Since I recently returned from my Barefoot Books trip to France, it seems like the perfect time to visit Europe in our global reading journey. With a chocolate croissant in one hand and an espresso in the other, I enjoyed exploring the following picture books about Europe with our four year old.
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Best Picture Books Set in Europe
Gabriella’s Song by Candace Fleming and Giselle Potter
While Italy is often first thought of for its art, Gabriella’s Song reminds us that long ago, Venice was also a city of music. Young Gabriella composes a song on her journey home from the market. The song incorporates the sounds of her city, such as the bump of the gondolas against the canal walls and the flap of pigeon wings.
Each person in the story is touched by the song: one through laughter, another through romance, and another through tears. It is Gabriella’s tune that finally allows a great composer to write the symphony that he had previously been unable to begin. The book is an accessible introduction to both classical music and a lovely snapshot of Venice. (Set in Italy, recommended for ages 4 – 8.)
Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson
Linnea in Monet’s Garden continues the theme of exploring European art. Linnea has the chance to go to France with her kind older neighbor Mr. Bloom, where they can both explore Monet’s work. The book includes an abundance of information about impressionism and how Monet created his paintings. Because the illustrations include both his art and cartoons of Linnea exploring France, the book is able to explore lots of non-fiction content in a child-friendly way. (Set in France, recommended for ages 5 – 10.)
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Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
We can’t visit France without including the bold (and a bit cheeky) beloved character Madeline. Who can resist admiring a character who simply says “pooh-pooh” to the tiger in the zoo? I love how the sights of Paris are woven into the bright and simple illustrations. (Set in France, recommended for ages 3 – 7.)
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Tales from Old Ireland by Malachy Doyle and Niamh Sharkey
Tales from Old Ireland is a collection of Irish folk tales that has appropriately larger than life characters and unexpected magic. The tales call out to be read aloud rather than silently. I loved the pithy truths that were woven into the stories such as “we’re always wishing for what we don’t have and not caring for what we’ve already got, and so it was with the Queen of Leinster long ago.”
Parents may want to read through the collection first before sharing with their child as some of the stories have decidedly unhappy endings or details that could be frightening to a sensitive child. (Set in Ireland, recommended for ages 6 – 10.)
A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino
What is it like to visit the bustling city of London? Salvatore Rubbino’s A Walk in London follows a mother and child around all the most popular historic sites in the city. I appreciated that the main text was simple, keeping us from getting bogged down in too many details.
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There are also extensive notes written into the illustrations, so that you can explore more about particular places on your second and third readings of the book. At the end of the story there is a large fold out spread showing the entire city. (Set in England, recommended for ages 4 – 8.)
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The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
Ferdinand the bull is one of my favorite characters in children’s literature, with his quiet way and love for the flowers. The Story of Ferdinand is a classic that subtly encourages children to be true to themselves long before this was a common message directed at kids. Despite all the attempts of those who are part of the bull-fighting sport in Madrid, none of them can get Ferdinand to fight. (Set in Spain, recommended for ages 3 – 6.)
“The Musicians of Bremen” in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales by Naomi Adler and Amanda Hall
I can’t believe I never heard the Grimm’s fairy tale “The Musicians of Bremen” as a child. I fell in love with this funny story of animals trying to cheat death when I came across it in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales.
Who wouldn’t love a group composed of an elderly donkey, dog, cat, and rooster whose “music” is so powerful that it causes a group of robbers to believe they’re being tormented by a monster? After reading the story, be sure to do a Google image search for the musicians of Bremen so that you can find the statue that stands in Bremen today to commemorate this tale. (Set in Germany, recommended for ages 5 – 10.)
The Hat by Jan Brett
In The Hat, a curious hedgehog gets his head stuck in a sock. When the embarrassed Hedgie is questioned by the other animals about what’s on his head, he claims that it’s his new hat. Soon all the animals on the farm are stealing little Lisa’s winter clothing off the line so that they can have their own hats. As with all of Jan Brett’s books, the illustrations give you an excellent feel for the setting of the book, which in this case in Denmark. (Set in Denmark, recommended for ages 4 – 8.)
Masha and the Bear by Lari Don and Melanie Williamson
In Masha and the Bear, little Masha makes a mistake that many children do in folktales: she wanders into the forest, even though her parents have warned her not to. She soon gets lost, and a bear offers to help her find her way home. Instead he leads her to his cave, where he says Masha must stay to make him delicious pies and clean for him. Masha must use her cleverness to find a way back to her parents and her seven brothers and sisters. (Set in Russia, recommended for ages 6 – 10).
Tell us in the comments: what are your favorite books set in Europe?