Category Archives: Picture Books

Each Kindness

A library colleague (who has a terrific blog over at Great Kid Books) brought Each Kindness to my attention last fall and I finally got around to reading it for myself.  I am still reflecting on the book so what follows is less a review and more a reaction.  (For a great review of this title, head over here).

Each KindnessRipples in the water are a familiar metaphor for cause and effect, used here by award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson to teach young Chloe the impact of small acts of kindness.

When the principal introduces new student Maya, hardly anyone in the class bothers to greet her.  Chloe does not return Maya’s smile when the girls are seated next to each other.  Soon Maya is nicknamed “Never New” by her classmates because her clothes, shoes and toys all seem to have belonged to others before they belonged to Maya.  On the playground, Maya plays by herself because no one will join her, despite her invitations.  When she is absent no one notices.  One day, the teacher gives a lesson about kindness, using a small stone dropped into a bowl of water to show the ripple effect of being nice.  When it is Chloe’s turn to share an example of how she has been kind, all she can think of is how she wasn’t kind to Maya.  Though Chloe makes up her mind to smile at Maya the next chance she gets, Chloe finds out that she won’t have the chance because Maya won’t be coming back to class.  The story ends with Chloe’s wistful regrets.

The Hundred DressesIn this way, Each Kindness is very different from the story it echoes, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.  Chloe does not experience the kind of closure that Peggy and Maddie find after Wanda moves away.  As an adult reader I appreciate Chloe’s less-than-happy ending, but I am hesitant to say that children will enjoy this conclusion.  I am not sure what to do with the first person narration from Chloe’s point of view, and I think that Maddie’s reflections on her behavior toward Wanda are much more insightful.   The steps Maddie takes to set things right prove cathartic.  Also, much is revealed about Wanda in the course of The Hundred Dresses, whereas Chloe learns nothing about Maya—did she have siblings?  Who were her parents?  What kind of strange food did she eat at lunch?  Why did she go away?

Unfortunately, Maya is forgettable as a character, and while Woodson’s point may be the lesson Chloe learns, I am unsure of the lesson a young reader will take away from the story.

Yet I think Each Kindness has potential, particularly as a concise variation of The Hundred Dresses.  As part of a larger character education curriculum or as a one-off lesson on kindness, this book subtly raises the issue of bullying from the bully’s perspective.

Discussion Points* for Each Kindness:

*I thought up these questions with 7-8 year olds in mind.  Please share your adaptations for younger or older children and/or the highlights of your discussions of the book.

  • Chloe is observant.  When the principal introduces Maya, Chloe notices that Maya’s coat is open, her clothes are “old and ragged,” and she wears broken “spring shoes” in the winter.  When you meet someone for the first time, what are some of the things that you notice?  What would you like other people to notice about you?
  • “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  What does this saying mean to you?  Do you agree or disagree?  How would you change the saying to be about people?
  • Chloe and her friends whisper and laugh about the strange food Maya brings for lunch.  What kind of food would be strange for a kid to bring to school for lunch?
  • New clothes and toys seem to matter a lot to Maya’s classmates.  Why do you think they prefer new things?
  • Andrew seems to be taunting Chloe when he says she has a new friend and Chloe tells him that Maya is not her friend.  Chloe’s best friends are Kendra and Sophie.  How many friends should a person have?  With your school friends, how does it work if someone makes a new friend?  How does it work if someone does not want to be friends with someone else?
  • What are some kind things that you have done for others?
  • What emotions do you think Chloe feels…when it is her turn to drop the stone into the water?  …when she decides to smile at Maya? …when she learns Maya has moved away?
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Are You Ready to Play Outside?

Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems.

Hyperion Press, 2008.  64 pages.  Tr.  $8.99.  ISBN 978-1-4231-1347-8.

Mo Willems’ beloved Piggie and Gerald are back and eager to play outside.  Except that it is raining.  Disappointed, Piggie frets about what to do.  When Gerald timidly suggests a way that they can still have fun, the day is saved, proving “elephants make the best friends!”

