Global Storytime Picture Books

Holy smokies, folks, am I excited to share today’s guest post! You all know I love me some storytime book lists. Today I am happy to feature guest blogger Kate Davis.  Kate is a storytime ninja, global literature fangirl, and agent of early literacy advocacy. She is based in San Diego. And she is here to provide tips on how to select and read picture books in storytime from all around the world.  I learned about so many new titles! Do you have a favourite global picture book you share in storytime? Leave a comment letting us know.

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Diversity is a mainstay in our culture and is slowly developing a presence in North American children’s literature. While we continue to fight for its presence, we can fill cultural gaps in our storytimes with global picture books that have been translated into English. These amazing publications give us the opportunity to not only help little ones develop an early understanding of diversity, but to peek into unfamiliar cultures through themes they can relate to.

Intentionally selecting global literature to read during storytime can be overwhelming. Doubts on what to choose, how to pronounce unfamiliar words, and how to answer possible questions is enough to send many of us back to our comfortable favorites, but international picture books offer so many fantastic benefits. They prompt conversation and offer variegated sounds, vocabulary and sentence structure. They develop a deeper understanding of creativity and broach unfamiliar themes. Most importantly, they normalize diversity, helping young readers to see and accept it as a natural part of civilization.

Authors and illustrators from every culture incorporate elements of their society’s history, values, and viewpoints into their picture books. Since every culture is different, we have to be aware that picture books, even when translated, can’t possibly translate into our individual sensibilities. We wouldn’t want them to! So as we read them, we need to note cultural markers such as a glass of wine on the dinner table in a book from southern Europe or soldiers with machine guns patrolling a city street in a story from Central America. Such subtle nods to cultural dynamics are eye-opening, even a little surprising to adult readers in North America. It’s important to carefully assess a global book before reading it aloud to ensure that its appropriate for your audience.

Another key difference is that many international picture books do not follow traditional North American formats. They may not adhere to build up-climax-conclusion storylines familiar to U.S. readers. Endings are often abrupt and random, even anticlimactic. While this certainly doesn’t negate the books’ integrity, awareness of it is key when reading aloud. As storytellers, we moderate our voices according to position in a story, so we can use our voices to soften an awkward transition or an abrupt ending. Fortunately, our young listeners aren’t as ingrained in standard formatting as adults are, so they won’t be dissuaded from enjoying a book because the ending doesn’t fit a predefined standard. They will relish the characters, the illustrations and differences that make the book unique.

Some global titles are less culturally specific and therefore may seem more universal in nature, such as those with anthropomorphic creatures. Subtle details, however, in both text and illustration may still convey cultural flavor that can lead to expanding young readers’ perspectives. In strong contrast, however, picture books from some regions, especially third-world countries, reflect the intensity and rawness of daily life; their narratives and illustrations may be considered too harsh for North American readers. Don’t depend on the publisher’s recommended age ranges for such titles–what may be appropriate for a five-year-old in a different part of the world may not be suitable for a five-year-old in North America.

Global picture books are an incredible resource and can truly expand the worlds of the little ones we serve. Illustrations, regardless of country of origin, always bridge cultural gaps while the narratives produce often unexpected themes, quirky details, and enchanting storylines. They’re easy to incorporate into your storytimes for any age and provide for new and stimulating conversation with kids and caretakers alike.

Tips and Tricks for Including Global Picture Books in Your Storytime!

  1. Read your global lit book in advance and really look at the details in all the illustrations. Make sure that everything is appropriate for your storytime age group.
  2. Practice reading your global lit aloud. Get comfortable with its rhythm, any unusual phrasing, and unfamiliar words/names. Don’t worry if your pronunciation isn’t perfect–have fun trying!
  3. Make notes of possible conversation prompts. Is there a different animal in the book than you usually read about? Is the character eating a different kind of food for lunch?
  4. Have a globe next to you during storytime and point out where your library is located and then where the book comes from. Toddlers and preschoolers may have little idea of distance, but you’re helping them develop a foundational awareness of geography.
  5. Encourage your storytime friends to practice saying the author’s and/or the characters’ names. Discuss how the names sound different than names they’re used to hearing. Have fun practicing new sounds and noting how different your mouth feels when you say them.
  6. Don’t stress about it! Remember that you probably already have some favorite international authors, including Marcus Pfister (Switzerland), Mem Fox (Australia), or Jean de Brunhoff (France).

Global Storytime Picture Books

The Fly (Horácek, P. (2015). The fly. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.)
Petr Horácek
Czech Republic
STEM, humor, novelty, bugs
Ages 3-7

Why is the fly always in trouble? All he wants is to do is exercise, visit the cows and eat his meals on time. But no one ever wants him around! In this clever novelty book, Horacek shares an entirely different perspective with readers while subtly sliding in some important facts about flies.

