Last school year, I read aloud A Different Pond written by Bao Phi to our fifth graders. I launched the read aloud talking about mirrors and windows. I explained that books can serve as mirrors that help us see ourselves but they can also be windows, or opportunities, to learn more about the world and to better understand others. I was hoping we would get to a place where we could see that books could be both mirrors and windows, that we could find connections among our differences…to see that there are parts of being human that transcend gender, race, and socioeconomic status.
During the read aloud, we talked about the characters situation-how they had come to America from Vietnam and all of the challenges they faced. Despite all the ways that these characters were different than the students before me, I had hoped that they might see how at the heart of this book is a story about family. When I asked if anyone could talk about any things they might have in common with the characters in A Different Pond, I was met with silence. I knew in that moment that we still have a lot of work to do.
For the last two years, I have focused my #pb10for10 list on titles that have helped me navigate what it means to be human with my own children and my students. You can access these lists here and here. In both of these posts I included this quote from James Howe:
“The world we are living in now makes the world of the book all that much more important as we consider what we want to say to our children about how to live, about what being human in a community should look like.”
Since that silent moment at the end of The Different Pond read aloud last fall, I’ve been thinking about how we can use books to make sure that kids feel seen, so they learn about the world, but more importantly how we can use books and stories to learn to live together with love.
As we prepare to launch a new school year, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how we can do more than just read aloud these great picture books, but come back to them again and again. Also, to take the work we do during read aloud and really help kids do the same kind of thinking work in their own reading. Here’s a list of picture books that can help to launch some of this work:
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
Written by Kat Zhang
Illustrated by Charlete Chua
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao is a great book to get a glimpse into another culture and traditions. In this story, Amy loves making bao, a steamed bun that can be made with different fillings, with her family. Amy aims to make the perfect bao and almost gives up…but then she has an idea. Kids can make connections to Amy’s persistence and family. Can you think of a time you had to be persistent like Amy? or How is Amy’s family like your family?
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match
Written by Monica Brown
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match features a multiracial family. Marisol is mismatched in many ways, from her bright red hair, her clothes, and the fact that she speaks both English and Spanish (the story is written in English and the alternating page is in Spanish). Marisol begins to wonder if she should try to match, until a wise teacher writes her a note that says:
I want you to know that I like you just the way you are, because the Marisol McDonald that I know is a creative, unique, bilingual, Peruvian-Scottish-American, soccer playing artist and simply marvelous!
Dear Primo: A Letter to my Cousin
Written by Duncan Tonatiuh
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin is a shared letter between two cousins, one living in America and the other Mexico. Throughout the book, we learn about how the cousins’ lives are similar and different-great for showing kids that people can do similar things, such as eat, shop, and play-in different ways. This book would also be a great mentor for an informational book. It can be studied, noticing the structure and how the author defined new vocabulary by labeling the drawings.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress
Written by Christine Baldacchino
Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress is about Morris who loves to wear the tangerine dress from the dress up area at school. This might be a book that serves as a mirror for some kids and a window for others to have a conversation about gender bias and accepting others.
Here I Am
Story by Patti Kim
Illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
Here I Am is a wordless graphic novel with big ideas and themes. The story follows a young boy who has come to America from Korea. Through the pictures, we see the struggles he faces in a new place and how when he begins to explore his new home, he begins to learn and things get easier.
Luna & Me
Written by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
When I brought Luna and Me home from school last year, my oldest daughter, Wren, immediately fell in love. She insisted on bringing the book to school for her teacher to read aloud to her class. This true story of a girl who decided to live in a tree, Luna, in order to save a forrest spoke to Wren because it is a story of a kid standing up for what they believe in and making a difference. This would be a wonderful book to inspire kids to think about the changes they wish to see in the world and to begin making plans for action.
Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice
Written by Mahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood
Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
I used a poem from this beautiful book, Woke, during the tail end of distance learning this spring, as the Nation was crying out [again], Black Lives Matter. It was the start of a conversation, another illumination that there is so much work to be done. In the forward, Jason Reynolds writes:
Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice is…a collection of proclamations, megaphoning to the young world that they are human and therefore have the right-I’d even go so far as to say the obligation-to talk back, to speak up, to connect with the fortifying elements outside of them, as well as those that exist within.
Dictionary for a Better World
Written by Irene Latham & Charles Waters
Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
I could say that all of the books on this list are just as good for us all to read as adults, as they are for kids. This book, Dictionary for a Better World, is no exception. Earlier this spring, a collegue shared this title with me along with the opening quotes:
If that isn’t an invitation for us all… This book features “poems, quotes, and anecdotes,” introducing vocabulary, examples, and stories. It’s a lovely book to have around, to open to randomly, and be inspired.
Written by Bernard Waber
Courage by Bernard Waber is not new. It was given to me as I launched my first year as a third grade teacher, nearly 16 years ago. I used it every year to have a conversation with my students about the idea of courage and how there would be many instances throughout the course of the year where we would have to draw on courage…and give it to each other.
There is so much going on in the world. Books can be a place for us to find and give courage not only to our students, but to ourselves. May you have the courage to start conversations and take action…for humanity.
On August 12th, I will be joining the Teachers, Books, Readers team of educators with my first post, featuring Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow.