Confession: I’ve never gotten over my love of children’s books. I totally geek out over browsing what’s new and exciting in the children’s book section of my favorite bookstore, as well as taking some nostalgia-filled trips down memory lane with the titles I remember from when I was a kid. And sure, as a young’un I was completely swept away by the stories and illustrations — no matter where my favorite books came from — but as an adult I can fully appreciate the importance of reading children’s books from all over the world. There’s nothing quite like seeing the world through the unfiltered perspective of childhood, and I love that there are so many opportunities to see the whole world through children’s books — many more opportunities now than I remember from my own picture book days.
There are tons of children’s books in translation on bookstore shelves today; and they tell stories that are sad and joyous, fantasy-filled and true. They’re filled with lessons and experiences shared by kids all over the world. Like all great books, children’s books from around the world remind readers of our common ground, while also recognizing and celebrating experiences that are wholly unique.
Check out these 14 children’s books from around the world that everyone will enjoy — no matter what your age.
1. Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle
Translated from French, this adorable fantasy introduces readers to Toby, a one-and-a-half-millimeter tall person who lives in a giant oak tree. When a greedy man begins to take over the tree — destroying it for economic reasons — Toby steps in to save the day. A sweet fantasy that addresses the destruction caused by deforestation, this book is a fun way to remind readers of all ages the importance of caring for our environment.
2. Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match by Monica Brown
Marisol McDonald is a multi-racial (and multi-lingual) little girl who has learned to embrace exactly who she is — and at an age a lot younger than most of us learn this important lesson! From her favorite peanut butter-and-jelly burritos to the mismatched boho-chic outfits she puts together all on her own, this little girl knows who she is and isn’t afraid to show it. Love her.
3. Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
From Kenya, and based on real events, Wangari’s Trees of Peace tells the story of Wangari, a young girl who grew up to be a Nobel Peace Prize-winning adult, fighting deforestation in Kenya. Starting by planting nine seedlings in her back yard, Wangari went from small-scale tree-planter to world-recognized environmentalist. Beautiful and inspiring.
4. Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond
Set in northern India, Cherry Tree tells the story of a grandfather and granddaughter as they embark upon the challenging process of trying to grow a cherry tree. The gentle patience required to grow the tree acts as a metaphor for the sweet relationship between this grandfather and his grandchild. Added bonus: the illustrations are simply stunning.
5. Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams
Set in Malawi, Galimoto tells the story of a young boy named Kondi who is determined to build a toy vehicle all by himself — a galimoto. Even though he’s doubted by those around him, he spends the day building the galimoto, and then shares his accomplishment with all the children in his village. A great reminder of the importance of believing in oneself, no matter how daunting a task at hand.
6. Goodbye, Rune by Marit Kaldhol
This Norwegian children’s book tells the story of a little girl mourning the loss of her best friend, who died in a drowning accident. Written to help children navigate the experiences of loss and death, Goodbye, Rune will remind readers of any age of the importance of trusting close family and friends to help you come to peace with loss.
7. Anna Hibiscus' Song by Atinuke
This children’s book will brighten even the absolute worst day. Set in Africa, Anna Hibiscus’ Song is all about a little girl named Anna — daughter to two loving parents, sister to twin brothers, and delight to her endless aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, neighbors and friends. Anna is quite possibly the happiest girl to ever grace the pages of a children’s book… and when she’s happy, she can’t help but sing. You’ll be singing too by the time you’re done reading Anna’s story.
8. Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina
Tia Isa’s niece is determined to help her aunt buy a car — but it’s difficult when so much of this immigrant family’s money gets sent to Mexico, to help the remaining family members immigrate to the United States as well. But with hard work, determination, and teamwork, Tia Isa and her niece just might manage to save enough. A sincere and sweet story, told through lyrical prose.
9. Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane
Lalla lives in Mauritania, a Muslim country on the coast of West Africa. Growing up, she wants to wear a malafa — a brightly colored cover that Muritanian women wear in public — just like her mother and older sister. But before she can begin that rite of passage, she must understand the true purpose of the malafa isn’t to repress but to honor, and that to wear it is a choice, not a requirement. An interesting perspective on African-Islamic culture, in the form of a children’s book.
10. The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer
Translated from Dutch, The Book of Everything tells the story of a young boy who uses his imagination to escape the abuse from his father. Imagining things that no one else can see, he uses these images to inspire him to finally stand up to his father and become happy. Sad, but inspiring.
11. Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein
Straight out of the Australian outback, Big Rain Coming tells the story of a community in a desperate drought situation, and tells of their daily lives as they wait (and wait, and wait) for the rain to come. The simple but evocative prose and gorgeous aboriginal-style dot painting illustrations make this children’s book unique.
12. Razia's Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby
In Razia’s village in Afghanistan, girls are not allowed to attend school. But when a new school — just for girls — opens in the village, Razia wants to enroll. First she must convince the men in her family just how valuable a young girl’s education really is. Based on the collected true stories of the girls of Kabul’s Zabuli Education Center for Girls, this children’s book is eye-opening and inspiring.
13. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you remember this book from high school French class, you’re not alone. Translated from French, this children’s book tells the story of the Little Prince — a young boy who wanders the galaxy, meeting an assortment of unique and interesting characters, all demonstrating something about the complexities of humanity. There’s a reason this one is a classic in more than one language.
14. Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head by Stella Dreis
Translated from Portuguese Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head is just as delightfully absurd as the title suggests. Miss Jolly is an exceptionally happy lady — much to the chagrin of her friends and neighbors. As they all compete with one another to be happier than Miss Jolly, somehow each ends up discovering the secrets to true happiness. You can’t beat that.
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash