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Registered Members => Book Talk => Topic started by: Mara on June 27, 2011, 07:35 PM

Title: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Mara on June 27, 2011, 07:35 PM
I'd like to get my eight-year-old some books that take place in other countries besides the United States. She still enjoys picture books but I'd especially like recommendations for chapter books or easy-ish middle grade. Either historical or contemporary is fine, but she's not ready to handle much gloom and suffering. Light and humorous would be great, but I'd settle for interesting and reasonably cheerful!

Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Vijaya on June 27, 2011, 08:51 PM
Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming is a very fun light read that takes place in the US, but it's the only one I can think of right off the top of my head that's a chapter book. All others would be PBs. It's true that most of the novels tend to highlight the plight of the people.

Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Vijaya on June 27, 2011, 09:12 PM
You might want to check Pooja Makhijani's website where she keeps a list of SE Asian books by category along with a short summary.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: literaticat on June 27, 2011, 09:52 PM
Set in the US, but historical and a side of the US that is odd, RIDING FREEDOM by Pam Munoz Ryan is seriously a must read. It is about a girl who runs away from an orphan situation, dresses as a boy and joins the pony express. (In real life, the woman who did that was also the first woman who voted in the state of California, Charlotte Parkhurst, who Verla Kay also wrote a picture book about!) -- no seriously, you should really get her this book. NO SERIOUSLY. GET THIS BOOK.

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, grace lin, set in China, magical adventure.

ESPERANZA RISING by also Pam Munoz Ryan is slightly older, set a bit in Mexico (if i recall correctly) but MOSTLY in the us... but again, it is pretty much a side of the US that most kids don't see much of, and seems different-countryish. Though it theoretically could be depressing, since it is set during the great depression and is about migrant workers - it is actually not. A good intro to magical realism.

I did a mother-daughter book club with 9 year olds and one of their favorites was TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE - set at sea on a transatlantic crossing, about a girl who is rich and sheltered, and then ends up basically taking charge of the ship when the crew mutinies. Very exciting stuff. Might be slightly too old for your daughter - but soon. Soon. Next year.

If she likes wizardish Harry Potteresque sort of stuff, the Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is set in India and has lots of Indian lore entwined in it. I thought the first book was quite good (Though I will say I was not particularly compelled to read the others.)  Similarly, Isabel Allende has written some kids fantasy books -- not to my taste, but they do have devoted fans, and are set in magical amazon rain forest (CITY OF BEASTS was the first). Might be scary, not sure, haven't read.

Definitely weird, and possibly no longer politically correct (??) - but I adored the Dover colored fairy books by Lang when I was 8 - Olive, Crimson, Pink, etc - they are all fairy and folk tales (some quite deliciously gruesome!)  from different nations including far flung cultures like Armenian and Punjabi. Few bookstores carry these anymore I don't think, but they should still be in the library or special orderable.

Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: olmue on June 27, 2011, 10:58 PM
Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, by MT Anderson? Oh, wait. You wanted a book about a REAL foreign country. (Still. My kids now officially want to visit Delaware, even though they know there are no flame pits and no spies and people do indeed use vowels!)

Uh, right. For real foreign countries, there's the Lionboy series by Zizou Corder, written by a mother-daughter team. The mom is British and the dad is Ghanaian, so the mom/daughter authors used those settings in the story. (Plus they travel around Europe some.) Fun adventure set in the near future, with some speculative elements.

Eva Ibbotson was an Austrian Jew who emigrated to the UK as a child during WWII. She writes younger MG fantasy, too, but my favorite books by her are The Star of Kazan (historical Austria/Germany--even though it's historical, it felt rather authentic to me), The Dragonfly Pool (in England and a made-up country that's being threatened by WWII Germans), and Journey to the River Sea (set in Brazil). They are all exciting and ultimately upbeat.

Anne of Green Gables is of course Canadian. And I think Angie Frazier's MG mystery series about Suzanna Snow takes place in Canada (New Brunswick). Sure, they speak English, but the US is a different place to them.

