The best middle-grade graphic-novels depicting different cultures

Sylvie Kantorovitz Author Of Sylvie
By Sylvie Kantorovitz

The Books I Picked & Why

When Stars Are Scattered

By Omar Mohamed, Victoria Jamieson

Book cover of When Stars Are Scattered

Why this book?

This is the remarkable story of two young Somalian boys who spent their whole childhood in a huge refugee camp in Kenya, living with hunger, poor conditions, lack of basic necessities, and very little hope for a better future. In spite of such dire conditions, in spite of moments of discouragement and sometimes despair, this book is full of hope and endurance and love: the love the boys feel for each other, the love and respect they show to their foster mother, and their friends and fellow refugees. 

The afterword, telling us what became of Omar and Hassan, is incredibly moving and humbling. 

Victoria Jamieson’s drawings show beautifully what life in this camp was like.

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American Born Chinese

By Gene Luen Yang

Book cover of American Born Chinese

Why this book?

This book seems to be three different stories until one realizes they are the same story told in different ways: the most realistic one is the story of young Jin Wang who suffers intensely from the racist mockery of his peers. Then there is the wondrous tale of the Monkey King who wanted to join the other gods and refused to be a monkey. And finally the parable of Danny who hates his caricature of a Chinese cousin. The three strands converge to reveal one truth: the way to save our soul is to accept who we are. 

I particularly loved the character of Wei-Chen who is Jin’s best friend: he is kind, smart, and accepts his origins. 

A bonus: the artwork is very beautiful!

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The Legend of Auntie Po

By Shing Yin Khor

Book cover of The Legend of Auntie Po

Why this book?

I love learning about life in another time period through a story. This one transported me to a logging camp in 1885. I learned about the life of the camp, the hard and dangerous work, and the treatment of the Chinese workers. 

Mei is the daughter of a Chinese cook. She dreams of studying at the university, but doubts she will ever be able to, because of her Chinese origins. 

I loved the deep but complex friendships between Mei and the foreman’s daughter and between Mei’s father and the foreman himself. I loved the affection between Mei and her father, their observance of Chinese traditions, and I loved Mei’s story-telling, re-casting Paul Bunyan as a benevolent Auntie Po.

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Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

By Barry Deutsch

Book cover of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Why this book?

Mirka is a dreamer, unlike what her Orthodox Jewish family expects of her: to prepare herself for a future husband, to help around the house, to knit, to study. She dreams of witches, of trolls, and of fighting dragons. 

I loved the character of Mirka: bravely standing up to local bullies, cleverly outwitting the giant knitting troll, and also dealing—more or less successfully—with parental expectations and a large number of siblings. 

I found the mix of fantasy and cultural traditions delightful. I loved the few words of Yiddish sprinkled here and there (with their translation), and the cozy world of the Sabbath during which even concerns about trolls must stop. This is a really fun and funny book.

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Measuring Up

By Lily Lamotte, Ann Xu

Book cover of Measuring Up

Why this book?

Cici’s family is settling in Seattle. They come from Taiwan and want their daughter to study hard in the US in order to have a better life than theirs. But Cici is missing her beloved grandmother and worries about not fitting in at school. Deciding to sign up for a cooking contest will not only give her the chance to do what she likes doing the most, but will also make her meet a new friend. Or is it a rival?

I always love stories centered around the themes of trying to fit in and trying to please parents. Cici is a brave young girl with a quietly strong personality and I was rooting for her during mouth-watering cooking rounds.

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