Usually I post new book recommendations here every two weeks. This time, I’m traveling and unable to share reviews of new books. So I’d like to share a list of my favourite books about many countries around the world.
This list includes books for young people, and anyone else. Most are paired with travels to countries which I read about. Often, I found these gems in the country itself. They enriched my travels and my understanding of country and culture.
It is an evergrowing list, so you can check back at other times to find more titles.
Special places, special times, special people… Books can show you these and help you to understand things better than anything else. These wonderful books do just that. Use them for quiet reading or for classroom discussions.
The Little Green Envelope, written by Gillian Sze and illustrated by Claudine Crangle, is a wonderful story about a friend who moves far away. But if Olive can’t visit her friend, she can at least write a letter. Lost in a drawer, is a little green envelope which has also been dreaming of traveling. It feels very special indeed when Olive selects it to send her card to her friend. The journey of the little green envelope is full of excitement. It’s even fun to read all of the other envelopes shown in the art. This book is perfect to use in an international school with its theme of friendship, moving and travel. It can easily be paired with teaching activities using maps and writing to family and friends far away, or by corresponding with pen pals. The book includes instructions on how to make your own envelope. ISBN 978-1-77306-681-3, Groundwood Books
Chinese New Year by Jen Sookfong Lee is a useful, uncluttered information book about all things Chinese New Year. How did the holiday evolve? Why is Chinese New Year based on the lunar calendar and what do the Zodiac animals mean? The author, who grew up with the traditions, explores customs, food, decorations and much more. This book is part of Orca Origins series, together with similar volumes covering Diwali, Christmas, Ramadan and more. ISBN 978-1-4598-1126-3, Orca Book Publishers
Nutshimit, In The Woods by Melissa Mollen Dupuis, illustrated by Elise Gravel is an intimate talk about nature by an Innu member, the First Nations people of northern Quebec and Labrador. Melissa explains how she learned from her ancestors about nature and invites the reader along as she relates creation stories and introduces trees and animals. She talks about the medicinal values of plants and how to use bark. Throughout the story shines a respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all living creatures. The story flows naturally from trees to animals, through the seasons, to natural uses of plants and berries, to recipes for maple syrup and much more. Throughout the text Innu words are used and a glossary in the back helps explain the words. ISBN 978-1-0397-0180-9, North Winds Press, Scholastic
Peaceful Me, by Sandra V. Feder and Rahele Jomepour Bell is a close look at moods and feelings and what might influence them. A book for the very young, this can help children to identify how they feel and what might help a person to feel peaceful. Finding a seashell, collecting favourite things, having fun with a friend or finding a spot to be quiet – all these things can help to feel peaceful. ISBN 978-1-77306-341-6, Groundwood Books
Margriet Ruurs writes books for children on Canada’s West Coast. She conducts author presentations in schools around the world.
Memories – stories are often made of memories. Memories can enhance childhood and help form important family bonds. Here are some new books for children all focused on memories.
Malaika, Carnival Queen by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, is a lovely story of a dream and shards of memory. Told in the lilting Jamaican voice of Malaika, she tells her Mummy of her dream. Together they look at pictures and talk about the daddy who passed away. He was a migrant fruit picker. Mummy helps Malaika to meet his old friends and, together, they hold a parade to honor his memory – a carnival of which Malaika gets to be the radiant Queen, just like her daddy dreamt about. ISBN 978-1-77306-850-3, Groundwood Books
In Hopscotch by Marie-Louise Gay, Ophelia watches the small dog at her neighbor’s house and loves how he runs and looks. She wished she could play with him. But one day the dog has vanished. Then Ophelia and her parents have to leave their house, too, in search of new work. Ophelia hates moving and living in a different place. She dreams of her dog friend and is scared of sounds and sights in her new place at night. Her imagination runs wild. Soon she has to attend a new school and she doesn’t speak the language. But thanks to her kind teacher, her own imagination and the hopscotch game she can draw, she soon makes new friends and feels at home. This lovely picture book is based on Marie-Louise Gay’s own childhood memories.
