“One light, one sun… one sun lighting everyone. One world turning…one world home for everyone” How many of us know those lyrics from the Raffi song? Why, then, do we make it so complicated? For nearly 30 years, teachers and librarians have been adding multi-cultural stories to their collections. Such books offer children of specific ethnic minority positive stories about their own ethnic group, thereby increasing self-esteem and helping them feel a part of a larger society. For others, reading stories about other cultures can increase their sensitivities to those seen as different, broaden their knowledge of the world, and help them recognize that in spite of their many differences, people also share many similarities. Multi-cultural books serve as both windows and doors.

Contributor: Peg Glisson


Links to additional information and activities about Multicultural Page Month follow these reviews.



Annelore Parot

Translated by Taylor Norman

Aoki, a Kokeshi or a “little wooden doll with cherries in my braids and a pretty kimono,” introduces herself in both Japanese and English. Packing for a visit to her friend Yoko in Tokyo, she asks the reader to help her pick from the clothing and items spread across the double pages. She rides the fast train with her pet Popo. Yoko meets her and they ride in a taxi through the crowded city to Yoko’s house. Inside, we open fold-outs to see Yoko making tea while “lazy” Popo is discovered on the bed. Aoki lists, in English and Japanese, what she would like to see and do in Tokyo. After a crowded subway ride, the friends find a series of shelves in shops revealed when folds are lifted. Then they picnic with Yoko’s friends. Fold-outs show the goodies in the picnic bundles. The girls relax in a small Zen garden to admire the pictures Popo has taken. The day ends with a good night and a view of Tokyo from Mount Fuji. The characters are heavily stylized; the pages are crowded with objects supplemented by the die cuts and many flaps that greatly increase the understanding of the objects mentioned in the brief text. There are also challenges to match designs with the characters wearing them. The appliqued figure of Aoki on the cover, with its cheery cuteness, prepares the reader for a pleasant, challenging, and surprisingly informative experience. 2012 Originally 2010), Chronicle Books, Ages 3 to 7, $15.99. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781452108094

Anna Hibiscus

Lauren Tbia

Anna is a delightful child who lives in a big white house in Africa. She is surrounded by her parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins. She lives a sheltered life protected from the outside world. On one occasion she was bored so she decided to sell large bright oranges from her garden outside the wall in the city. When she saw how small and brown the other children?s oranges were she realized how blessed she was to have such a garden. Life is always full of joyful activities. Her Aunt Comfort, who lives in America, is coming home to visit and Anna wonders whether she has forgotten the proper African ways. Will she remember to show respect by kneeling in front of grandmother and grandfather? Will she wear traditional clothes and eat properly with her fingers? That is not to say that they are not modern. Her cousins drive to the university, send text messages and e-mails and speak both their African language and English. For Anna there was one thing that she wanted more than anything else–to see snow. How she manages to do this is a delightful part of the story. 2010, Kane Miller/EDC Publishing, Ages 5 to 9, $5.99. REVIEWER: Leila Toledo (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781935279730

Boys Without Names

Kashmira Sheth

Eleven-year-old Gopal’s family moves from their rural village to Mumbai to escape crippling debt and poverty following the loss of their onion farm. Shortly after arriving, Gopal’s father, Baba, vanishes, and Gopal accepts a stranger’s offer to earn money to support his family. The promised factory turns out to be a sweatshop in which Gopal and other boys are imprisoned by a cruel boss nicknamed Scar, who beats and starves them. Gopal eventually begins to connect with the other boys through the imaginative stories he tells them each night, and their new closeness gives the boys the courage to try to escape. Sheth, author of Keeping Corner (Hyperion/DBG, 2007/VOYA December 2007), chronicles her extensive research on child labor in an informative author’s note that includes a short list of resources for further reading. Young readers will be intrigued by the Hindi, Marathi, and Sanskrit terms sprinkled liberally throughout the text and will appreciate the glossary Sheth provides to define them. Gopal is an appealing protagonist whose imagination, resourcefulness, and indomitable spirit will appeal to the intended middle school audience. Readers will root for him and cheer the novel’s ending, in which he is rescued by the police and reunited with his family. Despite the happy conclusion, Sheth does not hold back in her depiction of the cruelty and suffering inflicted upon Gopal and his fellow child laborers. Unlike some children’s novels on serious topics, though, this one is never preachy or heavy handed. 2010, HarperCollins, Ages 11 to 14, $15.99. REVIEWER: Leah Sparks (VOYA).

ISBN: 9780061857607

Crouching Tiger

Ying Chang Compestine

Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene.

