black lives, community, culture, family, fantasy, holiday, illustration

Book List: Christmas Tales

Tacky’s Christmas (Scholastic)
Written by Helen Lester
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

For ages: 3-7
Christmas time in Icy Land can be daunting as this is when the hunters arrive. Tacky isn’t going to let them ruin the holiday season, and he gets his penguin friends to decorate and celebrate. Tacky dresses up like Santa while his buddies dawn elf ears and hats. But then, a trio of beasts shows up with an evil gleam in their eye. Oh no! No worries. They think they have met the real Santa and his elves and a Christmas miracle occurs. This is a fun tale of Christmas time and how it can soften even the hardest hearts. The illustrations from Lynn Munsinger are the perfect accompaniment to this festive tale.

Continue reading “Book List: Christmas Tales”
art, community, social-emotional

Spotlight – How to Spot an Artist/Making a Great Exhibition

How To Spot an Artist (Prestel Junior)
Written & Illustrated by Danielle Krysa

For ages: 4-9
They don’t get much better than this. Using a collection of wonderfully diverse artistic techniques, readers get a perfect explanation of who an artist can be. The answer is everyone. Author Danielle Krysa begins by taking readers through the ways artists can look, being big or little, young or old. Readers are shown various artistic mediums, and a big emphasis is on glitter, meaning an entire page is devoted to it. A warning about art bullies is also given, those voices that tell you that your work is no good and that you can’t get better. The solution to dealing with an art bully is to make more art.

Continue reading “Spotlight – How to Spot an Artist/Making a Great Exhibition”
community, culture, race, social-emotional, spotlight

Book Spotlight: Milo Imagines the World/All Because You Matter

Milo Imagines the World (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

For ages: 4-8
I adore Matt de la Peña’s work, and Milo Imagines the World is his best to date. This is the sort of book that came along at the exact right moment to speak to both children and adults. It talks to us about the assumptions we make about strangers and how these are often wrong. There’s undoubtedly a survival mechanism behind our brains’ ability to try and paint a mental picture of unfamiliar people. The phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one that touches on our relationships with strangers as well as literature. So you might see the cover of this fabulous book and think you know what it is. Like myself, you would be wrong.

Milo and his older sister are taking their weekly Sunday subway ride. The destination isn’t revealed until later, which plays into our assumptions about the protagonist. Milo gets out his sketchbook and people-watches. When he sees someone that interests him, he draws what he imagines their life at home might be like. A sour-looking passenger lives in a rat-infested apartment. A doorman outside a lovely building yells at a group of boisterous teenagers wearing colorful clothes. A boy wearing a suit lived surrounded by servants.

Milo is entirely wrong, though with a gut punch that reveals the destination of his trip, a city jail. Milo’s mother is incarcerated there, and so is the mother of the little boy in the suit. This sudden realization of how wrong he was causes Milo to revisit his subway sketches. Now he imagines private lives full of love and family, a stark difference from when he first saw these people. De la Peña’s language is rich and descriptive, some of the most vital writing I’ve seen in a picture book in years. The illustrations by Christian Robinson are child-like yet not simple; they burst with color and perfectly capture the feel of a child’s thoughts. The story told here is vital for children everywhere. In my opinion, this is a required text for every primary classroom in the 21st century.


1. This is a fantastic book to introduce younger students to the idea of implicit bias. You could prepare images that might surprise children (male nurse, blind person reading braille, wheelchair basketball players). Ask the children if anything about these images surprises them and discuss what media has made them think people are limited to be.

2. Because Milo’s mother is in jail, there are a lot of assumptions people might make about her. With your student, make a list of five great things about Milo’s mom. Have students use details from the text and pictures to find these beautiful things.

3. Have students brainstorm a personal narrative (drawing and/or short essay) about a time they learned something about a person that surprised them. It could be someone they personally know or a famous figure. Please make sure they spend time writing about their assumption, the truth, and why they felt surprised.

All Because You Matter (Orchard Books)
Written by Tami Charles
Illustrated by Bryan Collier

For ages: 4-8
One of the most infuriating things in the current discourse in America is the willing refusal to acknowledge the meaning of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Among certain groups, they pretend as if it means to elevate Black lives above others rather than its actual intention: to give value to the lives of a group of people continually harmed in American society. Black children constantly see and hear about people who look like them murdered by police or civilians. Then the people who can change the broken systems are entirely unwilling. To contemplate the psychological/emotional/spiritual pain, these children have to feel can be overwhelming. Imagine how they must feel. Tami Charles wants to help these children feel beautiful and empowered despite society trying to marginalize them. 

Charles speaks to “you, dear child.” She speaks as a mother, a teacher, a caregiver. This beautifully illustrated poem begins by talking about how the child’s ancestors dreamed of them for generations; the arrival of this child was an event like no other. Every challenge they overcame, every slight they suffered, was all to get to where this fantastic child was born. The narrator acknowledges the sad reality of things, invoking the names Trayvon/Tamir/Philando. Despite the protestations of ill-intended “parent groups,” Black children know these names, and no amount of book banning can silence the truth. The book does not focus on the tragedies, but Charles knows it would be dishonest to pretend they didn’t happen.

Charles has stated she wrote this book to provide a starting point to discuss race in 21st century America. It is centered in a place of love and care; the word “matter” is so important. Black children’s lives matter, and that is something many have to be actively told because the world at large is not relaying the message. The book exists to encourage children never to forget they are loved by the people they know but also those in their family and community even if they passed long before that child was even a thought. This isn’t just a well-meaning flowery text meant to make the reader feel good. It touches on how it feels for a child to see ream after ream of pages marked up with red and Fs despite how hard they try. It reminds children of how beautiful their skin and hair are, no matter what the media might tell them. Like Milo Imagines the World, this is a book for now and forever. 


