Exploring Countries & Cultures Book List Review

We used Exploring Countries and Cultures from My Father’s World this year for 3rd grade. As we studied each country we read a living book that takes place in that particular country.

What is a living book?

A living book makes the subject come alive, it’s not just a bunch of facts. It is typically written by someone who has a passion for the subject. It’s usually written in narrative form. A lot of times living books will pique your imagination.

Our book selections

I pulled together a list of books last summer in June before we started the school year. I will admit I was a little too ambitious with my selections. Not because they weren’t good books but because we didn’t have much time to read them. I should have considered this when selecting the books. But I was just so excited about some of these! My advice, don’t make the same mistake I did. We didn’t even read some of them.

United States The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses was a very quick and easy read. We actually read this book in one day. Both of my girls loved it. I cried at the end of course.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Wanda Petronski is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. She claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t. When Wanda is pulled out of school one day, the class feels terrible, and classmate Maddie decides that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.” A gentle tale about bullies, bystanders, and having the courage to speak up.”

Mexico Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising was probably my personal favorite. It was a much longer book, but we were all so interested in the story it was easy to read. We ended up reading 2 or 3 chapters a day. The story line was full of suspense.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and Mama, Papa, and Abuelita to care for her. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard work, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances-because Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.”

Canada Anne of Green Gables

We did not get the chance to read Anne of Green Gables. It’s such a long book and we didn’t have the time. I really wanted to read it, but I also didn’t want to rush it. So we’ll save this for a summer read aloud.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.”

Brazil Journey to the River Sea

Journey to the River Sea was my daughter’s favorite book. She loved that the story was full of adventure.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Accompanied by Miss Minton, a fierce-looking, no-nonsense governess, Maia, a young orphan, sets off for the wilderness of the Amazon, expecting curtains of orchids, brightly colored macaws, and a loving family. But what she finds is an evil-tempered aunt and uncle and their spoiled daughters. It is only when she is swept up in a mystery involving a young Indian boy, a homesick child actor, and a missing inheritance that Maia lands in the middle of the Amazon adventure she’s dreamed of. Readers of every generation will treasure Ibbotson’s lush historical adventure that harkens back to the beloved classics of Frances Hodgson Burnett and Louisa May Alcott.”

Norway Snow Treasure

Snow Treasure was a close second favorite for me. It was such a good read! Very suspenseful and exciting! We kept wanting to know what was going to happen. The ending made me cry.

Description taken from Amazon:

“In the bleak winter of 1940, Nazi troops parachuted into Peter Lundstrom’s tiny Norwegian village and held it captive. Nobody thought the Nazis could be defeated—until Uncle Victor told Peter how the children could fool the enemy. It was a dangerous plan. They had to slip past Nazi guards with nine million dollars in gold hidden on their sleds. It meant risking their country’s treasure—and their lives. This classic story of how a group of children outwitted the Nazis and sent the treasure to America has captivated generations of readers.”

France The Family Under the Bridge

I wanted to like The Family Under the Bridge, but I just thought it was okay. The story line seemed like it would be good, but I just wasn’t too much into it for some reason. It was a shorter book so we didn’t have any trouble finishing it. I was just wanting more out of the book I guess.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Armand, an old man living on the streets of Paris, relishes his solitary life in the beautiful city. He is happy with his carefree existence, begging and doing odd jobs to keep himself warm and fed. With simple pleasures and no cares, what more could he need? Then one day just before Christmas, Armand returns to his favorite spot beneath the bridge to find three cold and hungry children. Although he has no interest in children, Armand soon finds himself caring for the small family. It does not take Armand very long to realize that he must do whatever it takes to get them a real home.”

Germany Heidi

We didn’t not end up reading Heidi. It was too long and we didn’t have as much time to read it.

Description taken from Amazon:

“At the age of five, little orphan Heidi is sent to live with her grandfather in the Alps. Everyone in the village is afraid of him, but Heidi is fascinated by his long beard and bushy grey eyebrows. She loves her life in the mountains, playing in the sunshine and growing up amongst the goats and birds. But one terrible day, Heidi is collected by her aunt and is made to live with a new family in town. Heidi can’t bear to be away from her grandfather; can she find a way back up the mountain, where she belongs?”

Germany When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

I chose another book called When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit for Germany because my daughter was very interested in WW2 after reading Snow Treasure. I think my daughters were a little too young for this book. There were some questionable parts that I ended up skipping. Then We just stopped reading it altogether. We didn’t really even care to find out the ending.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Anna is not sure who Hitler is, but she sees his face on posters all over Berlin. Then one morning, Anna and her brother awake to find her father gone! Her mother explains that their father has had to leave and soon they will secretly join him. Anna just doesn’t understand. Why do their parents keep insisting that Germany is no longer safe for Jews like them?

Because of Hitler, Anna must leave everything behind as her family embarks on a journey that extends over several years and over the borders of many countries.”

