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Summer Learning: "Book" Your Trip, No Passport Required

A view of an airplane wing with a blue sky and white, sparse clouds.

Summer Learning keeps moving forward, and the librarians at San Jose Public are moving forward too! We've got another list to help inspire your reading and learning this Summer. If you haven't already, you should sign up for Summer Learning to log your reading and win prizes. We will also be releasing a weekly blog with a new booklist that we hope will pique your interest. This week, we will check out books that are set outside of the USA.

Are you the kind of person that hate-likes other peoples travel photos on social media? Not that we've seen many these past few months, but regardless, you're not alone. Of course we're happy when a friend gets the chance to get away, but for those of us stuck at home these photos always serve as a reminder of how stuck at home we are (and we've all had plenty of experience being stuck at home at this point!). But what if I were to tell you there is a way to travel the world without ever leaving your home? What if I told you you could 'see' incredible sights, feel things you've never felt before, have new and exciting (maybe even dangerous) experiences, maybe even time travel, without buying a ticket, packing a bag, or digging your passport out? Of course I'm talking about reading folks! It's Summer Learning at the library, and that's what we're all about.

There are a plethora of books set in faraway places, but we've wrangled a small collection of titles to help your tome travel takeoff (and highlighted my favorite titles from the selections, although all of these books are worth a read!). Not all of these books are vacation reads; some of them are a slice of local life, some have major historical events in the backdrop, or maybe a coming of age within a culture, but all of them will take the reader outside of the USA at some point. This book list features a selection of novels for different age groups, their intended audience indicated in the annotations, but we'll break it down for you here. Ready to wander (from your favorite armchair or sofa)?

**Bonus! If none of these suggestions tickle your fancy, we have a related booklist with oodles more options. Not all of these feature international settings, but they will satisfy the desire to read and roam.

There are perhaps countless books to recommend for adults that'd take you to another world, but I'm hoping this small sample with hold a little something for everyone. A Man Called Ove may be known to some due to the book's popularity and the release of the film by the same title in 2015, and Where'd You Go Bernadette? is a bestseller (and has the distinction of being the only novel that takes us to Antarctica on this list). Definitely give these tomes a go, but I want to highlight the other two selections for adults as my favs from these picks.

Everything is Illuminated is based on Jonathan Safran-Foer's travels in Ukraine. Indeed, he is even one of the characters in the book, but this is not a memoir. I've scarcely found a title since that has made me laugh and cry as hard as this book - definitely brings about joy and sadness. This story masterfully weaves three narratives, narratives whose connections aren't always clear as the story progresses but come together in the end. While the adventure may seem far fetched at times the emotion at the heart of the story is real, the result a confrontation of the lasting scars and horrors of the Holocaust. Not a light read but not a heavy read either, but definitely will push readers.

Please Look After Mom was recommended to me by my Korean friend when I was living in Seoul, and I feel it paints an interesting picture of family dynamics and how the miracle on the Han River launched Korea into the modern world while still leaving some citizens outside the big cities behind. This novel is told in shifting perspectives, at one point even shifting to second person and asking the reader to take on the role of one family member. This would perhaps be a pick for those that enjoy family sagas, and as a former resident of Seoul I feel author Shin Kyung-sook get the feeling of being in the big city right.

Finally, Homegoing is a work of historical fiction that centers around Ghana, but the novel itself spanning centuries and traveling to other parts of the world, as well. This book is told in two perspectives, and shows the harsh and unjust contrast in lives of two half sisters. An interesting read that will take readers to a new continent and period in time.


Young adults and teens who haven't peeked around at the world will get a good taste of life abroad in these well as a taste of the fantastic. Not all of these titles are realistic fiction (one urban fantasy), but through these books readers can see France, the Czech Republic, Morocco, Israel, and India.

For fans of fantasy, I cannot recommend Daughter of Smoke and Bone enough. Laini Taylor is a YA author whose voice speaks to a broader age range - she includes sumptuous details without being boring or long-winded. If you ever have the good fortune to visit Prague, the way she describes the winding alleys and famous landmarks truly brings the life of the city to pages of the book. I feel it is my duty to warn though that this trilogy starts in these foreign cities, but as it is fantasy there is quite a bit of traveling to other worlds, as well. While the book largely takes part in Prague and Marrakesh, the plot doesn't delve too deeply into the life and culture of these places (although Taylor's description of goulash will make your mouth water).

The other pick I'd like to highlight here is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. While this is the most domestic of the books (two of the plotlines take place in the USA, two of them abroad), the theme of friendship and the idea that and adventure can find you anywhere is appealing. A good coming-of-age book, and if you decide to follow it up with the movie you'll likely enjoy both.

Just a few pre-teen picks, traveling from Nigeria to France to Canada. Again, a mix of genres, but all equally good reads for taking a look at somewhere new.

Another fantasy book, I love Akata Witch as an armchair travel pick as while the magic of the story is pure fiction, author Okorafor does a great job of weaving tidbits of Nigerian culture and belief into the milieu of the story.

I always joke with my friends that Canada is so familiar to me and so close by that traveling there scarcely feels like traveling to another country. Even if you feel the same way about Canada, Anne of Green Gables may still be the international novel you're looking for. It's a classic for a reason, and while Avonlea may not be real Prince Edward Island and it's natural beauty are. A work of historical fiction, Anne of Green Gables can also take you back to a time where people experience the same emotions and life events as they do nowadays, but in a very different way.

This small set of children's books are all novels. Children can travel to France (and other international locations with subsequent books in the 39 Clues series), India, Colombia, and Taiwan.

The Maze of Bones is just the first installment of the 39 Clues series. For those that are unfamiliar, these books are written by different authors and are set in different locations around the world. While the first listed here is set in France, subsequent books will lead the reader to Austria, South Korea, Egypt, and many more. The focus of the series is as much about the past and the present, but be forewarned...side effects may include catching the travel bug!

Our last set of recommendations are all children's picture books, mostly fiction but with one non-fiction pick too. Children can learn about the differences in other countries, as well as some major world events in simple ways they can process. Through these titles, children can travel to Japan, Guatemala, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Greece, Norway, and Australia.

Personally I was surprised in how many picture books I found that feature countries outside the USA, but the one I wanted to highlight here is Possum Magic. My mother read this book to me over and over when I was a dinky-di (that's Aussie slang for authentically Australian), and it highlights an important aspect of any culture: food. This book takes readers on a tour of Australia (even to my old hometown), as well as on a tour of Australia's food. While the world may only be aware of Vegemite, there are a number of other dishes that Aussies love and have made for generations. I highly recommend attempting to make some of these delicious dishes, such as this authentic recipe for Anzac biscuits from Australian Women's Weekly.


Stay tuned for more reading ideas to help with your Summer Learning  with a new blog and book list posted weekly!

If you're looking for more ways to participate in Summer Learning, leave a book review on Beanstack (the site that powers our Summer Learning program). There is a chance we may feature your review in an upcoming blog!

Blog Category
Adult Nonfiction

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