Our young narrator’s grandfather comes to visit from China. In the morning, he sees his grandfather practicing the ancient martial art of tai chi, and asks if he will teach it to him. Vinson, or Ming Da as his grandfather calls him, finds tai chi very hard at first. But when his father saves a young woman by breaking a board that is falling on her, Vinson goes back to working with him. At the time of the Chinese New Year parade, Vinson does not want his friends to see him wearing the fancy jacket his grandfather gives him. In crowded Chinatown the next day, Grandpa’s friends give Vinson the traditional envelopes with money. Then he joins the lion parade. Ming Da promises to do his best to learn the martial arts. He is no longer ashamed of his jacket, or his grandfather, but is proud. Full page ink and watercolor illustrations face lengthy text pages, with a small drawing showing a tai chi position below the text. The pictures are naturalistic, but exude an appropriate quality of stillness and neatness. Bits of Chinese culture along with information about traditional exercises add to the appeal of Vinson’s story. A note includes information about Chinese martial arts and about the Chinese New Year celebration, along with a glossary. 2011, Candlewick Press, Ages 4 to 8. $16.99. REVIEWERS: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780763646424

Escaping the Tiger

Laura Manivong.

This debut novel for upper elementary and middle school-aged readers tells the story of Vonlai Sirivong who is twelve at its opening and sixteen at its conclusion. In between we witness his first frantic escape with his family from their native Laos, then in the hands of the dreaded Pathet Lao. We follow them to refugee camps in Thailand before they finally gain admittance to the United States. Escaping the Tiger is a deeply felt story, simply told. Vonlai’s relationship with his older sister Dalah and his shifting role relative to his parents constitute the heart of this story. As he forges a place for himself despite the gritty conditions of the camp, plays soccer, and waits for an endless series of papers that bring, in turn, food, education, and finally freedom, he comes to understand what really matters in life. Manivong has created a believable protagonist, and she does not shy away from depicting the difficult living conditions in the Na Pho refugee camp: There are many threats to Vonlai’s family, including the near-rape of his sister. Nor does the story default to an undilutedly happy ending–instead we come to care about characters who make unexpected decisions or who are left behind. Based on the author’s husband’s own experiences, this is a vivid and lovingly drawn tale of people caught in the crossroads of history and struggling to retain both dignity and hope. 2010, HarperCollins, Ages 10 to 14, $15.99. REVIEWER: Uma Krishnaswami (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780061661778

Fly Free!

Roseanne Thong

Illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan.

“Fly free, fly free / in the sky so blue. / When you do a good deed, / it will come back to you.” This refrain punctuates a gentle and heartwarming tale set in Vietnam. Mai loves to visit the caged birds at a Buddhist temple, but cannot afford to set them free (a Buddhist custom considered a good deed). She settles for feeding them, and when another girl named Thu enters the temple, Mai gives her some seed so she can join in the feeding. This starts a chain of good deeds: Thu gives her expensive shoes to an injured stranger on the way home, who then provides water for an oxcart driver, who then gives a ride to an old woman. The chain continues until it comes back to Mai, who receives enough money to set the birds free. The illustrations, done in watercolor on board, simply and elegantly reflect the underlying theme of kindness. Soft hues of green, blue, red, and yellow give the book an abstract, meditative feeling. A concluding author’s note explains Buddhist traditions of karma and samsara (the wheel of life), and a note on the copyright page lists experts Thong consulted to ensure authenticity. This story will inspire children of any faith to simple acts of kindness and provides a beautiful window into another religion and culture. 2010, Boyds Mills, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 4 to 8. REVIEWER: Blinn D. Sheffield (Catholic Library World).

ISBN: 9781590785508

The Granddaughter Necklace

Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

A long time ago, a young woman named Frances sailed to America from Ireland with a necklace of crystal beads. The necklace is passed from mother to daughter every generation and with it, the story of the women who preceded the current recipient in the family line. This is a lovely story of family connections, as told by a twentieth-century woman reflecting family history one generation at a time. Readers discover much about love and sacrifice and multiculturalism. The illustrations disclose the mixed race heritage of the women, although that fact is not revealed in the story itself; the ethnic heritage is mentioned in the author’s notes at the end of the book. This story could contribute much to a social studies or history unit for the elementary grades. Teachers might wish to read the author’s note to the class before the story itself, so readers will not be puzzled by the obviously African-American appearance of the characters after hearing that the first woman mentioned sailed to this country from Ireland. Recommended. 2013, Arthur A Levine/Scholastic, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. REVIEWER: Ellen Welty (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780545081252

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!

