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The Lunch Thief by Anne Bromley

  • December 4, 2010 8:27 am

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Rafael, a sixth grader, discovers that a new boy, Kevin, has been stealing his lunch. Every day, Kevin steals a lunch from another student. But instead of trying to fight Kevin, Rafael decides to take his mother’s advice: “Use your mouth before your fists.” Rafael asks Kevin about his life and finds out he is from Jacinto Valley, which was devastated by fires. Although Kevin doesn’t want to talk about his situation, Rafael discovers that Kevin and his family are living in a motel room. Rafael then arranges to pack a second lunch for Kevin.

This is a great book to introduce upper-elementary kids to concepts of empathy and caring.  However, at first I was confused by the format of The Lunch Thief. It is a picture book, yet the drawings show kids who are about 11 or 12. The book is written for kids ages 8-12. I thought, do kids of that age read picture books?

Well, apparently there is a place for picture books in upper elementary grades. Check out this page: Teaching with Picture Books, which suggests that picture books can be appropriate for upper elementary grades as a way to quickly introduce concepts in a non-threatening way, and to create a focus for learning.

I have included this book on my boys list.

Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs by Conover and Crane

  • September 18, 2010 5:46 pm

Click on image to buy book

Click on image to buy book

I came across this wonderful book of Islamic folk tales somewhat by accident. To tell you the truth, I had never read any Islamic folk tales before, although our family loves folk tales! The authors, Sarah Conover and Freda Crane, put together this collection because “there was, and is still, a lack of compelling material introducing Islam to children and young adults.”

The 39 stories in this book are retellings of tales collected from all over the world: from China to Africa to Indonesia — anywhere Muslims live. Many stories feature the folk character Joha (also known as Mulla Nasruddin Hodja, and Affanti), whose predicaments and funny responses teach the reader through humor.

Several stories feature important women in the Islamic tradition. Rabia Al Adawiya of Basra was a famous Sufi saint. In one story, Rabia stresses the importance of gratitude, and in another, she reforms a thief by teaching him how to pray. Khadija, Muhammed’s first wife, was a wealthy businesswoman and the first follower of Islam.

Women and girl characters are featured in other stories too. A clever girl in China named Sailimai outsmarted the emperor and saved her father-in-law. Fatimah, a clever, hard-working Turkish girl, found herself in China after many misadventures, and was able to fulfill a legend by building a magnificent tent for the emperor.

Because Islam is closely related to Judaism and Christianity, the three religions share some stories. Included in this collection is a story about Abraham; a story about Hagar (Abraham’s second wife, and the mother of the Arab people); and a story about the birth of Jesus.

The stories stress generosity, honesty, cooperation, simplicity, fairness, hard work, equanimity, humility, and the importance of education. Each story is introduced by a quote from Islamic literature. Twelve full-color illustrations by Valerie Wahl add to the beauty and charm of this book.

Background information on Islam is included in the introductory material. Source notes for each story and quote are included at the back of the book.

This is truly a valuable collection, and highly recommended. I am including this on both my girls list and my boys list.

From North to South by Rene Colato Lainez

  • August 21, 2010 7:37 pm
From North to South

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This picture book was written by an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles who learned that the parents of some of his students had been deported. This painful situation led to the creation of the character of Jose, whose mother has been deported.

Although the situation is sad, the book still manages to strike a positive note. The story opens with Jose excited about driving with his father from San Diego to visit his mother in Tijuana, where she is staying at El Centro Madre Assunta, a shelter for recently deported women. Jose and his father bring clothes, photographs, and drawings for his mother. Jose helps his mother in the garden, and promises to take care of the garden at home until she is able to return.

In addition to teaching kids about immigration issues, this gentle story depicts the love of a son and mother under trying circumstances. The text is in English and Spanish. I have included this book on my boys’ list.

Rabbi Harvey graphic novels, by Steve Sheinkin

  • May 15, 2010 8:02 am
Rabbi Harvey

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My 12-year-old son and I just read the latest Rabbi Harvey graphic novel: Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, which is billed as “a graphic novel of dueling Jewish folktales in the Wild West.”

Wisdom and compassion win over cheating and violence in this hilarious book. Rabbi Harvey of Elk Spring, Colorado is challenged by the new (and, as it turns out, evil) Rabbi Ruben (also known as “the wisdom kid.”) Rabbi Ruben and his accomplices (including his mother, “Bad Bubbe”) attempt to imprison Rabbi Harvey, all the while filching money from innocent townspeople in exchange for shoddy advice.

