Belgium

The board book “Eating” by  Belgian author and illustrator Liesbet Slegers is a simple introduction for babies and toddlers to the basics of mealtime including sitting in a high chair, wearing a bib and using dishes and utensils. I stumbled across this book when searching for resources for my own toddler and decided to use it as my Belgian read. The text is clear and fun for kids and the pictures are very sweet. 

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Austria:The Snowman who went for a Walk

Mira Lobe is the author of the delightful picture book,  The Snowman who went for a Walk. It’s a simple tale about an ordinary snowman who discovers he isn’t so ordinary after all and goes on an adventure. He leaves the front yard of the house where he was made and travels into the city but finds it too busy and crowded then goes to the countryside but discovers that he can’t survive there in the summer so jumps on an ice floe and heads north to where the polar bears live. The illustrations are sweet and very detailed. All in all, a good read!

Cambodia

For my Cambodian read,  I chose a folk tale called Judge Rabbit and the Tree Spirit retold by Lina Mao Wall and adapted by Cathy Spagnoli. According to the author’s note, Judge Rabbit is a familiar and frequent character in Cambodian folklore. This particular tale tells the story of a young woman who finds herself faced with 2 identical men who claim to be her husband and she can’t tell who is the real one. Judge Rabbit steps in and uses his cleverness to trick the spirit disguised as the husband to give himself away. The Judge Rabbit stories are told to children to encourage self-confidence no matter how small you are. Lina Mao Wall came to the United States in 1983 as a Cambodian refugee and now lives in Seattle, Washington.

Costa Rica: The Witches Ride

Lupe de Osma shares this collection of Costa Rican stories,  many told to her as a child by her nanny. Again,  I’ve chosen the title story to read for my literary trip to Costa Rica. The Witches Ride is a fascinating commentary on religion in Costa Rica even though it’s meant as a children’s story.

The story follows a simpleton boy who goes to find wood for his mother but gets lost in the forest. He falls asleep in a deserted house and when he awakes,  he sees twelve witches dancing around a fire. After their merriment, they all climb on their broomsticks and say the magic words: “Fly me faster than a fairy.  Without God,  without Saint Mary”.

The boy follows suit with an extra broomstick.  He then comes across some robbers who mistake him for the devil and he ends up with their stolen booty.

Costa Rica is a Catholic nation which is very apparent in this story based on the witches spell. In one fell swoop, we’re meant to understand that old wise women who follow old beliefs are evil and their power comes from renouncing God and the saints. This was likely effective fear mongering propaganda as well as being an entertaining story.

Estonia: The Moon Painters

Estonian-born Selve Maas compiled a collection of stories from her native land called The Moon Painters and other Estonian Folk Tales. For my Estonian read,  I chose the title story which tells the tale of how the moon came to be.

The creator of the world, Vanaisa, was extremely pleased with his work except for the fact that there was nothing to light the night sky. He charged a famous smith to make something suitable and he did so,  creating the moon and stars. This made the devil, Vanapagan, very angry for he could not catch souls when the night was lit. So he and his helpers devised a plan to paint the moon black with tar. This ended up backfiring and Vanapagan found himself forever stuck to the moon with tar.

I find creation myths to be fascinating and I love this unique explanation for the “man on the moon”.

Kazakhstan: How I learned geography

Uri Shulevitz shares the true story of his childhood years living as a refugee in Kazakhstan, after fleeing Poland with his parents at the start of the second world war.

How I Learned Geography shows the reader that while food is necessary for survival so are dreams and hope. When Uri’s father spent their small bit of money on a map rather than bread, he and his mother were furious but Uri eventually realized that the beautifully coloured map and the hope and inspiration it brought were worth so much. It allowed him to escape his dreary existence living in poverty in a foreign land and instead use his imagination to dream of all the wonderful places he could one day go.

Shulevitz’s beautiful illustrations convey the transformation of  young Uri’s perspective from the drab, earth- toned drawings of the refugee camp to the multicoloured vistas of foreign lands. You can almost feel the emotions as he remembers this chapter of his life.

Pakistan: The Roses in my Carpet

Rukhsana Khan is a Pakistani born children’s author who immigrated to Canada as a young child. The Roses in my Carpet is a picture book inspired by her sponsored child and his family and their courageous lives as refugees. Though the story is a somber reminder of the dire situations many children find themselves in, it is also a story of hope and beauty.