Poetry is a universal language. These books, both new and old, invite readers to explore the world.
Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Barbara Reid, is one of my all-time favourite picture books. Whenever I visit international schools, I try to bring this book as a gift. The illustrations are fantastic, made of plasticine, and full of detail. The text is poetic with fun information about different countries and with a wonderful flow to read aloud. The story is about a young girl whose grandmother travels the world and sends home gifts: a baobab seed from Africa, the roar from the jungle king, and a secret wish of a flying fish from Hawaii. Throughout the images, the girl grows up. In the end she is the one traveling the world, inspired by her grandmother. The book is also available in Spanish. ISBN 978-0-590-24935-5
Poem in My Pocket by Chris Tougas, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon is a clever rhyming picture book celebrating poetry. What if you keep poems in your pocket but your pocket has a hole? Words tumble and float everywhere, even the letters get all mixed up. But in the end a wonderful thing happens – you can grow a poet tree. Great to use with elementary students of all ages. ISBN 978-1-5253-0145-2
My own newest picture book is also in poetry format: Come, Read With Me is illustrated by Christine Wei. It is a poetic celebration of books and fairy tales. Two children follow the piped piper, meet whales and princesses and a puss in boots as they read books at bedtime. ISBN 978-1-4598178-76
Judi Moreillon’s book Read To Me as been out for many years but remains a wonderful book to share with both students and parents. It emphasizes the importance of reading aloud to children, of setting a reading example and sharing books, stories and songs in any language. I love sharing this poem with parents. It is also available in Spanish and in Vietnamese. ISBN 1-932065-49-0
Melissa Sweet is one of my favourite illustrators. William Carlos Williams became a Pulitzer Prize winning poet by following his heart into nature and by writing even during his medical studies and work as a doctor. A River of Words is his beautifully told biography by Jen Bryant, illustrated in gorgeous collage by Melissa Sweet. A book that shows young readers to listen to their heart and focus on what is important to them. ISBN 978-0-8028-5302-8
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a brilliant free-verse novel. A gentle, spellbinding story of Kek and his mother who came to the USA from Africa. Struggling with winter, housing and no extended family or friends, Kek learns to make a new life for himself in a new country. An eye-opening tale of what it is like to be a refugee. Great as a classroom read-a-loud. ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6
Books truly can be a window to the world. While reading, you can live in another country, learn what life is like in a different culture while discovering both the world and yourself. The following books shed light on a variety of settings and situations and help to create awareness.
111 Trees, How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Each Girl, Rina Singh, Marianne Ferrer A wonderful true story from India, this book shows how one person can change the world. Traditionally, people in Sundar’s village had welcomed boy babies but not celebrated the birth of a girl. After the loss of his mother and a daughter, Sundar changes the minds of the villagers when he shows them how the earth needs to be replenished by planting trees. The parched earth recovers, it brings water and food to the village. Now his village plants 111 trees each time a girl is born and life has much improved for everyone. Sundar has changed his village and sent a message to other places around the world, encouraging eco-feminism. ISBN 978-1-5253-0120-9
One Hen, Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. This is one of my all-time favorite books on the topic of service learning. So simple, yet so brilliant. Based on the true story of Kojo in Ghana, this book shows how one little thing can grow in a big one. Kojo starts borrowed money and buys one hen. Now Kojo and his mom can eat an egg and soon he has enough to sell some. Carefully he saves his money to pay off his loan, then he saves until he can buy another hen. Eventually Kojo can afford to attend school by selling eggs. Read this book with any grade level and you can enrich it by saving up $25.- to extend a loan to someone in need through KIVA.org – online micro lending. Your students can select a country and the person they wish to help. ISBN 978-1-55453-028-1 Teaching guides: http://www.onehen.org/
See Where We Come From by Scot Ritchie takes a group of friends, all with different ethnic backgrounds. They prepare for their school’s Heritage Fair. Martin shares music and food from Japan, Sally brings smoked salmon and a cedar bark basket. Football from Brazil and koshary from Egypt help to celebrate a wide variety of customs and tradtitions. In the end pages, the book encourages family stories and shows how to make a Heritage box of treasures ISBN 978-1-5253-0497-2.
