Our planet must seem overwhelmingly big to a child. The world map on the wall just can’t convey the true distance between places and cultures. And yet, as people who follow Jesus, we want our children to understand his love for the nations and to spark their participation in the Great Commission.
My children have lived overseas — and yet they still sometimes struggle to think compassionately about people outside their immediate experience. My solution? Books! (Full disclosure: Books are my solution to almost every issue. Too loud in the house? Read a book! Cranky on the drive home from church? Time for an audio book!)
Here are some books sure to broaden a child’s understanding of the world in interesting, relatable ways. Perhaps one of these books will earn a spot under your Christmas tree — or at least on your hold list at your local library.
For children who like to compare
This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World
Written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe
Meet Romeo, Kei, Daphine, Oleg, Ananya, Kian and Ribaldo: Real kids with real families, hobbies, chores, homes, etc. The book offers side-by-side comparisons of how they write their names, what they study at school, where they sleep, and other aspects of their everyday lives. The illustrations are perfectly simple, helping even young eyes easily spot similarities and differences. Matt Lamothe illustrates the children so well that you feel almost shocked when you see actual photographs of them at the end of the book. This book easily lends itself to discussion: “Which of these children’s lunches look tasty to you? Do you think these kids would like any of your hobbies? Which of their chores would you like to try out?”
For little linguists
Hello World: A Celebration of Languages and Curiosities
Written by Jonathan Litton
Illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik
A stunning ode to the world’s languages, this lift-the-flap atlas starts off teaching kids (or you!) how to say “hello” in the 10 languages that cover half of the world’s population. But then it goes micro, presenting at least one greeting from every country in the world. The two-page spreads each depict a continent map dotted with tiny, illustrated people saying “hello” in their own language. Their speech bubbles are flaps — lift them to find the name of the language, an English transliteration (particularly helpful for the world’s many non-Latin-alphabet languages), and the number of speakers of that language. Around each map, larger flaps discuss language curiosities like the Rosetta Stone and Incan “talking knots.” The closing page goes macro again, teaching “good-bye” in those 10 initial languages. While kids would love this interactive book, anyone of any age could pick it up, marvel at the diversity of the world’s languages and learn a greeting or two. I wouldn’t feel at all sad if it showed up under our tree with my name on it!
For kids who like to tell time
At the Same Moment, Around the World
Written and illustrated by Clotilde Perrin
This tall, skinny book tackles the complicated subject of time zones by focusing in on what people in 24 countries are doing at the same moment. It starts with 6 o’clock in Senegal, where Keita helps his dad count fish. At the same moment, Khanh in Vietnam takes his 1 o’clock afternoon nap and William in Alaska drinks his 9 o’clock evening tea. The rich, culturally nuanced illustrations seamlessly flow into each other, carrying the young reader from time zone to time zone (and country to country). Attentive little ones will notice that the first page echoes the last, a nod to the world’s spherical shape. A fold-out map in the back provides the bigger picture, though it might be more helpful to find each country on a globe instead.
For even the littlest littles
What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World
By Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, and Cynthia Pon
This book is light on words and heavy on colorful pictures of children outfitted for playtime, for school, for religious occasions and just for ordinary life. Each child’s country is noted, but not much other context is given, which keeps the book simple for even very young listeners. All of my children noticed that typical North American clothes look fairly bland compared with some of the elaborate getups featured in this book. “I would like to wear their clothes because they are beautiful,” my 4-year-old said. “I would wear them to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!” My 11-year-old noted that, while he found some of the outfits very unusual, “probably they would say we wear crazy stuff.”
For kids who prefer fiction
Same, Same, But Different
Written and illustrated by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Like other books on this list, this charming story explores how people are similar yet diverse, but this one takes a narrative approach. Two penpals — one in the US, the other in India — send each other drawings of their lives. Clearly their lives are very different — or are they actually very similar? The refrain, “same, same, but different” gives children useful words to describe any situation where people do things in unexpected ways, whether because they’re from a different culture, a different religion, a different generation or simply a different family.
For kids who love to pore over pictures
Employing its signature visual encyclopedia style, DK introduces readers to 44 children from around the world. A big picture of the child (often wearing her school uniform, sports uniform or some culturally significant article of clothing) is accompanied by many small visuals of her family, hobbies, and favorite foods. A brief write-up mentions significant details like religion or key national holidays. Each page has plenty of beautiful photos to study — but my favorite part was seeing each child’s name, written in his own handwriting. This book could help children pray for the nations: Each day, read about one child and then pray for that child’s country.
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