19 Global YA Novels for Your Class Library

A MiddleWeb Blog

As teachers, we want to make sure our book-buying dollar goes as far as possible. Like most of you, I want my classroom library to have engaging books in a variety of genres with diverse characters and broad appeal.

I’ve put great effort into finding books that reflect the students in my classroom. In addition, I want to make sure that the books I share are geographically diverse. A recent activity showed me that I have a long way to go.

I asked my students to write the title of their current book and its setting on a sticky note, then post it on my classroom map. Books that were fantasy or set in places not on a world map were posted on the side.

What did I discover? Although I teach in Singapore, one of the most diverse cities in the world, most of my students were reading books set in the United States. Almost all of the books set in Europe were based during World War II. I set the personal goal of reading more books set internationally, so that I could add them to my classroom library and get them in my students’ hands.

Stickies showing the settings of novels my students were reading.

I found that my favorite YA novels are the ones that feature characters encountering everyday problems in a setting unlike my own. I preferred books where the protagonist was born in the setting, as opposed to stories about adjusting to foreign life. Novels are an excellent entry point into global topics, and there are many options I discovered that have me emailing the social studies teacher with interdisciplinary unit ideas.

I hope these titles aid your own exploration into international books. Making our map and my list has shown me the areas I still need to grow. In particular, I would like to add more South American books to my class library.

Please share your suggestions in the comments so I can continue to expand my repertoire and collection. And if you make a map of your own, let us know what you discover.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

When Amal disrespects the wealthy landowner in her Pakistan village, she ends up an indentured servant to him indefinitely.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Overnight, Nisha’s homeland has separated into the countries of India and Pakistan, and she doesn’t know where she belongs. The only way for her family to stay safe is to become refugees and take an arduous journey to find a new home.

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler

In eighteenth century Japan, Seikei witnesses the theft of a jewel and sees a girl unjustly accused, so he risks his life to stand up for what is right. This action pairs him in solving the crime with a famous samurai, Judge Ooka.

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

Haitian teen Magdalie lived a simple life of school and helping maman clean the house of her cruel boss, but everything changes when the 2010 earthquake happens. Magdalie’s family shatters and she has to find where she belongs in Haiti.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Based on the lives of historical figures, this novel-in-verse details Cuba’s war-filled years between 1850 – 1899.

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

For all her life, Sophie’s mother has consistently prioritized the bonobo sanctuary she runs in the Congo over her family life. When revolution breaks out in the country, Sophie and her adopted bonobo are thrust into the jungle, trying to survive and reunite with Sophie’s mother.

Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams

When their Zimbabwe village is destroyed by rebels, two brothers face many challenges as they travel by foot to South Africa.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Life on the streets of Chennai, India is a struggle for four determined homeless children.

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

While India struggles for freedom from Britain in the 1940s, Vidya faces her own challenges while seeking independence in her own family.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

This haunting novel-in-verse tells the story of Lakshmi, a thirteen-year-old Nepalese girl who is sold into a brothel in India to support her family. For mature readers.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Arn Chorn-Pond had the typical life of a Cambodian child until a Communist group called the Khmer Rouge took control of the government and forced all the citizens into work camps. Patricia McCormick takes Arn’s account of his life in “the Killing Fields” and writes it as a gripping and unforgettable novel. For mature readers.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Mia was raised by her Vietnamese parents in Laguna Beach, California and is your typical beach girl. But then she has to accompany her grandmother back to Vietnam, and she realizes she might not be your average California girl, after all.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Parvana has been forced out of school and inside her house because of the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan. When tragedy strikes her family, Parvana’s only option is to pretend to be a boy and become the family’s savior.

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Australian Lebanese-Muslim teen Jamilah has a double identity: at home she lives a traditional and highly structured life with her strict father and older siblings. At school she tries to hide her ethnicity and become more popular. This all changes when she meets someone with whom she can finally be herself.

Keeper by Mal Peet

El Gato, the world’s greatest goalie, has decided to tell his story to a reporter in the days following his World Cup victory. Paul Faustino, sports writer for La Nacion, is expecting a bonus and a nice headline. He gets way more.

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary L. Blackwood

Widge is an orphan growing up in Elizabethan England who is forced to try to steal William Shakespeare’s newly-written Hamlet.

Escape From Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

Nadia is separated from her family as they flee Syria, and she must survive as she tries to find them.

If you’re looking for books about how an American adolescent adjusts to life in Japan, Holly Thompson’s novels in verse Falling Into the Dragon’s Mouth and Orchards are haunting accounts of bullying, one from the perspective of the victim and the other from a regretful perpetrator.

Megan Kelly

Megan Kelly has been teaching English and History internationally since 2003, most recently in Singapore. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching and is passionate about literacy and learning through play. She tweets at @33megan33. See all her ELA and history teaching tips for MiddleWeb here.

5 Responses

  1. Susie Highley says:

    The Bridge Home is my favorite read so far this year. What about working with the school librarian to diversify the books?

    • Megan Kelly says:

      We have an amazing school library and librarians that we visit weekly, but I wanted to make sure that my classroom library reflects my students. I agree that The Bridge Home was excellent!

  2. Valerie McFadden says:

    This is a great read!

  3. Sarah Cooper says:

    Great list, Megan! I’m forwarding it to our librarians right now.

    • Megan Kelly says:

      Thank you! I didn’t realize it was only 19 books or I would have added one more, my most recent read: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba.

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