The Cheapest Way to Travel with Your Kids: Children’s Summer Reading List

When my husband and I carefully packed our suitcases to move our family overseas, we agonized over the choices of what to bring. Saying yes to special Christmas stockings might mean saying no to a treasured toy, or favorite pair of shoes. We had an idea of the home we wanted to create overseas for ourselves and our children, and it included books.

I envisioned shelves and stacks and piles of books to inspire and nurture my little readers. But books are heavy. And while an e-reader is a more convenient (and lighter) option, in the end we just couldn’t let the idea go. We used two of our bags to pack books and crammed a few extras in our carry-ons.

I’ve never regretted my decision, even though since that first move, we’ve had to pack and move them all again . . . twice. Every time I see my children standing in front of our shelves with glittering eyes, I’m so glad we decided to use up precious luggage space to have books in our home.

Stories that Connect Kids’ Hearts to the World

One thing I didn’t anticipate as we packed up our cherished volumes, was the literature we would find after arriving. As our family began to absorb the colors, tastes, and sounds of a foreign culture, we turned to local bookshops to bring us a deeper understanding of our new surroundings. We sat inside the store and read books from the kid’s section to our children during many of those first afternoons and weeks.

We found stories that helped us connect to the hearts of our new neighbors. Other stories familiarized us with traditions and rhythms of everyday life. It’s so easy to revert to fear when it comes to something new or something we don’t understand. Teaching our children, and ourselves, to read cross-culturally helped bridge that gap with love, empathy, and curiosity instead.

Our children are already natural explorers, wide-eyed in their rapt observation of all that happens around them. As we strive daily to direct their hearts in love for God’s diverse world, we continue adding to our bookshelves, borrowing stories from every country and people God has created.

Travel with Your Kids through the Pages of a Book

Summer vacation is the perfect opportunity to do a little virtual traveling. After the thrill of doing nothing wears off, grab a book about a different country, and encourage your kids to explore the many facets of another culture in our wide world.

Here are a few of our favorite books to help your children start thinking globally.

Children’s Summer Reading List
  • Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Mingfong Ho
    Catch a glimpse of a sweet bedtime routine in a rural Thai village.
  • Drawing from the City by Teju Behan
    From rural India to a tent city in Mumbai, this is the story of a young artist told with stunning black and white illustrations.
  • Metropolis by Benoit Tardif
    These large, colorfully illustrated snapshots of some of the world’s largest cities include things you can see, eat, or do there.
  • A Year Full of Stories by Angela McAllister
    A collection of fifty-two folktales and legends from around the world, one for every week of the year.
  • Long-Long’s New Year by Catherine Gower
    A little boy has many adventures as he helps his grandfather prepare for the Chinese New Year.
  • The Great Race by Dawn Casey
    The legend of the Chinese zodiac told through an emperor’s race to determine which creature will represent the first year of the calendar.
  • This is Hong Kong by Miroslav Sasek
    This book is a treasury of interesting facts about Hong Kong and fun illustrations of its landmarks. Bonus: Pick up another book in the series of eighteen for an intro to another city of the world.
  • Lebanese Heritage Books by Youmna Jazzar Medlej and Joumana Medlej
    Twelve books depicting the details of Lebanon’s rich heritage through illustrations and carefully researched information.

When the Pages of a Book Come to Life in the Real World

Reading cross culturally is especially powerful when you can help your child connect the abstract idea of a foreign place to a person they know in real life. If a friend from your child’s school or a next-door neighbor comes from a different country, consider asking them about their favorite children’s books from their home country. Their recommendations can be a great starting point for what book to choose first. Help your children ask them about where they came from and some of their favorite aspects of their home culture.

Whenever you read a book about a new culture, encourage your kids to discover more about the people and place. If you know there are people in your community from a country you’ve read about, try to provide opportunities for your kids to meet some of them. You may even open your home to a foreign family in your community.

At our house, we like to use cross-cultural stories to help us springboard into prayer for friends we know from those particular places. Sometimes we pray for our friends living in the culture, or sometimes we simply pray for God to draw the people of that country to himself. As we work together with our children to build cross-cultural relationships, it may even lead to an opportunity to share the gospel. There’s not a better way to spend the summer.

And one last thing: Another valuable resource for any globally minded family is Give Your Child The World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time by Jamie C. Martin. This carefully curated list of children’s literature from around the globe is a great place to start building a family library that reflects the diversity of the nations. Organized by region and age level, this book provides a simple way to choose books from places that interest your children.

2017 Children's Summer Reading List Preview


Polly Maclean is a writer for IMB. She serves with her family in Southeast Asia.


Last fall we suggested a few tips to make reading with your kids missional. That post also includes some other beautiful books to add to your family reading list.