Sample Picture Books to Explore Critical Literacy


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No, David by David Shannon*
When author and artist David Shannon was five years old, he wrote a semi-autobiographical story of a little kid who broke all his mother's rules.
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Smoky Night by Eve Bunting*
During a night of rioting in Los Angeles, fires and looting force neighbors--who have always avoided one another--to come together.
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Encounter by Jane Yolen*
When Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492, what he discovered were the Taino Indians. Told from a young Taino boy’s point of view, this is a story of how the boy tried to warn his people against welcoming the strangers, who seemed more interested in golden ornaments than friendship. Years later the boy, now an old man, looks back at the destruction of his people and their culture by the colonizers.
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Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting*
A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal trying not to be noticed, is given hope when a trapped bird finally finds its freedom.
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It's a Book by Lane Smith
Playful and lighthearted with a subversive twist that is signature Lane Smith, IT’S A BOOK is a delightful manifesto on behalf of print in the digital age. This satisfying, perfectly executed picture book has something to say to readers of all stripes and all ages.
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a child's garden: a story of hope by Michael Foreman
A little boy’s home has been reduced to ruin and rubble,now a wire fence and soldiers separate him from the streams and hills he once visited with his father. But the boy sees a tiny speck of green peeping up toward the sunlight, and he quietly begins to coax it with water and care. What sort of promise can a vine’s spreading tendrils bring to a bleak landscape? A beautifully illustrated tale of healing and renewal from a world-acclaimed children’s book creator, A Child’s Garden pays gentle tribute to the human spirit.
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And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
This tale based on a true story about a charming penguin family living in New York City's Central Park Zoo will capture the hearts of penguin lovers everywhere. Roy and Silo, two male penguins...cuddle and share a nest like the other penguin couples, and when all the others start hatching eggs, they want to be parents, too. Determined and hopeful, they bring an egg-shaped rock back to their nest and proceed to start caring for it. They have little luck, until a watchful zookeeper decides they deserve a chance at having their own family and gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of their funny and adorable daughter, and the three can still be seen at the zoo today.
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Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
When Lucy, a young bear, discovers a boy in the woods, she's absolutely delighted. She brings him home and begs her mom to let her keep him, even though her mom warns, "Children make terrible pets." But mom relents, and Lucy gets to name her new pet Squeaker. Through a series of hilarious and surprising scenes, readers can join Lucy and Squeaker on their day of fun and decide for themselves whether or not children really do make terrible pets.
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The Rumor by Monique Felix
Word travels quickly through a peaceful village when a hungry beast is spotted in the hills. Some say he has ears that can hear a potential meal from a mile away! Others declare that his stink is enough to kill you with just one whiff! Still others report that his snout is stronger than a vacuum cleaner! The threat compels friends to warn one another and in humorous fashion turn hearsay into an increasingly inaccurate rumor. Uncertainty abounds, but by the time the villagers are safely gathered together out of harm s reach, one thing is for sure readers young and old will be charmed by The Rumor!
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14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
In June of 2002, a very unusual ceremony begins in a far-flung village in western Kenya.
An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed on the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. The gift is as unsought and unexpected as it is extraordinary. A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away. Word of the gift will travel news wires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope—and friendship.
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The Little Hummingbird by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
This inspiring children's book -- a revised edition of the award-winning Flight of the Hummingbird -- is based on a South American indigenous story about a courageous hummingbird who defies fear and expectations in her attempt to save the forest from fire. The illustrated story is supplemented by a natural and cultural history of hummingbirds, as well as an inspiring message from Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
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Be Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming and Floyd Cooper
Be good to Eddie Lee In this touching picture book, a girl discovers a new capacity for friendship when she spends some time with a neighbor boy who has Down's Syndrome. Christy's mother has told her to "be good to Eddie Lee," because he is "lonesome" and "different." Christy, however, would rather go wading with her friend JimBud than be pestered by Eddie Lee. But when Eddie Lee, uninvited, follows the two kids, Christy reluctantly includes her neighbor and is pleasantly surprised at how the afternoon turns out.
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Chair for my Mother by Vera Williams
After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save and save until they can afford to buy one big, comfortable chair that all three of them can enjoy.
