Who wants to do a little armchair traveling with their kids? (Raises hand!) Making this list of children's books to take you around the world almost overwhelmed me but I managed to get through it! It was reeeeeeeellllly hard to narrow some of the countries down to just one book, but I managed.
A few notes on my choices. In no way is the book I chose meant to be representative of the country. That would be impossible. I've also chosen a variety of fiction, modern, historical, biographies, folktales, and even poetry to add interest. Most of the titles are fiction and some are based on true events. For those of you who want more nonfiction oriented books, those can easily be found by Dewey Decimal at your local library.
Note: I'm sure your favorite country is missing from the list! This list of 50 folktale books from around the world have many other choices, but eave your recommendations in the comments.
I've also written much shorter reviews than usual -- I would never have finished the list, otherwise! -- and left off book covers, so as not to make the post too unwieldy. (Note: this post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn a commission for this blog.)
Turn the Pages to Discover Africa
Egypt: The Day of Ahmed's Secret by Florence Parry Heide. Young Ahmed spends the day delivering butane gas to customers all over Cairo. But he can't help but think about a happy secret he can't wait to tell his family.
Ethiopia: The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa by Cristina Kessler. Lalibela is a mountain region known for it's honey. Despite the scathing laughter of the male beekeepers, a young girl is determined to be the best beekeeper and have the best honey of anyone.
Gambia: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul. When Isatou notices that plastic bags do not degrade like traditional baskets when discarded she comes up with a plan to return beauty to her home and help the economic situation of her neighbors.
Kenya: Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was recognized for her work restoring trees to Kenya.
Malawi: Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams. Kondi decides he wants to make a galimoto out of wire he's been saving up in his shoebox. Despite a few obstacles he remains persistent and completes his toy.
Masai people (East Africa): Who's in Rabbit's House? by Verna Aardema. Masai villagers gather together as actors don masks to perform the story of a group of animals who attempt to get a mysterious creature, the "long one", out of rabbit's house.
Morocco: My Father's Shop by Satomi Ichikawa. Mustafa's father tells him he must learn several foreign languages in order to keep the rug he has fallen in love with. In the busy tourist market, he finds several foreigners to help him.
South Africa: Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson is a gorgeously illustrated biography of this important historical figure.
Read Your Way Around Asia
Afghanistan: Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter. The Taliban forbid girls to go to school, yet Nasreen's grandmother takes great risks to sent Nasreen to a secret school.
China: Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges. In Old China, Ruby wants to buck the trend and go to university just like her brothers.
India: Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami. A young girl poetically experiences the relief of rains in her dry Indian city.
Japan: Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein. On a journey to discover the meaning of her name, Wabi Sabi learns about the Japanese philosophy of seeing beauty in the ordinary.
Korea: The Firekeeper's Son By Linda Sue Park. In 19th century Korea, Sang-hee, the son of the village fire keeper struggles with his desire to see the soldiers and the responsibility of making sure the signal fire is lit.
Indonesia: The Great Race by Nathan Kumar Scott. An adaptation of an Indonesian trickster tale in which Kanchil the conceited mouse deer tries to outwit the bigger animals by challenging them to a race.
Iran: The Knight, the Princess, and the Magic Rock: A Classic Persian Tale by Sara Azizi. This beautifully illustrated story comes from Book of Kings (Shahnameh), the national epic poem of Iran. It tells the story of a brave knight who falls in love with the daughter of an enemy of Persia.
Iraq: The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter. When war threatens to destroy Alia’s precious library collection, which includes rare editions, she bravely works to move 30,000 volumes to safety.
Israel: Snow in Jerusalem by by Deborah Da Costa. A Jewish boy and a Muslim boy come together to take care of a stray cat.
Lebanon: Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide. In Beirut, Sami and his family learn to try to have a normal life in the midst of war and work hard to keep up their spirits. Ages 7 and up.
Pakistan: Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams. Two girls in a Pakistan refugee camp each find one shoe in a pair and decide to share them.
Palestine: Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye. An American girl visits her grandmother in a village on the West Bank.
Philippines: The Turtle and the Monkey by Paul Galdone. A folktale about a greedy monkey who tries to cheat Turtle out of her bananas.
Thailand: Hush!: A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho is a charming onomatopoetic bedtime story.
Tibet: All The Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet by Barbara Helen Berger. A retelling of a parable from Tibet. An old woman advises two travelers, one in a hurry and one careful and slow.
Vietnam: Grandfather's Dream by Holly Keller. In the wake of the Vietnam war, a village hopes for the return of the cranes as a symbol to help them conserve the wetlands.
Take a Bookish Trip to Australia/Oceania
Australia: Are we there yet? by Alison Lester. A family takes a camping trip around Australia.
New Zealand: Elizabeth Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox. The true story of an elephant seal who decides to make her home on Christchurch's Avon River.
