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children’s literature

Top Ten Kid-Recommended Picture Books to Celebrate Kindness

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

Happy World Kindness Day! Every November 13th, we have the opportunity to celebrate kindness, while recognizing that kindness is important every day of the year. Today, during snack, my third graders and I started discussing books that fit a theme of kindness. This launched a fascinating conversation that stretched into our literacy block and throughout the rest of the day. My students compiled the following list of Top Ten Kid-Recommended Books to Celebrate Kindness. Enjoy, and be sure to let us know how you celebrate kindness in the comments below!


Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev was one of our read alouds on the first day of school. Telling the story of a boy and his pet elephant, this book captures the isolating feeling of exclusion as well as the joyful feeling of including others. My third grade readers said the message of this book can be expressed in just three words: “All are welcome.”

Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi is an absolutely gorgeous wordless picture book. It’s fitting that this book has no words, as it communicates a feeling that can be so hard to articulate: the feeling of genuine friendship. While friendship can be messy and hard, it can also be beautiful. My third grade readers love the colors and creativity with which this story is told.

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio captures the feeling of longing to belong – something that we all experience at some point in our lives. In the same way that her novel asks students to “choose kind,” Palacio’s picture book encourages readers to see the strengths that we all hold inside ourselves.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts makes me cry every time I read it aloud! It can feel so isolating to be the only one who is “missing out” on the newest thing. This book celebrates the people in our lives who try to give us the world, and teaches us that it’s okay when we can’t get everything we want. In fact, what doesn’t work out for us might be the perfect thing for someone else.

 

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh chronicles young Sylvia Mendez’s fight for quality education in the 1940s. When a student proposed it as a book about kindness today, he pointed out that being fair and inclusive is necessary in order to be kind. This nonfiction text reminds us that justice for all is another way to show kindness towards all.

 

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes just effuses kindness. A little gardener, no bigger than a worm, puts his whole heart into helping his garden. While he doesn’t look like much, he makes an impact a million times larger than he could imagine. This book is a celebration of kindness towards the environment and kindness towards each other.

 

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is a gorgeous wordless retelling of an Aesop fable. Today, our class discussed how kindness can circle back towards you when you least expect it. If you put kindness out into the world, you may get a little bit (or a big bit!) back.

 

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister shows how unkind behavior like bragging and excluding others can harm everyone. Celebrating our strengths and using them to bring joy to others is the way to go! My students have such fond memories of reading this book for the first time in kindergarten or first grade. It’s definitely a kindness classic!

 


One by Kathryn Otoshi is such a great read aloud for any grade level, K through 12. My students love the playful way in which the colors learn to stand up for themselves, and eventually stand together. This is a book we return to again and again throughout the year as we explore ways in which we can speak up and stand up.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson is a heartprint book that always leaves my third graders thinking. Every day, we take actions that create hurricanes or sunshine for others. How will you bring sunshine to the lives of those around you? Each Kindness reminds us of the importance of considering this question every single day.

Books We Love: Draw the Line

Books We Love

Have you ever thought about the power we give to lines? We use them to connect, and we use them to divide. They make up paths from place to place, as well as borders that separate. In Draw the Line, two boys are each drawing their own lines when they discover that some magical things can happen if they team up. In order to create something amazing, they’re going to have to let go of the things that stand between them.

The fact that this book is wordless creates so many possibilities for its use in the classroom. It will inspire countless conversations on friendship, community, and communication. Younger readers can use the book to discuss how they connect with others, while readers through high school age can connect this story to current events. Readers of all ages can imagine the thoughts and conversations of the two artists. How might words help them achieve their goal? How might words stand in their way?

I can only imagine the impact this book would have if it were put in the hands of every child and adult. This is a book that is desperately needed in today’s world. Draw the Line will inspire us all to live our lives drawing lines of connection.


Draw the Line will be released in October 2017 by Roaring Brook Press.

Thanks to Roaring Brook Press for making an Advanced Review Copy of this book available at the International Literacy Association conference.

Books We Love: One Proud Penny

Books We Love

I’m always looking to add more informational texts to my classroom library, so I was so excited to take a look at One Proud Penny! This inventive and engaging picture book follows a penny protagonist as he pops up in many different places. Readers will be rooting for the penny as he gets left behind and stuck in some precarious situations, and again as he makes his way out and fulfills his purpose. With hilarious narrative and great illustrations, One Proud Penny will draw readers in from the very first page. Throughout the story, the authors include informative tidbits and fun facts that will stick with readers. Infographic-like spreads with facts about pennies through the years give readers experience in interpreting data.

While the penny isn’t usually a go-to when naming fascinating objects, Siegel and Bloch bring the penny to life for readers everywhere! I know this will be a favorite in my classroom this year.