Grace Lin

Six compact, mostly self-contained chapters introduce twin sisters Ling (who “can always sit still”) and Ting (who “can never sit still”). The girls experience day-to-day adventures from their unique twin perspective, whether it be getting their hair cut, going to the library, or negotiating the use of chopsticks. Lin’s simple, tightly constructed text recalls Kvasnosky’s Zelda and Ivy (BCCB 4/98) in its suitability for early reading alone and sequenced reading aloud. While the individual chapters don’t necessarily end with a bang, the charm here lies in the sisters’ relationship and the low-key silliness of their interactions. There’s a slight echo of late Sendak in the figures of Ling and Ting, who are cleverly differentiated by Ting’s mangled bangs, a legacy of an ill-timed sneeze at the barber’s (though detail-oriented readers will protest that the girls’ hair isn’t black, as the text claims, but dark brown). There’s also a pretty strength in the tidily bordered scenes, with slight stylization reducing the dimensionality and soft opaque colors, trimly lined, in careful compositions resulting in a decorative, almost marquetry-like effect. Twins will thrill to see themselves reflected in literature, and other kids will relish being included in the camaraderie of the sisterhood 2010, Little, Ages 6 to 9, $14.99. REVIEWER: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

ISBN: 9780316024525

Out of the Way! Out of the Way!

Uma Krishnaswami

Illustrated by Uma Krishnaswami

This lyrical storybook is drawn in pen and ink with bright, bold blocks of colors in traditional Indian folk-art style. The story begins with a boy finding a tiny tree growing in a pathway. As the boy and the tree and the village grow, the pathway moves to surround the tree and life goes on around it as well. The village and the people have to “get out of the way” for the tree as it grows tall and strong. The boy grows up in the shade of the tree and becomes a man, telling the stories of his life and his family to his children and the villagers. This story is a whimsical poetic creation that is a fun read for grades 2 to 4. 2012, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, Ages 2 to 9, Hdbk. $17.95. REVIEWER: Katherine Watmough (Resource Links Reviews).

ISBN: 9781554981304

Pecan Pie Baby

Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

It’s the end of summer and Gia and her mother are waiting on a baby that’s due to come around the time of the first snow. Gia is less than happy with all the attention “that ding-dang baby” is getting from family members and friends, even before it’s born. And already the baby is a copycat who loves Gia’s favorite food–pecan pie. That must explain why her mama is craving it so. Woodson’s honesty as she writes about a big sibling’s lack of enthusiasm is refreshing, as is the acknowledgement from Gia’s mother that she, too, will miss when it was just the two of them, after the baby is born. Sophie Blackall’s warm ink-and-watercolor illustrations show a multiracial extended family with an African American mom and daughter at its center. 2010, Putnam, Ages 3-6, $16.99. REVIEWER: CCBC, 2011.

ISBN: 9780399239878

Same Sun Here

Silas House and Neela Vaswani.

This is a touching tale of two young people from diverse backgrounds who develop a long-distance relationship as pen pals. Meena and River soon discover that the things that separate them are much less significant than the things they actually have in common. Although River’s rural life in Tennessee is dramatically different from Meena’s experience as an Indian immigrant in New York City’s Chinatown, they quickly discover that they have two very important attributes in common; both have absent working fathers and a grandmother who is a beloved, stable figure, helping to shape their values and beliefs. As the two bridge cultural gaps and share details of their lives, it becomes apparent that they are indeed kindred spirits whose support and friendship become critical to their on-going growth and well-being. Unlike Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern (Hyperion, 2005) and other books that deal with friends or love interests who communicate virtually, this title does not feature characters who have already established relationships before they begin their correspondence. Additionally, Meena and River’s correspondence quickly progresses from typical, trivial exchanges to intimate conversations in which they reveal their deepest feelings. Thus Same Sun Here takes a novel approach to this topic and reveals to young readers how authentic conversation and trust between human beings can bring them together despite all that divides them. 2012, Candlewick, Ages 11 to 15, $16.99. REVIEWER: Donna Miller (VOYA).