With the help of his own learning and some quick action on the part of his friend Abigail (former gold miner and current schoolteacher), Rabbi Harvey foils the plans, shows up Rabbi Ruben for the cheater he is, and runs him out of town.

Each episode features authentic Jewish folktales, including silliness from the people of “Helms Falls” (the Wild West counterpart to the traditional “Chelm,” the Polish town of fools in Jewish folklore).

The drawings in this book at first appear crude. In fact, the art is dubbed “strange” in one of the blurbs on the back cover! However, as I read the book, the art came to seem perfect for this funny book that brings traditional wisdom to life in unexpected ways.

Other books in this series include: The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, and Rabbi Harvey Rides Again.

I’ve included these books on my Boys list. Highly recommended!

Earth Day Books

  • April 17, 2010 5:28 am

Christopher's Harvest TimeIn honor of Earth Day (April 22), here is a collection of books with environmental themes from my Girls and Boys lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Christopher’s Harvest Time, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. A charming book about a boy who sees the flowers and plants come alive in his garden. We’ve had this book on our shelf for years, and my boys really enjoyed it when they were younger. A few days ago the younger boy (almost 8 years old) asked me to read it to him again, and imagine my surprise when the older one (12 years old) perched on the arm of the chair and eagerly looked at all the pictures! This book is truly special. It depicts boys who are gentle and in tune with nature, and the pictures are beautiful.


Riparia’s River,
by Michael Caduto
Fiction, ages 5-9. Four children (two girls and two boys) discover that their favorite swimming hole is smelly and overgrown with slimy green stuff. A mysterious woman who calls herself “Riparia” shows them that the water has become polluted due to herbicides and fertilizers from a nearby farm. With Riparia’s guidance, the children work with the farmer to solve the problem. This book combines an environmental message with an example of youth leadership and initiative. Highly recommended!

Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint, by Femida Handy and Carole Carpenter
Fiction, ages 5-8.  On a trip to the beach, Sandy is horrified at a pile of trash she encouters. As she cleans up the mess, she meets the “Garbage Lady,” an eccentric woman who cleans up the beach. The Garbage Lady teaches Sandy about her environmental “footprint” and how to reduce it. The illustrations were created using recycled and natural material.


The Princess Who Danced with Cranes,
by Annette LeBox
Picture book, ages 4-7. Princess Vivian loves to play in the marsh near her castle, and especially to see the cranes. But when everyone in the kingdom goes bonkers over a new game called Gullywhupper, they fill in the marsh for more lawn to play on. Eventually, Vivian remembers the marsh and the cranes, and convinces her father and others to restore the marsh. Lovely illustrations.


Noah’s Wife: The Story of Naamah,
by Sandy Sasso
Fiction, ages 4 to 8. Noah saved all the animals on earth from destruction by the flood. But what about the plants? In this book we find out that Noah’s wife, Naamah, gathers seeds to save all the plants on earth. Beautiful color illustrations.

The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers
Fiction, ages 4 and up. The root children are boys and girls who bring
the seasons. Beautiful illustrations.

Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet, by Janet Wilson features full-color, two-page spreads about 10 young people from around the world, as well as shorter profiles of 20 more. At the back of the book are suggestions for how readers can get involved and make a difference. My son and I enjoyed reading about William Kamkwamba of Malawi, who put together windmills using salvaged parts; Kruti Parekh of India, who incorporates environmental messages in her magic shows; Fang Minghe of China, who takes photos of illegal wildlife being sold in order to help the police catch these criminals; and all the other young people in this book.

Save My Rainforest, by Monica Zak
Nonfiction, ages 5 and up. The true story of Omar Castillo, who at the age of 8 walked 870 miles with his father in an attempt to save the Lacandon Rainforest in Mexico. An inspiring story!

The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, by Zubizaretta, Rohmer, and Schecter
Folktale, ages 5 and up. Lucia Zenteno arrives in a village and the animals and plants immediately love her. But the people are suspicious and drive her away. When she leaves, the village’s river goes with her. Humbled, the people ask her forgiveness. She returns the river and reminds the villagers to treat even strangers with kindness. This story is part of the oral tradition of the Zapotec Indians of Mexico. Color pictures, English and Spanish text.