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4 Multicultural Chapter Books about Conquering Obstacles

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{guest post from Hannah Rials}

The definition of obstacle means “to stand in the way of.” So an obstacle is something that stands against what you want to do. In a dramatic piece, the obstacle is the person, situation or thing that keeps a character from achieving his or her goal. These obstacles can come in many forms an is also a world-wide issue. We all love books where the main character experiences what seems to be an insurmountable roadblock only to rise up, conquer and persevere. Here’s a few of my top pics of multicultural chapter books that do just that:

Going Over by Beth Kephart

multicultural chapter books

1980s Berlin. The wall is still standing and heavily guarded. Stefan is in the East. Ada is in the West. They’re in love. A West Berliner in love with an East Berliner is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak. No one in their right mind living in the West will move to the East. And no one in the East is brave enough to take the risk of escaping.

These two young teenagers live in two separate worlds. Ada lives in a world of unhappiness. Her family is poor. All her mother cares about are the men she falls in love with once a week. A little Turkish boy who attends the day care where Ada works is in danger. And she risks her life every night to spray paint the wall with pictures of successful escape stories. The only solace she has are her visits in the East to see Stefan and the hope she holds onto that he will one day escape and come save her.
Stefan lives in the miserable, oppressive East. He stays with his old, silent grandmother. Stefan never knew his father. His mother escaped to the West without him, and his grandfather is dead. He blames himself for his grandfather’s death, and he believes his grandmother does too. He suffers through an internal struggle: escape and be with the love of his life, the only reason he wakes up in the morning or stay and take care of his grandmother.

Life is falling apart for Ada and she needs Stefan. He prepares as secretly as he can, but he’s not as discreet as he thinks he is. Will Stefan and Ada finally be together? Will they find happiness? Will Stefan make the decision to go over?

Opinion:

I adored this book. The style and structure are so different from all the other books that I read that it was a breath of fresh air. This is your traditional story of star-crossed lovers, but with a new, realistic, dangerous twist. Kephart creates a beautiful story about a rough time in Berlin’s history, and she keeps you turning pages until there’s no more to turn. I personally believe that this novel could be studied in a classroom. There’s more depth to this than meets the eye. With the unique structure, underlying plots, and the use of second person point of view during Stefan’s chapters make it extremely intriguing. I can’t say anything more. I haven’t read a really good novel in a long time, and I’m glad I finally found one!

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

multicultural chapter books

War is coming. This means that everyone must make sacrifices, including a young boys and his pet fox that he’s raised from a kit. Peter leaves Pax along the side of the road. Well, he’s more forced to do it by his father, who is off to join the war. So now Peter is alone, living with his grandfather who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and doesn’t know how to say a comforting word to his grandson. And everything feels wrong. Peter’s anxiety spikes; he knows he’s done the wrong thing, and now he must correct it.
Peter takes off in the middle of the night with his pack and a map, planning to retrace his steps and find his way back to Pax. Hopefully, the fox hasn’t moved too far away. But a wrench is thrown in his plan, when he falls and snaps a bone in his leg. After trying to make progress on his own with a broken leg, Peter comes across an older woman with a peg leg living alone in the forest. Vola, an ex-soldier and retired medic, takes Peter in, feeds him, sets his bone, and teaches him how to live with one leg, all while learning the truth from this young boy.
Meanwhile, Pax has to learn to live on his own as a wild fox for the first time in his life. Early in his journey, he comes upon a group of foxes that begrudgingly take him in. Bristle, Runt, and Gray become his new family as he waits for his boy to return, if he will ever return.
Both creatures, boy and man, deal with the price of war and the separation it has caused them. They will forever be changed, as will the world around them.
Opinion:
Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen is a uniquely original and beautiful tale told from two perspectives–the boy, Peter, and the fox, Pax. I can’t remember reading a book told from the perspective of an animal in which is was not overly personified. Pax is a fox, a domestic fox, but a fox nonetheless. He has instincts and respects the rules of the forest. It was so interested and heartbreaking to read about the separation. I think many people can relate to a lost pet, but this story takes it in a new direction. Plus, you all know that here, at Jump Into a Book, we love our foxes!
multicultural chapter books
As a baby, Shiraz’s mother died, and her father soon remarried, giving her a new mother and a sister to grow up with. But when her father died, everything changed. Shiraz’s stepmother forced her to do the household chores, and she grew apart from her sister, Monir. One day after finishing her chores, she was on the roof playing with a ball of yarn that was once her mothers when suddenly the wind took the yarn away, and it landed in a neighbor’s garden. Shiraz built up her strength and went to knock on the neighbor’s door. An old, scary lady answered the door and required that Shiraz complete a few chores before she was to get her yarn back. Instead of destroying everything like the lady asked, Shiraz cleaned and tidied and made beautiful. Shiraz was given the yarn back and told to dive three times into a clear pool and three times into a dark pool. When she had done so, she came out more beautiful than ever, looking so different that her sister and stepmother did not recognize her and almost did not let her in the house. After explaining her adventure, her stepmother threw a ball of yarn into the lady’s yard, took Monir to the door so that her daughter would be as beautiful as Shiraz. The woman again required Monir to do the same chores as Shiraz, except this time, Monir destroyed everything that Shiraz made beautiful. This time, the woman told Monir to dive in the dark pool first than the clear pool. When she returned to her house, she looked like a filthy beggar girl. It was then that Shiraz realized that the pools “don’t change the people who dip into them. They just make them look the way they feel on the inside.”
Opinion:
 I miss stories like these—stories about selflessness and caring. Many children’s stories today are transparent or hold simple meanings. The Girl with a Brave Heart is a truly beautiful story with a character that sees past a sad woman who demands destruction and instead realizes that what the woman truly wants is beauty. It is a rare talent to see the true hearts of people, and if children can learn from Shiraz, the world will be a much better place!

