book list, social-emotional

List – Humanity & Homelessness

Turn on the news these days, and you’re likely to see a news report about the increase in homelessness. Unfortunately, the language used in this reporting is often cruel and dehumanizing towards the people who don’t have shelter. I find the way they are spoken about almost places them in a category separate from humans. It’s a troubling, fascistic way of talking about the poor. Empathy is needed, as well as material help in the form of housing, food, education, health care, and so on. We must teach our children that homeless people are people first. Their living conditions result from broken systems that harm us all to varying degrees. We’re also all one bad day away from ending up in that same position; creating a world where no one has to go homeless benefits us all. These books can help begin conversations with your children about the plight of people who have been forced to live on the streets or perpetually live on the edge of losing everything.

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book list, humor, science

Book List: Gross Books

In Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher, the author talks about how the female-dominated landscape of elementary school has created a culture clash. Female teachers often (not always, it is certainly getting better as the younger generation become teachers) have a very particular way they like things, and that often clashes with the types of humor that appeal to boys (and many, many girls as well). It doesn’t mean either “side” is wrong, but rather that we need to meet our students on their terms. If you want someone to read & write, you can’t just let them read books that you like or write in a way that pleases you. The job is to teach them the skills and let them find their own voice & opinion. This means being open to horror, science fiction, and toilet humor. But, of course, it must remain appropriate for the school setting. Still, these books would be fantastic ways to get kids excited about reading.

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animals, book list, folktales, humor, illustration

Book List: Magical Creatures

Vlad the Rad (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Brigette Barrager

For ages: 4-8
All Vlad wants to do is skateboard and think about skateboarding. That doesn’t sound so terrible, but he has no friends who are into the sport and his teacher, Miss Fussbucket, gets upset that he’s ignoring his scaring lessons. The poor little vampire is buried under an avalanche of threats and detention. Life doesn’t feel so great for Vlad. But then, a fateful field trip to the natural history museum happens. Vlad spies a dinosaur skeleton with a perfect curve on its spine and tail. Could this be the moment he shines? This fun book about loving something no one else seems to is illustrated in a wonderfully spooky style. Lots of blacks, greens, and purples highlight Vlad’s cool tricks.

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asian-american, black lives, book list, hispanic, social-emotional

List: Moving to a New Home

Goodbye House, Hello House (Blue Dot Kids Press)
Written by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Ann James

For ages: 3-7
Emma is moving from a home in the country to one in the city. The rhythmic prose follows the girl as she notes all the last things she does in the only house she’s ever known. When she arrives at her new home, she does the opposite, recognizing a whole host of firsts. The symmetry of the narratives makes it perfect for comparing and contrasting or talking about accepting change healthily. Ann James’s illustrations feel like a child’s crayons or watercolor paints, letting colors bleed over lines.

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autism, book list, disability awareness, social-emotional

Book List: Understanding Autism

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures (The Innovation Press)
Written by Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrated by Daniel Rieley

For ages: 4-8
My first encounter with the concept of autism came through Temple Grandin. I was a child when I saw a report about her on ABC’s 20/20, and at the time, I didn’t fully understand what made her different. I know much more now as an adult and someone on the spectrum. This story, told in rhyme, teaches children about Grandin by starting with her childhood. First, she feels frustrated when trying to communicate with other children. Eventually, a high school teacher fosters a love of science in the young woman who invents a special machine that will soothe cattle, keeping them from a panic so they can be more humanely slaughtered. There are lots of extras in the back pages that will extend your student’s learning. This is also one of the few books I could find that talks about autism from the autistic person’s perspective.

A Friend For Henry (Chronicle Books)
Written by Jenn Bailey
Illustrated by Mika Song

For ages: 4-8
Henry is looking for a new friend in his classroom but getting frustrated. The other children don’t make sense sometimes. They scream so loud. They can’t stay in their seats. They like things that Henry does not like. While the text never explicitly states that Henry is autistic, we can infer it through his behavior and traits. The most fun Henry has is when he can sit quietly and watch the class goldfish swimming in her bowl. Eventually, Henry does find Katie, someone who seems to have patience for him and shares the same desire to be still & quiet. Henry can become more flexible when he finds someone that shows him empathy. This is an excellent text to help children understand classmates who may see things differently. 