This Elephant and Piggie Book is perfect for beginning readers who are building confidence in their new skills.  The pair is delightfully expressive in the tradition of emergent reader texts from Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman.

Other Information:

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biography and interviews

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Friendship
  • Rainy day
  • Emergent reader titles

Series Information

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

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Filed under Picture Books, Reading Aloud

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Written and Illustrated by Simms Taback.

Viking Juvenile, 1999.  32 pages.  Tr. $16.99.  ISBN 978-0-670-87855-0.

Using the die cut technique he popularized in his book There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Simms Taback presents another award winning story, this one about a Jewish farmer named Joseph whose resourcefulness allows him to continually remake his overcoat into something new.  Taback’s inspiration for the story comes from a Yiddish folksong which is included at the end of the book.  Young readers will enjoy the predictable pattern of the text, and older readers will find numerous interesting bits of Jewish culture sprinkled throughout the richly textured illustrations.  A joyful story with a moral readers of all cultures can take to heart.

Cited in Essentials of Children’s Literature 6th Edition pages 94, 97, 113, 224, 311 and the 2000 Caldecott Medal winner:

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Gagne, P.R. & Reilly, M. (Producers) & Ivanick, D. (Director).  (2001).  Joseph had a

little overcoat .  Norwalk, CT:  Weston Woods.

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biographies

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Jewish culture
  • Reusing Resources
  • Folk songs

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

Additional Resources

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Filed under Picture Books

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Written and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

Roaring Book Press, 2003.  40 pages.  Tr. $17.95.  ISBN 978-0-7613-1791-3.

Philippe Petit is a street performer who loves to entertain crowds with his juggling tricks and his unicycle.  His favorite trick is walking on a tightrope high above the ground.  Once, in his hometown of Paris, France, Philippe walked (and even danced!) on a wire between the steeples of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Now living in New York, Philippe spots twin towers, each 1,340 feet tall.  And he has an idea…

Mordicai Gerstein recounts the remarkable story of Philippe Petit who, on August 7, 1974, walked on a wire strung between the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Gerstein’s ink and oil illustrations capture Petit’s charisma and daring, as well as the astonishing height of the towers.  The post-9/11 perspective of this story preserves the memory of Petit’s amazing feat and the magnificence of the World Trade Center.  This book may serve as an introduction to 9/11 history for children born after 2001.

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Gerstein, M.  The man who walked between the towers [compact disc]. (2005).  Pine Plains, NY:  Live Oak Media.
  • Sporn, M. (Director). (2005). The man who walked between the towers [DVD]. Norwalk, CT:  Weston Woods Studios, Incorporated.

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biographies

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Tight rope walker
  • Street Performer
  • 9/11

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

Additional Resources

Gallery of Mordicai Gerstein’s art:  http://www.rmichelson.com/Artist_Pages/Gerstein/Mordicai_Gerstein_Gallery.html

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Battle Bullying with Books

Starting Young

Last week, my daughter told me about a troubling recess incident at her school:  apparently, a game of “Lego City Police” devolved into the playground version of police brutality.  Teachers were alerted and intervened but not before one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates was punched and scratched by another kid.

In her responses to my “casual” questions, my daughter revealed that the boy who was punched/scratched is not well liked among his peers.  She says the other boys don’t like him because he doesn’t brush his teeth.  The only girl police officer in the game, my daughter backed away when the punching started and didn’t know what to do.  The boy who did the punching/scratching has often been sent to the principal’s office but my daughter thinks he is silly and says funny things in class.

Wow.  All this just in time for No Name Calling Week.

