I’m enjoying sharing some of my favorites books about different regions of the world. So far we’ve looked at books about South America, the Middle East, and Africa.

Today I want to tell you about some of my favorite living books about Asia. Now remember, our goal with living geography books is that the books will “take the children there.” We want to use books that will make those regions of the world come alive in our children’s imaginations. I think these books do that.

Some are for younger children and some are for older, but they all contain living ideas about Asia. And if your older student is reluctant to have you read a picture book to him, you can always ask him to read the book to a younger sibling. 

The Children of China: An Artist’s Journey by Song Nan Zhang

I recommend this beautiful book for all ages. It features exquisite illustrations of children from various people groups in China. You’ll see a Mongolian shepherd boy playing chess with his grandfather and two Yi children gathering leaves with their mother. This picture on the cover is of a Tibetan mother holding her children close as they ride a horse through the falling snow. Along with the paintings, the author and artist includes her comments about her travels across China, her time with each group, and her own years growing up during the Cultural Revolution. It’s a lovely representation of the diversity of cultures and people groups in that large country.

A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman

Though this one looks like a chapter book, it is actually a classic fable that can be read in one sitting. It’s a story about a humble farmer who wants to marry the Emperor’s daughter. He is a wise farmer, and when he saves the daughter’s life, the Emperor offers him any reward he wants—except the daughter. The farmer asks for a single grain of rice, doubled every day for one hundred days. At the end of the hundred days, the farmer has all the wealth and the Emperor’s daughter for his wife. It’s a great living math story that illustrates the power of exponential growth. This particular version includes a section in the back that explains the math behind the story. Younger children can enjoy the fable; older children can be challenged to explain the math behind it in their own words.

Grandfather Tang’s Story: A Tale Told with Tangrams by Ann Tompert

This is a sweet story about a girl and her grandfather. When Little Soo asks Grandfather Tang for a story, he tells her one as he arranges tangram pieces to form the different characters. You’ll see how he uses the same seven shapes to form a fox, a rabbit, a hawk, a crocodile, and more. The back page tells a little more about the ancient Chinese puzzles that are tangrams, and provides one that you can trace and cut out and use to tell your own stories. This would be a great book for older children to read to youngers and then create their own tangrams together.

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia by Ted and Betsy Lewin

This is the story of a first-hand visit to Mongolia by the authors to witness the Naadam festival and, specifically, the horse races with children as jockeys. It reads like a travel journal and follows the Lewins as they arrive in Mongolia, spend time with one family, and attend the exciting festival. You learn about the culture and customs, as well as many Mongolian words (with a glossary and pronunciation guide in the back). But the star of the show is the fantastic color-washed sketches throughout. They are so detailed—almost photographic, yet not, when you look again. The text is simple enough for young students, but interesting enough for older students too.

Kami and the Yaks by Andrea Stenn Stryer

This story gives a wonderful peek into Sherpa society in the Himalayan mountains region. Young Kami is a deaf Sherpa boy whose family earns its living by guiding mountain climbers and carrying their gear on yaks. One day the yaks cannot be found before a trek, so Kami sets off determined to find them, even with a scary storm on the way. I love this book because of the way it “takes you there” to Nepal but also because it plants the idea that there are deaf people all over the world in many different regions and cultures. Unfortunately, it is out of print, so check your local library for a copy.

Kampung Boy by Lat

Now, this book is very different from what I usually recommend. It is not as refined as most of the books I show you. The text is more raw, and it contains somewhat coarse cartoon images. But I’m including it because the author-artist is quite popular in Southeast Asia, so I think it presents an authentic story and we can learn a lot about what life was like for the author growing up in a small village called a kampung. It’s not going to be for everyone; I encourage you to pre-read and decide for yourself whether it’s a good fit for your family.

The Life of Rice: From Seedling to Supper by Richard Sobol

This book is truly a travelogue sharing the author-photographer’s trip to Thailand. His journal and pictures document the national seasons and holidays of rice growing, which is interwoven with life there. The text is a living narrative and the photographs depict different families, ages, and stages involved in the process. Some of their religious beliefs are mentioned as they are observed during the growing cycle of the rice. This is another book that is suitable and interesting for all ages. Check your local library for a copy.

For more travelogue-type books, I always recommend Hungry Planet and Material World by Peter Menzel. These books document the author-photographer’s travels around the world. If you are focusing on Asia, you can read about his time with families who live in India, Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and many more. These are fascinating books for all ages.

The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima

Gregory’s mother is from Kansas; his father is from Japan. His family lived in California for several years until, one day, his father’s company decided to send them to Japan. The rest of the book is the story of their move and of Gregory learning how things are different there. Some of the differences he likes, others he struggles with; and in the end, he begins to feel at home with his new friends. Last I looked, this book is available in an electronic format, or check your local library. I would recommend it for grades 1–3.

Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina

After a cyclone wipes out Yasmin’s home in the country, her family moves into the city to try to earn money. All of the family members must work, including Yasmin and her little sister. Their job is to break bricks into little pieces with a hammer. Yasmin wants to learn how to read, but for now she must work rather than go to school. Yasmin’s Hammer depicts a loving family in Bangladesh, struggling to make their way and working to make their hopes and dreams come true. I recommend it for grades 1–3.

The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam by Quang Nhuong Haynh

I recommend this book for grades 4–12. It is a realistic yet simple and matter-of-fact reminiscence of life among wild beasts, poisonous snakes, and jungle ways in the central highlands of Vietnam before the war. Now, I will tell you that the author had some intense experiences that might be disturbing to sensitive students. So, if you would prefer a book that is less intense and mostly about animals, check out the author’s other book instead, Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam

All of the books I’ve recommended are scheduled in our Visits to Asia study that combines living geography books with map studies. If you do one visit a week, your whole family will be able to enjoy learning about Asia for a full school year.

I will be sharing favorite books about North America and Europe in upcoming posts along with lots of other practical help and encouragement just for you.

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