Kids Books Without Borders by Gail O’Connor
Journey back with me to a city in France, in the late 60s, as I revisit my childhood as a third culture kid… :
As the cold and the damp settled over the French landscape, it seemed to seep through the walls of our house. Even our free range cats, normally night prowlers, huddled between our legs at night and slept on top of the radiator covers during the day. Umbrellas and boots cluttered the front entryway. The last of the hazelnuts were gathered from the roof of our backyard chicken coop. At the end of our block, heaps of coal towered behind a high wall, waiting to be loaded into trucks and delivered to homes. Occasionally, large chunks of coal tumbled onto the sidewalk as we walked home from school. My older brother, Rob, and little sister, Renee, and I would trudge home with our ‘cartable’ (backpacks) at 4:30 pm, as the already sunless sky darkened.
After completing a few worksheets and stuffing them back in my backpack, I could think of no greater pleasure than reading. We had a small, one-room ‘bibliotheque’ (library) where we lived in Villeneuve-Le-Roi, France. I loved to gather up as many mysteries as I was allowed to check out – Les Six Companions series by Paul-Jacques Bonzon was my favorite. There were also the comic series Asterix et Obelix (by Goscinni) and Tintin (by Herge), and a shelf in our living room with a set of Childcraft encyclopedias. The one titled Rhymes and Poems, illustrated with rosy-cheeked, plump, and happy children, was the most worn. At bedtime, my mother would often read aloud to us, taking me us away into a world of mischievous bears who liked marmalade (Paddington Bear, by Michael Bond) or the adventures of children carried off into the night on a flying bed (The Magic Bed-Knob, by Mary Norton).
As a third culture kid, reading was not just a soothing activity, it allowed me to enter into worlds very different from my own and also to find characters who understood and put words to my emotions and life experiences. As a child in a French school, I once wrote these very thoughts on the significance of reading in an essay. I was very proud of my essay, and my teacher read it aloud to my class. I thought she was going to praise it, but instead she made fun of it, using it as an occasion to vent her strong dislike of Americans. Feeling humiliated, I wanted to sink through the floor. Looking back through adult eyes, I now know that this teacher was wrong in how she treated me and in her assessment of my essay. C.S. Lewis aptly remarked:
“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
Reading stories of children who faced difficult situations, such as Mary in The Secret Garden, Anne in Anne of Green Gables, and Pollyanna, or brave women such as Gladys Aylward as recounted in biographies, gave me courage, inspiring me to be brave and strong and not to allow the hard things I occasionally faced to bring me down, and to be a positive influence on those around me. That teacher may have had a bitter cup to drink in life; I will never know. I can only hope she found God’s love and grace to heal her own wounded heart.
I remain a strong believer in bibliotherapy. Reading continues to sustain and inspire me. That is why I started Kids Books Without Borders. I want to extend this gift to other third culture kids, offering them a range of books: picture books, early readers, chapter books, classics, fantasy, realistic fiction, biographies, fairy tales and folktales, multicultural books, TCK books, poetry, science fiction, non-fiction, and young adult books. We have many instances of them all!
I also have a blog with the purpose of sharing stories, resources, book lists, and my own reviews to help you select the best books for your third culture kids. While I write about my favorite books and classics, my niche is children’s books that address TCK issues (moving, self-acceptance, loss, travel, cultural identity, etc.). I also have a love for multicultural children’s literature –children’s books that address issues of race, culture, language and adapting to a new culture.
If you are living overseas and would like to request books, please go to my website at kidsbookswithoutborders.wordpress.com. I currently have over 4,500, thanks in part to donations from families at my local church, friends, and homeschool groups. I would love to hear from you and to have the privilege of blessing your family with great children’s books!
Note about the author: Gail O’Connor is a TCK friend from my Chicago years who grew up overseas in France with a British mom and an American dad. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, home to Indiana University where she has raised her family. She loves to read and now extends this love of reading and books to those who live overseas.
7 thoughts on “Kids Books Without Borders – A Guest Post”
Any recommendations for cross-cultural novels for Teens that could be read in less than 8 hours? I sometimes run programs for TCK’s and have lots of books for little ones, but would love a novel for older kids who like to read in their free time. Some of the older ones we have are so dated and poorly written that I don’t even want to put them on the shelf.
Lack of an extensive public library was a huge loss in moving overseas! I’m thankful for kindle, but there’s nothing like a huge library system with books at your fingertips. So glad someone sees the hole and is filling it!
Wow! Thanks guest person for sharing about your childhood.
Love the books you recommend. I too love books and recognized many of the ones you recommended. One author you might want to peruse is a Canadian, Robert Munsch. Kids adore his books. They are hilarious and based on things kids relate to.
Blessings! Esther Johnstone Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada
I’m so sorry that your French teacher ridiculed you, Gail. Sadly, I’ve heard similar stories even from French friends whose children are in the French system. That seems to be their way. But I’m so glad that you didn’t let that teacher’s disdain discourage you! You have so captured the value of reading for all children, but especially us TCKs. I learned to read when in a British school and forever after, the stories of Enid Blyton were my anchor in a strange world, despite my passport saying USA. I passed on the reading gene to my two TCKs with books that would teach them about the everyday lives of American children as well as feed their imaginations for the world at large. But I don’t recall ever coming across stories that mirrored our lives. Reading about your work brought tears to my eyes as I know it brings joy to many. How great is it that TCKs will be able to read, with your help, about children just like them!
Thanks so much, Stacy! My mom is British, so I also grew up wth Enid Blyton. Yes, the French educational philosophy can be pretty brutal. Multicultural literature is becoming more mainstream which is great for TCKs. I’m glad you passed on the reading gene to your girls!
Gail, my heart broke as I read what your teacher at the school in France said about your essay. So crushing to the heart of a young one. Although it was some time ago, I suspect the memory of it still smarts, from time to time.
And, I just love your bibliotherapy! God’s many blessings as you continue this needed and worthwhile work. @chaplaineliza
Thanks, Elizabeth, for your encouraging words. Yes, we all have experiences from childhood that come back to the surface from time to time. This is true for us all, whether we are TCKs or not. It helps to also bring to memory all the words of affirmation and joyful experiences, as well as God’s provision and presence, both past and present.