Jessi's Fun Faves Book List

I’m the first to admit I’m a sucker for a good YA novel. From epic to cheesy they’re still my go-to book section to browse at any store or library. What a delight to re-read some old favorites and suddenly realize the protagonist is a third culture kid! Or at least a culturally confused individual saving a kingdom, falling in love or navigating their place in the world. Whether you’re soaking up the last of the summer sun, curled up on a beach blanket or enjoying a snowy day with a fireplace and hot cocoa I hope you find a piece of your own story in these pages. Whether you’re a mom looking for homeschool inspiration or a TCK getting ready for an extra long flight I hope these cheesy reads keep you captivated and strike a few good discussions too. That’s what the best kind of books do if you ask me. 

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Here’s my list of current favorite summer reads that both entertain and engage some beautiful questions around belonging and identity. 

We all know what it’s like to be the new kid. Elenor navigates some of the moments we have nightmares about while remaining true to herself. Park has never felt like he belongs but making friends with Elenor challenges him to use his unique differences to fight for what’s right. Dabbles with bi-racial families and relationships too.

I know I know. I wasn’t allowed to read these as a kid either. BUT! In my young adult rebellion, they are a series of books I read over and over again. Everyone knows the premise- Harry is a young wizard who gets in trouble, goes on grand adventures and ultimately destroys the evil Voldemort *eek spoiler alert!* But did you know Harry grew up in the “muggle” or non-magic Britain? Did you know he spends each of the 7 books learning more about the wizarding culture and navigating his belonging between these drastically different worlds? These are a must read for any TCK and may even prompt a Kaleidoscope Book Club next time I make my way through the series.

(Also Lola and The Boy Next Door + Isla and the Happily Ever After)


Anna is shipped off to Paris for her senior year. Most people would think this is a dream but she’s just homesick for her best friend until she meets a rag-tag group of TCKs. It doesn’t hurt that one of them has rockstar hair and a British accent.

My brothers and I laugh/cried our way through these! Written by an actual from-the-jungle-missionary-kid with a wicked sense of humor. There might be decades and continents between our stories but some things are the same no matter what.

Think Mean Girls meets 10 Things I Hate About You. Norris is a French Canadian who moves to the very foreign Austin, Texas. His “field notes” explore habits and culture of the typical U.S. teenager with biting sarcasm and heartbreaking introspection. It hurts so good.

New York City Soothes my Restless TCK Spirit

I live in a state of restlessness, always looking ahead, always craving the next adventure. It's hard for me to settle down, because I exist in a state of perennial anxiety as I wait for the next big move.

Before my four years in college, I hadn't spent more than three years in one place since I was four years old. By the time senior year rolled around and I was about to break my record, as fractured as my time had been between summers and Christmas breaks away, I was beginning to feel the telltale signs of restlessness.

When I moved to New York City as a fresh-faced college grad in 2015, I thought the Queens house I moved into would be...well, if not my forever home, then at least my for-a-long-time home. 

Six months later when I moved out, I thought the Brooklyn apartment I was heading to would be forever. And five months after that, I thought the same.

That third apartment, which I moved into less than a year after trekking into the city for the first time, lasted 11 months. 

To this day, that's my record. Eleven months, unbroken, at one address in the city. I came very close at my latest apartment: I reached 10. Ten! 

And then I moved. I'm really hoping this current home is a little more permanent, because really, moving is expensive and now I have a bed (that took time and also, somehow, money! To put together), and I have an AC unit and I'm buying wall decor specifically for this room and — I just can't do it again, really.

The point isn't that I move a lot. The point is that I think growing up as a TCK bred a restlessness into my soul. And the other point is that this city I call home is tailor-made and perfect for TCKs.

In New York, I’ve had seven different homes where I resided for two or more months; I've lived here less than three years. If you add up the sublets and places I stayed for 3-4 weeks as well, the number reaches 10. Ten homes, in three boroughs, in 10 entirely, completely different neighborhoods. And don’t forget those two separate occasions I spent a few nights in New Jersey...

