April 21 is Earth Day. It will be celebrated around the world by planting seeds, picking garbage, starting a recycle program or in many other ways of being kind to the earth. In addition to projects, you can also celebrate Earth Day through those wonderful books.
My Ocean is Blue by Darren Leboeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron is a picture book with poetic text that looks at all characteristics of the ocean – from shallow to deep, from quiet to loud. A lovely read with the youngest readers. And a good incentive to collect shells and pebbles for an ocean display in the classroom. ISBN 978-1-52530143-8
Beginning scientists will love That’s No Dino! by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. This book shows how new research determines the characteristics of dinosaurs. From such extinct creatures as Platyhystrix (not a dinosaur!) to Velociraptor (yup! A dinosaur.) the book has lots of information, humour and a check list for budding dinosaur lovers. ISBN 978-1-5253-0023-3
Kids in grades 2 – 6 will likely love this gross book: Extremely Gross Animals by Claire Eamer. You’ll need a strong stomach to read this book but you will learn many unusual, fascinating facts like how fish can spit prey out of the air, how birds use vomit as self defence and about many other slimy, smelly adaptions that help animals survive. ISBN 978-1-5253-0337-1
Ashley Spires wrote a fun graphic novel about the power of bugs: Burt The Beetle Doesn’t Bite! The humorous text is a dialogue between the book’s narrator and the June bug who feels he has no super powers like other bugs which can use smell, webs, strength or flight. But June bug does redeem himself in the end. A fun book to read out loud or to encourage young readers to read by themselves. ISBN 978-1-5253-0146-9
For older readers, Flush by Carl Hiaasen is a good book about the environment and what kids can do to help. In this fictional novel, Noah wants to help his father in proving that someone is dumping raw sewage into the ocean. A fast paced, exciting read for anyone who loves the earth as well as reading. ISBN 978-0375861253, Grade 4 and up.
Margriet Ruurs loves the environment and has written many books about nature, including AMAZING ANIMALS, WILD BABIES and IN MY BACKYARD.
Books can help create awareness of traditional and cultural holidays around the world. There are many wonderful stories, including fiction and nonfiction, about seasonal celebrations like Passover, Easter, Eid and Mimouna, often including unique traditional foods. Why not enhance reading by sampling matzos or painting eggs in the classroom.
Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illustrated by Tara Anderson. A lovely rhythmic text for the very young that celebrates more than just bunnies and eggs at Easter. This picture book is waiting to be shared out loud and can be chanted along, with sometimes predictable, other times surprising rhyming words, with preschoolers and kindergarten students. ISBN 978-1-77278-177-9
Passover, Festival of Freedom by Monique Polak. This nonfiction book explains the origins and traditions of Passover. Through text, facts, photos and personal accounts, the book shares stories and information from the Jewish community. Recipes for traditional Passover dishes are also included in this beautiful information book. ISBN 978-1-4598-0990-1
A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Rotem Teplow
Not only is this brand new release a story about food, it also brings awareness of a Jewish holiday with which I was not familiar. Mimouna marks the end of Passover in Morocco and, like Ramadan, it is celebrated by eating special food at the end of a period of fasting. The lovely art shows a Jewish child who invites her Muslim friend and neighbor to share the food. The book includes a recipe to make your own moufletot, a pile of leavened pancakes. ISBN 978-1-77306-397-3
The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobson. This picture book explains the biggest holiday in the Muslim year when Aneesa gets to wear new clothes, helps cook lamb stew and goes to the mosque. ISBN 978-1-59078-431-0
Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki is a celebration of community kitchens. This picturebook has the looks of a comic strip with speech bubbles, making it joyous and interactive as everyone contributes ingredients, supplies and ideas. Together they peel, chop and splash. They set tables and invite in the long line of hungry, waiting clients. The multiracial characters bring this story to every realistic neighborhood and ends with the encouragement to volunteer in a community kitchen near you. Besides a read for younger students, this book can also be a good place to start classroom discussions of community service work with older students. ISBN 978-1-77306-262-4
Going Up! by Sherry J. Lee, illustrated by Charlene Chua is a brand new picturebook with a unique angle. The story focuses on the building in which all of the characters live. They have all received an invitation to come to a birthday party on the 10th floor. Many people get into the elevator, carrying their favourite dishes to contribute to the party. From cookies to gulab jamun this is a fun book to anticipate who will get on next and what they will bring. Will they all fit into the elevator before they reach the top floor? ISBN 978-1-5253-0113-1
What A Party! by Ana Maria Machado, illustrated by Hélêne Moreau is a joyous celebration of friends and food. What starts as a birthday invitation, soon turns into a feast when kids bring coconut cookies, mangoes, pickles and friends. Signora Gina makes pizza and Mrs. Tanaka brings sushi and together they celebrate global diversity. ISBN 978-1-55498-168-7
Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian Is A Camel, How Books Are Brought to Children Around The World. She conducts author visits to international schools.