Tenzin’s Deer by Barbara Soros:

multicultural chapter books

Tenzin, a young, loving boy who cares for all of earth’s creatures, one day finds a wounded Musk Deer with an arrow in its side. With his compassionate heart, he cannot simply leave this innocent deer to die, but he does not know how to help her. The deer, who he soon names Jamba, speaks to him, saying that the answer will come to him in a dream. And so all the answers he needs to heal Jamba completely come to him in a dream. He heals her everyday during the Tibetan people’s prayer time, praying too for his new friend. As Jamba grows stronger, Tenzin and Jamba bond, becoming the best of friends. They are seen everywhere together, until one night in a dream, Jamba tells Tenzin that it is time for her to go back to the wild. This breaks Tenzin’s heart, the thought of losing his best friend. But he knows she is right. The next day, Tenzin releases Jamba to her natural environment to be free like she was meant to be. But they never forgot each other, and Jamba still visits Tenzin in his dreams, praying “May no harm come to you. May you be at peace. And may your eyes be deep like the sea, your heart be solid like a mountain and your mind be free like the sky.”
Opinion:
As with all Barefoot Books’ stories, the tale of Tenzin’s Deer is absolutely beautiful with an educational undertone. Tenzin’s compassion displays an excellent for children, and his selflessness teaches a wonderful lesson. But this story also teaches us about the beautiful Tibetan culture, everything from its meaningful prayers to its healing ways. Paired with beautiful, boldly colored illustrations, Tenzin’s Deer is a story to share with everyone.

Something To Do

Activities inspired by Pax:
1. Make a Marionette like Vola:
     Vola loves her marionette puppets, even more so when Peter puts on a performance for her. Here’s a tutorial on how to make your own, non-wooden marionette.
2. Wood Working!
       This might be your next new favorite hobby! Wood working goes back centuries and is not just something you pick up and do. It’s a real craft. Vola had a knack for it, and so, as it seems, does Peter. What about you? There are tons of books and videos that can get you started on wood working so that you can carve your favorite animal or a beautiful bowl, maybe even a door! Here’s a tutorial “Woodworking for Beginners!”

3. Facts about Foxes
    – A group of foxes is a skulk or a leash
    – Foxes are characteristically known for their high leaps used during hunting. It’s the first thing kits learn in the wild.
    – Foxes can hear up to 40 yards away!
    – A male fox is a “dog fox” whereas a female fox is a “vixen”
    – Foxes hide food to eat later (you see Pax do this a lot).
    – Foxes live in dens underground for protection and to raise their litter.
    – A fox can run up to 30 miles an hour. Wow!
Activities inspired by The Girl with a Brave Heart
How to do a braided bun:
  • Grab three strands of hair and cross them over each other.
  •  Add a piece to the next strand and cross it over the middle strand.
  •  Add a piece to the next strand and repeat.
  •  Repeat steps until you have no more hair to add in.
  •  Braid down to the end of your hair and secure it with a band
  •  Pull the braid to the center of your head.
  •  Wrap it into a bun and pin with as many pins as necessary.

ARK—Act of Random Kindness: Although Shiraz’s chores were not random—she had a purpose—the kindness was random. The woman asked her destroy, not to fix. And in the end, Shiraz’s beautiful work made the woman happy. It is really easy to make someone’s day—pay them a compliment, do a chore for your parents that’s not on your list. Give someone a hug. Anything you can think of that will bring a smile to someone’s face.
Make your own vegetable soup (like Shiraz):
Activities inspired by Tenzin;s Deer
Make your own Tibetan Prayer Flag:
Prayer flags
Learn more about Prayer Flags here.

One More Thing..
**Some of these links are affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may get a very small commission.
This money goes towards postage and supplies to keep books and ideas in the hands of young readers!

Experience the magical story of a family of foxes that took up residence right in the front yard of the author and publisher, Valarie Budayr. The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden offers an enthusiastically educational opportunity to observe this fox family grow and learn together.
The Fox Diaries
From digging and hunting to playing and resting, this diary shares a rare glimpse into the private lives of Momma Rennie and her babies. Come watch as they navigate this wildly dangerous but still wonderful world. Great to share with your children or students, The Fox Diaries speaks to the importance of growing and learning both individually and as a family unit. It is a perfect book for story time or family sharing. Not only can you read about the daily rituals of this marvelous fox family, there is an information-packed resource section at the end of the book that includes lots of facts and even a few “fox movies” that you can enjoy with your family. Grab your copy of this beautiful and inspiring book HERE.

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