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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.

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: 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!

Author Interview: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Author Interviews, Books We Love

This past January, one of my students came into school clutching Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Telling bedtime stories of inspirational women throughout history, this book re-invents the definition of a fairy tale. The stories and illustrations leapt off the page, bringing history alive for young readers.

I was amazed to learn the backstory behind the book itself. In 2016, the book topped one million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Now, the authors are back with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, due out later this year, as well as a Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls podcast! The Kickstarter campaign for the new projects has already raised over $417,000.

There are so many things that make this book a must-read for students. So many of the stories readers encounter in this book aren’t being taught in history class. In Rebel Girls, students can learn about Ada Lovelace, the Brontë sisters, Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, and more. Any child can find a role model within the pages of this book.

To celebrate the success of Rebel Girls and the release of Rebel Girls 2, I interviewed authorsElena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. I knew they would have lots to say about the impact these stories can have on the world!

 

With so many incredible stories out there, how do you decide which ones to include in your books?
 

The first women we researched were Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who lived long before Cleopatra and nobody has ever heard of, and Maria Sibylla Merian, the German scientist who discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. These are the first two stories that we tested with our Timbuktu newsletter, in the months leading up to our crowdfunding campaign. We are particularly fond of them not only because they are wonderful, unknown stories, but also because they helped us understand we were onto something really big. Our readers responded enthusiastically to those stories, asking for more.

We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious background… We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible: we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child, for example the fact that the famous chef, Julia Child, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.

 
In an interview with The Bookseller, Francesca said that “children are citizens of the present.” Instead of waiting until they are adults, how can kids begin to change the world today?
 

There are so many ways that kids can change the world now without waiting until they get older.  We get messages from kids and their families about different things they are doing to change the world already. Some are helping to start Rebel Girls clubs to promote these strong women and help others learn about them. Others are using the book as inspiration to write their own Rebel Girls stories-about their lives or about the lives of others and share it with their families and friends. Outside of the book, we hear about readers volunteering their time, raising money for great causes, or working to be inclusive to classmates at school. We’re also proud and excited to hear about the positive things kids are doing.

 
 
What makes 2017 the perfect time for Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2?
 

The position of women has significantly improved over time in our society, but there is definitely still lots to do. Especially because no accomplishment, no matter how big, can ever be given for granted.

In 2017, Children’s books are still packed with gender stereotypes. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. These are stories about real women, which is different than a lot of goodnight stories about fictional characters. We wanted to feature painters, scientists, dancers, chefs, astronauts, jazz singers, pharaohs, boxers, writers, and political leaders-rebel girls whose actions have changed the course of history.

How do you think adding Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to family bookshelves can change the experiences of young girls?
 

Stories are what humans are made of. As kids, we understand ourselves and the world around us through stories. The stories we have told girls so far offered them a very narrow representation of who they can be. The illustrations accompanying those stories have offered them an even narrower representation of the way they should look like. This reflects in a lot of self-doubt and the feeling of being constantly wrong, which plagues girls in school first, and later in the workplace. Studies show that girls start having less self-confidence than boys in first grade, despite having better grades on average! We feel the time has come to start changing the narrative around femininity, this is what Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is about.


For more on Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, you can check out the Rebel Girls website.

Reflecting on a Year as Readers

Literacy in the Classroom

One of my colleagues shared an amazing idea with me this past spring, and I just had to give it a try in my classroom. My colleague has her students write letters about their reading journeys. The insights students share are amazing! My students came up with questions they could answer in their letters. Here are a few:

  • What have you discovered about yourself as a reader this year?
  • What is your favorite reading memory from third grade?
  • What new things did you try as a reader in grade three?
  • Are there any books that stuck with you this year?
  • How have your reading habits changed in third grade?
  • What are your reading plans for summer and beyond?

All the questions were optional, and there wasn’t a sentence or page requirement. I was amazed with the writing that came back. Students wrote pages upon pages about the books that made a difference in their lives, the ways they have grown, and their plans to keep reading in their futures.

Many of my students described finding the genres and book formats that fit their reading styles. Learning how to make reading choices was a big focus of ours this year, so I was so excited that many students now know where to look to find new reads!

I love how this reader admitted to losing her reading log. (I tell students all the time that it’s about the reading, not the piece of paper that says you read!) I also loved the description of finishing a great book: a mix of sadness and understanding.

As this reader says, this letter was my “ticket to knowing town” when it comes to learning about him as a reader. After finishing Stone Fox, I knew this reader would appreciate Pax. I’m so happy he stuck with it!

What a great description of a cozy reading moment! I hope that all of my students can identify some landmark reading memories. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book when it’s raining outside.

As this reader illustrated, “reading is what I live for!” When there are so many books out there and kiddos want them all, we know that our school has created a strong reading community.


How do your students reflect on their year as readers and writers? Let us know in the comments below!

Books We Love: Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

#DiverseKidLit, Books We Love

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
Written by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

“Buried in the trash was music. And buried in themselves was something to be proud of.”

When I was eight years old, I joined a choir at my elementary school called the Peacemakers. I speak often about how being a part of a music group changed my life. It gave me confidence and instilled a strong work ethic. Nothing felt more magical than coming together to create one sound. Today, I get to see my third grade students shine in the Peacemakers, too, and I can see yet again how instruments and songs can make a difference. When I picked up Ada’s Violin, I immediately felt connected to the story of music changing lives.

