardship. Winner of the Newbery Award. Other novels about the Logan family by Mildred Taylor include Song of the Trees (prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry), The Land, Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis.

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Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida – This is a story about a Japanese American family in Berkeley, California also during the Depression-era. The novel is told from the perpective of Rinko, an 11 year old girl who longs to fit in, but is often ridiculed for being Japanese. When her aunt Waka visits from Japan, Rinko learns to embrace her Japanese heritage in a way she never has before, all the while dreaming about her future in American. The story continues in The Best Bad Thing and The Happiest Ending.

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Star Fisher by Lawrence Yep – When the Lees, a Chinese American family, move from Ohio to West Virginia in 1927, they are unprepared for the prejudice they experience upon arrival. The main character 15 year old Joan, born in America, is torn between the cultural heritage of her parents and her identity as an American. Based on the experience of the author’s own family, this novel is the winner of the Christopher Award. A moving story of courage and resilience (ages 10+)

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***Note: Don’t discount the American Girl book series! They are not just add-ons to the dolls. The stories are great for girls ages 7 to 9. They are easy reads and introduce history and culture. The following series highlights the US ethnic diversity (each series is a 5 book set) –
Josephina series – Josephina is Hispanic American girl growing up on a ranch in New Mexico in 1824 with her sisters, her father and her aunt.
Kaya series – Kaya is a member of the Nez Perce tribe. Kaya’s story takes place in 1764, before European-Americans made their way to the Pacific Northwest.
Addie series – An African American girl story set during the Civil War. Addie grows up as a slave then escapes to freedom.

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Also from the American Girl books, the Girls from Many Lands series introduces girls to other girls from various cultures, set in historical context (ages 8-12). There are eight books in the series with girls from every continent.

Must read young adult/adult books: My children loved these books when they were in their teens.

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The Good Earth by Pearl Buck – This is a novel about life in rural China. A moving story and a classic not-to-be-missed written by a TCK.

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The Chosen by Chaim Potok – This is a captivating story of two Jewish boys from very different Jewish traditions who become close friends after a baseball injury. Set in New York City. A profound book that will stay with you for life.

Where would we be without family?

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I love to read children’s novels about families and family life. There’s something comforting about opening up the pages of a book and crawling into the life of another family and being in the midst of their joys and struggles.

Growing up as a TCK, I know my own family and siblings were an anchor I could count on through all the changes. As is often the case in children’s books (why? I have no idea) there were four of us, two boys, two girls, Dale, then Robbie, then Me and my younger sister, Renee (which means reborn in French). During our many transitions, they were my best friends, joining me in games, adventures, new discoveries, holidays and all those trips visiting supporting churches. My brother, Rob, or Robbie as we called him then, was only eighteen months older than me. He was outgoing, fun, energetic, a roll-with-the-punches kind of guy who often lifted my spirits at difficult junctures. He was great at taking the bite out of my anxieties. He was the one who made me laugh, who came up with all the wild ideas to fight boredom on on rainy day. He was the one who taught me to whistle and to roller skate full-speed ahead down the hill near our home in Villeneuve-Le-Roi. He was the one who challenged me to climb all the way to the top of the cherry tree in our backyard. He was the one who during a bout with pneunomia when I was quarantined in my room, feeling sorry for myself, created a “telephone” with string and tin cans so we could talk. My little sister, Renee, often joined in the fun, sometimes too little to do things, but always eager, always smiling, always excited to be on board. My oldest brother, Dale, five years older then me, was the reader, the scientist, the chess player, the key chain collector and the master train set engineer. I looked up to him, treasured the times he praised me and was elated when he let me into his attic room to show me the latest additions to his train set. Family was indeed an important anchor throughout my childhood.

On to noteworthy books… Family stories abound and rank at the top of my favorite children’s books. I will just list a few (well, maybe more than a few) that I highly recommend. Many of these are perfect for reading aloud as a family.

Only a few pre-1930s have survived and have stood the test of time:

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1867) – Who has not heard of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy? Loosely based on the author’s own family life, this classic novel chronicles the lives of these four distinct sisters as they grow into adulthood. A longer novel for older children and young adults, this is a blend of masterful story telling, romance, family drama and historical fiction. Sequels include The Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

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Five Little Peppers and and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney (1881) – This story tells of a widowed mother and her five children living in a “little brown house” in rural America. Life is hard and Mamsie must work to keep bread on the table and a roof over their heads. The children learn to make do, help out as well care for each other, but what they lack in material things, they make up for in their bond and love for one another. There are eleven sequels about the Pepper family, with over a seventeen year span, although the first six books provide the core of the story (if you are not up to reading all twelve books).