Here are some fabulous new, and not so new, titles to use as tools in the classroom with students while studying science.
When Elephants Listen With Their Feet by Emmanuelle Grundmann is a brand new title that looks at animals’ senses. A 40 page picture book, it has attractive art and lots of text boxes to encourage curious, budding biologists. From fish that pass gas to communicate to the taste buds of pigs and everything in between, this book is full of fascinating facts about senses. ISBN 978-1-77278-123-6
It’s About Time, Pascale Estellon.From one second to one century, this book teaches young children about time. Combining information with activities, it touches on clocks, how to tell time, on calendars and seasons.
Putting a whole different slant on telling time is the new release Once Upon An Hour byAnn Yu-Kyung Choi and Soyeon Kim. This bedtime picture book is based on the tradtional Korean practise of timekeeping with the 12 animals of the zodiac assigned to a section each of the 24 hour clock.
50 Climate Questions, Peter Christie, with fun art by Ross Kinnaird, poses an, often funny, question on each page with the answer chockful of information from ice ages to today, including temperatures, weather, greenhouse gasses and global warming. Besides questions, the book also has answers on how we can change our ways.
In a similar vein, but for older readers, Paul Fleischmann looks – in his book Eyes Wide Open – at the politics and psychology behind environmental headlines. Besides opening eyes to issues such as reducing carbon emissions, the book brings awareness of differences in media coverage of the issues. Great for (highschool) classroom discussions.
Design Like Nature, Kim Woolcock and Megan Clendenan is another brand new, fabulous title in the important Orca Footprints series. Its subtitle is ‘Biomimicry for a Healthy Planet’. This book explains that humans design buildings and cities that change the environment. But what if we designed like nature, learning to design stronger, better, brighter and more sustainable by using nature’s examples? From solar power to natural dyes, from bullet trains to medicine this book looks at reducing our footprint and making the impossible, possible by learning from nature.
For budding marine scientists, the book Orcas Everywhere by Mark Leiren-Young is a valuable resource. Exploring the ‘Mystery and History of Killer Whales’ this book has great photos and facts on all aspects of orcas: a look at aquariums, hunting skills, communication as well as what we can do to protect these valuable mammals of the sea.
Eric Walters is the author of over 100 books. His work includes picture books, early read novels and novels for teens and young adults. Many of these books are ‘everybody’ books and are often realistic fiction based on true stories. He was instrumental in building an orphanage in Kenya, which I was able to visit once. Many of his books reflect the true adventures of some 80 children who live here and are now able to attend school. Here are some of his titles that should be in all international classrooms:
My Name Is Blessing, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN 978-1-77049-301-8) This is a beautifully told tale, based on a true story, which takes the reader to the home of a wise, Kenyan grandmother who cares for many children as best as she can. The last pages of the book offer nonfiction information about the real boy whose name was changed to Blessing and whose future was changed by an orphanage.
Hope Springs, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN-13 : 978-1770495302)This story shows the struggle, in Africa, to get water. The children at the orphanage have to walk daily to the public well to collect and carry back jugs of water. They stand in long line-ups but, one day, are no longer welcome. Is it fear that there will not be enough for the community if they let the orphans use their well? When the building of the orphanage’s own well is completed, Boniface has an idea to help the villagers. A lovely story of kindness, it shows that, through compassion and understanding, true generosity can spring from unexpected places. This book is perfect if your school takes part in an annual Walk For Water project.
Light A Candle, co-authored with Godfrey Nkongolo and illustrated by Eva Campbell (ISBN 978-1-4598-1700-5) is the story of the birth of the nation of Tanzania. It was the wish of President Nyerere to light a flame atop Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, to show the world hope for the future. Eric Walters climbed Kilimanjaro. The book is published in English and Swahili and gives background information in addition to a touching story of a young Chagga boy.
The Wild Beast, illustrated by Sue Todd (ISBN 978-1-4598-1589-6) reads like a myth, a legend, an old folktale. Africa’s wildebeest looks like it was created from spare parts. Eric Walters ran with this idea. Beautifully told, in words and vibrant images, this is the story of how the creator made sky and earth, then birds, fishes and mammals. Heeding her own message not to waste anything, she then creates the wildebeest. A delightful tale when studying myths and legends. Also look for The Matatu: based on folk tales, it tells a humorous story of the famous African busses full of people and animals.
Today Is The Day, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN 978-1-77049-648-4). Until reading this picture book, I had not realized that an orphan may not know his birth date. And if you don’t have one, you can’t apply for a passport or other important papers. Today Is The Day is based on the true experience Walters had when he gave the children a birth date as well as a gigantic party! A great book as basis for classroom discussions.
