Books to Open Your Mind

What makes books so magical is their ability to allow you to “experience” something outside of your normal daily life. Sometimes books let you escape into a world of fantasy. I think part of what makes the Harry Potter series so popular is that the characters and emotions are all so realistic, but it takes place in a world that’s different and magical. You can experience something by reading a story that you never could in real life.

While fantasy and science fiction are wonderful escapes, it can also be enlightening to read a book with real or realistic situations that are different from your own. This experience is especially valuable to children as they develop socially and emotionally. Sharing stories can assist children in learning about differences and recognizing similarities between themselves and others, helping them learn to accept and appreciate others. Stories can give kids new perspectives and new appreciation of the diversity in our world. How are people’s lives different in other countries? How is another person’s culture different from my own? What is it like to live with a disability? What is it like to move across the world to a new home?

Following is a list of books with realistic stories about people whose life experiences might be very different from your child’s or teenager’s. They are about people with different abilities, races, religions, and lifestyles. They include contemporary, realistic stories that are relevant to today’s readers. Of course, some of these stories might reflect your own experiences, but hopefully you can find something that will help your child connect with someone who might be different from them. I like to think of these stories as “books to open your mind.”
I'm New; Last Stop; My Brother
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
This book describes the experiences of three students from Guatemala, Korea and Somalia, as they begin school in the United States. Simple text and bright illustrations make this book accessible to young readers and listeners.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
A young boy wonders about differences while riding the bus with his grandmother. Why do they not have a car like his friends? Why is that man blind? Why does this neighborhood look dirty? Luckily, his wise Nana opens his eyes to the beauty around him. Recommended for preschool and early elementary students. This book won a Newbery Medal, a Coretta Scott King honor award and is a Caldecott Honor Book.

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete
A young girl talks about what life is like with her autistic twin brother. This is a very basic introduction to what it is like to have an autistic family member. Recommended for preschool and lower elementary students.
Biblioburro; Chair; Lost
Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter
This bright picture book tells the story of Luis Soriana, and avid reader who used two donkeys to share his collection of books with children and adults in isolated areas of Colombia, creating a library a little different than ours in Mercer County! Recommended for preschool and elementary students.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A young girl and her mother save money to buy a comfortable chair after their furniture has been lost in a fire. Recommended for young elementary students. This is a Caldecott Honor book.

I Lost my Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité
A young girl from Oregon visits her family in Africa. While there she loses a tooth and learns about the African traditions surrounding lost teeth. A cheerful peek into how a memorable childhood experience is different in other cultures. Recommended for elementary students.
One; Mother; Home
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Farah, a young Muslim immigrant struggling to learn English, tries to connect with her new classmates on a school trip to an apple orchard. Recommended for elementary students.

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
Patricia Polacco often gracefully addresses real-life scenarios in her books. In this book a young girl tells the story of her family. She has two moms, siblings with different skin colors, and a house full of love. This longer picture book is appropriate for elementary students.

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
A 10-year-old Pakistani immigrant adjusts to his new life in America. He struggles to learn English, replace cricket with baseball, make new friends and misses his dad who stayed in Pakistan. Recommended for mid-elementary to middle school students.
Wonder; Brave; Head
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
August Pullman is a normal 10-year-old, except for his extreme facial abnormalities. Now he is attending a private middle school after having been homeschooled his whole life. Will his classmates realize he is just like them, even if he does not look it? This book inspired the “Choose Kind” movement. It is recommended for mid-elementary and middle school students.

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
Two African-American brothers leave Brooklyn to spend a month with their grandparents in rural Virginia. They have to adjust to life with no internet or TV and bond with their blind grandfather. This book touches on many issues about life and loss and learning to appreciate experiences outside of what you are used to. This book won the Schneider Family Book Award, is a Kirkus Award finalist and a Coretta Scott King author honor book. Recommended for upper elementary middle school students.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Australian-Palestinian Amal decides to wear the hijab (Muslim head scarf) full-time even though she knows it will make her seem different to the other kids at school. Recommended for middle and high school students.
Diary; Marcelo
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Fourteen-year-old Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation but decides to attend the nearby all-white high school, where the only other Indian is the school mascot. This book, which is both funny and emotional, is based on the author’s own life experiences and is a National Book Award Winner. Recommended for high school students.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
In this book, a teenager with an Asperger’s-like condition and a passion for math and religion, faces a new job at the mailroom in his father’s law office and a potential romance with a beautiful coworker. Recommended for high school students.

—Christine C.

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