It’s not often that you find a nonfiction book that so strongly radiates hope. While children’s stories often teach lessons and inspire to action, the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay reaches another level. Teaching lessons of growth, perseverance, environmental activism and diversity, not a page goes by in Ada’s Violin that doesn’t inspire.

At its heart a story about the power of education, Ada’s Violin follows a young girl in Cateura, Paraguay as she lives her life among trash heaps. In a small town where mot people are employed as “recyclers” who go through the trash each night, Ada strives for something more for herself and her younger sister. Her call is answered when her grandmother signs her up for lessons with a man named Favio Chávez. As Favio realizes his students are without instruments, he begins to create them out of the trash that lines the streets. Over time, the instruments and their musicians come together to create a beautiful orchestra.

As soon as I finished reading Ada’s Violin, I picked it up to read it again. There are so many ways in which this book gets you thinking. This story holds the promise of change. It urges us to change the way we use and throw out garbage. It urges us to find magic in the smallest things. It urges us to never give up, even when the odds are stacked against us. As Favio Chavez tells his students, we all must “be kind, always say please and thank you, say you’re sorry, be dedicated when you commit to something.” Ada’s Violin inspires us to do just that.

Friday Five: Books for Black History Month and Beyond

#DiverseKidLit, Friday Five

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

Around February every year, I see lists of great books featuring black protagonists or written by black authors. I love having this opportunity to share books that celebrate some amazing figures in our nation’s history. My hope, however, is that we can use these texts year-round in our classrooms. Kids deserve to see themselves represented in literature, and they also need to see the lives of others represented. My students have all read at least four of the books on today’s Friday Five list, and I can tell you that these books are in high demand year-round. The time is always right to share these stories with our children.


Martin’s Big Words
by Doreen Rappaport

I have always found the words of historical figures to be powerful tools in understanding a person’s impact on the world. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. live on in both our hearts and on stone, and with good reasons. My students were so inspired by the words of Dr. King, and they created posters to share their favorite quotes from the story. The quotes hang around our classroom as a reminder to be our best selves and help others in every way we can.

The Other Side
by Jacqueline Woodson

My students absolutely love Jacqueline Woodson’s books, and I love the way they introduce empathy and understanding to kids. In a New York Times article, author Kwame Alexander referenced Woodson’s books, then said: “If we don’t give children books that are literary mirrors as well as windows to the whole world of possibility, if these books don’t give them the opportunity to see outside themselves, then how can we expect them to grow into adults who connect in meaningful ways to a global community, to people who might look or live differently than they?” The Other Side is an excellent example of how Woodson creates windows and mirrors for kids.
Through My Eyes
by Ruby Bridges
There’s something extremely powerful about hearing someone’s story in their own words. Ruby Bridges’ memoir for children is an incredible collection of moments, feelings and memories. I read Through My Eyes for the first time in third grade, and I was completely hooked. I’ve never forgotten Ruby Bridges’ story. When I met her at a conference in 2012, I had the chance to tell her what an impact Through My Eyes made on me. The book is still inspiring children to reach out of their comfort zones in order to make connections with others.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
by Jabari Asim
In 2012, I met Congressman John Lewis for the first time at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I asked him what work was left to be done for civil rights education, and he said “I think it’s important for all of our schools, elementary, middle school but even kindergarten level, really to teach young people about what happened and how it happened.” In our country, we have a tendency to teach a few lessons about the Civil Rights Movement during January and February, then check it off our list of things to cover. We need to make sure that education about civil rights heroes is engrained in our instruction so that students can understand America’s history. Preaching to the Chickens is an amazing new biography from Jabari Asim. It tells the story of John Lewis’ childhood, inspiring children to realize that any kid can grow up to be a world changer.
Who Was Rosa Parks?
Rosa Parks once wrote, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” Rosa Parks’ story is one that often gets reduced to a sentence or two of a black history month presentation. My students love this book because it lets them dig deep into the story of Rosa Parks’ deliberate actions towards creating a better world.

Feel free to share your favorite books in the comments below!

Review: When Penny Met POTUS

Books We Love

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When Penny Met POTUS
by Rachel Ruiz

My Rating:
★★★★☆

Happy Independence Day! I thought I’d celebrate by sharing a new book that explores one of our government’s most powerful acronyms. When Penny Met POTUS is a new book by Rachel Ruiz. Ruiz was inspired to write it after working for President Barack Obama and fielding questions from her daughter about “POTUS.”

The charming illustrations and sweet text tell the story of a little girl who tags along at her mom’s workplace. Penny is so excited to meet POTUS, and has some great ideas about who or what POTUS might be. The book includes references to Air Force One, the Secret Service, the Oval Office, and more. It’s a great introduction to what the job of POTUS is.

When Penny Met POTUS is a really cute read, and it will definitely earn a place on the shelves of primary classrooms. Happy reading!

Classroom Connections

  • When Penny Met POTUS is a great way to introduce the job of President to primary classrooms. Teachers can use sections of the book to address different responsibilities that the President has.
  • Looking for a read aloud for President’s Day or Inauguration Day? When Penny Met POTUS is a great fit!
  • Introducing acronyms to students? The term “POTUS” is a great example of how acronyms can be used to make communication easier. Think about how the term “POTUS” might be used every day by people who work in the White House.

Book Information
Title: When Penny Met POTUS
Author: Rachel Ruiz
Illustrator: Melissa Manwill
Publisher: Capstone
Release Date: July 2016
Price: US $15.95
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

Find this book on:
Goodreads
Amazon
Capstone

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