Mirrors and Doors: Books for TCKs

May 24, 2021 12:02:01 PM Sarah Rymer

As a librarian, I love to see the excitement when readers discover books with characters who are like them. Third-culture kids (TCKs) have a unique identity, not tied to any one place, growing up in one or more countries that are not their passport country.

Mirrors and DoorsHere are a few of my favorite stories that can be mirrors, letting TCKs see their experiences reflected in the lives of fictional characters. For non-TCKs, these books can be doors, giving them a glimpse into the feelings of their friends whose lives have crossed borders.

Picture Books

  • “Sunday Chutney” by Aaron Blabey. This quirky book is about a TCK who tells about the good and bad of her multi-location life. Even though this is a picture book, it can also be a great discussion starter with older kids.
  • “My Two Blankets” by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood. While Cartwheel, the main character, is technically an immigrant and not a TCK (she has moved to her new country permanently), her experiences with language echo those of many TCKs who make friends at the same time they are picking up a second (or third or fourth) language in a new place. I love the metaphor of the languages being like two blankets, both comforting and valuable. Cartwheel realizes the gift she has as she moves between her two blankets.
  • “Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland” by Sujean Rim. A young panda wonders if he will ever fit in the new country of Bearland. The bears don’t understand how pandas do things, until one day, Chee-Kee uses his differences to help out some bears in a jam. He realizes being unique is a good thing.

Middle Grade Novels

  • “Framed” by James Ponti. Florian Bates, the main character in this fun middle grade mystery, is a TCK who has just moved back to his passport country, the US, after years of living abroad. He meets the challenges of adapting while cracking mystery involving paintings stolen from the museum where his dad works. Readers can enjoy more of Florian’s unique outlook on life in “Vanished” and “Trapped,” the next two books in this action-packed series.
  • “We’re Not from Here” by Geoff Rodkey. This isn’t your typical TCK book. The family isn’t just moving to another country; they are moving to another planet! Yet, the challenges of fitting in and feeling responsible to represent your “home” culture well are ones most TCKs can relate to. Maybe settling on a different planet isn’t that different from moving to another country!

Novels for Teens

  • “You Bring the Distant Near” by Mitali Perkins. While Indian culture pervades this story, it will resonate with TCKs from many backgrounds. This multi-generation family lives as strangers, travelers and, finally, settlers in different countries ranging from Ghana in the 1960s, New York in the 1970s, Paris and India in the 1980s, and then back to New York in the 2000s. Perkins’ own TCK experiences infuse her writing. Born in India, her family lived in Ghana, Cameroon, England, and Mexico, before settling in America when she was in middle school. Recommended for adults as well as teens!
  • “The Language Inside” by Holly Thompson. Emma grew up in Japan and, like many TCKs, struggles to adjust when her family moves back to the US. She has to deal with being away from the place she considers home when a tsunami hits Japan, as well as fears over her mother's breast cancer. A project volunteering with a woman who has suffered a stroke and learning the challenges faced by a second-generation Cambodian boy become part of Emma’s journey to adjust to her passport country in this novel told in verse.

What are some of your favorite books that have served as mirrors or doors for you or your children? For a list of more summer reading options for tweens and teens, click here.


About the Author: Libby is an IDEAS Associate and professional librarian. She currently resides in Jordan and works with libraries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Enjoy other blogs by Libby, such as Staying Behind: 5 Ways to Embrace Where You Are.