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 While those “classic” editions did have some outdated gender roles, they have thankfully been updated and had diversity added.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.