I lived in Jamaica, Queens, where the train rattled above ground a block away and I could hear it from my kitchen. I lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where the apartments were ugly but newly remodeled and the main attraction is a combination of its proximity to Park Slope as well as Sunset Park itself, with its stunning views of Manhattan. I've rested my head briefly on the Upper East Side, across from elegant brownstones, or in the Financial District, brushing shoulders daily with men in suits acting harried.

Every time I step out of my new apartment in Elmhurst, which is across from a mall that reminds me of suburbia and next to an extremely classic New York City-style park and playground, it hits me anew that this home is not so much a city but an amalgam of a thousand neighborhoods, each of them touched by the ethnic, cultural, and class influences of those who live there.

And it struck me that maybe there's a reason I feel so at home in New York. Maybe there's a reason I, who as a 10-year-old grew bouncing-on-my-toes restless and ready to move because we'd been in the same city for two straight years, have no desire yet (and never really did) to leave New York.

The diversity that ripples through its literal streets is like catnip to my easily-bored heart and mind. Obviously, I need to get better about the whole "move every few months" thing because that is wildly unsustainable (and I love my new apartment, and it's the kind of place where I can stay for a long, long time), and what have I found to be a good fix? Exploration.

Whenever I start to feel like I’m getting bored and might want to shake things up, a quick trip to one of the neighborhoods I don’t frequent as often (aka not where I live nor where I work) does the trick. Whether that means a Memorial Day beach trip with my friend or an evening at a coffee shop in the Meatpacking District, I find ways to see the beauty and diversity again.

The thing is, I don’t think this desire for newness is something that would’ve come organically to me. As a kid, I was such a homebody. In fact, my parents decided against letting me do online school in eighth grade, something I had begged for, because they were afraid if I didn’t have to leave the house for school I would just...have no friends. Never see the sun. Wither away. 

After middle school things started to change even more and even more quickly. I went to boarding school in Germany (a whole new country to live in); I went on several international trips, including a 12th-grade visit to Guangzhou, China, where for the first time I really experienced metropolis. I remember walking through the city with my classmates, staring up in awe at the buildings, my head swiveling from left to right and back again, taking in the sheer magnitude of it all.

That’s when it clicked. 

I wasn’t going to be content, after all, with the suburban life in South Carolina I’d always dreamed of until then. Something in me changed — maybe it was me who had changed, actually — and restlessness grew in my spirit.

The kind of restlessness that somehow New York sates. The kind that is comforted and soothed by the big, diverse, multi-cultural and multi-colored and multi-faceted city I live in and love now.

Maybe I needed to be a TCK to love New York; maybe I needed New York to salve my wandering spirit; I don’t really know which part came first, I only really know that the two go hand-in-hand together and make up two halves of my whole.

Can Never Be... (Parts 1 & 2)

Part 1

Perspective one says… 

We were never meant to be normal,

Not with the lives we live 

Our tongues are coated in languages

Our skin in passport stamps 

Our hearts are strung to a map 

Tethered forever to the goodbye and plane tickets 

We were never meant to be rooted, 

Not when we were born to have wings stitched onto our backs

Our bodies forever branded with the sky 

Airports become as familiar as the places we’re supposed to call home

“Where you from?” is as hard a question to answer as calculus is with a first-grade education 

“Where is home?” is like asking which strand of hair I like best

There were too many, are too many, will be too many… to call home… 

Home is a figment of our imagination, 

“Home is where your heart is” equals to folklore we grew up with

Our hearts have been shattered and scattered across a globe

We can never be normal

Not with the lives, we are living 

Our footprints mark the miles between countries 

Our wings mark the oceans crossed

Our incredible inevitable crazy lives 

Mark only those who live in memories

We can never be normal 

Wishing to be is a long… almost… forgotten dream

We will never be… “normal”

Our paths were chosen before we knew “Yes” 

Wings stitched before we knew “No” 

Goodbyes and plane tickets tethered before we knew “Stop!”

Hearts strung before we knew “Please!” 

