Part of raising world citizens is teaching children to make friends with others who may seem different. Below is a wonderful collection of books that teach kids about friendship around the world. Some address the topic of diversity and friendship head on, while others do so more indirectly.
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I received copies of Beautiful Rainbow World and The Olive Tree for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own.
Beautiful Rainbow World was created by Suzee Ramirez and Lynne Raspet based on the lyrics of the song by Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou. Gorgeous is really the only word to describe this book. The photos Ramirez and Raspet have compiled of children around the world are absolutely stunning, and the text is a perfect complement, talking about diversity in terms easy for children to understand and that really speak to the heart. The “beautiful rainbow world” is a vision of a world where everyone is appreciated and differences are celebrated within the context of our underlying unity. Watch this video to hear the song and get a sneak peek of the book!
The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston is a beautiful tale about two children in Lebanon who learn to look past their differences to form a friendship. The house next door to Sameer has been vacant for as long as he can remember, but now that the “troubles” in Lebanon have ended, the owners are moving back. Sameer looks forward to having a new playmate, but the girl next door has no interest and instead stops him from collecting the olives from their family tree. In the end, it is the destruction of this tree, growing on the border between their two houses, that brings the children together and teaches them compassion. I love that this book is specific to a place yet the themes are very universal. The civil war in Lebanon is alluded to but not discussed directly, so that parents can decide whether (and how much) of this to discuss with their children. Parents of older children can use it as a starting point to discuss conflicts and war, but parents of young children can focus on the main themes of friendship and resolving conflict.
Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley is a really fun look at what connects so many diverse cultures – rice! A young girl visits diverse homes in her neighborhood, trying to call her brother to dinner. Each household is preparing for dinner, so she samples cuisines from the various cultures, each of which uses rice. This is a fun book to introduce children to a range of cultures, from the perspective of the family kitchen. I love the concept of this book – using this dinnertable staple to show how much we have in common even as we differ. I also love that the main character takes a “trip around the world” without leaving her neighborhood, by visiting the warm, welcoming homes of her neighbors.
Going Home, Coming Home/Ve Nha, Tham Que Huong by Truong Tran is a wonderful book about a young girl traveling to Vietnam, the land of her parents’ birth. This was a great read for Monkey, as it talks about her conflict about going to a country that to her was so different – and often uncomfortable – but that was so important to her parents. This must have seemed very familiar to him, after his trips from his home in the US to my husband’s home country of Costa Rica. In the end, the girl comes to appreciate this new country and consider it as a second home for herself as well. A pivotal experience for her is when she is befriended by a young Vietnamese girl, with whom she becomes close. A beautiful book about learning to appreciate differences and being open to new experiences.
The celebrated book The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi speaks to any child who’s ever felt different or shy about meeting new people. When Unhei arrives in America from Korea, she not only has to deal with being the “new kid” but also having a strange name that no one can pronounce. When Unhei refuses to tell them her new classmates her name, their clever solution is a “name jar” to help her choose a new one. I love that this story is a journey not just for Unhei but for her classmates as well. As Unhei comes to appreciate the beauty of her own name, the other children do, too. One even goes so far as to learn how to write his own name in the traditional Korean way. This is a book about the simple but powerful ways that we can build bridges of friendship across cultures.
Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka is a wonderful book that can be appreciated by kids of different ages. The text is simple enough to be understood by young children, while older children will identify with the awkwardness that sometimes accompanies making a new friend. This is one that my son asks me to read over and over again. The story moves along swiftly enough to keep their attention, and the vibrant, energetic illustrations capture their imaginations, as the two boys (one black, one white) meet and form a friendship. I love that the fact that the boys are different races is never addressed directly, yet the story powerfully demonstrates how two strangers from different walks of life can become friends.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox is one sure to spark conversations with your little ones about how much they have in common with children all over the world. This beautiful picture book demonstrates that despite differences like skin color, schools, houses, and languages, children everywhere experience the same joy, pain, and love. The wonderful paintings and simple text describe diversity – and unity – in ways that even young children can understand. Older children will enjoy exploring the images of the different homes, schools, etc that are shown from other countries.
You may also enjoy these children’s books about making new friends.