The rules must be different in the world of global children's literature. Kristof makes two assumptions that don't work for me: (1) that readers won't be able to connect with stories unless you include an American, and (2) that his readers are American.
In three of my four books set overseas (Secret Keeper, Rickshaw Girl and Bamboo People), I didn't include "bridge" foreigners. Why? I trust young readers to connect with characters of a different culture. And since I grew up "between cultures," I never assume that my reader is staunchly in the majority culture. I like to ask how the story would be received by a child within that culture as well as by North American readers, and "outside saviors" seem to discourage rather than empower non-majority children.
Of course, this literary premise of needing "bridge" characters may be the reason why (a) global books don't sell well without a big gatekeeper push, and (b) I got rejected for years and years because I was submitting books without them.
What do you think? Does a "bridge" character in fiction draw you into a story? If books by authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Khaled Hosseini didn't have anything or anybody "American" in them, would they have won such wide cultural favor?
And who qualifies to be a bridge? In my novel Monsoon Summer, for example, Jazz is a biracial teen who goes back to India, and we see Pune through her eyes (thanks, John Bell, for reminding me of this.) With an Indian mother and a white American father, is she American enough to serve as a bridge character for American readers?