by Miss Footloose

Once upon a time in my expat life, during a visit to the United States to stock up on underwear, books and vitamins, I found myself reading a children’s book to a little boy, a five-year-old.

This little boy was very lucky in life. He had a mommy and daddy, a baby sister, and lots and lots of toys. He lived in a big house in a nice American suburb with two garages in which to park the two cars owned by mommy and daddy.

Small village in Uganda.
Photo by Neil Liddle / CC BY

The book I was reading to Little Boy was Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, based on a true story. A picture of the book is below and here is what happened:


Little Boy and I are snuggled together on the sofa with the book. Beatrice, I read, is a little girl who lives in a small village in Uganda in Africa. She desperately wants to go to school but her mother is poor and has no money for school fees. I point out to Little Boy that he is very lucky to be able to go to kindergarten. He is not impressed. After all, everybody goes to kindergarten.

Onward: One wonderful day Beatrice is given a goat by Heifer International (one of my favorite do-gooder organizations by the way). The milk from the goat is good for her and her family and there is enough to sell to the other villagers and . . . but let me not spoil all the wonders of this story for you. This is really about my reading this story to Little Boy.

So, as we are turning pages, we are also looking at the pictures, of course. One of them shows the little girl’s mother coming home from the market with her baby on her back and an enormous stalk of bananas balanced on her head. (Actually, they are plantain, or matoke as they’re called locally. They’re used to cook the national dish also called matoke.)

I point at the mother. “Don’t you think it’s smart she’s carrying all those bananas on her head?” I ask Little Boy.

He looks at me as if I’m nuts. “No!” he says. “It’s stoopid!”

His response takes me by surprise, but it’s been a while since I was a five-year-old, so how do I know what’s going on in his little head?

“Why is that stupid?” I ask.

He sighs, impatient with my ignorance. “Because she shoulda put them in her car!”

Of course, what was I thinking. I smile at his disparaging face. I have news for him.

“She doesn’t have a car.”

He throws his chubby arms up in the air and looks at me as if I am the dumbest person he has ever encountered. “Everybody has a car!” he shouts.

So there you have it, the world according to Lucky Little Boy in America.

Clearly, I have a job to do here . . .


Since Little Boy won’t have the opportunity to spend time in a foreign country anytime soon, I went on a quest for multi-cultural children’s books for him. I found many. Here are a couple of my favorites you might want to check out in case you have young children in your life:

by Anabel and Barnabas Kindersley
(In association with UNICEF)

by Karen Lynn Williams

This is great story about an African boy who makes his own toys from bits of wire he finds and collects in his village. Just imagine, he doesn’t get his toys in the store! And they don’t need batteries!

Galimoto toys

African kids make great toys! Photo credit Kevin souza

The word galimoto refers to toys handmade from scraps of wire, wood, tin cans, etc. by children in various African countries, such as the car on this photo by Kevin Souza / cc by-nc-sa

by Ann Morris
(Around the World Series)

by Susan Bame Hoover
(Also a Heifer story)

Suggestion: If you have children or grownups in your life who already have everything and you are desperate to find them something to give for Christmas, why not give them honey bees, or a goat, or chickens . . . donated to a poor family in their name, that is, via Heifer International. Children are often delighted by the idea!

* * *
Do you have any stories about children and their reactions to cultural differences? If you have any titles of multicultural children’s books that you have found interesting and entertaining, please pass them on.

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It’s not really a story about international differences, but my brother and his wife are both doctors, one a gp, the other a neurologist. All their friends are doctors too: more gp’s, oncologists, the lot. Now of course a lot of children will be vaccinated against the Mexican (or Swine) flu and their eldest son was on the list too. He got his shot from his own mum. When he visited his aunt (who is a teacher), he asked whether she had given her children the shots and was totally amazed to find out that she wasn’t a doctor! He… Read more »


what a fabulous post, and a brilliant gift idea! thank you

American in Norway

What great books… I am going to have to see if I can track them down! : ) thanks for sharing!

I raised my kids in a multi-cultural community, they made friends with kids that taught them about how it was in their countries. And since their schools were multi-cultural the school library was chock full of just such books. I aim to immerse my grandchildren in books that reflect lifestyles of all types, and also focus on history, where and what we came from, how it used to be and how it still is in other parts of the world. Great post!

Great idea! I’ve been in Ghana for ages and haven’t thought to bring these books for my 5 yr old neice who lives the cushy suburban life in Toronto.

Just have to say thanks for your post. You gave me a great idea on how to deal with my Christmas dilemma. My sister has 8 children and I can’t possibly afford to buy Christmas gifts for all of them. Donating an animal in their name is the perfect gift. They’ll take great pride in knowing that some little child in another country has benefited on behalf of them. Thanks so much!

Applause. We have to create awareness as early as possible. Indeed they only know what is in their surrounding therefore they have to be shown that the world is different and how wonderful to do that with great childrens book.
Excellent idea

I will definitely make note of these books as soon as my grandson is old enough. I also love the idea of a gift of a goat. Great post. Thank you.

Middle Aged Woman Blogging

Wonderful post! Yes!!! And when choosing books about different cultures for your children, pick some up for yourself! There is a world of knowledge out there!

Stock up on underwear, books, and vitamins! Spoken like a true ex-pat! We have a favorite book but it is more appropriate to the expat child moving from the states. “A Peanut Butter kid in a Chop Suey World.” It does have religious overtones as it is geared to children of missionaries. As to your question about Uruguay, I visited a smaller town but it seemed more European than South American. I would imagine Montevideo would be even more so. It is clean, the people are friendly, and the security is not too bad. If you could live in Palestine,… Read more »

Your post brought back memories of a book I remember having called, “Little Black Sambo,” in Nigeria. I cannot remember the story exactly, except for some pancakes and tigers running around him in a circle and the book cover. I checked out the Heifer link and saw only $20, for the chicks. Before I click the button, can you please tell me if most of the proceeds do go to the cause. I’m sure they do, since you support them, but I like to know for sure. Thanks again for a great story.

Great post. Heifer International is great. Christian Aid and Action Aid are good too: through them you can send donations of hens, goats, stethoscopes — all sorts of things. Our family has opted for this, only sending each other tiny things for Christmas. We figure we’ve already got everything we really need.

I’m so glad our kids know it is possible to live without cars!

Found you through Best posts… I love the story. U.S. children so need a better understanding of the rest of the world. Starting at an early age with these great book ideas is a wonderful way to go. I know what I’m getting my God-daughter for her son this year now. Thanks. I’ll be back. – jayne

Thanks so much for the book suggestions; they’ll be great for my grandkids. I also love the idea of a gift from Heifer Int’l…they’re too young now, but it won’t be long!

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