The best children's books to travel the world without leaving home

The Books I Picked & Why

The Bridge Home

By Padma Venkatraman

Book cover of The Bridge Home

Why this book?

Four homeless kids find their way to each other, learn to live in harmony, and make a home for themselves on the streets of Chennai. With underlying themes of abuse, mental illness, and poverty, this rich and nuanced story made me laugh and cry. Kids have so little agency in the world but these four; sisters Vijji and Rukku, and friends, Muthi and Arul, navigate whatever life throws at them with courage, humour, and ingenuity. Readers will not only fall in love with the main characters but will enjoy exploring Chennai, India in all its authenticity.

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Music for Tigers

By Michelle Kadarusman

Book cover of Music for Tigers

Why this book?

I had the privilege of being on a panel with Michelle and her description of Tasmania in Music for Tigers was riveting. The characters come to life in this beautiful setting, working together organically to make an enchanting story. Michelle's descriptions transport the reader straight into the Tasmanian rainforest and hold you there till the last page is turned. 

I especially loved the arc of the main character Louisa who is, initially, focused on her music practice. As she gets to know her Uncle Ruff and reads her great-grandmother's journal, her priorities shift and her own character changes, for the better. Side character, Colin, who is on the autism spectrum, is written with thoughtfulness and humour. The end is satisfying and fitting. A must-read!

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Book Uncle and Me

By Uma Krishnaswami, Julianna Swaney

Book cover of Book Uncle and Me

Why this book?

I’d read this book a few years ago but was recently reminded of it when I interviewed Uma for a CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors Illustrators and Performers) profile. This is a sweet story about friendship, community, activism, and the main character, Yasmin's, love of books which I could totally identify with!

Set in India, nine-year-old Yasmin, an avid reader, loves to borrow a book from Book Uncle’s outdoor lending library. When the city decides to shut down Book Uncle’s stand, Yasmin gets to work. Drawing inspiration from a folktale about birds working together to free themselves from a hunter’s nest, she rouses the local community to help save the stand. An inspiring story about how each little action can contribute towards a larger goal, and that each one of us can make a difference in the world.

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Stand on the Sky

By Erin Bow

Book cover of Stand on the Sky

Why this book?

This story of a young girl, Aisulu, who bucks tradition to become an eagle hunter is simply heart-wrenching and a fabulous read. The research is thorough, and I was steeped in the Kazakh (a nomadic tribe in the mountains of Mongolia), even as the plot advanced with emotional twists and turns for the main characters. The voice of Aisulu is spot on. All the supporting characters but especially her brother Serik, and her aunt and uncle are richly drawn. 

Erin spent a summer with the Kazakh eagle hunters and had sensitivity readers review her work for authenticity. This book won the Governor General Award (the highest in Canada) in 2019 and totally deserves it! 

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Finding Junie Kim

By Ellen Oh

Book cover of Finding Junie Kim

Why this book?

An intergenerational story about a young girl, Junie Kim, who finds the strength to face up to the bullying and racism in school thanks to the stories shared by her grandparents is heartbreaking and inspiring. 

Though this story is set in North America, the flashbacks to Korea during the war between the North and South are chilling and authentic.  

It was fascinating to read about the Korean War and the struggles of the masses as they tried to escape to the West in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It also gave me a sense of relief that I was living in a country (and a time) where life wasn’t a challenge every day. 

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