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Celebrate Democracy with Children’s Literature from Leading Democratic Countries of the World

Democracy around the world

In light of the recent inauguration of a new president of the United States, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate global democracy with a list of children’s and young adult books from leading democratic nations the world. The countries listed below achieved the classification of “full democracy” based on The Democracy Index, an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a UK-based private company. The EIU assessed 167 countries for democratic principles and functionality, measuring pluralism, civil liberties, and political culture. Click here if you want to read the full list.

Arguably, the desire for a functional democracy touches upon every aspect of our lives, from the deeply personal to our society at large. While the books selected below do not explicitly engage with the democratic process, their themes resonate with the need for a critical and caring democracy. In these texts, young people engage with personal and cultural identity, civil liberties, and environmental concerns—ideas that matter to adolescents and societies around the world. We hope you will enjoy this sampling of award-winning and critically acclaimed children’s and young adult texts from countries that lead the world in democratic achievement.


Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Sophie’s World (Sofies verden)

Author: Jostein Gaarder

Translator: Paulette Moller

Published: Oslo: Aschehoug, 1991

Published in English: 1994

20th Anniversary Edition: Orion Publishing, 2015

Language: Norwegian, English

ISBN-13: 978-1474602280

When 14-year-old Sophie encounters a mysterious mentor who introduces her to philosophy, mysteries deepen in her own life. Why does she keep getting postcards addressed to another girl? Who is the other girl? And who, for that matter, is Sophie herself? To solve the riddle, she uses her new knowledge of philosophy, but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.

An addictive blend of mystery, philosophy and fantasy, Sophie's World is an international phenomenon which has been translated into 60 languages and sold more than 40 million copies.


The Casket Of Time by Andri Snaer Magnason

The Casket Of Time (Tímakistan)

Author: Andri Snaer Magnason

Translators: Björg Arnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery

Published: Reykjavík: Mál og Menning, 2013

Published in English: Restless Books, 2019

Language: Icelandic, English

ISBN-13: 978-1632062055

Teenage Sigrun is sick of all the apocalyptic news about the “situation” and, worse, her parents’ obsession with it. Sigrun’s family—along with everyone else—decides to hibernate in their TimeBoxes®, hoping for someone else to fix the world’s problems . But when Sigrun’s TimeBox® opens too early, she discovers an abandoned city overrun by wilderness and joins a band of kids who are helping a researcher named Grace solve the “situation.” The world, according to Grace, is under an ancient curse. Sigrun sees eerie parallels between Grace’s tale of the legend of Obsidiana and the present-day crisis, and realizes it is up to her and her friends to break the ancient curse and fix the world.

The Casket of Time has been published in 10 languages and was nominated as the best fantasy book in Finland in 2016.


In the Wild by Sofia Nordin

In the Wild

Author: Sofia Nordin

Translator: Maria Lundin

Published in English: Groundwood Books, 2005

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0888996633

Amanda is a self-described social outcast and unfortunate target of bullying at school. Just about the last thing she wants to do is spend an entire week with her classmates on a white-water rafting trip. While on the rafting course that was supposed to be the best part of the trip, her rubber raft overturns, leaving her and her worst tormentor, Phillip, separated from the rest of the class. After almost drowning, they scramble onto shore to safety. Confused and cold, they wander into the woods and become lost; thus begins their week-long struggle for survival. Their dire circumstance forces them to depend on each other and Amanda proves to be the one more capable of navigating the hazards of the elements. The journey allows Amanda and Phillip to confront their fears, understand the natural world, and get to know each other beyond their respective roles as outsider and bully.

Thoughtful and insightful, In the Wild portrays life in the wilds of Sweden with realistic detail.


The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

The Whale Rider

Author: Witi Ihimaera

Published: New Zealand, 1987

Published: Harcourt, 2003

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0152050160

Eight-year-old Kahu craves her great-grandfather's love and attention. But he is focused on his duties as chief of a Maori tribe in Whangara, on the East Coast of New Zealand - a tribe that claims descent from the legendary 'whale rider'. In every generation since the whale rider, a male has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir - there's only Kahu. She should be the next in line for the title, but her great-grandfather is blinded by tradition and sees no use for a girl.

Kahu will not be ignored. And in her struggle she has a unique ally: the whale rider himself, from whom she has inherited the ability to communicate with whales. Once that sacred gift is revealed, Kahu may be able to re-establish her people's ancestral connections, earn her great-grandfather's attention, and lead her tribe to a bold new future.

An international bestseller that was made into a multiple award-winning film.


Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff

Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles

Author: Maria Turtschaninoff

Translator: Annie Prime

Published: Helsinki: Schildts and Soderstrom, 2014

Published in English: Pushkin Children's Books, 2016

Language: Swedish, English

ISBN-13: 978-1419726989

Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice, arrived there in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts. Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them.

