One of our family’s favorite things to do is read children’s books from around the world. Not only do they inspire our travels, they teach us about other cultures and far away lands. These books encourage children to use their imaginations and make connections, hopefully realizing they never need to leave the comfort of home to learn about other cultures.
25 Inspirational Travel books for Children
Children’s Books set in North America
1. Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse
This beautifully illustrated board book set in Alaska tells the story of a daughter questioning the boundaries of her mother’s love. The daughter asks “would you love me if…” and the mom responds in turn. Charming and sweet, little ones will love this and moms will cherish it.
2. How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend by Jerrie Oughton
This retelling of a Navajo folktale explains how First Woman tried to write the laws of the land using stars in the sky, only to be thwarted by the trickster Coyote. A captivating story with beautiful artwork, young children will be enthralled by this tale and the pictures.
3. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
Maria’s family has come to her house for a holiday celebration. She is helping her mother prepare the big tamale feast for her family, and when her mother leaves the room, Maria tries on her mother’s beautiful diamond ring, and…loses it in the batch of tamales. What will she do? This amusing tale for young ones brings together the joy of family togetherness with the craziness of family holidays.
4. M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet by Michael Ulmer
This alphabet book covers Canada’s treasures from A to Z, sharing the country’s history, culture, and people. One of many in the alphabet series, children of all ages will enjoy this fun presentation of Canada and what makes it unique.
5. Frida by Jonah Winter
This book tells the story of the artist Frida Kahlo, from the challenges she faced as a child to the artist she became later in life. The illustrations are magical and children will be inspired by her story in this wonderful tribute.
Children’s Books Set in South America
6. Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and John Parra
This story is inspired by the heroic efforts of a real-life librarian who carried his mobile library over mountains and through valleys in an effort to bring literacy and culture to rural Colombia. Children would eagerly await the arrival of the burros and their cargo of new books. A touching story of one man’s dream to bring books to every child.
7. The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry
One day, a man exhausts himself trying to chop down a giant kapok tree. While he sleeps, the forest’s residents, including a child from an Amazonian tribe, whisper in his ear about the importance of trees and how “all living things depend on one another” . . . and it works. This is a book to read aloud during a rain forest unit or to teach children about caring for the environment.
8. Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains by Barbara Knutson
A wily guinea pig, Cuy, tries to outsmart the trickster fox, Tio Antonio. A story strikingly similar to Br’er Rabbit, children will love this endearing tale and its characters.
9. The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan
From the time he is a young boy, Neftali hears the call of a mysterious voice. He knows he must follow it, even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and especially when he doubts himself. It leads him under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, until finally, he discovers its source. A fictional biography of the famed poet Pablo Neruda, middle school students will appreciate the thoughtful prose and wonderful storytelling of this novel.
Books for Kids Set in Europe
10. Degas and the Little Dancers by Laurence Anhold
Part of Anholt’s Artists Books for Children Series, this book tells the story of young Marie who dreams of being a a ballerina, but her parents have no money for lessons. She earns a little money as an artist’s model at a ballet school, but her life takes an unusual turn when she models for the famous sculptor, Edgar Degas. Laurence Anholt recalls memorable and sometimes amusing moments when the lives of artists were touched by children. Anholt’s fine illustrations appear on every page and include reproductions of works by the artists.
11. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
This collection of Green mythology is the best I have seen in a long time. Every story you remember and then some. My kids read this book repeatedly and we love sharing the stories. Highly recommend.
12. This is Rome by Miroslav Sasek
This series of books allows readers to discover a city without leaving the comfort of their home. The Rome version takes readers to visit historical landmarks such as the statues of Michelangelo, Vatican City, the Pantheon, and the Fontana di Trevi while showing the eccentricities of modern Roman life, from its colorful trains, trams, and taxis to its chic espresso bars and pasta houses. If you aren’t looking for Rome, try one of the other cities: Paris, London, Venice, or Munich, they’re all wonderful.
13. The Tale of the Firebird by Gennady Spirin
This Russian folktale is the story of Ivan Tsarevitch, youngest son of the Tsar, who goes on a quest for the amazing firebird, and finds himself flying over mountains on a talking wolf, confronting a wicked Baba Yaga, and rescuing an enchanted princess from Koshchei the Immortal. When he returns from his magical journey, he brings home the most precious treasure of all. Fabulous illustrations and a timeless story.