Skin stamped and tongues coated before we knew… “Ok… ” 

We… can never be…

Part 2

Perspective two says… 

We were never meant to be normal

Our tongues are coated in languages

Our skin in passport stamps 

Our hearts were made for this chaos 

Tethered forever to the adventure and high wind turbulences

We were never meant to be rooted  

Not when we were born with wings protruding from our backs 

Airports become a familiar harbor 

We are from everywhere and nowhere 

A piece of our heart remains in each country we’ve traveled to 

The trail markers of our lives 

We can never be normal

Our footprints mark the miles on maps  

Our wings mark the oceans feet could never cross

Our incredible inevitable crazy lives 

Are burned into our brains

Lasting till dust returns to dust 

We will never be… “normal”

Our paths take us in a thousand different directions 

We never saw coming  

Our wingspan is half the length of our courage

Our adventures are written in a blank book

The turbulence is a victory cry in sign language 

Our hearts are made resilient 

Our skin is begging for stamps 

Our tongues are already learning 

We are incredibly inevitably crazy

Isn’t it extraordinary… how we… can never be…

Resilient TCKs

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by adult TCKs, and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

Ever wondered how your third culture kids can become as resilient as Elastigirl from the Incredibles? We definitely have! No matter how hard we try to avoid it, hardship such as loss and grief is inevitable, especially for a TCK. At KLDSCP, we believe that a TCK’s resilience allows them to thrive in even the most precarious of circumstances. We’ve found a few tools to be especially helpful in empowering kids to build resilience and process tough experiences well, and we hope you find success with them, too:

  1. Acknowledge past losses and prepare for future ones, no matter how big or small. If a TCK wants to work through hard emotions and experiences, we dive into the mess with them. If they are grieving the loss of something relatively small or inconsequential, we give that equal airtime. We discuss past and current losses insofar as they are part of their stories, and teach them the tools to say healthy goodbyes. Talking about loss helps us process our experiences and avoids unresolved grief further down the road, resulting in a greater ability to recover after future losses, a.k.a. resilience.

  2. Give them language. A big part of helping TCKs learn resilience is by talking about emotions. Learning to express both negative and positive emotions is key to living a life of resilience. We aim to continue to expand your TCKs’ emotional vocabulary and teach them to identify their feelings!

  3. Make connections. Friendships for children and teens teaches them essential life skills, such as empathy and compassion. Because of a TCK’s highly mobile lifestyle, making new connections can sometimes feel hard or scary. It is essential to encourage TCKs to remain present and make friends, even if it is only for a week; value the practice of learning how to connect with others around us, even if it means risking another goodbye.

  4. Be an example. Tell your own stories and share appropriate emotions with the TCKs in your life. Hearing others’ experiences helps TCKs understand that they are not alone, and feel connected. Feeling connected is an essential part of building resilience.

  5. Listen to their stories! When TCKs get to tell their stories, they can make sense of their world and connect with those who listen their life journey—even if they’re just 5 years old. Processing their experiences through reflection and sharing develops their emotional resilience as they continue on their paths. Wait until next month where we will dive more into personal storytelling.


Listen

Josh Sandoz is an adult third culture kid and Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with TCKs. In this podcast you will hear more about Josh's story, challenges that TCKs face, and how you can help your kids develop emotional resilience as they grow up in between cultures.

TCK Heroes

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by adult TCKs, and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

What makes a better story than a character being plucked out of their culture and sent on an extraordinary adventure where they meet different and lovable characters along the way?! You can use music, movies, and TV shows as tools to help the teenagers in your lives process their experiences and become more self aware. The really cool part is that a lot of stories use third culture kids (sometimes without even realizing it!) as their heroes and heroines.

In the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, the main character, Peter Quill, happens to be a TCK. Peter was born on Earth, and when he was about 10 years old, was snatched away to grow up in space. The movie fast-forwards to when he is an adult, and we see him on an alien planet, surrounded by others who are unlike him. His “family,” friends, and even enemies not only look different, but belong to different cultures than he does.

We watch Peter face classic TCK situations:

like when his humor fails to come across properly…

...and he attempts (and sometimes fails) to get others around him to appreciate the aspects of his passport planet that he does.

Sometimes people think he’s a little strange…

…and we see him face challenges that are familiar to our own TCKs, such as accumulated loss, feelings of loneliness, and unresolved grief.

Get the family together to watch this film and talk about the similarities and differences between your teen TCKs’ experiences and those of Peter Quill and company.