This post is dedicated to Cathy, Mandy and Nancy (it is through her that I heard about this) for dragging me from the summer heat-induced stupor and inspiring me to reflect and choose 10 picture books that I can’t live without.
Although I love every one of Byrd Baylor’s book, this one has a special place in my heart. I’m in Charge of Celebrations reminds me of how an educator’s passion can be contagious. I first heard it read aloud as part of a farewell celebration for one of the most passionate educators out there, Shelly Miller. Never have I encountered someone who was always so dynamic, so positive, so energetic and always smiling. This book reminds me of how important it is to celebrate the little things in life, to recognize that there are no small achievements. The words contain beautiful imagery, written in a unique style, can be used to inspire students to create beautiful descriptions of their own chosen celebrations.
A classic, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is both timeless and ageless in the theme it explores. A truth falls from the skies, breaking in two pieces when it lands. When a human picks up one half of the truth, it reads “You are Loved”. The human shares it with others who have similar features, and thus begins a downward turn towards anger, jealousy, and a fight to possess the the “truth”. It is only when a child, guided by an old turtle, embarks on a journey to understand and help resolve the conflicts that the other half of the truth “…and so are they.” This compelling yet accessible story is a powerful tool to spark discussion on fostering understanding and peace by seeing a bit of oneself in others, and celebrating diversity and multiple perspectives. A wonderful resource for Peace Day!
I love this book for the questions it poses, and even more for the deep-thinking questions it inspires students to ask. I challenge anyone who says that philosophy is too sophisticated for elementary students to read this book and see what kind of discussion it sparks! I learned of The Philosopher’s Club via Adrienne Gear’s Reading Powers, a wonderful resource (see “The Power to Question”). After reading this book, my fifth grade students asked questions such as: Does everyone have kindness in them? Would I be happy if I had all the things I wanted? How do futures start? Are we better off living so comfortably? Where to anger and hatred come from? Where does trust begin? Can one person make peace? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to freedom? Did the world begin in silence?
The North Star is a beautiful book by Peter Reynolds, available in print or online. It is about a boy who embarks on a journey only to realize that he must travel a path that is his own rather than follow others’ paths. The boy gets lost after following a path, and realizes that he is not where he wants to be. A wise bird tells him “Ask yourself where it is you want to go and then follow the signs you already know…” I have often used this book at the beginning of the school year with my students as a metaphor for goal setting. It is important to me that students pick both academic and personal goals that are important to them. These goals are “North Stars” that will guide their learning.
Another fantastic Peace Day resource is If the World were a Village. A wonderful way to connect mathematics, literature and social studies, this book makes world statistics accessible to elementary children by creating an analogy with a village of 100 people. Topics include access to schools, electricity, running water, world religions, nationalities, etc… From creating representations with manipulatives such as counters or graphing, this book provides a way to connect mathematics to the “real world”.
Another Reading Powers find, Rondo in C is simple and elegant. It is the story of an audience listening to a rendition of Beethoven’s Rondo in C. It is a glimpse into each individual’s experience with the music. Much like reading, listening to music conjures different visualizations and feelings for each. Not only is it a way to bring classical music into a language arts class, it is a great springboard for discussion how every person connects to art in their own unique way.
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, and One Thousand Tracings (Lita Judge) is a very compelling story that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. A family in the United States reaches out to another in Germany, in desperate circumstances after World War II. The family writes that they have only one pair of boots left, and that they must take turns wearing them. Using foot tracings sent to them from families in need, the American family endeavours to find corresponding footwear to send. As the story develops, a single family grows into a network of families reaching out to other families in Europe, sending shoes and boots but also hope.
I teach fifth grade, and so My Secret Bully is a book that has, several times, helped us address the elephant in the room.
Fifth grade is an age where some girls are getting wrapped up in stepping on others to create a sense of superiority, while others are able to remain true to themselves. I like the fact that the story doesn’t have a Disney-type ending, but rather a more realistic one, teaching kids that resolving a bullying situation doesn’t always mean that friendships can be repaired, but that it is possible to move on.
Piggybacking on this selection is One (Kathryn Otoshi), a deceptively simple bullying story involving colors. One color is picking on another (“Red is HOT, Blue is NOT”) and the power that bystanders have to change a situation. Encourages kids to become part of the solution!
Weslandia (Paul Fleishman) is a favourite because of how easily it helps launch in depth social studies discussions about civilization and culture. Wesley, who is an outcast at school, misunderstood by his parents, decides, as a summer project, to create his own civilization with his own staple crop. From his staple crop, he creates new forms of shelter, clothing, tools, number system, games, language, medicine, and more! Who hasn’t, at one time or another, dreamed of creating their own civilization? I remember trying to create secret languages when I was a child, and Weslandia speaks to those childhood memories. Surprising in how thoroughly it examines the elements of civilization, it is a great springboard for creating categories with which to compare and contrast different civilizations.
Movies like “Pay it Forward”, or books like Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together (Herb Shoveller) are very dear to my heart, because they remind me of my ultimate goal as a teacher: to empower and inspire kids to help make the world a better place. Last year, some secondary students in our school organized a venue for collecting funds for Partners In Health to go to the Haiti Relief disaster. My students decided that just hitting up their parents for cash wasn’t enough. They wanted to do more, and decided to hold a bake sale. At first, I wasn’t sure about the logistical aspect of it, but they were so adamant that it actually caught be a bit off guard. Coming to my senses, I finally recognized that this WAS the change I wanted to see, so I tossed curriculum aside for a while and gave them free reign to strategize. They divided into committees, planned, advertised, baked, and, in less than 48 hours, 16 kids managed to raise $300 (well over 2000 dirhams) for Haiti relief. It’s not so much the amount that was impressive, but the way they all came together as a group to become a force of change. They didn’t wait for adults to fix the problem, nor doubt for a minute that they could make a difference.