ISBN 978-1-77306-843-5, Groundwood Books
Moments in Time – Memories of East Vancouver by Sandip Sodhi, illustrated by Waheeda Tejani-Byron. This picture book is a tool to use while reading and having family discussions with children. Sandip Sodhi recalls the smells of cardamom and clove chai simmering on the stove. She remembers clothes billowing on the clothesline and asks ‘what do you remember of windy days and coming home from school? As she recalls sounds, music, chores and much more she draws the reader into the text and offers opportunities to discuss what makes you remember and what is important? ISBN 978-1-7770218-4-9 This book is available through Amazon or through www.sandipsodhi.com
Remember this indigenous performer?An important new title in Scholastic Canada’s Biography series by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas, just came out. Meet Buffy Sainte-Marie is the story of her life. Readers will learn that the famous indigenous singer was adopted. Through much dedication and hard work, she used her song writing to share her message of peace and acceptance with the world. Along the way Buffy was awarded an Oscar, shared songs and stories with Sesame Street characters, performed all over the world and explored groundbreaking technologies in art and teaching.
Others featured in this Biography series include Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, Terry Fox, David Suzuki and many others..
ISBN 978-1-4431-9612-3, Scholastic Canada
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children and conducts author visits to international schools.
Books in all shapes and sizes allows the reader a close look at animals in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes these books don’t need to be nonfiction. Fictional animal stories are as old as the ages. Animal stories can help people to take a closer look at our own thoughts and feelings.
I’ll Be A Chicken Too by Lana Vanderlee, illustrated by Mike Deas, is a delightful romp through a world of fantasy. This board book for the youngest readers as a lovely lyrical text with perfect rhyming, a great story to read out loud at bedtime. The humorous illustrations show a parent and children having fun as they pretend to be anything from elephants to skunks to otters. The story starts in bed with chickens and comes full circle after visiting many places and animals in between. ISBN 978-1-4598-3555-9, Orca Book Publishers
Serge the Snail Without a Shell, Harriet Lye and Rosa Rankin, art by Andrea Blinick This, too, is a rhyming story to share aloud with young readers.
Serge the Slug want to fit in at school where the snails tease him for not having a shell. He finds many wonderful shells on the beach but none of them seem quite right. Once Serge realizes that he is perfect the way he is, is accepts being a slug and finds joy in having the whole world as his home. A fun story with an underlying message about being who you are. ISBN 978-1-77471-150-7, Nimbus Publishing
Grasshopper by Titiana Ukhova is a quiet story about backyard nature. A girl spends a lazy afternoon in her wonderful, green garden. She notices how ants eat her apple core. She observes beetles and all sorts of insects around her on the flowers and in the grass. When she catches a grasshopper, there are different consequences. She keeps him in a jar but soon learns that all animals, even insects, should go free. A lovely, wordless picturebook about nature.
ISBN 978-1-77164-692-5, Greystone Kids
The Animals Come Out, by Susan Vande Griek, with art by Josée Bisaillon, was inbspired by the Covid pandemic. When people stayed indoors, they noticed animals who now ventured into the quiet cities. ‘Out from the woods trail the timid deer.’ The ducks come out of the ponds and the parks, while rabbits and coyotes explore the urban streets. A lovely look at animals with whom we share this earth, all venturing among houses and roads and observed by people from their windows. ISBN 978-1-77306-675-2, Groundwood Books
Calabash Cat and his amazing journey, James Rumford.
A bilingual story in English and Persian, this story is based in Chad, Central Africa. The amazing illustrations are based on traditional wood-burning designs by the Kotoko peope of Chad. Reminiscent of traditional legends, Calabash Cat is curious to see where the world ends. So he set off on a journey. When the road stops at the beginning of the desert, he figures this is the end of the world. But Camel corrects him and shows him more of the world. Each time the environment changes, he learns from different animals that there is more to the world than he ever imagined. He sees grasslands and jungle, even oceans and sky, and learns along the way that there is no end to the world and its wonders. ISBN 978-0618224234, HMH Books for Young Readers
Two Green Birds by Geraldo Valério is a chapter book that will appeal to young wildlife lovers. Francisco’s grandmother was given two wild parakeets. They sit in a cage hanging in her guava tree. They are the most beautiful birds he has ever seen. But no matter how well they care for them, how hard they try different foods, the two birds only shiver together on their perch and will not eat. When a wild flock of parakeets visits the garden and talks to them, Francisco and his grandmother know what to do. Perhaps wild birds were never meant to live in a cage. A gentle story about the need for freedom. ISBN 978-1-77306-795-7, Groundwood Books
Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author whose books about animals include Emma’s Eggs and Amazing Animals. www.margrietruurs.com
A brand new picture book is always a joy to discover. Share these titles out loud with your class or use them to encourage readers to discover new favourites about interesting topics.
Sun in My Tummy, Laura Alary, illustrated by Andrea Blinick. This is a picture book that looks at the magic of an ordinary breakfast. Did you know that the sun made the seeds grow that become your oatmeal? That blueberries grew because of sunlight, which turned them into sweet berries? Follow the magic of sunshine through familiar food to marvel at a miracle we take for granted. ISBN 978-1-77278-241-7, Pajama Press
The Sinking of Captain Otter by Troy Wilson, illustrated by Maira Chiodi is picture book about many things. It’s a story of an otter who wants to be captain of his own ship. But it’s also the story of persistence, of believing in yourself, a story about bullying and about making friends. Most of all it’s a lovely story to share in the classroom and to discuss all of these different layers. ISBN 978-1-77147-311-8, Owl Kids Books
Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, is an old fashioned story of kindness and empathy. Daniel loves learning how to pour chocolate in his great-uncle’s chocolate shop. When a new girl comes to his class, in the old brick school building, he can see that she needs some cheering up. So the next morning he hides a beautiful chocolate in her desk. And, like magic, it makes her smiles. But more children need a special treat or encouragement so soon Daniel is hiding chocolates throughout the class. When it is Daniel’s turn to need some special care, he is surprised to find his kindness returned by many friends. A story about doing little things for others to build empathy and compassion, with the most delicious looking end pages I’ve ever seen! ISBN 978-1-77276-264-6, Pajama Press
Why Humans Build Up, The Rise of Towers, Temples and Skyscrapers. This book is written by Gregor Craigie and illustrated by Kathleen Fu, and it starts with a question most kids ask: ‘Why?’ Why did people start building higher and higher? The answers are interesting and sometimes surprising. Starting with the Tower of Babylon and going throughout history to the Burj Khalifa, the book takes a look at many diverse towers and highrises, including totem poles, temples and commercial buildings. Budding architects and any kid fascinated by towers, will enjoy the details. ISBN 978-1-4598-2188-0, Orca Books
Night Runners by Geraldo Valério is a surprising book. At first glance this wordless picture book looks like a Christmas story with its sparkly stars on the cover, and a leaping reindeer. Then it seems like a scary story when the rushing reindeer stumbles in the dark woods and is surrounded by wolves. But then the images surprise again by showing how kind and caring those scary wolves are! Once they have brought food and water to the injured reindeer, they all continue their pursuit of the sparkling star cicle in the sky and find more friends. Together they sing and dance and celebrate. Worldless picture books can lead to many oral stories and boost imagination. This one will do so on many different levels. ISBN 978-1-77306-569-4, Groundwood Books
Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of 40 books for children. Her newest title is Where We Live, a nonfiction map book about children in their own unique neighborhoods around the globe.
Travel, memories, family visits, nature… These books are great for summer reading.
Mommy’s Hometown by Hope Lim, with illustrations by Jaime Kim, is a warm story about a little boy who loves listening to his mother’s stories of her childhood. He can just imagine the village where she grew up, the river where she splashed as a little girl. But when he and his mom finally visit her old hometown, they realize how it has changed. An old house is now surrounded by skyscrapers. No one splashes in the river anymore. The city even changes from day to night time. But, as he hears his grandmother calling, some things never change. A good story to discuss cultures, where you came from and how memories keep things unchanged while the world evolves. ISBN 978-1-5362-1332-4, Candlewick
Another, older, book that shows how things change over time is my all-time favorite by Jeannie Baker: Window is a wordless picturebook which focuses on one window and shows how the view changes over the years. As a baby grows older, birthday cards in the window sill give us clues about the years passing. The backyard changes from diapers on the line, to tricycles and eventually his first car. Trees are cut, new homes are built. The world changes through this window until the boy has grown up and his home is old. Then it’s time for a new home, a new life, and a new view from the different window. This book is perfect to discuss change, evolution, the environment, urban development and much more. ISBN 0-14-054830-0
A brand new wordless picturebook is A Day For Sandcastles, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Qin Leng. Perfect for international schools, this story can be told or imagined in any language as we follow a family for a day on the beach. They dip their toes into the water, shoe away sea gulls, eat sandy sandwiches and, of course, build sandcastles that get washed away in the upcoming tide. A book that makes you want to go to the beach! ISBN 978-1-5362-0842-9, Candlewick
And, talking about the beach, West Coast Wild at Low Tide, Deborah Hodge, art by Karen Reczuch shows us the beauty and the wildlife of the seaside. This book celebrates life in the intertidal zones on Canada’s Pacific west coast. After explaining tides, Deborah Hodge zooms in on various species that call this place home and that kids might observe, including anemone, hermit crabs and sea urchins. Reading books like this will help educate kids, and adults alike, about the importance of creatures along the shores. ISBN 978-1-77306-413-0, Groundwood Books
Seaside Treasures by Sarah Grindler has the subtitle ‘A Guidebook for Little Beachcombers’. With its smaller format, this is the perfect book to take along on a trip to the beach. Not only does the gorgeous art show sea life, like starfish and crab shells. It also shows all of the other treasures you can find on the beach: polished sea glass, glass floats from Japan, bits of rope from sailing vessels, even arrowheads and shards of pottery. The book also shows some things that don’t belong on the beach: straws, bottle caps and more, and encourages readers to help keep beaches clean. ISBN 978-1-77108-746-9, Nimbus Publishing
Tug, A Log Boom’s Journey by Scot Ritchie is a fun journey what follows logs from the ocean to the saw mill upriver. If you have ever spotted a boom of logs drifting or being towed, this is an interesting look at the how and why of felled logs. In a conclusion at the end, the author explains how First Nations used to look after the forest and how people now rely on logging for houses and other day uses. ISBN 978-1-77306-177-1. Groundwood Books
Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian writer of over 40 books for children. Her book WHERE WE LIVE will appear with Kids Can Press in 2022 and highlights maps of special places where children around the world live. Book now for author workshops at international schools: www.margrietruurs.com
Here are some wonderful new releases that all feature animals. Some focus on movement, others on the animals’ special features. Some are fiction, most are nonfiction. But all of them are great to share with students and young readers!
Looking for a fun book to share with preschool or kindergarten? Animals Move by Jane Whittingham is a picture book with padded cover and thick pages, for little ones. And kids won’t even realize they are learning while having fun. The book introduces names of baby animals and adults. Did you know that a baby porcupine is called a porcupette? Text and photos show animals jumping, wriggling and pouncing while a child makes all the same moves. Fun to read, then jump up and go through all the activities together. ISBN 978-1-77278-238-7, Pajama Press
Room For More, Michelle Kadarusman, illustrated by Maggie ZengTwo wombats dig a burrow in the Australia’s bush. Soon wallabees, koalas and many others stampede by in search of shelter from wildfires. Then den gets very crowded but there’s always room for more. And the kindness of the wombats is repaid by their friends when the rains come down and threaten their burrow. A picturebook that works on many levels: Australian wildlife, natural disasters, friendship and more. With nonfiction information on back pages. ISBN 978-1-77278-252-3, Pajama Press
A unique picture book about animals is Time To Shine, Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals, by Karen Jameson with art by Dave Murray. This book features on animal – an insect, a snake, a bird, etc. – on each page with short, rhyming text. The iridescence and its cause or effect is then explained in a small text box. This way the book can work for young readers as well as for slightly older budding scientists. ISBN 978-1-77306-462-8, Groundwood Books
In Finding Moose, by Sue Farrell Holler and Jennifer Faria, a child and her grandfather set off for a quiet walk in the woods, hoping to spot a moose. They don’t see moose but they do see small critters, birds, moose droppings and more. All along grandfather shares their native names in Ojibwemowin, language. A gentle story about bonding in nature. ISBN 978-1-77278-244-8 Pajama Press
Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler is my new favourite picturebook about animals. With incredible fold-out pages, the book is a guessing game into the amazing weirdness of nature. Each page asks questions to get kids thinking: what animal could you build with three billiard balls, dinosaur feet, some feather dusters and a vacuum hose? An ostrich, of course! Great art by Byron Eggenschwiller makes the impossible seem possible as each spread unfolds. A book that will be loved by young naturalists as well as by budding inventors and will lead to hours of read-aloud fun while learning impressive animal facts. ISBN 978-1-77138-913-6, Kids Can Press
Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of many books for children. To book her for author presentations at your school, visit: www.margrietruurs.com
There’s a fine line between reading picture books aloud to children and children being able/wanting to read by themselves. Even if their interest level is high, sentence structure can be difficult to master. Here are chapter books and graphic novels to help encourage reading.
Graphic novels can help beginning readers to master a whole book. The Simon and Chester books by Cale Atkinson are fun stories, divided into chapters, about a boy and his ghost best friend. Together they solve mysteries in Super Detectives!. They have adventures in Super Sleepover! Together they learn to rely on each other to get them out of difficult situations like ‘how to behave at a sleepover’ or finding a lost dog’s home. Through humorous adventures, without violence, and in graphic novel format, these books will encourage beginning readers to master a whole book in no time. ISBN 978-0-7352-6742-8 ISBN 978-0-7352-6744-2, Tundra Books
Another graphic novel but for somewhat older readers and with a delicious added twist of mystery and supernatural… is the Sueño Bay Adventures series by Mike Deas and Nancy Deas. The fabulous art sweeps the chapters along with exciting characters that have new adventures in each title. In Hermit Hill they meet Hivers, tiny Moon Creatures who play a role in the health of the forest. Can Sleeves overcome the ancient curve that surrounds them? ISBN 978-1-4598-3149-0, Orca Book Publishers
Esme’s Birthday Conga Line by Lourdes Heuer and Marissa Valdez is a chapter book that really encourages emerging readers. Esme’s grandparents did not plan much for her birthday. But Esme sets out to organize her own party complete with cake, a piñata and music as she invites all occupants of her apartment building, including the grumpy caretaker. ISBN 978-0-7352-6940-8, Tundra Books
Some readers struggle because of learning difficulties. The following novel about a dyslexic child was reviewed by Beatrix, age 10:
The U-nique Lou Fox by Jodi Carmichael is a book about a girl named Louisa, who dreams of being the youngest Broadway playwright in history, as well as the youngest Cirque du Soleil gymnast. But for now, she’s in fifth grade, with two best friends (Lexie and Nakessa), ADHD and dyslexia, and a teacher, Mrs Snyder, who seems to hate her. Then Lou’s mom delivers some bombshell news: Lou is going to be a big sister—to twins! Will she ever get to spend time with her mom after the babies are born? This book is amazing. I could really feel what Lou was feeling. I am in fifth grade, so I could relate to a lot that she goes through, and I couldn’t put it down until the end. I recommend it! ISBN 978-1772782585, Pajama Press
Not long ago prolific author Patricia MacLachlan passed away. We all know her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. But I looked up some of her latest, perhaps lesser known books and fell in love with Word After Word After Word. Designed as an easy-read novel for kids beginning to tackle chapter books, this one is also a wonderful story to read aloud to a class. Written in a poetic style, with lots of poems written “by kids”, the book celebrates a visiting author who teaches poetry to the children. Undoubtedly, MacLachlan wrote the story based on true classroom experiences. A great book to follow up by writing free verse poems with students. ISBN 978-0-06-027971-4, Harper Collins
And finally another title by Patricia MacLachlan, slightly older but still readily available and one that young readers will love: The Poet’s Dog. In this poetic chapter book two children wander in a snow storm. A large, lovable dog comes to their rescue and takes them to his deserted home. Having been raised by a poet, surrounded by books, it comes as no surprise that this dog can talk and the children can understand him. The new friends bond, keep each other from being lonely until they are found. And, as suitable in such a lovely fairy tale story, there is a happy ending. ISBN 978-0-06-229264-3, Harper Collins
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children. She conducts author workshops at international schools around the world. Book her through her website: www.margrietruurs.com
Nonfiction picture books can be a great teaching tool when talking about the environment. These new titles can be used with students of all ages to discuss science as well as art and writing.
One Well, written by Rochelle Strauss, illustrated by Rosemary Woods. This impressive nonfiction picture book about the environment should be in every classroom, in every child’s hands. Water, the book explains, is one of the most important, and precious, commodities on earth. As in the book in the same series, If The World Were A Village by David Smith, this book says ‘if all water on earth’ was one well, this is how much we have and this is what we need to use it for. It explains in admirable child-friendly terms how water allows life on our planet. Did you know that you drink the equivalent of a backyard pool full in your life time? And that one cloud can weigh more than a blue whale? The book can be an eye opener to any water user and encourages much needed, water-friendly habits. ISBN 978-1-55337-954-6 Kids Can Press
A Tree is a Home by Pamela Hickman, with art by Zafouko Yamamoto is an in-depth look at the shelter offered by one tree. Like the house next to it, it offers a home throughout the seasons. The text and close-up art take us from the roots, where a chipmunk lives, to the highest branches and show us each animal throughout a year. A good a book to pair with Jeannie Baker’s Window – a look through the window of one house over many years. ISBN 978-1-5253-0236-7, Kids Can Press
My Book of Butterflies, by Geraldo Valério is a large picturebook that can be a child’s first guide book. In A Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle eluded to the life cycle of butterflies in a fictional manner. This information book picks up the theme by showing fabulously painted butterflies and elaborating on their life cycle. From tiny yellow eggs to a wide variety of weird looking caterpillars to brilliant butterflies from a round the world, this book will encourage children to take a closer look at these amazing insects. Geraldo Valério also created My Book of Birds. ISBN 978-1-77306-335-5, Groundwood Books
This is The Boat That Ben Built by Jen Lynn Bailey, with illustrations by Maggie Zeng, is a very Canadian story of a northern river ecosystem. Beaver, bear, loon, goose – all gather momentum as Ben floats down the river and spots more wildlife. The text uses repetition as ‘moose strolls by bear taking a swim by the goose that glides by the loon that floats by the beaver in the river that carries the boat that Ben built’. Fun to read over and over with young students and create your own story based on animals your students may spot in their own surroundings. Nonfiction information on each animal is supplied in back pages. ISBN 978-1-77278-242-4, Pajama Press.
Before We Stood Tall by Jessica Kulekjian, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper, is written in the voice of the trees themselves. From the time they are seeds floating on a breeze, they dream of standing tall in a kingdom of trees. But trees can’t do it alone – they need the soil, the insects, the wind and much more to allow them to grow tall and become a forest. A lovely story to look at the interconnectedness of nature. ISBN 978-1-5253-0324-1, Kids Can Press
Orca Rescue! The True Story of an Orphaned Orca Named Springer, written by Donna Sandstrom, illustrated by Sarah Burwash. This is a great book for all ages: the true story of an orca spotted close to Seattle, WA where no other pods where around. Through a set of circumstances, the author become involved in this young orphan’s life by helping to figure out why she was there and where her family was. The story tells in fascinating detail how marine biologists work, how pods are tracks, and how scientists are able to find out information. With 144 pages this book is divided into chapters and lends itself as a great read for all ages. ISBN 978-1-5253-0117-9, Kids Can Press
No More Plastic by Alma Fullerton is the touching story of a young girl who witnesses a dead whale on the beach near her home. The whale died from eating so much plastic that he starved. It opens Isley’s eyes to a gigantic problem. She tries to convince others to no longer use plastic bags, containers or water bottles. But they soon forget. Isley doesn’t forget the whale and the impact plastic has on the ocean. She gathers so much plastic that she can build a sculpture the size of a whale. Thén her village realized the size of the problem. Together they work towards a solution: passing laws that ban plastics and making a difference. This is a story that can inspire readers to take action, no matter how small. It shows that we can all make a difference. ISBN 978-1-77278-113-7, Pajama Press
Margriet Ruurs has written many books about nature, including Wild Babies, Amazing Animals and The Boy Who Painted Nature, the story of wildlife painter Robert Bateman.
I’m a firm believer in picturebooks as being everybody-books. In fact, some picturebooks are not for little readers but lend themselves perfectly for older students, especially to illustrate classroom discussions or for new language learners. Here are some picturebooks as well as novels for older students.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Júlia Sarda. This is an incredibly beautifully written story of how Mary Shelley – in the early 1800’s – came up with the idea for her book Frankenstein. A daydreamer, some friends, a creepy castle and a thunder storm all contributed to what would become one of the most famous horror stories of all ages. A fascinating story for readers who like to write and daydream… ISBN 978-1-77049-559-3, Tundra Books
Oliver Jeffers is a sort-of Irish illustrator. He also spent time in Australia and currently lives in the US. But most of all he a book creator in the broadest sense of the word. He creates amazing art, writes the text and introduces readers of all ages not just to amazing books, but to important topics. The environment, kindness, creativity – are all addressed in his books. They have been translated into over forty-five languages, and sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Many of his books are great for younger readers, but some specifically lend themselves for an older audience that will appreciate subtleties in the art. His art is delicious… In The Incredible Book Eating Boy (ISBN 978-0-00-718) he used lined paper, pages from a dictionary, old ledgers, the cover of book, and everything book related. It’s a wild fantasy about a boy who, literally, devours books. But it is also the serious story of how important reading is to get smarter. Obviously the book eating boy got his hands on the book because there’s a big bite missing of the back cover… Some of Jeffers’ books were written by someone else. Like The Crayons books, all written by Drew Daywalt. The fonts, the design, the drawings in these books all dance of the pages in delight.
The Worst Band in the Universe by Australian author/illustrator Graeme Base at first comes across as a hilarious, cosmic tale of aliens on a far away planet where music has been banned. The story is written in impressive rhyming verses. But upon reading it more closely, it become clear to the older reader, that this is not just a romp through outer space. It is also a serious tale about the silliness of banning anything, including books on earth. The large format picture book comes complete with CD and ‘forbidden music’. ISBN 978-0670865659, Viking
The same talented book creator produces the well known older picture book called The Sign of the Seahorse. I love these books because their rhythmic texts make for enriching classroom read-alouds. But besides entertaining with their detailed illustrations, this book also has a much deeper meaning. It’s a who-done-it in the deep sea where species are threatened and disappearing. Who could be causing such chaos in the ocean? ISBN 978-0613087551, Turtle Back Books
The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam is the incredible story of an Indian artist who had never left his home village until he was commissioned to come to London to create his art. The book is his personal interpretation of how he sees the modern world and relates it back to the siritual tales of his childhood. A fascinating book to study with highschool students. ISBN 978-8192317120, Tara Books
Are you familiar with books by Peter Sis? His text and art are great to discuss with older students, i.e. in the book The Wall: Growing Up Behind The Iron Curtain. As a child growing up in a communist country seemed normal, but as he got older Peter Sis had questions. Cracks appeared in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ‘n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. But it didn’t last long before a Soviet-led invasion brought an end to it all. Important picture books to share in highschool. ISBN 978-0374347017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
New Year by Mei Zihan, illustrated by Qin Leng. In this story about Lunar New Year, a grandfather reminisces about his daughter who lives far away in a different country. Is she honoring the old traditions or living a whole new life? More in the voice of an older parent than in that of a child, this is a story about seeking independence and missing family. ISBN 978-1-77164-731-1, Greystone Kids
Oceanarium, written by Loveday Trinick, illustrated by Teagan White (the ‘curators’) showcases the world’s oceans as if it were a museum, an aquarium full of interesting creatures. And it is. Presented as galleries with exhibits, the book walks you through the entire museum – from zooplanton to marine mammals, from antropods to crustaceans, and everything in between. From the polar regions, the Galapagos, the open ocean and the mangroves – this large book is a visual treat as a coffee table art book as well as a detailed source of information for oceanographers of all ages. A valuable and enriching addition to any classroom or library, this book is part of the Welcome to the Museum series by Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-1-5362-2381-1, Candlewick Press
The Librarian of Basra, by Jeanette Winter, is the beautiful, true story of Alia, a courageous librarian in Iraq. When war comes, she realizes the importance of bringing the precious books, books in many languages – to safety. She enlists her neighbors into helping. Together they pack and move most of the books. A fire destroys the building but Alia is happy in the knowledge that they have safeguarded an irreplaceable treasure. ISBN 0-15-205445-6, Harcourt
Step by Deborah Ellis is a collection of short stories – all of them focusing on 11 year olds from around the world in vastly different settings. Len helps as server in a soup kitchen where, to his shock, the school bully shows up. Lazlo lives in Hungary and is hopefully that his father will take him on a special outing for his 11th birthday. He is shocked when things turn out much different. Dom meets Gregoire from Madagascar and learns what it’s it like to be hungry. All of the stories in this collection by the skilled storyteller who wrote The Breadwinner, are jolting eye openers, sometimes a bit shocking. The book is labeled as being for readers ages 9-12. However, I would suggest it’s for students 12 and over. Not stories to comfort but stories that create awareness of how different our lives can be. The author is donating all royalties to UNHCR to aid refugees. ISBN 978-1773068152, Groundwood Books
Future History 2050 by Thomas Harding. This is perhaps the most thought provoking novel I’ve read in a long time. Although it may be controversial in a school library, this small novel is perhaps the best way to bring awareness to readers to climate change and the type of future we currently face. Written in the year 2050, Billy interviews his Gran to learn more about her life and about life before he was born. He records her stories and is amazed that people knew about climate change and still did not take more drastic action to prevent it. He learns about life when there was still democracy and how politics changed. Billy finds a way to send the diaries back to the year 2020. A stark and interesting wake-up call before it is too late to change our future. ISBN 978-1773068039, Groundwood Books