Travel to Europe by Book
Austria: A Gift for Mama by Linda Ravin Lodding. In 1890s Vienna, Oskar has a single coin to buy a gift for his mama. In this heartwarming story, he makes trade after trade with the important historical people of the city until he has just the right gift.
Czech Republic: The Three Golden Keys by Peter Sís. Three legends are worked into an allegory about Prague, with detailed and intriguing illustrations.
England: The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers. In this wordless book, a boy chases a runaway soccer ball backstage only to find himself transported to the world of Shakespeare. The bard chases the boy off the stage and they embark on a chaotic journey around Elizabethan London, picking up a bear, an imprisoned baron, and leaping onto a barge inhabited by Queen Elizabeth.
France: The Cat Who Walked Across France by Kate Banks. When a cat's owner dies he sets off across the country, eventually finding his way home again.
The Problem With Chickens by Bruce McMillan. A group of ladies buy a flock of chickens but notice that the chickens start to act like the ladies! When the chickens also stop laying eggs, the ladies come up with a plan to make the chickens act like chickens again -- with some amusing results.
Ireland: Fiona's Luck by Teresa Bateman. Fiona is a clever, witty heroine who makes her own luck instead of relying on magic. She outsmarts the Leprechaun King who has locked all the luck in Ireland away in a chest.
Italy: Gabriella's Song by Candace Fleming takes readers on a musical tour of Venice.
Netherlands: The Cow Who Fell into the Canal by Phyllis Krasilovsky is a delightful classic tale that gives readers an up close view of a Dutch town via a clumsy bovine friend.
Norway: The Terrible Troll-Bird by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar d'Aulaire. When a troll-bird threatens the village, Ola shoots it with his blunderbuss and after some wrangling they manage to bring it back to the village where its now roasted carcass feeds the whole valley at a merry feast. Unfortunately, two overgrown trolls are not happy about these events and storm the village. Not to worry, the sun comes out to ensure a happy ending.
Poland: The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse. Based on the true story of how children use cats to help smuggle in food for resistance fighters during WWII.
Scotland: Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf. Wee Gillis splits his time between his mother's family in the lowlands and his father's in the highlands. He must decide which way of life he likes best.
Spain: Anno's Spain by Anno is a wordless book full of the wonders of the Spanish countryside.
Sweden: The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren. This story about how the mythical farm gnome-like creature watches over the animals on a snowy night is one of my all-time favorite books.
MORE: Tomten books for kids
Ukraine: The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt is a version of this classic folktale about a group of animals trying to stay warm.
Picture Books Set in North America
Canada: A Promise is a Promise by the prolific Canadian author Robert Munsch is about an Inuit girl who disobeys her parents and runs into trouble with the Qallupilluit, a troll-like creature.
Caribbean Islands: (unnamed country) Jimmy the Greatest! by Jairo Buitrago. Jimmy dreams of being a boxer like his hero Muhammed Ali, whom he studies. Jimmy decides that being the greatest! means he can stay where he is an help his community by opening a boxing ring and library.
Cuba: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle is inspired by the life of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl. Millo bucked Cuba's taboo against female drummers and became a famous musician, even playing the bongos at a birthday celebration for FDR.
Mexico: Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh. A look at Diego Rivera's art, with special attention to his love of Mexican culture. The second half of the book sparks critical thinking by asking questions about what Rivera would paint if her were here today.
Muscogee: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith. A heartwarming story about a contemporary Native American girl who wants to make sure she has enough jingles for her dress when she dances in her first powwow.
Plains Indians: Buffalo Woman by Paul Goble. A hunter stalks his prey, a buffalo, but when it turns into a woman, her marries her. Later he must find his wife an son among the Buffalo Nation, or lose them forever.
USA: Adèle & Simon in America by Barbara McClintock. French siblings take a cross-continental tour of the United States and try not to lose anything along the way.
Head Down to South America
Brazil/The Amazon: Rain, Rain, Rain Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson. This joyous nonfiction book, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, about the inhabitants of the rain forest region, will delight and inform.
Chile: Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown. A picture book biography of Chile's famous poet, how he discovered a love for words and became an activist.
Colombia: Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown. In rural Colombia, the children eagerly await the arrival of their traveling library.
Guatemala: Abuela's Weave by Omar S. Castaneda. Esperanza learns the traditional skill of weaving with her grandmother and the two travel to the Fiesta de Pueblos with their creations.
Peru: Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from The Andes (Andes Mountains). In an effort to avoid being eaten by Tío Antonio the fox, a wily guinea pig named Cuy manages to convince him that he needs to brace himself under a rock in order to keep the sky from falling.
Stay Warm While You Visit the Poles
BONUS! 2 more books for those of you who like the far reaches of the globe.
The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer. A plethora of wildlife and Indigenous peoples gaze in wonder as the lights describe how they move across the sky and create magic on their journey. Luminous.
Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems by Judy Sierra. Let's round out this list with some poems to make your kids giggle. Who doesn't love penguins playing around? No one. That's who.