Newbery-winning author Katherine Paterson’s sapient essay collection Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing for Children is one of a handful of books currently within arm’s reach of my desk. Thumbing through it recently, I clapped eyes on this passage: “It is necessary in children’s books to mirror death, to teach that nothing is forever, so that the child may know the nature of the game [they’re] playing and may take a direction, make purposeful moves. It is the plain truth that human life is passing, and that we must find what we will value in the world, and how we will live in light of that.”

Paterson is cautioning against a childhood bereft of purpose and agency, the very kind that adults are desperate to safeguard children from in these blighted, mercurial pandemic times. However, as parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians strive to ensure that children grow up “normally” in a world come undone, it is well to remember that a child’s purpose is not to grow up. A child’s purpose is to be a child. This is equally true for children living on continents or islands, in war-torn or peaceful countries, under dictatorships or democracies, in big cities or rural areas. Here are four delightful books from around the globe that remind us that childhood is an end in itself.

British Nigerian author Sabine Adeyinka captures the gaieties and gravities of school days in her middle-grade debut Jummy at the River School (Chicken House, Jan. 6). Set in 1990s Nigeria, the story follows the adventures of Black eleven-year-old Jummy who has secured a place at the country’s top girls’ boarding school. She is devastated that her best friend, Caro, can’t join her but soon falls in with a group of outgoing girls and enjoys midnight repasts, picnics by the river, and preparations for the Harmattan Games. When Caro begins working as a maid at the school, Jummy must pit her wits against closed minds to get her bosom buddy the education she deserves.

Prolific British children’s author Michael Morpurgo’s The Puffin Keeper (Puffin/Penguin Random House Canada, Feb. 15) is an indelible tale of friendship between a young White boy, Allen, and the reticent White lighthouse keeper of Puffin Island, who rescues him and his mother from a shipwreck off the coast of Cornwall, England. Spanning 12 years of Allen’s not-always-happy childhood, the story shows how the presence of an adult who nurtures a child’s drive for discovery, creativity, and play can be a saving grace. The novel, illustrated by Benji Davies, is Morpurgo’s tribute to his late father-in-law, Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books, of which Puffin Books is a longstanding children’s imprint.

The Youngest Sister (Greystone Kids, May 10) by Argentinian duo Suniyay Moreno (Quechua) and Mariana Chiesa sees a Quechua girl named Picu tasked with fetching the flavor bone for her 15-member family’s lunch soup. The bone needs to boil for a long time, so Picu’s mother warns her not to dally. However, the two-hour mountain journey on foot presents many irresistible diversions for a child. Our reviewer notes that this English edition, translated by Elisa Amado, “retains the idiosyncratic voice of the original Spanish.”

Loosely based on true events, the picture book Nour’s Secret Library (Barefoot Books, March 14) by Wafa’ Tarnowska and Vali Mintz depicts the childhood of the eponymous protagonist and her cousin, Amir, in Damascus, Syria against the backdrop of civil war. Surrounded by fruit orchards, the children revel in simple pastimes: climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek, jumping over puddles, and reading adventure stories. When fighting erupts, they decide to start a reading club using books rescued from bombed buildings. Their secret underground library becomes a “shining light” in their community. As Tarnowska notes, “even in times of fear and destruction, children’s imaginations can keep the human spirit alive.”

Summer Edward is a young readers’ editor.