ISBN: 9780763656843

Sylvia and Aki

Winifred Conkling

In 1942, when the Munemitsu family is forced to leave their farm and live in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona, the Mendez family leases the farm. Before leaving for Arizona, third-grader Aki Munemitsu hides her favorite doll and her Westminster School class photograph on the shelf in the back of the closet. When they move into the house, Sylvia Mendez dreams of attending third grade at Westminster School. Her dream turns into a nightmare when the school officials state that the Mendez children must attend the “Mexican” school even though it is farther away. Sylvia’s father, a naturalized U. S. citizen, is determined to fight this policy. In the meantime, Sylvia discovers Aki’s doll in the closet. She meets Aki and the girls become pen pals and friends. The story is told in chapters that alternate between Sylvia and Aki as they relate their feelings and events between 1942 and 1955. Each chapter begins with either a Mexican or Japanese proverb, which captures the essence of that part of the story. Both girls face prejudice and segregation. They discover that friendship can cross cultural boundaries. Based on a true event, Conkling clearly presents the issues and the historical background that culminate in Gonzalo Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County, a case that influenced Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Readers will cheer their friendship and the beginning of the breakdown of “separate but equal.” The girls’ stories, photos, and the afterword combine to bring these historic events to life. For those who want to know more, there are titles for further reading, and a bibliography that includes court documents, a film, books, articles and interviews with Aki and Sylvia. 2011, Tricycle Press, Ages 9 to 12, $16.99. REVIEWER: Sharon Salluzzo (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781582463971

Time to Pray

Maha Addasi

Arabic translation by Nuha Albitar

Illustrated by Ned B. Gannon

Come to pray, come to pray, calls the muezzin in the middle of the night, waking young Yasmin during her stay with her grandmother in the Middle East. It’s a call that resonates with Yasmin, and her grandmother, Teta, helps her begin her spiritual practice. She takes Yasmin to the fabric store and purchases cloth for prayer clothes, helps her select a special prayer rug, and finally demonstrates how to wash before praying. Then Yasmin makes her first trip to the mosque to pray with Teta. The phrase “time to pray” takes on several meanings, not only reflecting Yasmin’s start of her intentional spiritual practice but also the call of the muezzin. Author Maha Addasi bilingual (English/Arabic) text informs readers about the Fard prayers (required prayers for Muslims) through a loving grandmother-granddaughter story while maintaining a realistic, childlike perspective. Ned Gannon’s colorful oil artwork is full of geometric designs and warm, gentle tones. 2010, Boyds Mills Press, Ages 6-10, $17.95. REVIEWER: CCBC, 2011.

ISBN: 9781590786116

Tua and the Elephant

R.P. Harris

Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

Harris’s debut, inspired by a trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, follows nine-year-old Tua and her relationship with an abused elephant, Pohn-Pohn. Tua, whose mother is a hardworking waitress, lives an independent life in Chiang Mai, near a popular night market where she “and falls in love with”Pohn-Pohn. The elephant is under the charge of two thieving scoundrels and wordlessly begs Tua to help her escape. As quick-witted and adventurous as she is warmhearted, Tua undergoes hair-raising escapades to keep Pohn-Pohn out of the villains’grasp and find her a sanctuary. Engagingly filled with Thai vocabulary, food, and customs, and peopled by helpful family members, chums, and kind monks, the book maintains a quick, suspenseful pace. The final chapters wrap up the story a little too neatly, however, and border on an infomercial about the sanctuary for abused Asian elephants. Nonetheless, Harris’s story, enlivened by Yoo’s gently evocative woodcut illustrations in violet and mustard, avoids overt anthropomorphism of Pohn-Pohn while maintaining the sweet connection between elephant and girl. 2012, Chronicle, Ages 8 to12, $16.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.

ISBN: 9780811877817

Year of the Book

Andrea Cheng

Illustrated by Abigail Halpin

Anna Wang always has her nose in a book which is a perfect escape now that her friend Laura has deserted her for popular girls Lucy and Allison. For Anna friendship is complicated, especially in the mercurial world of 4th grade alliances. She wishes all her friendships could be like the one she has with Ray the crossing guard or Mr. Shepherd the elderly widower her mother visits on Saturdays. While other moms have professional positions, Anna’s mom cleans offices and is struggling to perfect her English, both of which embarrass Anna. At Chinese school Anna rebels as she struggles to learn the language her mother speaks with ease and one she wants Anna to learn–for as she says, “a Chinese face with no Chinese words is not easy.” As Anna tries to sort out her feelings she often turns to characters in her books, like My Side of the Mountain or My Louisiana Sky, not only for a break from reality but as a coping mechanism. While books can sometimes be the answer, Anna learns that there are times when she must put the book down and face her changing world head on, as the best means of understanding what it means to have a friend and be a friend. Her year long journey focuses on these, at times, tenuous relationships as she welcomes Laura back and forges a closer bond with her mother. Anna’s budding maturity and the complications of friendship are gently addressed with a reading style that is light and inviting for young girls. Charcoal sketches scattered throughout add a warm dimension. The addition of sewing directions for Anna’s drawstring bag is a nice bonus. A complete list of titles and authors of Anna’s books would have been helpful for readers wanting to seek out these good reads. 2012, Houghton Mifflin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12 $15.99. REVIEWER: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780547684635

Updated 04/01/13

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