Bullying Statistics

Some parents may feel it is an overreaction on my part to be concerned that the Lego City Police incident could be a precursor to bullying.  However, the statistics are alarming:  160,000 students per day skip school in fear of attack or bullying; out of 37 studied shootings, 66% of them were led by individuals who felt bullied; and 20% of high school students say they’ve considered suicide within the past twelve months, mentioning the triggers as bullying, teasing, and social rejection.  (These figures are borrowed from a library colleague; I didn’t ask for her sources).

The messages sent to my daughter and her classmates about this incident matter.  The time to address these issues is now, and the time to lay the foundation for the prevention of future bullying is now.

Don’t just read.  Discuss what you read.

My way of addressing issues typically involves books and I am familiar with the skepticism toward my approach:  can books really change the world?  Can reading really change lives?

Jenny Betz, Education Manager for GLSEN, suggested a different spin on these questions yesterday in “Battle Bullying with Books,” a webinar sponsored by Booklist.  Betz says that perhaps not the books themselves but the conversations around those books are what truly have the power to change lives.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is listening to young people talk about issues of importance to them.  With civil discourse eroding before our eyes and disturbingly venomous speech flying around, it feels increasingly important to teach youth how to engage in respectful conversation with others.  I think using literature to open up dialogue is a great place to start.

Alone, the act of reading will not teach a child how to recognize and understand his emotions, will not create empathy.    But coupled with discussion, reading can help foster sensitivity and healthy relationships.

The thing to remember with discussion is that being “right” isn’t the point.  It’s more important to understanding what the other person is saying.  We adults are so eager to impart wisdom to young people that sometimes we talk too much.  We want young people to listen to us, but we often fail to reciprocate and truly listen to them.

All It Takes is One

In the past decade, innumerable titles have been published that deal with the subject of bullying for kids of all ages.  Last year author Mitali Perkins compiled a list of great titles for young adults (ages 12+).  For emergent readers (ages 5-8) the recent Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes is a good one and the upcoming The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman seems promising.  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, published The Misfits in 2001  for middle grade readers.  Loosely based on his daughter’s experience at the hands of middle school bullies, The Misfits is the book that launched No Name Calling Week.

My personal favorite is One by Kathryn Otoshi, published in 2008 by KO Kids Books.   This profound picture book is accessible for very young children but has an elegant, Zen flair that makes it appealing for tweens and teens as well.  Every preschool and elementary school library needs a copy of this book, and it would make a terrific teacher gift as well.  (Coincidentally, I had given my daughter’s teacher a copy of One earlier this month.  She read it to the class this week and the kids’ response to it was very encouraging.)

Summary:   Generally, Blue feels happy and life is good.  Except when Red gets mad and takes it out on Blue.  Those are the times when Blue feels, well, blue.  And Red sometimes makes Orange, Purple, Green, and Yellow feel blue too.  Red is a bully but the other colors don’t quite know what to do about it until One comes along and teaches an important lesson—that everyone counts!

Counting by ones may seem like a slow process—one book, one teacher, one kid, one parent—but we never know which one moment can be a turning point.  I, for one, don’t want to allow a single opportunity to slip by.

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Filed under Booklists, Picture Books, Reading Activities, Reflections

No One Walks on My Father’s Moon

Written by Chara Curtis
Illustrated by Rebecca Hyland

A bright, eager Turkish schoolboy excitedly relays to his father the amazing thing he learned in class:  astronauts have landed on the moon!  The boy is shocked and dismayed at his father’s furious, violent reaction.  Americans may be touting this “giant leap for mankind,” but in some cultures to speak of—even to conceive of!—walking on “the face of God’s shining light” is nothing less than blasphemy.  In this profound and moving story, the boy faces the challenge of reconciling knowledge with belief.
Ages 8+
5 Flags
 
More to the story:
This book, unfortunately, is out of print, though I was able to obtain a copy through Amazon.  I encountered the story through the latest issue of Tikkun magazine which featured an article by children’s literature professor Graeme Wend-Walker.  The article, entitled “Reaching for the Moon:  A Children’s Book Author Challenges the Separation of Science and Religion,” discusses the plot and provides insightful commentary on the themes of education, religious belief, and reconciliation.