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Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1903) – Another classic, this early 1900s novel chronicles the life of Rebecca who grows up with her two stern aunts in a rural village in Maine. This story was adapted for the theatrical stage and made into movies. Again, read the book! It’s much better than the movie, even the one starring Shirley Temple.

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Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1917) – Put this one at the top of your list. I just re-read it and couldn’t put it down. A little orphaned girl, raised by an over-protective aunt is terrified when she is sent to live with her “other side of the family” in a small rural community in Vermont. A gem.

Post-1930s:

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In 1932, The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder books appeared on the scene, bringing the pioneer days alive and the Ingalls family into our hearts. A must-have set of books for your families library – your children will reach for it and enjoy re-reading this series, time and time again.

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Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1935) also takes us into the home of a frontier families life, told through the eyes of a strong-willed little girl, the only girl in a large family of boisterous boys.

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In Blue Willow by Doris Gates (1940), we are introduced to the plight of a migrant worker’s family. Janey, an only child, struggles to find her place in the world in the midst of constant change. A great book that a TCK can immediately relate to.

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The Courage of Sarah Noble (1954) is another classic (and I may add, a book in constant demand from families). This is the true story of a brave little girl who accompanies her father to the Connecticut wilderness. She is asked to stay behind while he goes back to get the rest of her family. A book about courage, yes, but also about adapting and being willing to grow and learn new things. A good first chapter book, beautifully illustrated by Leonard Weisgard.

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Thimble Summer (1938) by Elizabeth Enright – Garnet, a nine year old girl, tells the story of a year in her life, during the Depression on a her farm in the Wisconsin. Filled with happy family memories and simple pleasures, this is sure to become a favorite family read.

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The Saturdays (1941) by Elizabeth Enright. The Melendys live in New York City with their father and housekeeper. Follow the adventures and mishaps of the four siblings as they set out to explore what New York City has to offer with their meager allowance and free spirit. Also about the Melendy family: The Four-story Mistake, Then There Were Five and Spiderweb for Two. Also don’t miss The Gone Away Lake, her Newbery Award book about two siblings and a cousin who discover an abandonned resort. Many claim The Gone Away Lake is her crowning achievement.

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The Moffats (1941) Cranbury, Connecticut, four siblings, adventures, family fun – what could be better? Sequels include The Middle Moffats, Rufus M. and (almost forty years later) The Moffat Museum.

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Ginger Pye (1958) In this Newbery Award winner, Jerry and Rachel Pye search for their missing dog. It’s a mystery, an adventure story and a page-turner, but filled with the warmth and security of family life.

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All-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor (1951) This novel follows the lives of a close-knit Jewish family with five girls. Their parents run a junk shop in lower Manhattan, in New York City in the early 1900s. Times are hard, but this family never lacks for love, a sense of adventure or celebration of life and togetherness. Sequels include More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family.

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The Great Brain by John Fiztgerald (1972) This is a hilarious story of two brothers, the younger brother always taking the blame for the misbehavior and pranks of his older brother. Finally, this is a book with boys at the center stage. (There are many sequels to this, all great fun) Other family books with boys as the main character include Henry Huggins series (1950) by Beverly Cleary, Henry Reed (1989) series by Keith Robertson and Homer Price (1943) and it’s sequel Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey.

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Miracle on Maple Hill (1956) by Virginia Sorensen – This is the story of a family’s struggle after World War II to put their lives back together. A Newbery Award winner. Also by Sorensen, don’t miss Plain Girl, the story of an Amish girl who at the age of ten enters the public school, makes friends and gains a new perspective on her family’s way of life.

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Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle (1960) – Unlike A Wrinkle in Time, this is not a science fiction book, but a realistic story about a close-knit family who take in an orphaned child and must make room in their home and hearts for this new arrival. Also about the Austins, be sure to add this one to your Christmas collection: The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas.

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Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1970) In this Newbery Award novel, Sara must come to terms with the responsibility of caring for her mentally-disabled brother. Sara faces her worst fears when he becomes lost.

So if you and your family love reading about other families, the above books are sure to fit the bill and transport you to other times and places, into the center of family life, a place of love, security and acceptance, throughout the good and the bad times. All the above title are available in my Kids Books Without Borders collection. Are there any titles you remember fondly from your own childhood? Any other titles you think you would recommend at add to those listed above? Leave a comment.

I will follow up at a later date with a post about multicultural family stories.