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Picture books for TCKs

TCKs are Third Culture Kids and our little Elliot is one. We’ve been keen to surround him with resources that will help him to sort out his world, however subtly. Because books and reading are a big part of our family life, we’ve been on the lookout for picture books that might help out with that. Here are three of our favourites, each picking up on a different aspect of being a TCK.

The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler charming little tale is the story of a snail with an itchy foot who sets off to see the world on the tail of a great big grey blue humpback whale. There are so many points of connection for TCKs in this story. For example, TCKs see more of the world and have different experiences to other kids, but just like the snail who, when she gazes at the sky the sea, the land, is amazed by it all and says, ‘I feel so small’, TCKs can end up feeling insignificant or all at sea (pun intended!). When the whale becomes beached, the snail wonders how she can help, being so small. But she has a special talent of writing with her silvery trail and with that she alerts the townspeople to the whale’s plight. I love how it’s because she’s so small that she’s able to help, and that she sees how useful her one talent is despite her size. Another great thing is that she enlists the help of others. Because of their life experiences, TCKs see problems and complications that others may not. Learning to draw on others can give them a sense of community and of being part of something bigger rather than being overwhelmed by it.

Amy and Louis, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood and Louis are next door neighbours. Whether it’s playdough, dress ups, digging holes or watching the clouds, they do everything together until one day when Amy’s family moves to the other side of the world. TCKs are constantly dealing with the transience of their lives and those of their friends. Just when they return from home assignment, it might be their friend’s turn to go, or they might be leaving for good. Even if Louis calls Amy with his loudest voice, how will she hear him? She is so far away and she is asleep when he is awake and vice versa. He gives it a go though and this is a wonderful and slightly magical story of connection across continents.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and Whoever you are, Mem Fox

Both of these are written by Australian TCK Mem Fox and focus on the commonalities in different cultures e.g wherever a baby is born he or she has ten little fingers; people might look different but they still all have joys and sorrows. These are clearly aimed at Aussie / western kids but I reckon they’re good for TCKs as well. It’s been said that expats are some of the most racist people going around, and that can be true. Sometimes seeing another culture up close makes you more judgmental than those who know less of it so we want to keep reminding Elliot and ourselves of what all people share.

Honourable Mention: Dora the Explorer

Of course, this is a TV show rather than a picture book. However, just as Arthur and I have so valued the chance to have our horizons broadened, we want Elliot to see cultures other than Tanzania and Australia. I like that he picks up little bits of Spanish from Dora too.

One concern I have about moving between Australian and Tanzanian cultures is Elliot’s name. He’s called ‘Eli’ here (pronounced ‘Elly’) because in Swahili Elliot sounds like a girl’s name. That’s what he calls himself too, but in Australia, Elly is a girls’ name. I figure that could be confusing for him and possibly a source of being teased. Anyone know any picture books about names that change or having a funny name?

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

2 replies

  1. I can’t think of any books about name changing at the moment but my kids have a “French name” and an “Australian name” (the difference is in pronunciation only) but they introduce themselves appropriately according to the situation and when we’re out I use the french pronounciation when talking to them too. You might find that he’ll be able to separate both his names in the correct situation along with the language.
    Also- not a book, but have you seen ‘Mouk’? TV show about 2 characters who are traveling around the world by bike. We love it but it’s probably for slightly older children. It’s french made but we first discovered it in English. :)

  2. Some excellent books! I also love Dora the Explorer, and have used it in some of my Spanish classes in Australia in previous years.

    I’ll try to keep an eye out for picture books about names. I’ve read a few stories for teens and adults that use or mention name difficulty and/or pronunciation, but they probably won’t be helpful for a while!

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