Children’s Books Set in Africa
14. Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale by Verna Aardema
This is an African folktale about a mosquito who tells a story to an iguana, but the story is misconstrued and re-told, over and over again, causing a crisis in the jungle. An excellent book for showing younger children the consequences of poor communication. Younger children will enjoy this as a read-aloud because the illustrations are beautiful and it provides a foundation for a discussion on why it is important to tell the truth. A Caldecott winner and a gem of a book.
15. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
A man returns to his Massai village after a visit to America and shares his story of 9/11 and the attacks on New York City. His story prompts the people of his village to come together with a gift for the people of the United States. The offering is unexpected and extraordinary, this book is wonderful for a classroom or for sharing with your own kids.
16. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
The book begins as two stories, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay.
Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way. Based on a true story, middle schoolers will enjoy this beautiful tale.
17. The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John
When eleven year old Martine’s parents are killed in a fire, her life turns upside down. She is sent to live on an African wildlife reserve with a grandmother she never knew existed. When Martine arrives, she hears of a mythical animal living there, a white giraffe. Is it a legend or could it be real? Martine wants to find out. A delightful tale that explores the culture and history of South Africa, this book is great to read with your kids.
Children’s Books Set in Asia
18. The Empty Pot by Demi
When the Chinese emperor proclaims his successor will be the child who grows the most beautiful flowers from the seeds the emperor distributes, Ping is overjoyed. Like the emperor, he loves flowers and anything he plants bursts into bloom. But the emperor’s seed will not grow, despite months of loving care, and Ping goes before the emperor carrying only his empty pot. The emperor ignores the beautiful blossoms brought by the other children and chooses Ping, revealing that the seeds he handed out had been cooked and could not grow. This simple story with its clear moral is illustrated with beautiful paintings. Younger kids will love this as a read aloud or read to self book.
19. Where Is the Great Wall? by Patricia Brennan Demuth
This series of books tells an amazing re-telling of history in a way that kids find enjoyable. Through the story of the Wall, the author shares the history of China itself, the rise and fall of dynasties, its rich culture, and life in present day China. The book includes several “Did you know?” facts comparing the Wall to things we can all relate to, which children find fascinating.
20. Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan by Eric A. Kimmel
When a powerful lord’s castle is attacked by a vicious rat, the lord reaches out to a nearby monastery for assistance in the form of a samurai cat. The first two cats are overwhelmed by the rat’s martial arts skills, but the third samurai cat uses his wisdom to outsmart the rat. Beautiful illustrations and lessons for children of all ages.
21. Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami
During the hot days of summer in northern India everyone is watching, waiting for the magical clouds to open up and bring their gift of rain to the land. Through the observations of one young girl, the scents and sounds, dazzling colors, and breathless anticipation of a parched city is told in this fabulous tale about the culture and climate of India.
Books set in Oceania for kids
22. Koala Lou by Mem Fox
Koala Lou’s mother is very busy, and she perceives her mother’s lack of attention as a lack of affection. Koala Lou sets off to participate in the Bush Olympics to win back her mother’s love. Young children and elementary students will love this story.
23. Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French
Wombats are cuddly-looking, slow-moving Australian animals that love eating, sleeping, and digging holes. This entertaining book, with its brief, humorous text and hilarious illustrations, will endear the wombat to young children, who may recognize in the determined furry creature some qualities that they share.
24. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
Eight-year-old Kahu craves her great-grandfather’s love and attention, but he is focused on his duties as chief of a Maori tribe in Whangara, on the East Coast of New Zealand – a tribe that claims descent from the legendary ‘whale rider’. In every generation since the whale rider, a male has inherited the title of chief. Now there is no male heir – there’s only Kahu.
Struggling against her grandfather’s belief that a girl cannot assume the role of chief, Kahu sets out to prove him wrong. Best for middle school readers.
25. Lost and Found by Olive Jeffers
A penguin arrives at the doorstep of a young boy, so he sets off to return it to its home at the South Pole. Along the journey, the boy tells stories, they survive some bad storms, and a friendship forms. When they arrive at the penguin’s home, they realize the penguin hasn’t been lost, he was just lonely. A charming tale of friendship best suited for younger children.
*This post was originally written in August 2015, but updated April 2020.