Kids remind us of how selfish we could be. As toddlers they view themselves as the center of the world. Things get better for a while in elementary school and then most kids repeat the all-about-me phase during part of the teen years. With prayer and exposure to other ways of living, your teen will be not be stuck in this phase for life. For a time, their sense of entitlement combined with a finely tuned meter of fairness can be maddening. While tempting, lectures about the starving kids living in dirt huts do not help. “Life isn’t fair” isn’t much more effective. If money and courage allows, I would encourage you to take your tween or teen to those dirt huts with starving kids. Mostly, that isn’t an option. Serving locally is an option, though the culture change won’t be as contrasting.
With summer vacation starting, I compiled a list of books to broaden your girl’s understanding of the world. And really, these books aren’t girly books, the boys I know would enjoy them too because they are fast paced and full of adventure. The best option is to read them together, either literally, or separately. The point is to discuss the books together. Find the places on the map, do background research. But honestly, if your girl is even a bit thoughtful, these books will expand her world even if you can’t join in the discussion (have her summarize the book to you and then discuss). To help your child understand these books, it might be helpful to go over the history that surrounds the story before she starts to read. The vocabulary of revolutions and war and hardship is largely unknown to most American kids.
What if your girl will only read certain series or authors? Create incentives. Seriously. Getting her out of fantasy or the just-like-me genre is important. Give her literature to stretch her mind, her vocab and her world view. Offer money if you like. Or do her chores for a weekend if she finishes certain books. Take her to a water park if she finishes three books and gives a book report to her siblings. Be creative here, but don’t take, “no” for an answer.
These books are not written from a Christian perspective. But you can help her find Christ’s perspective when you discuss them. Most of these books are targeted to ages 8 or 9 and up.
1. The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, Mud City by Debra Ellis-This 3-book historical fiction series follows Parvana, a young girl living in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. When the series begins Parvana is nine. The history is so recent and the circumstances so difficult that my girls would read with the same giant eyes they had in a mystery. These are great books for discussing modern history, the Taliban, and life for women and kids in parts of the Middle East.
2. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Parker–Based on a true story, Parker weaves together the story of a refugee boy from Sudan (in the early’90s) with a young girl in Sudan in 2008 who has to walk 8 hours to get water for her family. The story has enough details to appreciate the struggles but not too many to bog the story down in depression. And the ending is so hopeful.
3. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai –For ten years, Hà has only known the vivid streets of Saigon. When the Vietnam war reaches Saigon, Hà and her family board a ship of hope and head to America. The strange land is full of meanness, dull food, odd landscapes. This story chronicles Hà’s dreams, grief and how she learns to draw strength from her family. The rich language tells the story in short, free verse poetry.
4. The Land I Lost by Huynh Quang Nhoung This collection of connected short stories about life in the highlands of Vietnam is an adventure story like no other. Huynh Quang Nhoung grew up on the edge of the jungle before the Vietnam War started. He and his family tended rice paddies and owned a water buffalo. The stories of tiger encounters, deadly snakes, superstitions, funny neighbors and wild hogs describe a lifestyle that no longer exists. It can be a bit gruesome so I would definitely recommend it for the older end of the tween age group.
5. The House of Sixty Fathers by MeindertDe Jong–This fast-paced adventure is the story of Tien Pao, a boy who gets separated from his family in the 1930s when Japan invades China. The story will bring kids to the edge of their seats and leave a strong memory. My girly girl loved this story and could think of no book to compare it to. Your child will get a glimpse into life during war and meet a brave young boy and his beloved pig, Glory-of-the-Republic. The version published in 1987 has illustrations by Maruice Sendak, of Where the Wild Things Are fame.
6. Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang. This story is the true account of one family who lived through Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. The lack of freedom, the propaganda, the cruelty and the strength of the young girl who tells the story will astound your tween. It also conveys the strong bond to country and to family that is part of the Chinese culture.
7. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Adapted by Sarah Thomson. This is the Young Reader’s edition of the best selling adult book. This book is the true story of Mortenson’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools and change villages through education. It includes extra photos, an interview with Mortenson’s 12-year-old daughter who sometimes helps her dad, and updates on the work. I have a special place in my heart for this book. Mortenson’s work is amazing and humbling. I used to live in Bozeman, Montana where Mortenson’s lives and his wife came to our book club when we read the adult book. Her perspective was fascinating.
8. Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic. This diary of an 11-year-old girl in Sarajevo begins in September 1991 with writings of piano lessons, birthday parties and favorite musicians. When war takes over, electricity and running water become things of the past and the young diary keeper has to try and keep fear, boredom, and sadness from consuming her. First published by Unicef, Zlata has been compared to the Diary of Anne Frank, only with a happy ending.
For books to broaden your girl’s view of people who are physically but not geographically different from her, check out my post on Books to Teach Tweens Empathy (and maybe Bravery) .