Hockey Night in Kenya, co-authored with Danson Mutinda (ISBN 978-1459823617) is a brand new release – a chapter book for beginning readers. It tells the story of orphans in Kenya who learn about a thing called ice hockey. They have never seen ice but read a Canadian magazine with pictures of a hockey team. Through hard work, kind friends and good luck, dreams can come true and even an orphan can end up having roller blades and a hockey stick.
Just Deserts by Eric Walters (ISBN 978-0143179351). A middle grade-and-up novel that will appeal especially to boys, Just Deserts is the story of a spoiled, wealthy boy who gets expelled from boarding school. In typical Eric Walters fashion, this page turner is full of adventure and suspense, when Ethan is dropped in the middle of the Sahara and left to his own devices.
Walking Home (978-0385681575), this novel made me cry at the end! It is a touching, interesting, heart warming and well written story. This is the story of a brother and sister, orphaned in a troubled, violent time in Kenya. They decide to walk to the region where their mother grew up, in hopes of finding relatives who will take them in. Rather than be separated by government officials who will place them in different homes, they walk over 200 KM, through Nairobi, through villages and deserted stretches. Not only did the author make this trek himself, he also built an orphanage and supports it financially with the help of many schools in Canada. The story takes the reader right along on this amazing walk, introduces us to Kenyan customs and beliefs and shows the landscape and fabric of African life. it is backed up by a website full of resources including videos and ways to connect: https://ericwalterswalkinghome.com/
And finally, From The Heart of Africa (ISBN 978-1-77049-719-1). “It takes a village to raise a child” is likely one of the best known wisdoms from Africa. The author collected many sayings that traditionally share wisdom passed from one generation to the next. Beautifully illustrated these aphorisms form a book for both children and adults and will make great discussion points for any classroom.
In this column I review books with special appeal to people around the world. Today I’ll share with you books about kindness and honesty – one is a classic, others are brand-new titles. Don’t forget to share picture books with older students, too!
The Empty Pot by Demi is a beautifullly illustrated picture book for readers of all ages. Each image is in the round shape of a pot. The Emperor of China loves plants and flowers so much that he decides that whoever can grow the most beautiful flowers, will become his successor. All the children in the land receive seeds. They plant, they tend and they nurture. I won’t give away the ending, but Ping’s seeds need all of his care. It takes courage to confess to the Emperor what happens in the end. But Ping’s honesty is well rewarded.
Charlie pushes a cart around the neighborhood and finds things. He fixes things. He makes a bird bath from an old tire. But Charlie cannot find out whose pie he found. Eventually the whole neighborhood benefits from Charlie’s find and he helps people in the process.
Nice Try, Charlie by Matt James features interesting art, a blend of painting and photos.
A World of Mindfulness, Erin Allidin and Suzanne del Rizzo, is a compilation of text and art by the creators at Pajama Press. A meditative text, accompanied by beautiful images demonstrates the importance for children on being quiet and reflective some times. It shows how listening to birds can help quiet the snow storm in your head and help you to let go of anger. This picture book can help to lead children to practice yoga, meditation and general peace of mind. ISBN 978-1-77278-138-0
This book is a companion to the first title published by creators at Pajama Press: A World of Kindness, Anne Featherstone and Suzanne del Rizzo. ISBN 978-1772780505
Books truly are ‘windows to the world’. Picture books can be a powerful tool to show kids that they are not the only ones dealing with a problem or coping with feelings.
A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas is the story of Mary who comes from a loud family. With hairdryers and lawn mowers going, no one can hear little Mary who speaks in a whisper. But Mary is the one who hears the birds and talks to the flowers. Even when Mary seems to have disappeared, her family gets louder and louder. Until they finally fall quiet and can hear Mary’s song and learn to notice what she was trying to tell them all along.
The Australian author of this brand new picture book worked as a classroom teacher and knows which stories can inspire.
Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-122-9
Noisy Poems for a Busy Day by Robert Heidbreder is a picture book of poems to use in Kindergarten. Full of onomatopoeia, kids can whisper, shout, sing and dance long with these fun poems. From animals to clouds, from swinging to burping there’s a poem that begs to be memorized and chanted out loud.
Kids Can Press, ISBN 978-1-55453-706-8
This picture book is a trusted classic by now. It’s a story about honesty and one of my favorite picture books ever because it shows the importance of being honest in very few words: The Empty Pot by Demi.
This quiet story is a wise lesson as well as a tale that brings tears to the eyes. The next Emperor will be chosen from among the children whose challenge it is to grow seeds. Ping is rewarded for his honesty and hard work.
The gorgeous illustrations show traditional Chinese architecture and landscapes. A great picture book to use as an example when writing legends with studentsof any age.
