Picture Books That Span Cultures

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Picture Books That Span Cultures

Multicultural picture books are important. When young children read these books they realize similarities that they share with people from around the world. Emotions are universal. They promote empathy and the desire to learn about customs and cultures in foreign countries. In today's multicultural world, knowledge of other cultures is not only important, it is essential. We truly live in a global world. 

Don't Spill the Milk!, written by Stephen Davies and illustrated by Christopher Corr, is a delightful book about a girl, Penda, who begs to be allowed to take a bowl of milk to her Daddy in the grasslands. Along the way, she "picks a path across the uppy, downy dunes and goes past a caravan of camels." She walks through the rainy season mask dance and past 15 pale giraffes. When she finally reaches her father, a mango crashes into the bowl of milk spilling the milk everywhere. But she and her father make the best of the situation and have mango for lunch. The illustrations are bright, bold and colorful. The story is set on the banks of the Niger River in the West African country of the same name. The pale giraffes illustrated in the book are West African giraffes. They are paler than their East African counterparts and are an endangered speciesonly 310 remain. 

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: the little bonsai with a big story, written by Sandra Moore and illustrated by Kazumi Wilds, is an inspiring story of a bonsai tree that that was tended and taken care of by the Yamaki family in Japan starting in 1625. The tree survived the bombing of Hiroshima. Masura Yamaki decides to give the tree to America as a gift for America's 200th birthday. It is a gift of peace and an offering of goodwill. The tree is part of the bonsai collection at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. The illustrations are beautifully drawn and the characters' faces are very expressive, displaying a wide range of emotions. There is an author's note at the back of the book that gives the facts of the true story, along with a glossary and facts about bonsai. 

Book Fiesta: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros is a bilingual Spanish/English book written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Pat Mora celebrates children, literacy and Dia. This book portrays children reading and enjoying books in a variety of settings: underneath a tree, in a library, in a boat, in cars, planes and trains; while riding an elephant, in a submarine and even in a hot-air balloon. The illustrations are creative and unique. For example, the girl in the boat sees a reflection of herself as a mermaid in the water and a giraffe accompanies the children in the hot-air balloon. 

Island Born, by Junot Diaz, has a heroine who is in a dilemma. Her classroom assignment is to draw a picture of where she emigrated from, the Dominican Republic. However she left when she was a baby and cannot remember anything about the island. She asks her cousin who remembers "bats as big as blankets." Mrs. Bernard remembers the island had so much music, "like the inside of a drum." One person remembers how wonderful it is to drink water from a coconut and another person remembers the sweetness of the mangoes. But not all of the memories are sweet. Mr. Mir, the superintendent, is reluctant to talk about his memories of the island, but Mrs. Mir convinces him to tell Lola about the Monsterhis way of referring to the dictator, Rafael Trujillo. The illustrations by Leo Espinosa are bright, bold and colorful. 

Wombat Walkabout, written by Carol Diggory Shields, is the delightful story of six woolly wombats who have a walkabout. At the end of the walkabout, two wombats, Jen and Jack, realize that the rest of the wombats are missing. The dingo has captured them and put them in his swag bag. How the remaining two wombats rescue their friends is a wonderful way to finish the story. What's a walkabout? A walkabout is a long walk. What's a wombat? A stout, sturdy Australian mammal with a large blunt head. These definitions, as well as the definitions for swag bag and dingo, can be found in the glossary at the beginning of the story. The illustrations are whimsical, expressive and fun. The illustrator, Sophie Blackall, is a native of Sydney, Australia, who now lies in Brooklyn, New York. 

A Lion in Paris, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna, tells the story of a young lion who is looking for a job, love and a future in Paris. When he arrives in Paris, which is also his first time in a big city, he feels very overwhelmed. However, as he begins to explore the city, with trips to the Centre Pompidou, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the Eiffel Tower, he begins to relax and enjoy himself. He even sees the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum. He falls in love with the city and decides that he is going to stay. He climbs on top of a plinth and decides to stay there. In a footnote at the end of the story, Beatrice Alemagna mentions that the lion in the story was inspired by the stature of a lion in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris. It was erected by the architect Frederic Auguste Batholdi between 1876 and 1880. The collage-style illustrations also add to the appeal of the story.

In Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Grace Lin beautifully illustrates how an Asian family celebrates the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. A nighttime picnic is prepared, a moon-honoring table is created, glowing lanterns are brought out, cups of tea are poured and the family eats soft, sweet mooncakes. The author provides a detailed explanation of the festival and how it is celebrated in the back of the book. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is the Thanksgiving holiday for the Chinese and many other Asian peoples. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (usually in September or October). The holiday began as a harvest festival and is now celebrated as a holiday of Thanksgiving. Grace Lin's illustrations are bright, bold and colorful. 

In Green Is a Chile Pepper: a Book of Colors, Roseanne Greenfield Thong introduces colors to children in both English and Spanish. For example, "Green is a chili pepper, spicy and hot. Green is cilantro inside our pot." The words green and "verde" appear together on a backdrop of the color green on the upper right-hand corner of the page. The pictures by John Parra are bold, bright and colorful. The color orange is introduced in the context of the Day of the Dead. "Orange are the marigolds on the Day of the Dead. Orange are the platos for special bread." A glossary for all of the Spanish words is included at the back of the book. 

In Hush! A Thai Lullaby, Minfong Ho incorporates remembered sounds and animals from her childhood in Thailand, such as the buzzing of mosquitos, "Tuk-Ghaa!" from a long-tailed lizard, a monkey screeching and swinging, an old water buffalo sweeping at hay and a great big elephant booming into a lullaby that she wrote to sing her own baby to sleep. The lullaby is written as a lyrical poem and the pictures are set in Thailand. The illustrator, Holly Meade, uses a collage style of illustrations. At the end of the story, the moon rises and the mother dozes, but baby is wide awake.

My Mom Is a Foreigner; But Not to Me, written by Julianne Moore and illustrated by Meilo So, is a delightful book that illustrates how children with mothers who are foreigners experience different customs, languages, holidays and food from a vast array of countries and cultures. The book doesn't shy away from the sensitive issue of the children sometimes being embarrassed by their mothers. For example, "Other kids don't kiss three times, mom; I mean, it's not cool!" The book concludes by describing how the mothers love their children. "She teaches me to read. She sings when I am sad. She listens to my stories, and hugs me when I'm mad."