Books We Love: What Makes A Monster

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

This week marked a book birthday for Jess Keating’s What Makes a Monster?! After the success of her Pink is for Blobfish, my students became captivated by Keating’s writing. With fascinating facts and strong nonfiction text features, the World of Weird Animals series draws in many young readers. Keating’s website describes the series as “a must-read series for curious kids,” and I can’t think of a more accurate description.

What Makes a Monster pulls readers in to the respective worlds of the aye-aye, the vampire bat, the prairie dog, the tyrant leech king, and other scary animals. The book explores what makes the animals dangerous, as well as how many “monsters” contribute positively to our ecosystems.

Each two-page spread features a large photo of each animal, along with a vivid description and fast facts. Funny illustrations add humor to the pages and make this book a great fit for young readers.

One powerful section in the book talks about “misunderstood monsters:” the animals who are less likely to be included in conservation efforts because they aren’t cute or furry. This serves as a call-to-action for readers as they think about how ugly or scary animals can still add to our world. By the end of the book, readers will be questioning what it means to be a monster.


Huge thanks to Jess Keating for sharing a copy of What Makes a Monster? with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of nine educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

 

Books We Love: Genevieve’s War

Books We Love

If you’re a longtime reader of Miss Magee’s Reads, you know love historical fiction. From children’s books like Number the Stars and The Invention of Hugo Cabret to historical fiction novels like All the Light We Cannot See, I love being immersed in a different time and place. One of my favorite reads of the past year was Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life, which explored the experiences of the evacuated children of London during World War II.

Genevieve’s War, from acclaimed children’s author Patricia Reilly Giff, explores World War II from the perspective of an American girl visiting her grandmother in France. When Genevieve has the chance to leave France and return to the safety of her home in America, she’s faced with a difficult decision: should she return home, or stay to support her grandmother? If she stays, will she be part of the resistance? Genevieve’s War explores themes of bravery, kindness, and courage in the face of adversity.

I highly recommend this book to upper middle grade readers who can’t get enough historical fiction. It’s a good fit for readers who are eagerly anticipating the release of The War I Finally Won this fall!

Building Family Connections: A Parent’s Guide to Nonfiction

Building Family Connections

This summer, I took an amazing graduate course on nonfiction children’s literature. It was incredible to discover how many nonfiction titles are out there for young readers! From picture book biographies to chapter books that answer big questions, there is so much out there for our students to explore.

I realized that in addition to reading more nonfiction in the classroom, students should be supported in nonfiction reading at home. After conducting a parent survey and hearing from over 80 families at my school, I created an FAQ guide for parents. Feel free to share the guide below with families as they navigate nonfiction reading at home!

Do you have any other advice for families as they incorporate nonfiction into their reading lives? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to missmageesreads@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

MMR Nonfiction Parent's Guide

Let’s Do Better: Diversifying Our Reading

#DiverseKidLit, Literacy in the Classroom

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” -Maya Angelou

I vividly remember the moment when I first encountered this startling infographic:

I started asking myself a lot of questions. In curating a classroom library, what experiences were becoming visible for my students? Were all of my third graders seeing reflections of their own lives in the books that filled our classroom? Were my students getting a chance to see the world through the eyes of people of different cultures? Races? Socioeconomic backgrounds? Genders?

According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at UW Madison, only 14.9% of children’s books published in 2015 were about people of color. In 2016, that number jumped to 22%. While this shows progress in publishing, I wanted to explore whether or not my own reading was beginning to diversify.

Since the start of 2017, I have read 101 children’s books. 55 of those books were fiction, while 46 were nonfiction. To begin analyzing my own reading habits, I looked at representations of race and ethnicity in my fiction reads.

What I found was troubling. In the 55 fiction books, there were 62 featured characters. Nearly 70% of those protagonists were white. Only 9 protagonists were African or African-American. Another 9 protagonists were talking animals or objects. 6 characters were Latinx or Latinx-American. There were only 3 Asian Pacific or Asian Pacific-American protagonists. Out of the 62 protagonists in the 55 books, there were zero American Indian or First Nations characters.

I worry about the messages we send to children when we make it hard for them to find stories depicting the lived experiences of others. I worry about making children feel like their own experiences are unrepresented in the books that are available to them. I worry about the implications of being a teacher who has spent half a year reading fiction books in which 84.9% of the characters are either white, a talking animal, or a talking object. And while analyzing my reading habits opened my eyes to the lack of racial diversity in the fiction books I’ve read this year, I imagine the the findings would be similarly concerning if I examined representations of gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

As a reader, a teacher, and a citizen of this country, I need to do better. I need to seek out books that tell the stories of people whose lives look different from my own. I need to use resources like We Need Diverse Books, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the American Indian Youth Literature Award, among others. I need to ask for recommendations, look at booklists, use my local library, and get these books into my classroom.

