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Books to Help Your Kids Explore the World

Close-up of a young girl reading a young adult fiction book with a magical sparkle light effect coming out of the book.
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This month is National Reading Month, and Read Across America Day was celebrated this past Monday, March 2nd. Read Across America is an initiative from the National Education Association (NEA) designed to encourage students to foster a love of reading. On their website, they have a variety of titles and resources that "include books that students can see themselves reflected in, as well as books that allow readers to see a world or a character that might be different than them."

Books are great a way to grow cultural understanding, cultivate respect for others, and develop a sense of belonging in a diverse world. Are you interested in using books help your children engage in the world around them? Give these a try:

Children’s books

  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman: "The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she? Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey."
  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman: “Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year. All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.”
  • Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova: “A colorful journey of self-discovery and identity, this sweet, vibrant picture book follows young Leila as she visits her grandmother’s house for their weekly family dinner, and finds parts of herself and her heritage in the family, friends, and art around her.”

Middle Grade books

  • Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg: “Serafina has a secret dream. She wants to go to school and become a doctor with her best friend, Julie Marie. But in their rural village outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, many obstacles stand in Serafina's way — little money, never-ending chores, and Manman's worries. More powerful even than all of these are the heavy rains and the shaking earth that test Serafina's resolve in ways she never dreamed.”
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans: “Finally, Amira is twelve. Old enough to wear a toob, old enough for new responsibilities. And maybe old enough to go to school in Nyala— Amira’s one true dream. But life in her peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when the Janjaweed arrive. The terrifying attackers ravage the town and unleash unspeakable horrors. After she loses nearly everything, Amira needs to dig deep within herself to find the strength to make the long journey— on foot— to safety at a refugee camp. Her days are tough at the camp, until the gift of a simple red pencil opens her mind— and all kinds of possibilities.”
  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin: “Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore. The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her. As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?”

Young Adult books

  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: “Jin Wang starts at a new school where he's the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn't want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he's in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee's annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny's reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He's ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there's no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They're going to have to find a way—if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.”
  • The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales: “Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for quincea–era, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. When Sofia is singled out to receive a scholarship to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids. It’s a different mundo, but one where Sofia’s traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.”
  • I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick: “Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive. Now Malala is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. In this Young Readers Edition of her bestselling memoir, which includes exclusive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world - and did. Malala's powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles and the possibility that one person - one young person - can inspire change in her community and beyond.”

Visit Read Across America and their partner organizations, such as We Need Diverse Books and the International Literacy Association, to start your own search for more titles and resources, and let us know your favorites on Facebook or Twitter

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