Stories are powerful tools for communicating the values of a culture and the experiences of others. In this post, I am offering books that explore our differences, similarities, and our common humanity. These books attempt to answer the big questions about human rights, hearts and minds. I have selected titles that celebrate being an individual but also raise up the importance of seeing the light in others. They are powerful stories for a family discussion, but I have also selected them for their literary and/or artistic merit. I hope they will find a place in the heart of your family this winter.
Red: a Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall, (Grades PreK-5) is the story of a blue crayon who is mistakenly labeled “red” and is suffering an identity crisis. It is about being true to one’s self, in spite of labels and societal expectations.
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena (Grades PreK-2) is a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2015. CJ and his grandma take the bus across town every Sunday morning to attend church. On this particular morning, he asks why they don’t have a car and things other kids have, such as an iPod. He also wonders aloud about why they get off in the dirty part of town. His grandma answers each of his questions in an encouraging way, helping him see the beauty in their world and their routine.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, by Monica Brown (Grades PreK-3) stars Marisol, a multi-racial Peruvian-Scottish-American girl who refuses to fit into one box. She confuses her classmates and teacher but she exudes self-confidence and self-acceptance in this delightful picture book. This book was a Pura Belpre 2012 Honor Book and is written in both English and Spanish.
Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane, (Grades 2-4), is a poetic text with evocative illustrations. The story is of a young Mauritian girl who longs to wear a malafa, the head-to-toe covering worn by some Muslim women, including her mother and sisters. This is a positive and empowering portrayal of Muslim culture.
Take Me Out to the Yakyu, by Aaron Meshon, (Grades PreK-3), is about a lucky boy who gets to attend baseball games in both the US and Japan. The double-page spreads depict the similarities and differences of the sport in the two countries. (Fun Fact: Aaron Meshon graduated from Westtown School in 1991)
Ruthie and the Green Book, by Calvin Ramsey, (Grades 2-5), tells the story of Ruthie, who is excited to take a trip in the new family car to visit her grandmother in Alabama. She soon learns that African American travelers are not treated well in some towns. Finally, a helpful gas station attendant shows her parents the Green Book, which lists all the places that welcome African American travelers. Ruthie and her family make the trip safely from Chicago to Alabama, but Ruthie learns hard truths along the way. This book pairs nicely with the award-winning novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, by Christopher Paul Curtis. This book is a wonderful read aloud for families with children in grades 4-5, as it offers rich discussion opportunities about the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport, (Grades 1-5), is a Caldecott Honor Medal recipient, as well as the Coretta Scott King Award. This beautiful picture book biography weaves quotes from King’s writing and speeches to tell the story of his life. Bryan Collier’s watercolor and cut paper collage art complement the story.
Stella By Starlight, by Sharon Draper, (Grades 4-8), is a story of segregation, the power of a group, writing and listening to one’s inner voice. The unwelcome appearance of the Ku Klux Klan rattles Stella’s segregated North Carolina town. She writes to help make sense of the upheaval in her world, and decides to fight fire with fire. I had the privilege of hearing Sharon Draper read aloud from this wonderful book at the National Social Studies Conference in November, and learned that the book is loosely based on her grandmother’s childhood.
Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park, (Grades 3-6) is about the process of writing a novel through the story of Julia Song and her friend, Patrick, as they work on Project Mulberry: raising silkworms for the state fair. Julia wants to do something more “American,” and feels self-conscious about her Korean heritage, while Patrick is 100% dedicated to the project. As they raise their silkworms, Julia realizes that her mother has some prejudices of her own. Funny and uniquely written, this book is a good family read aloud.
Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi, (Grades 1-5). Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to live his life as light to others. This gentle book is a wonderful way to introduce the teachings of Gandhi to young children.
Enjoy these offerings for family reading time this month. They are powerful books ideally suited for discussion, but also pleasurable for quiet moments with your child.