Henry Holt and Co., ISBN-10: 0805082271
The Greatsby Deborah Ellis blends magical realism with a somber subject matter: it deals with the hardships of mental health issues, incarceration, and devastating loss. Jomon, a Guyanese fifteen-year old is visited by the ghosts of his grandfathers, who open his eyes to their stories and his family history, providing a way to deal with a childhood marked by abuse and hopelessness. Meanwhile, a prehistoric sloth in a museum awakens nearby, fascinated by her earthly surroundings. The Greats explores life and death through braided narratives threaded through with a message of hope. This short novel has a simple and poetic tone that creates an almost otherworldly feel that will appeal to teens and adults alike.
Groundwood Books, 978-1773063874 (This teen novel was reviewed by 14 year old Matilda Colvin)
Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of many books for children, including A Brush Full of Colour, The World of Ted Harrison. She conducts (virtual) author visits to schools around the world.
As an avid reader and writer, I love books about books and libraries. Here are some outstanding ones.
Every once in a while you pick up a book that makes its way straight to your heart: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is such a book. The text is a poetic description of 26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way. Rather than a summation of biographies the author used the voice of a circus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates European writers and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Baird who singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.
Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover.
Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663
Another book I fell in love with is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, The Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.
Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9
Oliver Jeffers is also the creator of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, a hilarious picture book to share with Kindergartens or older. Henry devours books, literally. The more he eats, the smarter he gets. Until he is so stuff full of books that he gets a tummy ache. Then he discovers that reading books is much better than eating books, and he gets smarter yet. The ‘real bite’ out of the back cover is a fun bonus.
ASIN : B007XJ7388
The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander
As soon as I spotted this novel for young readers in my local bookstore, I knew I had to own it. And it was a wise choice. As I read, I met Lenora and traveled along on her wild adventures through the ages and around the globe, all entered through a library.
Lenora is ‘hired’ as Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian and climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading.
I’ve read many other books with a library theme: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library for instance. But those books are merely fun entertainment. The Library of Ever actually has a whole layer beyond its entertainment value that, almost imperceptibly, demonstrates the importance of books, research and the freedom to read.
I soon loved how this unique book blends fantasy with true questions, asked at the Help Desk and whose answers can be found only be doing research. The book is very cleverly written because we all have asked some of the questions and often have made the mistake of not enough fact checking. Reading, I learned some very interesting facts – from the highest point on earth (not what you think!) to Minoan Literature, from leap years to hieroglyphs. Readers’ minds can truly grow on this book.
Underlying all of Lenora’s adventures is the threat of Dark Forces. As the Chief Librarian states at one point: ‘the value of a Library cannot be counted in money.’ Same with the book – it was well worth the 10.- purchase price and both my grandson and I gained much more from the reading experience than just fun hours spent reading together. We kept sharing what we learned by saying “Did you know this? And listen to this!”…
Fantasy is not normally a genre I enjoy but now I can’t wait to read the next title: Rebel in the Library of Ever.
These not-so-obvious scary books are a treat to share around Halloween
In this column I share books with you that have global appeal. I hope to help you, in a quick and easy manner, to find the most fabulous books to share with your students. Of course, nothing is better than a read-a-loud – regardless of age level.
FROM FAR AWAY by Robert Munsch is a picturebook for the younger grades, co-authored by Saoussan Askar (age 9). She wrote to Robert Munsch, of Love You Forever fame, to share her story of immigrating from Beirut, Lebanon. She was happy to live in a safe place, but when Halloween came around she was suddenly confronted with ghosts and skeletons in closets. Munsch skillfully turned her scary tale into a funny one that highlights differences in cultures and the difference a caring teacher can make.
ISBN 1-55037-396-X, Annick Press
GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel. Its word choices and story content make this is a great story for slightly older readers. Catrina, her sister Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis and their parents move to a new town. Catrina does not like it there. Nor does she like the town’s history full of ghosts, which is celebrated during Diá de los Muertos. Catrina is very hesitant to go out on Halloween night but she and her sister meet many ghosts who help change their perspective.
ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9, Scholastic
SEVEN DEAD PIRATES is a great classroom read at any time, but particularly fitting around Halloween since Lewis Dearborn is moving into his great-grandfather’s dilapidated old mansion. The mansion, it turns out, is already inhabited by no less than seven ghostly pirates. Lewis ends up with seven rowdy room mates who depend on him to reclaim their ship so they can roam the seven seas again. In the process, Lewis has to face his worst fears. 296 page novel.
Finally, and coincidentally by the same author, a picture book that is perfect for older readers – including high school students.
MARY WHO WROTE FRANKENSTEIN by Linda Bailey is the beautifully crafted background story of Mary who, as a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on tombstones. At age 19 she is challenged by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley to write a scary story. Mary Shelley ends up creating the most terrifying, and enduring, tale of all: Frankenstein. This gorgeous biography showcases captivating art by Júlia Sardá.
ISBN 978-1770495593, Tundra Books
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world