Hey voters (you DID vote today, didn't you?), it's We Recommend, in which readers write in to ask for help in choosing just the right book, and we oblige them (with a whole lot of help from the comments). Looking for help in finding the right book? E-mail us with the particulars, and we will do our darndest.
This person is writing in with a mission to make the rest of the world more real to the children in her life. As you can see:
I'm about to move out of the country, and I'm looking for books to explain things to my 4-year-old goddaughter–not so much the move, but about the world and what life is like outside her (fairly homogenous) suburb. Even just stories set in other countries would be good–she has Madeline, of course, but I'm hoping for something a little more "cultural" than that. Her parents are pretty conservative, so I'm not looking for anything too beat-you-over-the-head hippie liberal; I'd rather be a little sneakier than that. :) Basically, I'm looking to introduce a 4-year-old to the idea of different cultures and multiculturalism.
Anyway, she loves Knuffle Bunny, the first Eloise book, and kind of "science-y" things, with even pretty detailed explanations of wildlife and technology. I got her a globe for her last birthday, and she's been very interested in it, so I think she has the curiosity and interest. I've just not had very much luck finding things that aren't simply children's stories maybe set in another country, but with the setting very much in the background, not really explored or explained at all.
So I thought about this, and what I thought about (because I was trying not to just fall for the first thing that popped into my head, which of course turned out to be a losing battle) was stories, nice fictional narratives, because those are the sorts of things I go for. I thought of The Story of Ping
, which seems both culturally different and obscurely racist (though maybe is this more because it features a China envisioned in the 1930s as unselfconsciously "other," which is sort of not really done now, not because it says anything negative). It's the story of a duck that gets lost on the Yangtze river, and the family that lives on the boat there. It could be sort of excellent.
But really, what seems to fit the bill for this curious-sounding and data-oriented goddaughter is this
(and it's timely, as it's published in partnership with Unicef, if your kids somehow forgot to bring the box out on Halloween):
It's a country by country presentation of kids, ages 3 or 4 to about 14, talking in a very goofily honest way, about their lives: what they eat, their favorite toys, what they play, their friends' names. It's pretty amazing (and sort of sobering; it was published in 1995 so all the kids are now adults, which is a little freaky for the adults reading it, but that's something else entirely). But it really truly does give kids a sense that people do live differently from how they live, in other places with other clothes, food, etc, but they're still kids that they can connect with.
Over time, favorite kids change (both my girls were partial to the Russian girls who went to the Bolshoi Ballet school for while, but then other countries/kids superseded these). It's amazing, really, watching them get a sense, even if it's only a child's-eye-view one, of the rest of the big giant world.
But what if she's not into nonfiction? What if she really does want a story? Or something else? If you've got an idea, put it in the comments.