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animals, book list, humor, social-emotional

Book List: Elephants!

This list is dedicated to my lovely wife, Ariana, who loves elephants.

A Parade of Elephants (Greenwillow Books)
Written & Illustrated by Kevin Henkes

For ages: 2-5
This is a perfect read for your preschooler. It uses its elephants to practice counting to five, colors, and position. The elephants are counted out (“Look! / Elephants! // One, / two, / three, / four, / five.” ) with a simple chart that shows their line growing one at a time. The parade goes up and down hills, through a tunnel, under the canopy of trees in the jungle, and many other places. At the end is a magical surprise, as the elephants blow stars into the sky from their trunks before settling down to sleep for the night. The illustrations here are simple & easy for a very young child to understand. I can easily see this becoming a child’s favorite bedtime read and a great way to practice those starting skills.

When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles (Little Simon)
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

For ages: 2-5
A little girl must help her pet elephant with his sniffles. First, she puts the pachyderm to bed and cleans up all the dust in case he’s allergic. Next, she brings him a toy and then goes about her business. However, the elephant gets bored quickly, and it becomes her full-time job to ensure he’s resting. This is part of the When Your series, where children are put in the parents’ position working with an animal that won’t cooperate. The book intends to help children develop empathy and understanding of why their parents ask them to do certain things, especially related to health & hygiene. It’s a great mix of humor and compassion that I think all kids will enjoy reading.

Elmer  (HarperCollins)
Written & Illustrated by David McKee

For ages: 4-8
Elmer is a patchwork elephant, his skin covered in square patches of all colors. This makes him stand out from the herd, and Elmer doesn’t like that. He’s never met a patchwork elephant before and wants to look like everyone else. A mysterious fruit ends up being the “cure” for Elmer, but it doesn’t go the way he expects. This is a great story about learning to love yourself and finding a community that will love you for who you are. I think it also helps students to see different perspectives. While we may think Elmer looks fantastic at a cursory glance, that is not what is happening inside his head. It will take reassurance from the people who love Elmer to help him accept himself. 

Stand Back Said the Elephant I’m Going to Sneeze (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books)
Written by Patricia Thomas
Illustrated by Wallace Tripp

For ages: 4-8
The Elephant makes a loud proclamation to the creatures of the savannah that he’s about to sneeze. They all begin bracing for impact, knowing that an elephant sneeze can do a lot of damage. The readers will hear from the animals about what they fear will happen. The cheetahs are worried their spots will be blown off, for example. The text is told in a simple rhyming format, making it a great piece to teach rhyme and poetry to your lower elementary students. This is one of those books that makes for an excellent read-aloud for those teachers that are natural performers. You won’t just want to read; you’ll want to stand up and shout, acting out the animals’ reactions and the surprise (a mouse) that comes to help the elephant.

Poe Won’t Go (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

For ages: 4-8
A pink elephant named Poe sits in the middle of town and won’t budge. The citizens of Prickly Valley are ticked off that the one road in their village is blocked. Cars begin forming a pile-up, honking and yelling at Poe to move. He gets cited by a police officer. A marching band tries to scare him away. The mayor forms committees to investigate the problem. However, one little girl comes upon the answer: Ask him why he won’t move. This is a ridiculous book, and the elephant’s answer is the silliest part. OHora’s acrylic and pencil illustrations are a delightful addition that adds to the cartoonish nature of the situation. I love picture books that serve as vehicles for silly jokes, letting most of the text be the set-up with the last page as the punchline. That is precisely what is going on here.

