My, what a big world you've got!

"We're not all that different!" says David Smith, referring to the people of the world. Smith recently wrote a nonfiction children's book, "If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People," so he's very aware of the relationship between information and understanding. "Knowing who our neighbors are, where they live and how they live," he writes, "will help us live in peace." A number of books this season share that goal as they help children experience other countries, explore other cultures, and ultimately discover a deeper understanding of their worldwide community.

Concept book

Is it ever too soon to introduce a child to the wonders of traveling the world? Hello Kitty, Hello World!, with illustrations by Higashi Glaser, gives very young readers an opportunity to go abroad by viewing lively, appealing double-page spreads – every one devoted to a different country. Each layout follows a similar pattern: Adorned in a traditional costume (a sari in India, a kimono in Japan), cherub-cute Hello Kitty greets various nations, using their native languages: "G'day Australia!" "Hola Mexico!" "Bonjour France!" The rest of each spread depicts animals, activities, and places of interest associated with a country, and a miniature map appears on each page to show its location in the world. Children will find that this book grows with them as their concept of the world expands. There's a brief list of interesting terms in English and other languages in the back. This volume was originally published in 2000, but is being reintroduced this season in a book/toy format: A suitcase-shaped box contains a stuffed Hello Kitty doll and a mini version of the book. Purists may prefer the original.

Picture books

Little Madlenka, the heroine in the award-winning book of the same title, is back. Once again, she manages to travel the world without leaving home. Well, almost. She walks around her New York City block, meeting her wonderfully diverse friends and international neighbors. In Madlenka's Dog, author and illustrator Peter Sis puts a canine twist on the imaginative adventures of this little bob-haired girl. As Madlenka walks her invisible pooch, all the passersby see their own childhood pets. Readers lift cleverly designed and located flaps to look into each character's thoughts. Is this another winner for Sis and his readers? (Does a Dalmatian have spots?)

Fatuma's New Cloth, by Leslie Bulion, takes readers to a colorful East African marketplace. There, little Fatuma and her mother shop for a new kanga cloth. With loose watercolors, illustrator Nicole Tadgell captures the friendly market vendors and their wares. Pages are bordered by various kanga designs. In addition to being bright and beautiful, each piece of fabric sports a printed message. The author makes this Swahili saying part of her narrative: "Don't be fooled by the color. The good flavor of tea is the sugar." This proverb leads little Tuma and her mother into an affectionate conversation about how the good qualities of a person are invisible, just as the sugar that sweetens tea can't be seen. Making and drinking tea figures prominently in the book; in fact, a recipe for chai is included. But this is clearly a device for sending a positive message and for giving readers a vivid picture of contemporary East African culture.

Sailing down the Li River in Eastern China would be exciting for anyone, but just imagine what the experience would be like for a sleepy little hen who doesn't know where she is. That's just what acclaimed author-illustrator Jan Brett does in Daisy Comes Home. Young Mei Mei has the happiest hens in all of China – that is, except for Daisy who is pecked at and picked on by the others. One night, asleep in an egg basket, she floats down the dark river, encountering more dangers than ever offered by her roost partners. The biggest threat of all may come from the man who rescues Daisy – and then tries to sell her at a bustling market. This is a happy-ending story, though, complete with strong heroines, detailed landscape illustrations, and Brett's trademark foreshadowing – in the form of inset pictures.

For older readers

Newbery Medal-winner Linda Sue Park has been garnering well-deserved recognition for her portrayals of Korea. In her latest novel, When My Name Was Keoko, she writes movingly about the country of her ancestors, this time tackling the difficult period of Japan's occupation during World War II. Park skillfully weaves the story by alternating points of view between a young girl and her older brother. This technique gives readers the opportunity to see, through the eyes of two narrators, the very different roles and opportunities that males and females were given in a highly structured society. These personal perspectives bring emotional intensity to the events of this period when Koreans were forced to give up much of what constituted their national identity: their flag, their language, and even their names. Once again, Park gives readers an exciting, wrenching, and ultimately life-affirming story.

Information Books

Few physical needs are as basic as the requirement for water. But in true National Geographic photographic style, A Cool Drink of Water illustrates the deeper issues behind this common liquid. As author Barbara Kerley says, "Water is something that unites us." Here, Kerley creates a simple and sparse text to accompany dramatic color photos. We see people of all ages, races, and climates collecting, transporting, and drinking cool, clear water. In addition to the compelling photo essay, this book includes a world map noting the photo locations and a short caption for each of the pictures. It also contains a note on water conservation from the president of the National Geographic Society. Certainly, water is a timely topic, and this picture book creates an awareness of this important natural resource.

Young archaeologists (who aren't put off by a nearly waterless desert) may relish the thought of joining an actual dig in The 5,000-Year-Old Puzzle: Solving a Mystery of Ancient Egypt. Written by Claudia Logan and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, this informative and imaginative book chronicles the 1924 expedition to Giza sponsored by Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A young fictional narrator tells the story of excavating a secret tomb even older than King Tut's. The explorers' anticipation, frustration, excitement, and disappointments are cleverly represented in collage style, with postcards, journal entries, newspaper clippings, diagrams, and photos. There are plenty of things to be wary of on such an adventure: fleas, illness, even a mythical "curse of the pharaohs," but the tale is fascinating – and readers with the stomach for graphic details will learn how the Egyptians created mummies.

Imagining the whole world and its people can seem daunting, if not impossible. No longer! Author and educator David Smith has made the international population more accessible with If the World Were a Village. Using authoritative statistics, Smith proportionally reduces the world's 6 billion people to a 100-person village. In that village, 22 speak Chinese, 9 speak English, and 7 speak Spanish. There are 24 televisions and 7 computers. There are disturbing facts about this global village, too: Sixty people are always hungry, 20 live on less that $1 a day, and 17 cannot read at all. This is a captivating, fact-filled book – and it's beautifully illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong. She uses a rich, bold, colorful style that captures much of what the statistics on each double-page spread suggest. Here's a well-designed book, deserving of a place on any bookshelf – or better yet, in the hands of a child.

• Karen Carden reviews children's books for the Monitor from Seattle, Wash.

Concept books


Illustrated by Higashi Glaser

Abrams Unpaged, $12.95 Ages 4-8

Picture books


Written and illustrated by Peter Sis

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Unpaged, $17

Ages 4-8


By Leslie Bulion

Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

Moon Mountain

Unpaged, $15.95

Ages 5-9


Written and illustrated by Jan Brett

Putnam Unpaged, $16.99

Ages 5-8

For older readers


By Linda Sue Park

Clarion 200 pp., $16 Ages 10-14

Information books


By Barbara Kerley

National Geographic Society Unpaged, $16.95 Ages 4-8

THE 5,000-YEAR-OLD PUZZLE: Solving a Mystery of Ancient Egypt

By Claudia Logan

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

42 pages, $17

Ages 8 and up

IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE: A Book about the World's People

By David Smith

Illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong

Kids Can Press

32 pages, $15.95

Ages 7 and up

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