Gift Days by Kari-Lynn Winters, is a picture book for ages 8 up. This is the touching story of Nassali who longs to learn to read and write like her brother, Baaba. But since her mother’s death, Nassali is responsible for looking after her younger siblings and running the household. There is no time for books and learning. But one day she wakes up to discover that her chores have already been done. It is her first gift day. From that day on, once a week, Baaba gives Nassali the gift of time so that she can pursue her dream of an education, just as her mother would have wanted. The book itself is also raising money for the charity. Through the organization I am a Girl, which focuses on education and women’s rights, money has been raised to send girls to school in Uganda for a full year. ISBN-10 1554551927; ISBN-13 9781554551927 Check out: http://kariwinters.com/gift-days
The International Day of the Girl, Jessica Dee Humphreys and Rona Ambrose, illustrated by Simone Shin. What happens if half a garden does not get tended, watered and gets trampled? This is the comparison made in an important new picture book that explains the need for, and origins of, the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl. Through real stories of girls around the world, the book shows the importance of education and nurturing skills in girls. It also emphasizes how men and boys can make a difference, contribute to and benefit from the well -being of half of the earth’s population. ISBN 978-1-5253-0058-5
Walking for Water – How One Boy Stood Up For Gender Equality, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Nicole Miles Victor loves going to school in his village in Malawi. But when they turn eight, his twin sister Linesi has to do what women and girls have always done: bring much needed water to the village. When Victor’s teacher talks about equality, he realizes that this is not happening. Slowly he finds ways to help and change both the way things were always done and the minds of other boys in town. Based on a true story, the book offers words in Chichewa, as well as information on support organizations. ISBN 978-1-5253-0249-7
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Also based on a true story but written for older students, this novel is the skillfully told tale of two African children who face hardships. A boy, Salva, is one of the ‘lost boys’ of Sudan. One day while in class, shooting starts as rebel forces reach his village. He walks and walks and walks in hopes of reaching safety, a new land where he can face a new future. A girl, Nya, lives in Sudan many years later. She, too, has to walk and walk. Eight hours a day to gather water for her family. She cannot go to school because the need for water is greater.
The two parallel stories intertwine when Salva, now with an American college degree, comes back to Sudan to build wells with the aid of Rotary International. This changes the lives of many Sudanese. A great story for all ages to share and discuss in the classroom. One of my local schools holds an annual Walk for Water day, educating students and raising funds to help build more wells in Africa. A picture book, to use with younger students to tie into the same theme is Hope Springs by Eric Walters. ISBN 978-0-547-57731-9
Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action by Darlene Foster. This book is the latest in a series of action/travel novels about Amanda. Each one is set in a different, real location and shares details about that country. In Holland, Amanda and her best friend Leah, see all the popular sights: tulips, canals, Anne Frank House, windmills, and even a wooden shoe factory. They learn about customs and traditional dishes. But Amanda is also here to discover what happened to her great uncle, who never returned to Canada after World War II. In the midst of her adventures, following clues about her uncle, she rescues an abandoned puppy. While trying to find him a home, she meets a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener and a strange woman on a bicycle. Upper elementary and middle school readers will enjoy following young traveler Amanda around Holland as she encounters danger and intrigue while trying to solve another mystery in a foreign country. Other locations in this series of print and ebooks include the Danube, New Mexico, Alberta, Spain, England and more. ASIN: B07L9LVK4J
Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts author talks and writing workshops for international schools, in person and via ZOOM.
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.
Discovering a ‘new’ favourite author can be a great classroom tool. Their books can be part of a series or they can be very different from each other. Today I’d like you to meet Wendy Orr. Born in Canada, she lives in Australia and writes award winning books.
Nim’s Island is a heartwarming tale of a spunky girl living (almost) alone on a deserted Pacific Island. Reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking, Nim is self sufficient and, together with her closest friends – a sea lion and an iguana – saves the day when her scientist father is lost at sea. This book can be followed up by watching the movie starring Jodie Foster as Alex Rover, the adventure author who joins to help Nim.
There are two more titles in the series: Rescue at Sea – which deals with animals in captivity and a mad professor who trains them and wants to use them for research. Nim travels on a cruise ship as stow-away and makes new friends in the process. ASIN : B00166YC9C
In Rescue on Nim’s Island, she discovers a rare fossil and has to defend her island from exploitation. All three books make for good elementary classroom readings and discussions. ASIN : B00YVBQXFU
Very different from Nim’s Island, is Wendy Orr’s Bronze Age series. Dragonfly Song was inspired by a drawing, a found flint, and Wendy’s interest in archeology. This fantasy novel is aimed at upper middle grade readers. As I read the suspense full tale of Aissa whom the villagers see as cursed, and who is mute, I kept thinking that this is a bit like the Hunger Games for slightly younger readers. It’s a real page turner and won a long list of awards.
Swallow’s Dance takes us to Greek Islands and an era where people paid tribute to the Goddess as directed by the Oracle. Any reader interested in myths, legends and ancient history will be enthralled by this series – each book of which can be read independently.
The newest title, being released in March, is Cuckoo’s Flight – a coming-of-age story in which Clio battles the political power of the palace and her own feelings of inadequacy to save her town, her horses, and perhaps even herself. All three novels in this series are skillfully written in a blend of prose and free verse.