Old and you can probably only find them at a larger library, but I really liked The Mysterious Schoolmaster and sequels, by Karin Anckarsvard. Translated from Swedish, some friends from school solve some mysteries. It has a Cold War-ish feel (in the first one they help catch some spies who are trying to undermine Sweden). I was amazed as a kid at how much freedom the kids in the story had--fifth graders riding bikes all over the place! And then I moved to Germany as an adult and discovered it wasn't a fantasy--kids really ARE that independent over there.

Always dependent on your linguistic skillz, but there are quite a lot of bilingual German-English books for kids on Look up "zweisprachige kinderbücher deutsch englisch" and you'll find a bunch. There's a Detective at Work series by Renate Ahrens about two families who are friends--one family is German and the other is English speaking from I think South Africa? They are short MG mysteries. The kids speak their own languages but apparently understand each other, so the text jumps from one to the other and back again. I read Vergiftete Muffins to my younger kids and they liked it. (They didn't know how to read in German, but could follow the story listening. Although that was when they were still fluent.)

These are all MG, but if your child is just moving up from picture books, they might be better as read-alouds until she gets into the story.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: ChristinefromCorona on June 27, 2011, 11:42 PM
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami.   Girl's family moves to India.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: annemleone on June 28, 2011, 01:41 AM
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

It's set in London and the Philippines, and is about a boy whose mother has remarried a Brit, and he moves to the UK to live with her and his half-sister. It's written for 8-12 year olds, and gets a little dark with a plot about a massive volcano in the Philippines, but is mostly about family and love and basketball.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Mara on June 28, 2011, 05:34 AM
This is great! I haven't heard of a lot of these--and some of the others I've heard of but haven't read. Thanks!
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Franzilla on June 28, 2011, 08:52 AM
These are books I read at around her age and I loved them. There's no heaviness in these. The only thing is that they're not NEWLY published, obviously, but I guess that's not an issue for her. MILLY MOLLY MANDY by Joyce Lankester Brisley (very easy to read and enjoyable); THE FAMILY AT ONE END STREET by Eve Garnett (lots of fun); THE WHITE GIRAFFE by Lauren St John is a wonderful story about a girl who befriends a special giraffe in Africa; you could also check out almost anything by Michael Morpugo, he writes a lot of animal-based stories set in all kinds of different places, ideal for her age group.

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper is wonderful – historical and utterly gripping. Might be a bit old for her though.

I loved WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (recommended below). And TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE too (although I found it quite gruesome in parts!!).
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: ecb on June 28, 2011, 12:13 PM
When I was your daughter's age, I was a massive Anglophile. I absolutely adored anything by Roald Dahl, and my very favorite book was Dodie Smith's THE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS. When I got a little bit older, I loved Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence. And I think I was about her age when I first read William Pene DuBois's classic Newbery winner, THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS. This may not appeal to modern kids' tastes, as there are no children in the book. But if she enjoys it, it will definitely spark an interest in world travel! She'd probably enjoy it if she's seen "Up."

For picture books, HOW TO MAKE AN APPLE PIE AND SEE THE WORLD by Marjorie Priceman is fabulous.

Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: andracill on June 28, 2011, 12:28 PM
If you can find it, LINNETS & VALERIANS, by Elizabeth Goudge is a wonderful book.  It might be too challenging, but I read it at 7-almost-8 (for the first time) and reread it many times after that.  It's about British families, but it's set in the past (can't remember the exact year) and is very sweet.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: blythe on June 28, 2011, 02:25 PM
Astrid Lndgren? There's Pippi, of course. But also try "Ronia, The Robber's Daughter." It's an adventure, but the peril is never dire. The last sentence is "And she yells, shrill as a bird, a shout of joy that can be heard far away in the forest.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Jaina on June 28, 2011, 07:10 PM
How about those books by the person who created Charlie and Lola.  I'm totally blanking on it right now.  Oh, Lauren Child!  I'm thinking of the MG one I read--Utterly Me, Clarice Bean.  Those are funny, right?  Set in the UK.  It's been a long time.

A book I really enjoyed set in England--Blow Out the Moon.  Lovely and nothing disturbing.  A story about adjusting to boarding school.  Main character is so brave and just goes after what she wants.  A very different read which I like a lot.

