Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some Cross-Cultural Reads

Interested in learning about how kids in other countries live? Read on!

The Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins. I enjoyed this peek into a different culture -- and Asha, the protagonist, is very relatable in spite of the differences. Set in India in the 1970s, Asha's roles as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, and granddaughter are rigidly defined, and she chafes under cultural mores that American kids may have a hard time understanding. The ending, too, is not the expected happily-ever-after; it's more realistic than that, and about as happy as it could be under the circumstances. I do wish there had been more descriptions of the setting, but, like Asha, the action was mostly confined to the home. A coming-of-age story for thoughtful girls interested in other cultures.

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper. Though the narrator and setting are very similar to one of my all-time favorite books, Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, the story is much different -- more of a historical adventure than coming-of-age. It takes place on a remote European island in 1936. Sophie's family has lived there for centuries -- they are royalty, and Montmaray is, in fact, their kingdom -- but they are fairly isolated from European politics until 2 German officers arrive. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but there had better be a sequel -- lots of loose ends! Good for readers 6th grade and up.

Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel by Leslie Connor, illustrated by Mary Azarian. What a beautiful picture book, a quiet look at one woman's immigrant experience. When Miss Bridie moves to America from Ireland, she chooses to bring a shovel instead of a keepsake -- and then proceeds to put it to good use! Its tone reminds me of Cooney's Miss Rumphius, one of my all-time favorites. I think I'd love it even more if it were illustrated in a style other than woodcuts.

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements. 6th-grader Abby is failing sixth grade -- so when she is offered the chance to earn extra credit by writing to a pen pal, she jumps at the chance. Her pen pal turns out to be a student from Afghanistan, and both of them have a lot to learn from each other. This isn't my favorite by Andrew Clements, but it's still a good read for 4th-6th-graders.

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson. Paterson is one of my favorite authors, and as far as I'm concerned, all of her books are good! So even though I am only a little over half-way through listening to this one on audio, I feel comfortable recommending it. Meli and her family are Albanians living comfortably in Kosovo...until the Serbians start their campaign of terror against Albanians, and she and her family become refugees. A fascinating look at a recent historical event through the eyes of a 12/13-year-old girl.

Read any good cross-cultural stories lately?

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