Good Morning, Chick (Ginsburg, M. (1980). Good morning, chick [Tsyplenok]. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.)
Text adapted from Tsyplenok by Korney Chukovsky
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg
Illustrated by Byron Barton
Russian Federation
Animals, farm, STEM
Ages 1-4

The farm is full of adventures for a brand new baby chick! Fun movements, sights and sounds encourage interaction from even the youngest readers as well as introduce early scientific concepts about farm animals. The illustrations beautifully portray the innocence of the chick with bright colors, simple outlines and subtle textures. Perfect read aloud for babies, toddlers and preschoolers alike.

Potty Time (van Genecthen, G. (2001). Potty time. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.)
Guido van Genechten
Belgium
Animals, concepts
Ages 2-4

Potty Time tickles toddlers with the unlikely pairing of animals giant and tiny and in between all sitting on Joe’s potty seat. It’s just the right size for Joe, but could it work for everyone else? Each animal is full of personality, from their colors and patterns to their size and speech.

Hippopposites (Coat, J. (2012). Hippopposites. New York, NY: Abrams.)
Janik Coat
France
Opposites, concepts
Ages Birth-4

Opposites don’t have to be standard when a clever hippo gets involved! This fun hippo introduces little ones to unconventional counterparts like positive and negative, clear and blurry, and opaque and transparent. Hippopposites is a great conversation starter and a fantastic way to help young readers look at things in a completely different light!

Bubble Trouble (Mahy, M. (2009). Bubble trouble. New York, NY: Clarion Books.)
Margaret Mahy
Polly Dunbar (illustrator)
New Zealand
Ages 2-8

Get ready for some bouncy adventures when a bubble floats away and causes some crazy bubble trouble! Through inventive rhymes and an infectious meter, readers young and older will be giggling by the end of the first page!

Guess What? (van Genechten, G. (2012). Guess what?. New York, NY: Clavis Publishing.)
Guido van Genechten
Belgium
Ages 1-4
Concepts, STEM

Lift the flap to see how one thing can look like another. Simple, bright and colorful, Guess What? prompts observation, inquiry, prediction, comparisons, imaginative responses and is a great conversation starter.

Millie and the Big Rescue (Steffensmeier, A. (2012). Millie and the big rescue [Lieselatte versteckt sich]. New York, NY: Walker Books for Young Readers.)
Steffensmeier, Alexander
Germany
Ages 3-8

It makes for a crazy day when all the animals on the farm end up high in the branches of a tree!
Fans of Click, Clack, Moo will love Millie and the Big Rescue–zany farm animals never fail to delight!

In the Meadow (Kato, Y. (2011). In the meadow. New York, NY: Enchanted Lion Books.)
Yukiko Kato
Illustrated by Komako Sakai
Japan
Ages 3-6

With soft greens, strong contrasts and incredible movement, In the Meadow invites young readers into the cool grasses to feel the tickle of a grasshopper, hear the song of the river and see the flash of a butterfly.

5 Cherries (Facchini, V. (2017). 5 cherries (Anna Celada Trans.). New York, NY: Enchanted Lion Books.)
Vittoria Facchini
Italy
Ages 3-8

Who knew that five red cherries could provide so much inspiration? Two small children imagine an afternoon away by finding inventive and creative uses for their special cherries. Humorous and imaginative, 5 Cherries features incredible artwork and subtle nods to a very difficult subject.

Chirri and Chirra (Doi, K. (2016). Chirri & chirra (Y. Kaneko Trans.). Brooklyn, NY: Enchanted Lion Books.)
Kaya Doi
Translated by Yuki Kaneko
Japan
Ages 2-5

As they ride their bikes through the forest, two little girls explore a new world filled with animals, treats, adventures and surprises. The enchanting colored pencil illustrations bring Chirri and Chirra’s world to life through texture, color and pure whimsy.

Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale
Divakaruni, Chirta Banerjee
India
Folk tale
Ages 4-up

Grandma goes for a visit, but the forest through which she travels is filled with peril. She’s tiny and frail, but oh so smart. Can she find a way to outwit the danger? This beautiful retelling of a Bengali folktale will have younger readers on the edge of their seats and rooting for Grandma!

Luke and the Little Seed (Ferri, G. (2015). Luke & the little seed. Hong Kong: minedition.)
Giuliano Ferri
Italy
Ages 3-7

When Grandfather gives him seeds for his birthday, Luke is disappointed. But with Grandfather’s a little guidance and a whole lot of patience, Luke discovers just how magical seeds can be.

The Bus Ride (Dubuc, M. (2014). The bus ride [L’autobus] (Y. Ghione Trans.). Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.)
Marianne Dubuc
France
Ages 4-7

Riding a bus all by yourself can be a big adventure. But you’re never alone when there are all kinds of friends to meet and adventures to be had!

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