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Read Around the World: 16 Books for Kids and Teens

by Dena McMurdie

Photo credit: GlobalStock, E+ Collection/Getty Images

You won’t need a passport for this trip around the globe, but you will need your favorite bookstore or library card. Reading stories from or set in other parts of the world is fun and helps kids appreciate other cultures.

Go on a virtual vacation with these global reads. If you don’t know where to start, I’ve made a list of some of my favorites.

  • Señorita Mariposa

    by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G), illustrated by Marcos Almada Rivero

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    In both English and Spanish, this vibrant picture book follows the annual migration that monarch butterflies take from Canada to Mexico. Young readers will get to see not only the landscapes the butterflies travel through, but also the people who call those landscapes home. It’s a fascinating way to travel, and a call to protect monarch butterflies and their habitats.
    (Ages 3 – 5)

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  • Deep in the Sahara

    by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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    Deep in the Sahara, a young Muslim girl named Lalla lives in a country called Mauritania, and she longs for a malafa, the beautiful cloth that women wear in her community. But before she’s gifted one of her very own, Lalla must learn what it really means to wear a malafa. A lyrical and warm story, this picture book brings Mauritania to life.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Angel in Beijing

    by Belle Yang

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    Taiwanese author-illustrator Belle Yang pens a sweet story of friendship between a young girl and a lost cat, set against the lively and inviting backdrop of Beijing. With her bell-adorned bicycle, the girl shuttles the cat through Beijing’s neighborhoods and tourist spots, and the two take in the breathtaking sights at the Dragon Boat Festival. It’s an authentic and charming introduction to China’s bustling capital city.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Clara

    by Emily Arnold McCully

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    Based on a true story, Clara features the infamous rhinoceros that made waves across Europe during her 18th-century tour. Only the fifth living rhino ever seen in Europe, Clara made the royal circuit, meeting Louis XV of France, Frederick the Great of Germany, and many more. The book makes for a fun historical view of Europe and includes a helpful map of Clara’s travels.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

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  • Waiting for the Biblioburro/Esperando el Biblioburro

    by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra, translated by Adriana Dominguez

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    I love this story of a dedicated teacher and librarian who took his mobile library — called the biblioburro, “powered” as it was by burros Alfa and Beto — to children living in rural villages in Colombia. This bilingual Spanish-English edition is perfect for adding new words to growing vocabularies, and the unique illustration style exudes the enthusiasm of young reader, Ana.
    (Ages 5 – 8)

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  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

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    Young readers can now enjoy the inspiring true story of 14-year-old William Kamkwamba’s ingenuity that brought electricity to his Malawi village. William’s love for his tight-knit community shines through in this beautifully-illustrated picture book full of lush and textured landscapes. For middle grade readers, check out the Young Readers Edition.
    (Ages 6 – 8)

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  • Sand Swimmers

    by Narelle Oliver

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    Young wildlife buffs know that Australia is teeming with fascinating creatures, especially in the strange and harsh desert region called the Dead Heart. In Sand Swimmers, Narelle Oliver combines science, natural history, and firsthand observations to uncover the unbelievably hardy species that live and thrive in this mysterious piece of Australian wilderness.
    (Ages 7 – 10)

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  • The Secret Kingdom

    by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

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    The Secret Kingdom is a visually stunning biography of Nek Chand Saini, a village farmer who relocated to the city of Chandigarh after the 1947 partition of India. There, he gathered castoffs and small treasures to create a secret Rock Garden in the jungle — now a 40-acre sculpture garden open to the public. Rich watercolor illustrations capture the region’s natural beauty.
    (Ages 7 – 10)

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  • A World of Cities

    by James Brown

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    Of course, there’s no need to limit yourself to just one location! Take a trip around the world with this fascinating and fact-filled guide to 30 of the globe’s most famous cities, from Rio de Janeiro to Hong Kong, Athens to Dubai. Illustrated in the tradition of vintage travel posters, it’s fun for the whole family.
    (Ages 7 – 10)

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  • Egyptology

    by Emily Sands, illustrated by Nick Harris, Helen Ward, and Ian Andrew, edited by Dugald A. Steer

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    A favorite with my kids, Egyptology is an educational and historical adventure. Interactive pieces on each page engage readers as they follow an explorer's search for the Tomb of Osiris. There are photos, drawings, maps, and journal entries for kids to pore over and explore.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • When Life Gives You Mangos

    by Kereen Getten

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    A poignant new middle grade novel, When Life Gives You Mangos centers the perspective of a young girl named Clara who lives on an island in Jamaica, a favorite locale for tourists who throw around words like “exotic” about Clara’s home. Since last summer’s hurricane, though, the tourists are thinning out, and the biggest talk is about a new girl who’s moving to the island, whom Clara can’t wait to meet. A moving story about family, friendship, and resilience, it will also spark important conversations about traveling to other’s homes.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • The Island of Horses

    by Eilís Dillon

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    This classic adventure story, reissued in 2018, takes place off the western coast of Ireland on an island called Inishrone. Life on the remote island is anything but easy, but it’s all that friends Pat Conroy and Danny MacDonagh have ever known. Lured by the call of ghost stories, Pat and Danny set sail for the Island of Horses, a decision that launches them into a dangerous mystery. Come for the suspense, stay for the atmosphere: you’ll be able to taste the saltwater whipping through the air.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

    by Pablo Cartaya

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    After trouble at school, Marcus Vega’s mom decides that Marcus and his little brother would benefit from a week-long trip to Puerto Rico, among relatives they barely know. But there’s someone else on the island who Marcus would very much like to see: his dad, who left the family 10 years ago. Marcus sets off on a quest to find his father, and Puerto Rico welcomes him with open arms.
    (Ages 10+)

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  • Darius the Great Is Not Okay

    by Adib Khorram

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    Delightfully nerdy, clinically depressed Darius has never fit in at home in the states, so he has no idea what to expect when his family sets off to Iran to stay with his grandparents. Though Darius doesn’t feel Persian enough to belong in Iran either, his friendship with next-door neighbor Sohrab — and their explorations through Iran’s vibrant city streets — opens new doors for Darius, who begins to realize that he might be enough, just as he is.
    (Young Adult)

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  • And We’re Off

    by Dana Schwartz

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    On the cusp of adulthood, Nora is an idealistic artist, so she jumps at the opportunity her grandfather offers: a summer trip around Europe to study history’s greatest artists. Nora’s mother, Alice, would rather Nora pursue more stable goals, drawing a wedge in their typically close relationship — think Lorelai and Rory of Gilmore Girls — but all the plans go off the rails when Alice decides to join Nora on her European road trip. Trust me: no reader is going to “Are we there yet?” through this one.
    (Young Adult)

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  • Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

    by Samira Ahmed

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    Walk the streets of Paris alongside 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet, on holiday with her parents in the City of Light. While most tourists would be happy sampling croissants and visiting the Eiffel Tower, Khayyam finds herself on a historical scavenger hunt, uncovering the forgotten story of a 19th-century Muslim woman named Leila, who narrates her own alternating chapters.
    (Young Adult)

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020.