Not all people are the same. Recognizing yourself in a story can be a powerful experience. The right book can be a tool to reach out and help a child. Here are some books that show how people can experience different feelings, emotions and conditions.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a beautifully written picture book that introduces very young readers to the concept of Alzheimers and memory loss. This story is so skillfully told that it will appeal to readers of all ages. Wilfrid Gordon lives next to a seniors’ home and knows all of the residents. Through sparse language we learn, as does he, what it means to lose memories. Wilfrid Gordon collects objects, each one of which helps his friend to remember special things in life. Highly recommended for classroom discussions. ISBN 978-0916291266
Duck Days by Sara Leach is a novel for ages 7 – 11. Third grade student Lauren has Autism Spectrum Disorder and experiences some things a bit different from her friends. Lauren has learned how to handle her own reactions and copes just fine. In this story her friend challenge her to ride a bike without training wheels. When her class has a bike workshop, Lauren is not happy but eventually overcomes her fears and triumphs. This book is part of a well written series for young kids on Autism and Asperger’s. ISBN 978-1772781489, Pajama Press
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is written in the first person, which is a brave and bold move by this award winning author. Because Melody, the main character, has cerebral palsy. She cannot speak, her limbs move involuntarily, she drools and makes funny sounds. What no one realizes is that Melody’s brain works perfectly. She remembers facts, she gets match, she can spell like the best of them but she cannot let anyone know. Imagine the words and thoughts all stuck inside your brain and no way to let them out… Thanks to Draper’s skillful writing, we are inside Melody’s head and feel her frustration. This book is a must-read for all booklovers, but a special eye opener for all those (educators) who work with children who have physical challenges. ISBN 141697170X (ISBN13: 9781416971702)
Other highly recommended titles include:
Petey by Ben Mikaelsen (cerebral palsy); Wonder by R.J. Palacio (disfigurement); A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (synaesthesia); Rules by Cynthia Lord (autism)
Margriet Ruurs writes books for children and speaks at schools around the world.
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.
Two novels about censorship for elementary/middle school
One of my favourite books ever deals with the topic of censorship. Alan Gratz handles it in a smart way in Ban This Book. I read it in two evenings and loved it. This is a brilliant, funny story based on a very real concern, that of banning books in school libraries. Gratz skillfully deals with both sides of the issue in a great way. He leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. But the book also manages to show parental concern, the responsibilities of school boards and – most of all – the importance of having a real librarian in the school library and the influence books can have on a child’s life. The story shows how school libraries can be critical to the development of children. His main character grows and changes throughout the story. Gratz neatly quotes real titles, real authors (Dav Pilkey is a visiting author in the story) and refers to real book banning cases, wrapping up all loose ends in a satisfying manner. Highly recommended for kids, activists, parents, school administrators and all library lovers.
Starscape, Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1
I had the same high expectation for another book on the same topic, with an attractive cover: Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes.
But what a disappointment. Seemingly out of the blue, June’s parents decide that, even though she is in Grade Seven, a book about ghosts is too scary for her. They not only take that book away from her but also any and all books she owns. Then a moving van shows up at her school and all books in the library get removed. June slowly collects books again and lends them out to other. While the topic is an important one for young readers to learn about, and even touches on Little Free Libraries, I found this book too unbelievable to ring true for me.
Yearling, ISBN 978-1-5247-7150-8
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children and conducts author visits via ZOOM.
The Flooded Earth, The Castle in the Sea and The Skeleton Coast are three dystopian page turners for middle school.
While The Hunger Games was for older readers, these books have the feel of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass: deliciously scary. The Flooded Earth books are set 50 years after a massive flood and climate change change the earth’ surface. Four kids set sail in search of secrets, hidden clues and their mysteriously disappeared father. With three sequels, there’s plenty to keep an avid reader spellbound here.
Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-772278-049-9
The Parkour Club by Pam Withers and Arooj Hayat is a high speed read for teens. This story features parkour courses, an unusual and fascinating focus.
Bronte moves from Egypt back to North America, and is coping with adjustments and making new friends at her new school. She follows her passion for parkour and makes friends in her new club. But some people are not who they seem. Is there a terrorist among them? Who can she trust and who is dangerous? A good read for teens.
ISBN 978-0995910324, also available as e-book.
Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman is a fascinating, and fun, read for middle grade students interested in wildlife and extinction. Set in a unique place, Louisa travels to an aunt in Tasmania where she discovers both a diary and the mysterious shadows of an animal. Could the Tasmanian tiger still be present? A wonderful read, very well written, for kids of all ages.
ISBN-10 : 1772780545
ISBN-13 : 978-1772780543
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world