1. Have students make a list or drawings about ways that they matter. This could be about special skills they know, ways they help in their home & community, just everything they love about themselves, and they see as important. 

2. Tami Charles wrote this book with her son in mind. Have students write a letter to Tami Charles. Tell her what you thought about Because You Matter. Then, have them share a few details about themselves and compose a question they would like to ask the author.

3. In the text, a boy enters a new classroom, and someone makes fun of his name. Have your student write their name as large as possible on a single sheet of paper and decorate it to reflect their feelings and interests. Celebrate everyone’s names.

book list, community, work

Book List: Exploring Careers

Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? (Random House)
Written & Illustrated by Richard Scarry

For ages: 3-7
As a preschool and early elementary student, I spent many hours pouring over the delightfully detailed books of Richard Scarry. While those “classic” editions did have some outdated gender roles, they have thankfully been updated and had diversity added. Now female characters share the same work as male ones, and it is a pleasant update. That said, this is such a comprehensive overview of labor in America. As Scarry so often does, he makes sure to label things providing outstanding opportunities to expand your child’s vocabulary in various directions. The book also explores occupations that get easily forgotten but are crucial in our day-to-day lives. This is one of those books meant to be revisited again and again for years to come.

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do (Charlesbridge)
Written by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
Illustrated by Andy Robert Davies

For ages: 3-7
This book presents a fun concept that also pushes children’s developing critical thinking skills. Instead of naming jobs upfront, a page will show an outfit worn in that profession. Children are asked to guess what job is hinted at before the reveal on the next page. That’s perfect fodder for discussion as you read but also (for older students) a chance to develop writing while citing evidence. Making predictions is a critical cognitive skill, so books like these are incredibly valuable. The story is told in rhyme, but it’s not the smoothest verse. I appreciated how genders vary among the professions, so it doesn’t lock boys and girls into specific paths. This would make a superb kick-off to a K/1st unit on community & jobs.

The Most Magnificent Thing (Kids Can Press)
Written & Illustrated by Ashley Spires

For ages: 3-7
It’s never too early to introduce children to the idea of exploring skills & crafts they enjoy that could make them a living one day or provide some wonderful time to recharge after a long week. An unnamed girl has an idea that is clear in her head, but every time she cobbles it together with found materials, it’s not like it was in her head. This leads to frustration, but she keeps working and changing things to reach that idea she has locked in her mind. This text reinforces the crucial notion that worthwhile goals can be challenging to achieve, whether in your career or personal growth. The book shows the girl’s strategies by going for a walk, thinking about other things, and learning how to take ownership of her emotions. By doing this, she can finally manifest that great idea she’s had since the start.

When I Grow Up (HarperCollins)
Written by Al Yankovic
Illustrated by Wes Hargis

For ages: 4-8
It’s imperative to note this is not “Weird” Al Yankovic. There’s a reason the popular entertainer drops that moniker from his name to author this book about what you can be when you grow up. This is not a book about lampooning anything, but a heartfelt and fun journey with a little boy contemplating what he might be. His teacher gives him center stage on Show and Tell Day, leading to a meandering monologue about being a chef, artist, or snail trainer. The sky’s the limit here! Yankovic manages to play around with a variety of different rhyming structures, so this provides some fantastic opportunities for older students engaged in a poetry unit. The accompanying illustrations by Wes Hargis perfectly match the tone Yankovic is going for. It’s undoubtedly a packed to the edges book worthy of many visits.

Career Day (HarperCollins)
Written by Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

For ages: 4-8
It’s Career Day in Mrs. Madoff’s classroom, and the students are abuzz with having their parents at school. One student narrates what they see; he brought his construction-working father. One boy’s mom is a judge; another’s father tends to the kids in the day and plays in an orchestra at night. Yet another is a college professor there for the student-teacher working in the class. I love how real this book feels, although its illustrations are straightforward and colorful. I think student teachers will love to be included in this special story. This group often gets left out of children’s literature but is very present in many students’ lives. The illustrations jump between the adults being presented in the classroom and a single page devoted to what they look like on the job. An excellent introduction for our littlest children and a way to provide some great conversation with adults in their lives about the type of work they do. I adore when jobs outside the basic set are introduced to children through books like these.

What Shoes Will You Wear? (National Center for Youth Issues)
Written by Julia Cook
Illustrated by Anita DuFalla

For ages: 5-8
A great companion to Clothesline Clues to Jobs People do but focused entirely on footwear. Author Julia Cook looks at how each type of shoe fits the work involved with each job. Like the aforementioned Clothesline Clues, children are asked to make guesses informed by prior knowledge and what they see in the pictures. Illustrator Anita DuFalla combines simple stick figure people with photo montages for the shoes discussed. It’s an unexpected mixed media blend that draws in young readers who may have never seen these types of illustrations before. The book can lead to some great conversations about why people in your own home or extended family wear certain kinds of shoes and why that fits for the work they do. A fun extension might be picking a job and having your child draw the type of shoe they imagine might be perfect for that occupation. 

What Do You Do With an Idea? (Compendium Inc)
Written by Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom

For ages: 5-8
This text belongs beside The Most Magnificent Thing but aimed at older readers. A young boy has an idea, represented in the text by a golden egg with legs. The boy ponders where such an idea could have come from and what he should do with it. He keeps coming back to the concept, and that pull tells him this is something important. I see this as a great introduction to academics as a career for children. A job can involve a lot of thinking. It can also serve as a lesson about inventing new ideas and concepts that the world might balk at, at first. Author Kobi Yamada encourages children to know that if they feel drawn to an idea, it is important no matter what others say.