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Sarah Gives Thanks, by Allegra and Gardner

  • November 10, 2012 5:44 am

Until I read this book, I had no idea how important Sarah Josepha Hale was to our country. She helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday (it was considered more of a New England holiday in the early 1800s).

Although as a young woman Hale was barred from college due to her gender, she studied at home alongside her brother, using his college texts. After the death of her husband, she was able to support her five children with her income as a writer.

As the influential editor of magazines for women, she encouraged education and exercise for women. She frequently wrote about the importance of Thanksgiving as a way to promote gratitude. She sent letters to politicians and businesspeople, and encouraged her readers to do the same. Finally, after five presidents had refused to consider her request to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, President Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 that Thanksgiving would be held nationwide on the last Thursday in November.

Hale’s story is told in simple, engaging language by Mike Allegra, with realistic, colorful pictures by David Gardner. The book also includes a biographical sketch for adults, as well as a list of resources for further reading. This book would be appropriate for elementary students above the age of seven or eight.

Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President, by Malaspina and James

  • October 20, 2012 4:41 am

Just in time for the election, here’s a picture book about Susan B. Anthony voting for President in 1872–well before the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, officially acknowledging that women have the right to vote.

Anthony argued that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, gave women the right to vote because it stated that all citizens have equal rights.            

She and 15 other women successfully registered to vote, and cast their ballots. However, soon after the election they were all arrested. Before her trial, Anthony toured the country, arguing her case before the American people.

Although she lost the case and was fined $100, she declared she would never pay a penny.

Anthony’s story is told in simple language by Ann Malaspina, with appealing watercolor illustrations by Steve James. An appendix includes background information for adults, a short bibliography, and a reproduction of a letter Anthony wrote to her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton after she voted.

This book would probably be most appropriate for ages 8 and up, because younger children may not understand the legal concepts. It could also be used as a quick introduction to voting rights, women’s rights, and/or the 14th and 19th amendments, for older students.                                                                                                                                                                                          


Riparia’s River, by Michael Caduto

  • August 12, 2011 8:51 am

Four children (two girls and two boys) discover that their favorite swimming hole is smelly and overgrown with slimy green stuff. They walk upriver to find the source of the problem, and they encounter a mysterious woman who calls herself “Riparia.”

Riparia shows them that the water has become polluted due to herbicides applied on a farm nearby. In addition, cow manure and fertilizer are causing too much algae to grow in the water. The children want to help solve the problem. They know the farmer’s daughter, Amy, and decide to talk to her.

Riparia cautions them that it might not work to tell other people what to do. The children decide to invite Amy to go swimming with them, so she can see the problem for herself. At that moment, Riparia disappears.

The children, with Amy’s help, talk to Amy’s father. However, her father says he does not have the time or the money to deal with the problem. He invites them to figure out a solution themselves. Riparia’s words give them an idea. The children, with Amy’s father’s help, move the farm fence farther away from the river, to create a buffer zone. They also enlisted the help of others to plant wildflowers, trees, and shrubs in the buffer zone.

Two years later, their buffer zone has  turned into a beautiful habitat for animals, and the swimming hole is clean again.

This picture book for elementary-age kids combines an environmental message with an example of youth leadership and initiative. The illustrations by Olga Pastuchiv are beautiful, and at the end is a list of animals that can be found in the pictures throughout the book. The author, Michael Caduto, is an ecologist and storyteller.

I highly recommend this charming and educational book. I have included it on both my girls list and my boys list, as well as on the blog post Earth Day Books.

Bullying and Me, by Shapiro and Vote

  • March 26, 2011 8:58 am

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The subtitle of this 30-page book is “Schoolyard Stories,” and indeed this book features the voices of kids relating stories about bullying at school. 

The kids are from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and of varying ages, from elementary school through high school. Also included are two adults who talk about the bullying they experienced when they were children. Each two-page spread includes color photos of one child or adult, along with their story of bullying.

Most of the people featured in this book were targets of bullies, but a few talk about their experiences of being mean to someone else, or not helping someone else who is being bullied. The children who were bullied relate how they overcame the problem with the help of family and teachers. The children who believed they were bullies discuss why they acted the way they did, and what they wish they had done instead.

The book also includes tips and reflections from Dr.  Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology. As Dr. Dorothy points out, “bullies often pick on kids who are different in some way.” A boy who is not good at sports but likes art or music; a boy who refuses to fight; or  a girl who does not dress in the right clothes, or who talks to the wrong people, may be targets of bullying. Kids who try to break out of gender stereotypes may face bullying as other kids try to force them to conform.

A few of the young people in this book point out that sometimes parents and teachers are not helpful. As one boy said, “Kids are sneaky about bullying.” Teachers and parents may not see it happening, and even if they do, they may not know how to stop it. Therefore, it can be effective for kids to take matters into their own hands, with adult guidance. Two of the young people featured in this book were part of a team that started an anti-bullying committee at school to educate other kids about how to stop bullying. Another boy overcame his fear to confront a bully and tell him, “Y0u’ll have more friends if you’re friendlier to people.” This worked, and the bully became a good friend.

This book can be a great discussion starter about bullying. I like the fact that this book uses kids’ own words to talk about bullying. I have included it on my boys and girls lists.

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.