Over the past few months, there have been glimmers of hope in my reading life. wishtree by Katherine Applegate explores how a community can heal after a hate crime against a Muslim family. Hello Goodbye Dog teaches young readers about therapy dogs and how they assist students with disabilities. Girl Rising helps young adult readers learn more about education equity around the globe. As these new books are released, we have the opportunity to put them in the hands of the children who sit in our classrooms.

At the International Literacy Association conference this summer, I was inspired by the work of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang. His Reading Without Walls challenge asks readers of all ages to reach outside their comfort zones. There are three parts to the challenge: read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and a book in a format you don’t usually read. While the concept is simple, the impact is powerful. Can you imagine the changes that could be made if we all spent time expanding our reading horizons?

We are living in a world where we have to know better, and then we have to do better. We have to seek out diverse reading experiences when they don’t land on our newsfeeds or in our classroom libraries. We have to break down the walls of our classrooms to connect our students with the world around them. The books we put in children’s hands today determine how they live their lives tomorrow. Now that we know better, let’s do better.

Books We Love: It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

What would happen if fairytale characters didn’t listen to the narrator? That’s the question Josh Funk explores in his new book, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. This hilarious, inventive new take on a classic will keep kids laughing out loud. When the narrator starts the story, Jack doesn’t exactly cooperate. He doesn’t want to get up in the morning, doesn’t want to throw the beans out the window, and especially doesn’t want to start climbing. If Jack doesn’t do what the narrator says, will it change the end of the story?

My students are big fans of fractured fairy tales. They love rooting for characters who may not have been heroes the first time around. I know they’ll love this book, where the giant is a little different than they might remember. They’ll also enjoy the playful illustrations by Edwardian Taylor, which just add comedy to an already hilarious tale.


It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk will be released on September 19th, 2017 by Two Lions.

Huge thanks to Josh Funk for sharing a copy of It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a group of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Books We Love: The Countdown Conspiracy

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

This summer, I joined an amazing group of educators in a project called #bookexcursion. Made up of avid readers, our group reads and shares new titles for elementary classrooms (inspired by #bookjourney). I was so excited when author Katie Slivensky sent a copy of The Countdown Conspiracy our way!

At its core, The Countdown Conspiracy is about a group of six preteens who are selected for the first ever mission to Mars. They’ve gone through a rigorous selection process, but they still have nine years of training ahead of them before they can actually takeoff for their historic journey. However, the aftermath of a world war looms over their mission prospects. With the six kids representing six different countries, tensions are high. The kids face many obstacles in their pursuit of achieving their dreams. Thirteen-year-old Miranda Regeant, the US expedition representative and the book’s narrator, begins to believe the kids may be in danger.

As someone who absolutely loves learning about the history of the space race, I immediately drawn in by this story. Its fast pace, well-developed characters and constant action make it a thrilling read. From the opening lines, this book is an absolute page-turner. The growth of the characters is also exceptional. This book truly instills a growth mindset in readers. The main characters are completing tasks that have never been asked of anyone in history. They have to recognize their own ability to grow and learn, and they have to keep trying when it gets difficult.

I can’t wait for this book to make its way into the hands of middle grade readers. Young readers need to see kids like them who code, engineer, problem solve, and innovate. Many young minds will be inspired by this book. Congratulations to Katie Slivensky on a fantastic middle grade debut!


The Countdown Conspiracy will be released by HarperCollins Children’s in August 2017.

Thank you to author Katie Slivensky (@paleopaws) for generously providing an ARC of The Countdown Conspiracy to #bookexcursion! #bookexcursion is a group of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Books We Love: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

Books We Love

Sometimes, you read a book and you absolutely know it will resonate with your students. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is one of those books. Telling the story of Beatrice’s first day of third grade, it’s a perfect fit for upper elementary classrooms.

There are so many themes explored by this book that are necessary in today’s classrooms. Learning styles, friendships, family dynamics: these are all things that our students think about often and should have the opportunity to explore through literature. Through watching Beatrice navigate her own social situations, family scenarios, and school environment while maintaining her individual spirit, students can learn how to do the same.

This book is for the dreamers, the free spirits, the artists, and the innovators who walk into our classrooms every day. It’s for the kids who may have felt like they didn’t quite fit in. Just as importantly, it’s an opportunity for all of us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who thinks a little differently. This book is a must-add for your classroom bookshelves this fall!


Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker will be released in September 2017 by Disney-Hyperion.

Note: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!