And my personal favorite MGs--all the Noel Streatfeild books. :)  England during the war years, mostly.  One of them (The Growing Summer) is set in rural Ireland.

Someone mentioned Ibbotson and I have to strongly second!  However, Ibbotson has a real thing about animal cruelty and this can be a theme she touches on in several of her stories.  Be forewarned that very sensitive children might find that sort of thing sad (as it's meant to be!) but it is handled carefully, and as said above--the books can be very funny and heartfelt and they hold your hand through the sadness.  I'm convinced Ibbotson books make kid readers better people.

Some interesting ones that are contemporary, set in England . . . Earthborn and Space Race and  . . . oh, I think one more.  By Sylvia Waugh.  Basically about an alien race in disguise as humans on earth (here to observe and learn) and what happens when the children of those aliens learn who they really are.  Again, heartfelt, but not dripping with sadness (that I can recall).  Unusual.  Just the sort of story I would've loved as a kid, when I felt like I was from another planet!

Oh, the lovely Green Knowe books!  Can't beat them!  History intermingling with present in an old house in England.

Sorry, all these books are from the UK!

For Switzerland, you could go with Bloomability.  Too old?  Exciting climax ends happily.  Maybe a bit grown for 8.

For another Switzerland book (mostly), there's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.  Yes, it takes place during the Holocaust, but the main character (a girl of about 10?) escapes at the beginning of the book with her family and the story is really about her adjusting to living to other countries (Switzerland, France, England).  Very interesting, especially when she enters school in France.  Kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, and some unspeakable evil to happen, but it never did (though a family friend does go missing and it's clear what happened to him).  This may be the least disturbing Holocaust MG ever (?).
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: MysteryRobin on June 28, 2011, 08:08 PM
I love Julie Andrews' books set in England. I think she published under Julie Edwards? Mandy is one and another great one is The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles - so much fun!
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: J-Bert on June 28, 2011, 09:52 PM
Seconding A GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING and BLOOMABILITY. If my memory serves me, Jane Kurtz has books set outside the US? Bob Krech's LOVE PUPPIES AND CORNER KICKS is set in Scotland.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Vijaya on June 28, 2011, 10:49 PM
I love Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. There's Rudyard Kipling and Dick King Smith. All British stuff. This is what I grew up on. The Indian books I read were all in Hindi. Don't know of translations. I also loved comic books. In fact, my first introduction to reading the great epics was in this format with lush pictures.

Thanks for starting this thread Mara. I second many of the suggestions and there's stuff that I've not read either, so we'll be heading off to the library tomorrow with a list :)

Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Barbara Etlin on June 29, 2011, 10:07 AM

Oh, you meant published books...    :groan

Well, by the time it's published she'll probably be old enough to read it.   
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Mara on June 29, 2011, 10:16 AM
These are great! To be honest I hadn't really thought of British books because we read so many anyway. I would be especially interested in more suggestions of books that take place outside of the U.S. and Europe.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: blythe on June 29, 2011, 12:23 PM
Japan? Try The Old Man Mad about Painting. Drop dead beautiful book design + you learn about Japanese printmaking!
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Christy on June 29, 2011, 03:48 PM
Sadly I wish there were more international focused books out there. But I did do a blog post on Asian literature for kids:

Some of them are sad of course but there are fun ones like Archer's Quest and even though its from a male protagonist pov, it's good. There's also the Sisters of the Sword (Japanese) that I don't think I put on there.  Have fun searching!  :rainbow
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Mara on August 01, 2011, 07:05 AM
Just wanted to say thanks again for all these great recommendations! My eight-year-old loved LOWJI DISCOVERS AMERICA and THE MILLY-MOLLY-MANDY STORYBOOK, and I know she'll go nuts for THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, which I just finished. Next up: RIDING FREEDOM, ARCHER'S QUEST, and WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON.
Title: Re: International books that aren't gloomy?
Post by: Mara on October 12, 2011, 08:14 AM
Update: thanks to Fuse #8, we also discovered the ANNA HIBISCUS chapter books by Nigerian storyteller Atinuke. I can't recommend them highly enough. They're light and humorous and very well written, but also give a realistic and contemporary picture of African life. My eight-year-old loves them.