Maresi is the first book in the three-part Red Abbey Chronicles, all published by Pushkin Press. Maresi is published in eight languages and won the Finlandia Junior Prize.


Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Bog Child

Author: Siobhan Dowd

Published: David Fickling, 2008

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0375841354

Digging for peat in the mountain with his Uncle Tally, Fergus finds the body of a child, and it looks like she has been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of the mad world around him—his brother on hunger-strike in prison, his growing feelings for Cora, his parents arguing over the Troubles, and him in it up to the neck, blackmailed into acting as courier to God knows what—a little voice comes to him in his dreams, and the mystery of the bog child unfurls.

Bog Child is an astonishing novel exploring the sacrifices made in the name of peace, and the unflinching strength of the human spirit. Winner of the Carnegie Medal in Literature.


The Crow-Girl: The Children of Crow Cove by Bodil Bredsdorff

The Crow-Girl: The Children of Crow Cove (Krageungen)

Author: Bodil Bredsdorff

Translator: Faith Ingwersen

Published: Host, 1993.

Published in English: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2004

Languages: Danish, English

ISBN-13: 978-0374400033

Near a little cove where a brook runs out to the sea live a girl and her grandmother. All alone with no neighbors at all, the two lead a peaceful existence. They have a house, dine on sea kale and mussels and sand snails, and build fires from driftwood. But the grandmother is very old. When the time comes that the girl must bury the woman, she makes up a funeral song about the birds she is watching: Two crows never fly alone, and death is never, ever past. The next day the same crows seem to beckon her, and so the Crow-Girl begins her journey, one in which she will meet people both warm and cold, hurt and hurtful. And the Crow-Girl, before she knows it, has the makings before her of a new family.

The Crow-Girl is the first book of The Children of Crow Cove series and the Honor Winner of the Mildred L. Bachelder Award 2005.


Good for Nothing by Michel Noel

Good for Nothing

Author: Michel Noël

Translator: Shelley Tanaka

Published: Groundwood Books, 2004

Language: French, English

ISBN-13: 978-1554982677

The year is 1959, and 15-year-old Nipishish is kicked out of residential school, told by the principal that he's a good-for-nothing who, like all Indians, can look forward to a life of drunkenness, prison, and despair. Nipishish returns to the Métis reserve in northern Quebec where he was born, but feels even more isolated. His parents are dead and he is faced with the hopelessness of life on the reserve. He hopes for a fresh start when reserve officials give him the chance to live with a white family in an unfamiliar town.

Despite a few bright spots, the adjustment and indignities in the city are too much to bear. Just when it seems that he will fulfill the predictions of the residential school principal, a girl named Pinamen and friends help bring him back to the reserve. Adolescents will find inspiration in Nipishish's courage to reclaim his identity and claim his rightful place on the reserve. The book also provides great insight into the roots of many ongoing native issues.


My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

My Sister Rosa

Author: Justine Larbalestier

Published: Soho Press, 2016

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1616956745

Che's 10-year-old sister Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and so good at deception that Che is convinced she must be a psychopath. She hasn't hurt anyone yet, but he's certain it's just a matter of time. And when their parents move them to New York City, Che longs to return to Sydney and his three best friends. But his first duty is to his sister Rosa, who is playing increasingly complex and disturbing games. Can he protect Rosa from the world - and the world from Rosa?

A spine-chilling psychological thriller from one of Australia's finest YA authors. Winner of the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, Young Adult Fiction.


Swisstory: The Untold, Bloody, and Absolutely Real History of Switzerland by Laurie Theurer

Swisstory: The Untold, Bloody, and Absolutely Real History of Switzerland

Author: Laurie Theurer

Illustrator: Michael Meister

Published: Basel: Schwabe Verlagsgruppe, 2019

Published: Bergli Books, 2019

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-3038690849

The real history of Switzerland for kids of all ages: dukes slaughtered by filthy peasants, innocent "witches" hung up by their necks, buried gold, female mountaineers and, of course, all those murderous cows! Not the fake history of Heidi and William Tell, but 'Swisstory' - from ancient mountain people right up to women fighting for the right to vote. Hilariously illustrated by bestselling Swiss artist Michael Meister (The Monster Book of Switzerland), Swisstory is outrageous, fascinating, gruesome – and completely true.

Winner of the 2020 Crystal Kites Award, this is the first time that the award, which is presented by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, goes to a book from Switzerland.

Tanja Nathanael

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tanja Nathanael is currently a lecturer at San Jose State University and teaches Children’s Literature and Fantasy & Science Fiction Literature online. She received her doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2019. Her research interests include Northern spaces in nineteenth-century British literature and borders and peripheries in international children’s literature. She formerly served on the ChLA international committee (2015-2018) and continues to support its goals as co-editor of the blog to encourage interest in international children’s literature.

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©2018 Created by Olivia Bushardt and Tanja Nathanael for the ChLA International Committee.

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