Wend-Walker also comments on the ways in which children’s literature is uniquely capable not only of addressing the prickly subjects of science and religion, but also of guiding young readers in their navigation of this increasingly important landscape.

In the case of No One Walks on My Father’s Moon, an elegant example of the ways in which picture books can make an outstanding contribution to the literary world, I recommend that adults use the story to open dialogue among themselves as well as with young people.  Religious education settings within any faith tradition would be particularly conducive to such conversation. 

(Interestingly, when I was linking the image to the Amazon page, I saw an impassioned review criticizing the very aspects of this book which I find so necessary to discuss.  Click here to see my response.)

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Filed under Periodicals, Picture Books

Booklist: Bullying

I’ve been following the case of Phoebe Prince, the 15 year-old Irish girl who committed suicide in January of this year after enduring a months-long bullying campaign staged by her Massachusetts high school peers.

Certainly there are numerous articles containing “tips” on how to identify, cope with and prevent bullying.  This booklist is intended to open up dialogue at various age levels on the subject.

For 4-8 year olds:

Hugo and the Bully Frogs
Written by Francesca Simon
Illustrated by Caroline Jean Church

Hugo is a little frog with a little croak.  He lives in a deep, muddy pond.  And he’s constantly tormented by Pop-Eyes, the biggest, meanest frog Hugo has ever met.  Pop-Eyes snatches Hugo’s toys, calls him names, and drops him head-first into the pond.  How will Hugo ever stand up to such a bully?
4 Flags

The Recess Queen
Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Mean Jean dominates the playground.  She goes first at swinging, bouncing and kicking, and no one risks challenging her.  Then a new kid arrives at school.  Katie Sue doesn’t know that Jean is the reigning recess queen.  So what will happen when Katie Sue decides to swing, bounce and kick first?
4 Flags

For Ages 9+

Buddha Boy
by Kathe Koja

Jinsen, known around school as “Buddha Boy,” is increasingly targeted in mean-spirited, violent bullying by the popular crowd.  Read the full review here.
4 Flags

For Ages 15+

Twisted
by Laurie Halse Anderson

After years of being bullied, Tyler considers using violence to make himself heard.
Read the full review here.
5 Flags

For Parents and Educators

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander
by Barbara Coloroso

Coloroso discusses in depth the parts enacted in each incident of bullying (including cyberbullying):  the perpetrator, the victim, the bystander, the adults, and the community context.  This book emphasizes ways in which the cycle of bullying can be broken.  Read the full review here.
5 Flags

For Deeper Reflection

Tikkun Passover Supplement 2010 (Click to link to the full text.)

“As we sit at the Seder table we need to discuss how ancient liberation for the Jews can inspire liberation today for all people.”  So begins the Passover supplement.

How are the Seder and Jewish liberation relevant for non-Jews?  Why is this Passover supplement included on a reading list about bullying?

This piece of reflection from Rabbi Michael Lerner calls the Jewish people—indeed, all people– to open “their eyes to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, the Palestinians,”  to “the ways in which we…have been acting as Pharoah to another people.”  Clearly, bullying is not a problem contained on school grounds.

In fact, bullying occurs on school grounds precisely because it happens on a larger scale in our communities.  Prosperous nations bully developing nations, and powerful companies bully smaller businesses.  Certain adults bully those weaker than themselves.

In all its manifestations, bullying is nothing less than a serious form of oppression.  And so discussion of liberation can move us forward, closer to “communal vision of what messianic redemption would look like,” no matter what our particular faith tradition might be.

As Rabbi Lerner writes, “Instead of relying on domination, we know both from our holy texts and from our real-world experience that it is generosity, kindness, compassion, and caring for others that will be the key to our success and survival.”

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Filed under Booklists, Non-fiction, Picture Books, Reflections, YA Literature