Cross-Cultural Families: Books for Kids
So many children, including my own, come from cross-cultural families, but this reality is not often portrayed in books. I’m happy to share a group of wonderful new books for children and teens that feature families whose heritage spans different cultures and countries. They deal with common dilemmas, such as living between two cultures or feeling self-conscious about not fitting in with peers. Most of the books below are picture books, but I have also included an early chapter book and a YA novel.
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of some of the books below 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 cost to you.
Cross-Cultural Families: Books for Kids
Enjoy these wonderful books for kids and teens about cross-cultural families!
Our Story Starts in Africa is a joyous celebration of African history and culture, as a young girl visiting family in the Caribbean learns to take pride in where her family comes from. At first, Paloma doesn’t feel like she fits in with her Caribbean cousins, but her Tante Janet helps her go back to the start of their family story in Africa. She learns about warrior queens and kingdoms rich in spices and jewels, but also about slavery and colonization. In the end, Paloma sees herself as part of a contemporary Africa, that celebrates its past and present. A beautiful book to help children celebrate the rich heritage of Africa and the diaspora.
Mommy’s Hometown examines the old adage that “you can’t go home again.” A young boy is excited to visit his mother’s hometown in Korea, which he has heard about so often in stories. But when they finally visit, they discover that much has changed over the years, with skyscrapers taking over the view of the mountains. Yet despite all of the changes, the river that runs through the city is the same, and they enjoy a magical time wading in the water together. A beautiful perspective on the reality that happens to so many children of immigrants who visit the place far away where their parents grew up, one that is not quite like in the stories but which is nevertheless woven through with happy memories and more to be made.
Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush tells the inspirational story of one of the many men and women who journeyed from the Caribbean to England in search of a better life in the mid-20th century. A young girl discovers the sacrifices her grandmother made to go to England and learns how small treasures, like a pebble, helped her feel close to those that she had left behind. It is beautiful story about the importance of passing our family stories down to future generations, and about how objects can help connect us to the past. A loving tribute based on the author’s own mother. And don’t miss the QR code on the back cover – scan it for a free audio reading of the book!
This sweet book is a tribute to the special relationship between cousins, a bond so strong is can endure despite great distances. When one family moves to a different country, the cousins find creative ways to keep in touch through video chats and fun games that incorporate the reality of the new words they are learning. Available in many bilingual editions, including the just released English-Thai and English-Hindi editions!
When Shanti and her family move to the US from India, at first Shanti has a hard time learning the ways of her new home. At the same time, she tries to keep up the traditions from home. As she begins to adapt to her new home, her parents make sure she doesn’t forget the old. Shanti loves both worlds, but constantly switching back and forth between two cultures is exhausting. Eventually, she learns to celebrate the space in between and realizes that having two cultures is a gift! Based on the author’s own experiences as an immigrant child. (Watch the interview).
Sam feels stuck in between two cultures, caught in the middle of the great food fight that takes place every night between his African American mother and his Liberian father and auntie. Sam doesn’t want to play favorites or hurt anyone’s feelings. Whose food will he choose at dinner? He’s just hungry! See the creative solution he comes up with, showing the way for the adults to make peace with their differences – and maybe try something new as well. A child’s perspective on the very real conflicts that can occur in cross-cultural families and how kids can help the grown ups find their way through them.
Children who speak two languages often develop their own unique way of speaking that draws on their knowledge of both. While Spanglish often gets a bad rap, the research shows that it is not only good, it shows a high level of cognitive development. In How to Speak Spanglish, a young boy teaches skeptical adults the beauty of using both English and Spanish to create his own unique blend. A upbeat book that will encourage children to take pride in the mixed heritage of their cross-cultural families. (Watch my interview with the author).
My Dog Just Speaks Spanish is another take on the language of cross-cultural families. In this story, a young girl moves to the US and starts to learn English, but her dog only responds to commands in Spanish! A cute story for little animal lovers as well as a different way for children to think about what it is like to move to a new country and learn a new language – from the perspective of a dog!
The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name is a thoughtful, poetic look at a common dilemma amongst children who straddle two cultures – having a name that comes from one culture and doesn’t seem to fit in the other. When Zimdalamashkermishkada starts at a new school, he is embarrassed of his long and unusual name. He tries to shorten it to Zim, though his mother says he should give people a chance to say it right. But a new friend helps him find the confidence to learn how to skateboard – and to be himself – until he finally is able to proudly share his full name with his classmates. I love all of the metaphors used throughout the book about how uncomfortable it can feel to have a “too long” name but also what a relief it is to finally have a friend to share your name – and yourself – with fully.
This book also looks at the challenges of starting school with a name that teachers and classmates find difficult to pronounce. A young child feels isolated by his unusual name, self-conscious about how the other children laugh and stumbled over it. With the help of his parents, he comes to realize that what makes him different makes him unique! An uplifting book for any child who has felt like they don’t fit in. Be sure to read the notes at the back from the author and artist to understand how their own stories give this book its emotional depth. (Watch my interview with the author).
My daughter and I have fallen in love with the Anna Hibiscus series. These early chapter books (really collections of linked stories) center on a young girl who lives in “Africa, amazing Africa.” (Anna lives in Nigeria, though this is not directly stated). Her father is African, and her mother is Canadian. In one of my favorite stories, Anna’s family tries to get a little space by taking a vacation apart from the close knit extended family. But soon they miss the company of the aunties, uncles, cousins, and grandparents and realize how difficult it is to try to live as a nuclear family without the help of so many loving family members. Anna is a wonderfully relatable character that children will identify with immediately, at the same time as they learn about family life in Nigeria.
This is another wonderful book by Mitali Perkins (see above), this time about three generations of women in one cross-cultural family. Two sisters struggle to find their voices as they balance clashing cultural expectations from their immigrant elders and local peers. As they and their mother each adapt to their family’s unique circumstances in their own way, they often find themselves at odds with each other. When the family patriarch unexpectedly dies, mother and daughters struggle with grief, growing further apart until another generation brings them back together. A tender story of how immigration can complicate already fraught relationships between mothers and daughters, yet how with time they can find their way back to each other.