Zola’s Elephant (Clarion Books)
Written by Randall de Seve
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

For ages: 4-8
Zola moves into a new house, and the narrator, the little girl living next door, is afraid to introduce herself. The narrator imagines Zola owning an elephant and having so much fun with her pet. Why would she want to be friends with the narrator? The book cuts to Zola’s perspective, and we find that she is pretty lonely, surrounded by unpacked boxes and wishing she had a friend. The narrator, on the other hand, keeps building greater & greater fantasies of Zola and her elephant’s adventures until reality brings her back to the ground. The story is very well paced with expressionist-style paintings from Pamela Zagarenski. The top-notch art here has many pages that would make beautiful framed art pieces.

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places (Two Lions)
Written by Katie Frawley
Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

For ages: 4-8
Tabitha, a house cat, and Fritz, a jungle elephant, meet over the website LairBnB where they agree to trade houses for a while. They have come to find their respective homes boring, and they think the other animal lives somewhere exciting. Told through emails, Tabitha & Fritz ask questions about parts of the other’s habitat they don’t quite understand. I was reminded of Amelia Bedelia and her habitual misunderstanding of simple things that were just unfamiliar to her. Eventually, these two find their new home isn’t quite as exciting as anticipated, and they begin to yearn for their old place. I loved that this story is told in a non-traditional format, a great way to model different types of writing for our students. This would make an excellent starter for students writing back and forth in pairs as characters of their invention.

book list, social-emotional

Book List: Respecting Our Emotions

The Way I Feel (Parenting Press)
Written & Illustrated by Janaan Cain

For ages: 2-4
The Way I Feel is an excellent book for its age group. You’ll see other books on this list that go deeper and build vocabulary, but this is a great place to start. Janaan Cain delivers some exceptional pastel illustrations that are full of expression to model each of the emotions showcased in the text. Each feeling is part of a rhyming couplet. The emotions are given a two-page spread, each space having a color palette matching said emotion. There’s not much of a wow factor here, but it’s a direct, concise summary of the basic human emotions. 

Today I Feel…: An Alphabet of Feelings (Abrams Appleseed)
Written & Illustrated by Madalena Moniz

For ages: 3-5
Similar to our previous book, Today I Feel’s approach uses the 26 characters of the alphabet to present emotions. The illustrations are closely linked to the feelings and the letter represented. For example, with J is for Jealous, a boy stares out his window looking at a kite he’s not flying. The ribbons on the string are a messy tangle of letter Js, implying that this is a complicated emotion that can get you tied up in knots. You would assume rightly that some of the letters are difficult to match with an emotion. X is XOXO’ed is undoubtedly pushing the boundaries. Much like The Way I Feel, this is a very competent start.

When Sadness Is At Your Door (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Eva Edland

For ages: 3-5
The looming cloud of sadness we feel from time to time is an emotion not addressed often in children’s literature, especially not with as much sensitivity as found here. The text even lets us know that “Sometimes Sadness arrives unexpectedly.” It also pushes the importance of naming our sadness and understanding it as a thing that is both part of you but also not something that can define you. Sadness isn’t our enemy either; it’s something that comes to visit and eventually leaves. The front endpapers show people turning their backs on their Sadness. In contrast, the back endpapers show characters engaging in and facing it down. Those thoughtful touches speak volumes.

Tough Guys Have Feelings Too (Flying Eye Books)
Written & Illustrated by Keith Negley

For ages: 3-5
It’s imperative that we encourage our boys to express their emotions and know that the foundations on which American society is built will push in the opposite direction. In this book, traditionally male characters of superheroes, pirates, Lucha libre, and more are shown working through hard times. An astronaut holds a photo of his wife & child, whom he misses. A superhero eats lunch alone on a rooftop. A biker weeps on the side of the road over a poor squirrel who has been hit. Our young men need to know and be okay with showing vulnerability. Unfortunately, as you look out across the landscape of American society, the lack of that comfort with emotions has fueled a dangerous right-wing movement. Books like these could save a life.

Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day (HarperCollins)
Written by Jamie Lee Curtis
Illustrated by Laura Cornell

For ages: 3-5
The little girl at the center of Jamie Lee Curtis’ ode to emotions is a roller coaster of them. What I enjoyed most about the text was that often the girl isn’t sure why she feels a certain way. Sometimes they are purely reactive, coming out of a negative social encounter. Other times she wakes up feeling grumpy and can’t quite articulate why. Curtis makes sure the reader understands that you don’t have to be able to know why; feel it and communicate with the people around you. Laura Cornell provides vibrant, fluid illustrations that capture the rise and fall of our protagonist’s thoughts and feelings.

The Boy With Big Big Feelings (Beaming Books)
Written by Britney Winn Lee
Illustrated by Jacob Souva 

For ages: 4-8
The main character of this book is a young boy who has always felt things strongly. Over time, he learns to stuff his feelings down inside because he worries his peers will laugh at him. Finally, he meets another child who shows the same level of empathy. Through this friendship, the boy learns to embrace his emotions. Big blooming blobs of color represent the emotions, often overwhelming the main character and swirling around him like a comforting blanket. I love how animated the illustrations make the story and capture the feelings involved. 

The Rough Patch (Greenwillow Books)
Written & Illustrated by Brian Lies

For ages: 4-8
Evan is a farming fox who does everything with his pet dog. Then, one day, his dog dies, and Evan finds himself stuck in grief. The story then takes us through the stages of grief as seen in our protagonist, including anger as Evan destroys a big chunk of his garden. But one pumpkin in the garden helps him clear his mind and puts all his effort into growing something extraordinary for the fair in honor of his late friend. The Rough Patch is a great book not just for explaining emotions but for children who may be going through a grieving process. The illustrations by Brian Lies perfectly capture the moods that grief can bring and the inevitable celebration of life that waits for us when we can heal.

book list, folktales, humor

Book List: Remixed Fairy Tales

Cinderella and the Furry Slippers (Tundra Books)
Written by Davide Cali
Illustrated by Raphaelle Barbanegre

For ages: 3-7
Things start how you might expect. Cinderella is a put upon young woman, made to do endless chores at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. So when the prince’s ball is announced, Cinderella phones a fairy godmother she finds advertised in a magazine. Unfortunately, what she gets delivered is not as promised, including the titular furry slippers. But Cindy has to work with what she’s got. It turns out the ball isn’t all it was cracked up to be, and Prince Charming has severe bad breath. The lesson here is an empowering one, to not rely on the fantasies young girls are inundated with but be you, be who you want to be, and not be shaped and influenced by outside forces.

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arabic, book list, culture, muslim

Book List: Muslim Lives

Mommy’s Khimar (Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn

For ages: 4-8
This lovely text is all about finding beauty in your culture. The young girl who narrates the tale loves her headscarf or khimar. For our young friend, the scarf can be many things: a bird’s wings, a queen’s cloak, and a superhero’s cape. The family is presented as Black, and there are rich details about the girl’s braided hair and the scent of coconut oil and cocoa butter that will connect with children who have these sensory experiences in their lives. The book even addresses people outside the Muslim community, like a Christian grandmother on her mom’s side. She loves her sweet granddaughter even though they practice different belief systems. There’s so much joy and warmth in this text I expect most readers will be unable to resist a smile.

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book list, humor, social-emotional

Book List: Bedtime Books

The Going To Bed Book (Little Simon)
Written & Illustrated by Sandra Boynton

For ages: 2-5
The first books a child likely receives are thick, sturdy board books designed to stand up to teething toddlers and grasping hands. The Going To Bed Book is a bedtime routine delivered as a rhyming story for our littlest ones. Boynton’s illustrations are expressive and straightforward, with animal characters going about the steps of preparing for bed. We see them taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, etc. The Going To Bed Book would make an excellent first bedtime book for any child. It will help reinforce the routine we work to instill in our children while giving them a sweetly written story before nodding off for the night.

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