When You Wish To Broaden Her View of the World ( a list of books)

June 4, 2013 in books

Books to teach about the worldKids 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.

Debra Ellis1. 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.


A long walk to water2. 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.



Inside Out and Back Again3. 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.



The Land I Lost4. 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.


Meindert DeJong5. 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.


Ji-li Jiang6. 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.



Greg Mortensen7. 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.

Zlata's Diary8. 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) .

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tragic Sandwich June 5, 2013 at 8:03 pm

This is a really interesting list, and I haven’t heard of most of these books. Mortenson’s, however, has been the subject of controversy in recent years.


pruningprincesses June 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm

You might be right about Mortenson. His book will give kids more of an inspirational story than an understanding of culture, perhaps it doesn’t deserve a place on this particular list? But the issues connected to him might make a good discussion. Still, I think it is worth the read. The other books are more memoir or historical fiction.
I love the worlds the kids learn about in reading them. So glad you commented. I love this list and wondered if anyone saw it!


Tracie June 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm

This is a great looking list. I haven’t read all of them, but A Long Walk To Water is fabulous.


Julie June 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Love this – I have girls who, I have to admit, act a bit entitled sometimes. We talk to them about how fortunate they are to have the things they do and we encourage them to exercise gratitude on a daily basis, but there are days…

They both love to read, so maybe some of these books will help them have a better understanding of what it’s like to “be without”.

Thanks for this!


pruningprincesses June 9, 2013 at 2:40 am

Let me know what they think of the any book they read. My daughters like most of them, but sometimes they say, “This story is so sad.” Living with so much loss in unfathomable, even for me most days. Thanks for stopping by.


Honeybee June 12, 2013 at 3:35 am

All are great books! I’m looking forward to read ‘a long walk to water.’ Thanks for recommending. Visiting from SITS.



pruningprincesses June 12, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Hi Honeybee, Welcome to Pruning Princesses. Those books are great reads. I know you will enjoy them. Laura


Leslie H. June 13, 2013 at 3:54 am

“Give her literature to stretch her mind, her vocab and her world view. ” I loved this post and this is exactly what I am trying to expose my daughter to. I try to find a book that will not only entertain her but will motivate and inspire her. If I can find a book with a strong lead heroine I will usually pick it up 🙂 I think it’s so important for young girls to read about self sufficient, intelligent leads! There are so many books out there about girls falling in love and losing themselves in the relationship. My daughter and I actually just finished a fantastic book that I wanted to recommend to other parents out there called “The Beat on Ruby’s Street” by author Jenna Zark (www.jennazark.com). The novel is about an aspiring poet, young Ruby Tabeata, who is growing up in Greenwich Village 1958. A book about the “Beat Generation” and how Ruby’s unconventional upbringing creates obstacles in her young life; a social worker, accusations of theft, and time in a children’s home. Ruby proves to be an old soul and her narration is honest and heartfelt. I think it’s a book covering a unique time period and a unique group of people “the beatnicks.” A line that stands out for me from heroine Ruby is, “I guess you could say we’re trying to break out of the old world and start a new one.” I feel a lot of pre-teens and teens will relate to Ruby and her difficult search to find her identity and her path in life. Ruby is a strong character and I feel this is a great book to discuss with your teen and learn from 🙂


pruningprincesses June 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Leslie, thank you so much for this recommendation. I am putting it on my list. My oldest daughter loves poetry and they have studied the 1950s, though only briefly. I am excited to read this. I hope to see you here again! Laura


Nadia O. Conrad June 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As a grown-up, I found this book terribly funny at the same time so evocative of the similar childhood I had across the sea from Vietnam to my native Philippines, although a few decades later than the author’s. As a parent, I found some parts of his memoir a tad too gruesome. Good luck as well to parents who would have to explain what virginity was to this book’s intended target market–kids as young as seven.


pruningprincesses June 15, 2013 at 11:44 pm

I too struggled a bit with the content of The Land I Lost. Definitely gruesome. Still, definitely an eye-opener in terms of other ways of living.


Dominique Y. Joseph July 10, 2013 at 3:34 am

I couldn’t put this book down, and now that my 9 year old is reading it he can’t either. It is an autobiographical story written from Quang Nhuong Huynh’s childhood in the jungle of Vietnam.What struck me the most about this book was the author’s deep connection to all generations of his family (mother, father, sister, grandmother, cousin) and his extensive knowledge of the natural world in which he lived. I learned so much about so many creatures I have never encountered. I kept wishing the book had been longer.Quang Nhuong Huynh lead such an interesting life. I would like to know more about his adult life and army service with the South Vietnamese. Sadly, that will not be possible (even though he has several unpublished pieces), as I found that he died in 2001.For those parents who don’t review books before their children read them, you may want to know that opium is mentioned in the book. It was not at all offensive, actually quite interesting. But I wanted mention this in case your children start asking questions about opium.5/1/10 Edited to correct spelling.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: