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
Everyone needs a friend. Family and friendships can differ but enrich our lives. The following picture books reflect families, relationships and friends in which you can, perhaps, recognize yourself. Many of these books can lead to enriching classroom discussions.
A Stopwatch from Grampa by Loretta Garbutt, illustrated by Carmen Mok, is the touching story of a grandchild’s love for his Grandpa and how much he is being missed. But Grandpa left his stopwatch, which helps to hold on to good memories and to making new ones. ISBN 978-1-5253-0144-5, Kids Can Press
Wounded Falcons was written by Jairo Buitrago from Mexico, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng from Colombia and translated by Elisa Amado from Guatemala. The story follows two best friends, living in a big city they find a wounded bird on an empty lot and slowly nurse it back to health. Adrián is always getting into trouble, getting into fights but Santiago knows that his friend cares about others. Adrián feels like one with the wounded bird until, one day, it flies out on its own.
A touching story about friends, fighting, and caring for wildlife, a story that can serve to kickstart many classroom discussions. ISBN 978-1-77306-456-7, Groundwood Books
Hat Cat by Troy Wilson, illustrated by Eve Coy. The old man feeds the squirrels in his garden every day. One day a kitten shows up, curled up in the old man’s hat. The old man feeds it and finds it a lovely companion. But he’s afraid to let Hat Cat outside for fear that it will run off or chase the squirrels. One day the old man is not there but when he shows up again, the two friends have learned to trust each other. Told in sparse text this is a story of friendship, a lovely picturebook that works on different levels. ISBN 978-1-5362-1366-9, Candlewick Press
Whistling for Angela by Robin Heald, illustrated by Peggy Collins, is a beautifully executed picture book tat will work on many levels. Mostly it is the story of a new big brother preparing a special gift for his new baby sister. It is the happy story of a family adopting a baby. And it is the important but sad story of a birth mother finding a loving home for her baby. Robin Heald skillfully brings the different stories together in this touching picture book. ISBN 978-1772782455, Pajama Press
And finally a lovely story of adoption: And J.J. Slept by Loretta Garbutt, with great illustrations by Erika Rodriguez Medina. When J.J. arrives at his new home, everyone is excited. His new siblings run and stomp and yell. But J.J. sleeps contently in his new parents arms. The dog barks, the doorbell rings but nothing disturbs J.J. Until all the kids leave and the house becomes unusually quiet. Then he wakes up and screams at the top of his lungs. Until all of the noisy siblings return… A realistic story about adopting and adapting. ISBN 978-1-5253-0419-4, Kids Can Press
Margriet Ruurs reviews books and writes on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada. She also conducts author presentations at international schools and writes about her travels in a blog: www.globetrottingbooklovers.com
War, refugees… these are not easy topics to write about for children. But books are powerful tools to share stories of war and to show what it is like to live as refugee. These capable authors and illustrators convey the stories, creating tools for parents and educators to use to show what life can be like – sorrowful but also hopeful. Not only are these books stories of war, they are also stories of friendship, compassion and how we can help one-another.
The Capybaras by Alfredo Soderguit is hands-down the most impressive picture book I have come across in recent months. I could fit this story into the category ‘friendship’, or ‘finding home’ but, even though it is not mentioned anywhere in the story, ‘refugees’ is probably the most applicable label. The chickens were content to live in their cozy coop. They did not intend to share it with anyone. Until the large, unfamiliar capybaras show up. The chickens don’t want to build fences, but neither do they plan to invite them. But… it is hunting season. Reluctantly they agree to let them stay until it’s safe to go home. They do tell their young ones not to mingle. But of course, two of them do. And after the little cabybara saves the little chicks life, do the chickens realize it’s fine to share and benefit from each other. An amazing parallel to humans… ISBN 978-1771647823
A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman has beautiful art by Peggy Collins. Dedicated to the children of Afghanistan, this is the story of Aria who lost a leg to a landmine but who knows she can do anything, even carpentry. Finding it too hard to sit on the floor of her classroom, Aria collects wood and learns the skills needed to build herself a bench. A bench so beautiful that all the girls in class want to learn how to build furniture. A heartbreaking and heartwarming story all at once. ISBN 978-1-77278-222-6, Pajama Press
In A Feast For Joseph, by Terry Farish and Od Bonny, illustrated by Ken Daley, Joseph and his mom reminisce about the way food was shared with many others around the campfire in the refugee camp. Now they eat alone in their apartment. But Joseph wants to celebrate and share their food with friends. Will his grandmother come from Africa? Will his neighbours show up if they cook for them? A lovely picture book about food and customs and the simplicity of sharing. ISBN 978-1-77306-438-3, Groundwood Books
What The Kite Saw, written by Anne Laurel Carter, illustrated by Akin Duzakin. After the tanks and the soldiers come and take away the men, a young boy wishes he had wings so he could see where his father was and what was happening beyond his town.He builds a kite, and many other children do too, to send a message of hope into the sky. Inspired by Palestinian children, this is a universal story of war and hope. ISBN 978-1-77306-243-3, Groundwood Books
Stealing Home, J. Torres and David Namisato is a graphic novel for middle grade. Not only tells this book the story of Sandy, love for baseball. It is based on the true story of Japanese internment camps during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the attitude of Sandy’s friends and their family towards his Canadian-Japanese family changes. Suddenly they won’t play baseball with him anymore. Their relatives lose jobs and homes. Eventually Sandy and his family are taken away to live in remote ‘ghost towns’. With nonfiction information in the back, this graphic novel brings renewed awareness to young readers of a dark period in history. ISBN 978-1-5253-0334-0, Kids Can Press
Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, with art by Rashin Kheiriyeh. When you have no home, when you are walking towards a new place, ‘here’ is a different concept. ‘Here’ is home and ‘here’ changes all the time. A cup, a blanket can mean home. They can also let your imagination roam, help you tell stories, sing songs about ‘home’. A lovely, award winning book that will encourage children to think and write about what ‘here’ means to them. ISBN 978-0-7352-6359-8, Tundra
When My Name Was Keoko, by Linda Sue Parks is the impressive story of war in Korea. I grew up in Europe and have heard and read much about World War II in Europe. But I did not realize how similar this was to life in (South) Korea under Japanese occupation. This book was an eye-opener for me, told in two voices – Keoko and her brother who are both given Japanese names and can no longer speak their own language. A gripping novel and important story that makes a good read for older children, even for adults. ISBN 978-0606247160
Books for athletes… Do reading and sports go together? When I conduct writing workshops in schools, I always love being able to involve the PE teacher in the reading and writing process. Here are new and long loved titles about sports!
The Thing Lenny Loves Most about Baseball by Andrew Larsen, art by Milan Pavlovic, is the universal story of a kid dedicated to a sport he loves but isn’t very good at playing yet. But with the help of his dad, and sustained by his book of baseball facts, Lenny perseveres and, through practice, becomes a valuable member of his team.
ISBN 978-1-77138-916-7, Kids Can Press
On The Line, Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Scot Ritchie, is the newly released story of Jackson, who comes from a long line of hockey heroes. Jackson’s not so sure he can live up to his family’s expectations. He feels like a potato on skates. But maybe his skills are not in skating but planning and organizing. When his team needs a plan, Jackson saves the day. A good story not just for hockey fans but to discuss each person’s different strengths and skills.
ISBN 978-1-77278-218-9, Pajama Press
Crocodiles Play! by Robert Heidbreder, art by Rae Maté.
In this fun, rhyming sports romp, the crocodile teams has their equipment and sports all mixed up. Theyplay basketball with bats, baseball with golf clubs and slam-dunk with ping-pong balls. The littlest readers will laugh aloud chant along with this silly poem picture book until the crocs get it just right.
ISBN 1-896580-89-0, Tradewind Books
Ice hockey is not just for people. In Linda Bailey’s The Farm Team, illustrated by Bill Slavin, the farm animals just love to play but are not very good at it. Each year the coveted tea cup goes to the rough and tumble Bush League Bandits. Until the year when, after much practice, the Farm Team manages to outwit the wild animals and bring the cup home. An older read that remains hilarious for all hockey fans.
In this column I share my favourite books to read aloud, curl up with and put into the hands of young readers. This week, a look at books about libraries and books.
The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is perhaps my all-time favorite book about libraries. I can’t decide what I like more – the words by Carla Morris or the pictures by Brad Sneed; but the result of this combination is a heartwarming love song to librarians. Melvin grows up surrounded by books. The librarians encourage him to be curious and to look for answers in books and online. Their investment pays off in a perfect ending that I won’t give away. You will have to read this book for yourself.. or better yet, to your students. ISBN 978-1-56145-391-7, Peachtree
The Library Lion by Michelle Knudson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, looks and feels like a classic. It’s the wonderful story of rules made to be broken, of a librarian who is not easily ruffled and of a lion who loves listening to story. A must-share with young readers in a school library! ISBN 978-0-7636-3784-2, Candlewick
The Lady With The Books, Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance is based on the true story of Jella Lepman, a German Jewish journalist who believed in building global friendship and understanding through children’s books. She traveled around war-torn Germany with a display of international books, and initiated the International Youth Library as well as IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People, a global organization that still promotes children’s books around the world today. A wonderful fictional read complemented by nonfiction details in the back matter. SBN 978-1-5253-0154-4, Kids Can Press
It’s A Book, Lane Smith. A book doesn’t need a mouse, it doesn’t need to be charged. A book may not need wifi or be able to tweet, but a book can draw you right in. For hours… You may like a book so much that you don’t want to give it back. And even then you won’t need to charge it. Because it’s a book. A hilarious story to share out loud. ISBN 978-1-59643-606-0, Roaring Brook Press
A Child of Books byJeff Oliver and Sam Winston is a fabulous ode to stories. The art is made of papers and typeset words. “I come from a world of stories, and upon my imagination I float…” shows a child on a raft floating on a sea of words that a reader will recognize from many classics. The book shows a world made from stories and lends itself to be read to children of all ages as well as used with high school art students. A great gift for booklovers of any age. ISBN 978-1-4063-5831-5, WALKER
The Undercover Book List, Colleen Nelson is a fabulous middle grade novel. It’s a story grounded in a school library and books, focused on friendship. Jane loves to read but misses her best friend who moved away. Tyson is into video games and does not like to read. But through the secret messages left in books in their school library, both main characters change and make new friends. A great story for book worms and kids who have to move and make new friend. Also perfect for the teacher to read aloud. ISBN 978-1-77278-187-8, Pajama Press
The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander is a fictional novel about Lenora who is curious. In magical, fantastical adventures she travels through the ages and around the globe, all entering a library. Hired as the Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian, Lenora 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. In the sequel – Rebel of the Library of Ever – Lenore has to free knowledge from the shadows. Your upper elementary students will love these smart, sci-fi page turners. ISBN 978-1250169174, Imprint.
Ban This Book, Alan Gratz. No column about school libraries would be complete without this title which deals skillfully with the difficult topic of censorship of books in an elementary school library. While showing both sides of the issue, Gratz leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. 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. A great read, even for teachers. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1
Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian is a Camel, a nonfiction book about unique mobile libraries around the world. She conducts author presentations at international schools.
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world