Books make excellent traveling companions. I can tell you where I was for many of my favorite adventures in literature. They whisk us away into new worlds without jet lag, travel illness or language barriers. My deep love for global literature stems from the way authors lead us into the heart of their experience. Through story, we access the interworking of custom and culture. Here are my global lit must-haves for adults & young minds.
Young Readers (or those young at heart)
The Red Pencil – Andrea Davis Pickney
Amira, our hero uses poetry and illustrations to catapult the reader into her culture, dreams, family, geopolitical conflict, all while preserving the innocence of a young reader. Pulsing with rhythm, laughter, and reality, this book offers the complete saturation of deep cross-cultural experience. A School Library Journal Book of the Year it gets pride of place on my shelf for diversity, handling of conflict and unique engagement for the reader. A great book for girls.
Inside Out and Back Again – Thannha Lai
“By 2010, Texas had the second-largest Vietnamese population in the U.S. — 210,000. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area had the fourth-largest Vietnamese population among U.S. metro areas, with 71,839 people, according to the 2010 census.” Dallas Morning News, 2015
Inspired by the authors’ journey from Vietnam to Alabama. This tender, colorful story, brings home much of the coming of age/refugee experience of our local Vietnamese-Americans.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley
A rollicking delight of mystery and chemistry. Eleven years old, Flavia De Luce can’t help but stumble over dead bodies in her post-WWII English village. Using large words and an even larger imagination she moves through painful realities of growing up without a mother by throwing herself into adventure and science. Flavia is a delight to listen to when it’s read by Jayne Entwistle who captures her free spirit, scientific vocabulary and raw gumption. I read six before I introduced them to my science, loving pre-teen, partially to make sure they were appropriate but mainly because I enjoyed them so much. I think if Agatha Christie had written at 11 she would have sounded just like Flavia De Luce.
Number the Stars – Lowis Lowry
Lowry set the standard for middle-grade geopolitical fiction. Capturing the angst and outcome of European WWII while preserving the innocence that is vital to middle-grade fiction. Lowry taught us all how to capture the heart, inform and empower the imagination of children. This is my favorite, modern, middle-grade, historical-fiction book of all time. A work that lets the parent guide the conversation but transports the reader into the essence of the complex moral problems facing Europe, without fully revealing the horrors of the Holocaust.
A Single Shard – Linda Sue Park
“In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in the 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated — until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself — even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.” -Book jacket
Masterful storytelling and deep cultural empathy transport our reader across time and space into the adventure of Tree-ear. Hard-work, loyalty and the intricacies of Korean culture are fleshed out in this big-hearted tale of dreams vs. reality.
A fan of Trevor Noah’s, South African stand-up comedy, I bought this book on Audible simply to hear this gifted story-teller weave me a tale of hilarity when cultures collide. In reality, I found a gripping, intense account of the modern South African history of racial apartheid told with humor, honesty, and heart. Trevor Noah is the product of a Swiss father and a Xhosa mother. Their relationship is a crime and his birth defies all the rules. The result is a deeply moving, gut-wrenchingly funny, take on real-life triumphing over human cruelty. Warning-some language, but in keeping with the intensity of the story. A must-read for 2017! Update: YOUNG READER EDITION
No 1. Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith
Listening to Precious Ramotoswe’s adventures throughout Botswana is like being transported back to idyllic Southern Africa. I started brewing bush tee and telling my children about my halcyon days in Swaziland, Africa. Open the book and look straight into a neighborhood much like my own. The dynamic accents, colors, customs and rhythm of life is knit together in a Murder She Wrote straight from Africa. This was my African experience complete with nosy neighbors and female ingenuity. A delight for every armchair traveler and mystery buff.
I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh
A tragic moment robs a mother of her child and locks several strangers into a complex thriller that will interweave lives as they seek justice and redemption from the heart of London to the wilds of the Welsh wilderness. Part of our neighborhood book club adventure for anyone who liked Gone Girl. I also recommend All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr for a heart-wrenching book set on the Australian coastline.
Murder in the Marais – Cara Black
The first in the Aimee Leduc series is thoughtfully constructed in masterfully told. In each book, Black combines a Parisian neighborhood with all of its history and a modern-day political problem. This one focuses on anti-Semitism facing France’s Jewish community in WWII and today. Aimee has all the color and attitude of a dynamic detective with a Parisian sense of history and style. A must-read if you plan to travel to Paris or simply want to escape into the City of Lights through a good book.
In the Land of Blue Burquas – Kate McCord
Although all the names are changed in this touching glimpse into the life of an American missionary in Afghanistan, the anecdotal story-telling takes you past the foreign and into the hearts of the Afghan people. You feel the bite of the cold weather, the sting of hardship and hunger, the overwhelming experience of being a woman in this harsh land but the sweetness of the tea and laughter saturate this book.
A Year In Provence – Peter Mayle
Ever dream of leaving it all behind and moving to Provence? Before you go, pick up this classic search for simplicity, good food and an earthier understanding of life. Mayle’s humor is essential as he strives to renovate a 200-year-old barn and live like a local in the quirky but gorgeous region of France. You’ll want to pick up the sequel Toujour Provence and watch/read A Good Year. Nate and I got so inspired we had a full South of France dinner party. Learning how to make a good coq au vin or tapenade helps you slow down and relish the friends who gather together at your table.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Our latest neighborhood, bookclub adventure this Japanese sensation is a unique peek into Asian culture and what it can teach us about living with less. Kondo has liberated hundreds of Japanese from being ruled by their things or waste a lifetime organizing overwhelming closets, drawers, and lives. I wish the translator had used synonyms for tidying, it gets very redundant. The author is definitely a quirky character but she has a passion and a valuable point. It’s a quick read that may help you streamline your life giving you time for reading or travel.
Read any globetrotting books lately?
Let us know where you’ve traveled in a book and what you loved!
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