It is all well and good for adults to talk about the importance of celebrating your heritage, but what does that feel like for kids out there in the real world of gossiping peers and desperate attempts to fit in? Most kids don’t want to stand out, so they may be embarrassed by parents that cook “weird” food or have an accent.
Here are some great books that help kids navigate those tricky waters and learn to celebrate their heritage, whatever it may be.
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of Rice and Rocks and Diary of a Tokyo Teen for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Books that Celebrate Heritage
I love the premise of Rice & Rocks, which tells the story of Giovanni, a young boy who is nervous about his friends coming over for dinner and being served traditional Jamaican rice and beans (“rice and rocks”). His super cool aunt takes him on a magical journey around the world to discover that many cultures – including those that his friends’ families come from – also love rice and beans, which come in an amazing number of tasty variations. I love how the book focuses on parallels among the cultures, even as it shows the differences between them. For example, at each stop they are greeted by a local bird, similar to Giovanni’s pet parrot. Also, I love how the author weaves in personal connections that Giovanni has to each location, such as his love of Godzilla from Japan or the trumpet from New Orleans. The book ends with Sunday dinner with Giovanni’s friends, who of course all love his grandmother’s rice and rocks!
I actually remember Molly’s Pilgrimfrom when I was a child and a teacher read it to us in school. It is a classic book about learning to appreciate your heritage and the rich diversity that makes up our country. (Apparently there was a short film of the book, though I’ve never seen it!) Molly, whose family has recently immigrated from Russia, has a hard time transitioning to her new school, where other kids make fun of her poor English and fumbling attempts to learn American culture. When her class is given the assignment to make Pilgrim dolls, Molly is embarrassed at the Russian doll her mother makes. Why couldn’t her mother have made a doll like everyone else’s? Yet Molly’s teacher calls the doll beautiful and displays it on her desk for everyone to see. She helps the children understand that though they may look and dress differently, Molly and her family are modern day pilgrims, coming with the same dreams as they did so many centuries ago.
Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes is the true story of an American teen who travels back to Japan to learn more about her roots. Born in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother, Christine moved to the US as a young child, only to return years later on her first solo trip to visit her Japanese family. What I love about this book – besides how incredibly entertaining it is – is how true it is to how it feels to travel to a new place as a teenager, from worrying about how you dress and drooling over cute boys to more serious moments of reflection over your place in the world. This graphic novel is a terrific book for anyone with even the least amount of interest in Japan, or anyone who loves travel books. It is also a great way for teens to explore what it means to have multiple cultures in their family, and how to connect with both sides of their heritage.
Though we have studied Japan, I’ve never been there, so it was a real treat to learn more about the food and culture, as seen from the author’s incredibly insightful and down to earth point of view. Did you know the difference between Tokyo and Kyoto cuisine, or what kind of fashions the hip Japanese kids wear, or – more amusing to my son and me – all about Japanese toilets?
I highly recommend this book, though I do have to add a small disclaimer for those that might wish to share it with young children. It is aimed at young adults, so beware that there is some mild language sprinkled throughout, including on the cover.