6 questions to ask when looking for global books for very young readers

Published on: 19 February 2024

Kate DePalma, picture book author and senior editor of the Our World board book series, explains how to introduce world cultures to children aged 0 to 4 with the right books.

A photo of Kate DePalma and a selection of Our World books

In our increasingly interconnected society, it's more important than ever for children to grow up with an awareness and understanding of the many countries and cultures that make up our world.

How can adults lay the groundwork for little ones to start asking a lifetime of questions about the big, beautiful and impossibly complex world they live in? With the right books, of course!

As a parent, an author and a picture book editor, these are some of the questions I ask when choosing books that deal with the countries and cultures of the world for very young readers.

An illustration from the front cover of Our World: China

Illustration: Jam Dong

1. Is the representation authentic?

Is the author writing from lived experience? Are they part of the culture they are writing about? What about the illustrator? You can feel confident about the authenticity and accuracy of books that were created by contributors who are part of the cultures they are representing.

2. Does it have a child's-eye view?

Most children in the 0-4 age group are not yet starting to take much of an interest in things like geography, history or even the famous landmarks we so often start with when talking about the countries of the world.

So I look for global books that focus on topics that are appropriate for this very young age group: daily life topics like food and clothing, early concepts like counting and colours, and favourite high-interest topics like animals and transportation. I also love to see books that introduce words and short phrases in languages other than English.

An illustration from the front cover of Our World: Argentina

Illustration: Mariana Ruiz Johnson

3. Does it show a diverse, modern world?

Does the book avoid outdated stereotypes of a culture? Do the illustrations include a variety of different kinds of people – races, body shapes, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, faiths, lifestyles, etc. – that is accurate and appropriate to the place that is depicted? Global board books should defy stereotypes, not reinforce them.

4. Is it designed for younger readers?

Young readers need short, simple sentences, with lots of engaging elements like questions and onomatopoeia. Their developing eyes need bold, eye-catching design and artwork to hold their attention. And of course, their little hands (and mouths!) need a sturdy board book format that can stand up to less-than-gentle handling.

An illustration of two children fishing in a pond from the front cover of Our World: Australia

Illustration: Sophie Beer

5. And is it designed for their caregivers?

Sometimes reading about global subjects can be a learning experience for adults too! I look out for extra helpers like informational notes and pronunciation guides that help ensure that caregivers feel confident reading books that might include unfamiliar topics and words.

6. Who published it?

When a book comes from a publisher known for creating global books for kids, you can feel confident that the book was created with knowledge and expertise. At Barefoot Books (where I'm an editor), we're proud to draw on over 30 years of experience creating the very best global books for kids.

Our growing Our World series invites babies and toddlers to spend a day in places like China, Argentina, Australia, Ukraine and beyond. Our books are created by a small team that is passionate about raising little global citizens through gorgeous board books and picture books.

Kate DePalma is Senior Editor at Barefoot Books and an author under her pseudonym, Sunny Scribens.

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