Africa Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus is actually a collection of short stories about a little girl who lives in Africa. It was a very quick read. We ended up reading one story a day. I loved how the cultural aspects were portrayed throughout the book.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother, her father, her baby twin brothers, and lots and lots of her family. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow!”

India Rickshaw Girl

Rickshaw Girl was an easy read. I loved how the book showed the importance of girls working hard.

Description taken from Amazon:

“In this novel for elementary readers illustrated by Jamie Hogan, Naima must find a way to save her mother’s golden bangle — and fix her father’s rickshaw.”

India A Little Princess

Yes I know I had two books picked for India, but A Little Princess is one of my favorite books of all time! Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to read this either. I love it so much I didn’t want to rush it. So it will have to wait for another time.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Alone in a new country, wealthy Sara Crewe tries to settle in and make friends at boarding school. But when she learns that she’ll never see her beloved father gain, her life is turned upside down. Transformed from princess to pauper, she must swap dancing lessons and luxury for hard work and a room in the attic. Will she find that kindness and genorosity are all the riches she truly needs?”

China Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

We definitely didn’t a chance to read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. It was so long! And honestly by the end of the year I was so done reading aloud. I really just didn’t want to read out loud such a long book.

Description taken from Amazon:

“In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.”

China Little Pear

Since I knew there was no way we could read the other book for China I chose the book Little Pear instead. It is a collection of short stories about a little boy. It reminded me of Anna Hibiscus. We read one story a day.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Little Pear is a young boy who lives in a small village in China. Although his story takes place long ago, he is much like any little boy today–always on the lookout for excitement and adventure!

Little Pear is just looking for fun, but he has a knack for finding trouble without even trying! Join him as he stows away to the fair in a wheelbarrow full of vegetables, nearly flies away on a kite, has a mishap with a firecracker, and is rescued from the river by a houseboat family.”

Japan Hachiko Waits

Absolutely loved Hachiko Waits so much! I cried all throughout the book. It was just so precious! It was a quick read because we were all so interested in the story. We read it in a few days.

Description taken from Amazon:

“What a good dog you are. What a fine dog you are. Hachi, you are the best dog in all of Japan.”
Professor Ueno speaks these words to his faithful dog before boarding the train to work every morning. And every afternoon, just before three o’clock, Hachi is at the train station to greet his beloved master. One day, the train arrives at the station without the professor. Hachi waits.
For ten years, Hachi waits for his master to return. Not even Yasuo, the young boy who takes care of Hachi, can persuade him to leave his post.
Hachiko Waits, a novel inspired by a true story, brings to life the legendary Akita who became a national symbol for loyalty and devotion. This is a must-read for dog lovers of all ages.”

Russia Letters from Rifka

Letter from Rifka was a shorter book. We started reading this but could never really get in to it. It is written in a letter format. None of us were enjoying it much. And we were so close to the end of the year. I was ready to be done. So we stopped reading it after a few chapters.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to Tovah, the beloved cousin she has left behind.

Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea, detainment on Ellis Island–and is if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair.

Based on a true story from the author’s family, Letters from Rifka presents a real-life heroine with an uncommon courage and unsinkable spirit.”

Australia The Twenty One Balloons

The Twenty One Balloons looked so interesting to me! We were all excited to read it. We started off reading it fairly quickly with 2 or 3 chapters a day. But then we got busy and never actually finished it. I’m still interested to find out what happens. We may start reading it again.

Description taken from Amazon:

“Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, and discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions.”

Antarctica Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Our last country to study was Antarctica. We condensed it from two weeks into one. We were ready to be done for year so we just didn’t have time to read Mr. Popper’s Penguins. We watched the movie instead. My girls thought it was funny. But it was nothing like the book. The only similarity was the name Mr. Popper and penguins. Everything else was different. I would like to actually read this one some day.

Description taken from back cover:

“The lovable Mr. Popper dreams of being an intrepid Antarctic explorer, living life among the penguins alongside his hero, Admiral Drake. So he is shocked one day when the admiral responds to his fan letter by sending him a package containing and real live penguin! Soon, this penguin is joined by another, and before long Mr. Popper has an ice rink in his basement and a dozen delightful penguins living in his house. With hardly enough money to feed his family, and en ever-increasing bill for raw fish and canned shrimp, what can the wonderfully imaginative Mr. Popper do but train his penguins and take the show on the road.”

Final Thoughts

While my intentions were good, they weren’t very realistic. I still don’t know why I thought we could read all of those books in one school year. I was just so excited about the idea of reading a different book for each country. It perhaps could have been done had I chosen shorter books. So if you would like to do a similar concept my advice is to pick shorter books. Except for maybe Esperanza Rising and Journey to the River Sea because those are just so good. You’ve got to read them!

This year we will be reading the books the My Father’s World suggests for read alouds. There are only three so I’m positive we will be able to finish them all in a school year. Also this leaves more room for independent reading, fun projects and activities, and maybe even a fun read aloud in the evenings. I hope this review helps for any of you who may be thinking about doing something similar. Let me know if you have any questions!

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