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Grandfather’s Journey Home by Allen Say
Home becomes elusive in this story about immigration and acculturation, pieced together through old pictures and salvaged family tales. Both the narrator and his grandfather long to return to Japan, but when they do, they feel anonymous and confused: "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other."
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Secret Seder by Doreen Rappaport and Emily Arnold McCully
The narrator is a French boy whose family lives openly as Catholics, but secretly observes their Jewish faith. Despite the fear that their true identity will be discovered, he and his father attend an all-male Seder held in an abandoned shack in a nearby forest. The highlight of the evening is when the boy recites the four traditional questions, which he had secretly practiced with his mother.
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I am Raven by David Bouchard
Bouchard’s evocative text relates a story told to the book’s narrator by his grandmother. A great, kind and wise chief decides to erect a new totem pole. Knowing that he will soon die, the chief wants the pole to be representative of him but also to reflect the importance of others in his life. A series of birds and animals then try to convince the chief that their image should be carved into the chief’s totem pole.
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Press Here by Herve
Press the yellow dot on the cover of this book, follow the instructions within, and embark upon a magical journey! Each page of this surprising book instructs the reader to press the dots, shake the pages, tilt the book, and who knows what will happen next!
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Pink! by Lynne Rickards
When Patrick inexplicably turns bright pink, he sees red: “Whoever heard of a pink penguin?” he cries. “And boys can't be pink!” After too much teasing, he runs away to Africa. But poor Patrick doesn't fit in with the flamingos, either. So he returns home—and everyone is happy to see him! In fact, they're green with envy over his exotic trip.
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Chester's Masterpiece by Melanie Watt
Armed with a large red marker, Chester interrupts Watt’s attempts to get on with writing her book, and a war of words and pictures ensues between author and feline, right before our eyes. Chester soon discovers that writing an original story is not as easy as it looks.
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Sacred places by Jane Yolen and David Shannon
Yolen and Shannon turn solemn in this verse-and-picture tour of sacred places around the world. Visiting 12 sites, the book...[provides an] empathetic introduction to a variety of beliefs and practices from past and present religions.
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Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
This picture book offers a shining testament to the ability of human beings to find "something beautiful" in even the most unlikely places. An African American girl initially sees only the ugliness of her neighborhood. Searching for something beautiful, she polls various neighbors. When the girl decides to create her own "something beautiful," she picks up the trash, scrubs her door clean and realizes, "I feel powerful."
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William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
Nonconforming William's heart is set on a doll; his father and brother are set against it.
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Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
A clever take on the age-old optical illusion: is it a duck or a rabbit? Depends on how you look at it!
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Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
Zero is a big round number. When she looks at herself, she just sees a hole right in her center. Zero feels empty inside. She watches One having fun with the other numbers. One has bold strokes and squared corners. Zero is big and round with no corners at all. "If I were like One, then I can count too," she thinks. So she pushes and pulls, stretches and straightens, forces and flattens herself, but in the end she realizes that she can only be Zero.
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Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti
During World War II, a young German schoolgirl, Rose Blanche, follows the soldiers when they arrest a boy and discovers a concentration camp in the woods. Thereafter, she takes food to the prisoners until the town is liberated. Rose Blanche tells of an individual's courage in the face of injustice. Teacher-support required (junior-senior students)
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Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
A tender family story in turn-of-the-century China [that] teaches a proto-feminist lesson about perseverance and self-belief. Idiosyncratic young Ruby lives in a large Chinese family, in a gigantic "house filled with the shrieks and laughter of over one hundred children." She stands out because she insists on always wearing red, the color of celebration but even more so because of her quiet dissatisfaction with the family's traditional gender inequity. Determined to study reading and writing--even when it means long hours catching up on more wifely training--Ruby eventually comes to the attention of her grandfather, the wise house patriarch, who springs a surprise as the time for her to wed approaches.
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My name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Udin
Bilal transfers to a school where he and his sister are the only Muslim children. After an incident in which a boy pulls off Ayesha's headscarf, Bilal decides to hide the fact that he is Muslim until an understanding teacher, who is also Muslim, gives him a biography of Bilal ibn Rabah, a black slave who became the very first muezzin because of his steadfastness in the face of religious persecution.
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One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
As a Muslim girl rides in a hay wagon heading to an apple orchard on a class trip, the dupatta on her head setting her apart, she observes that while some of the children seem friendly, others are not. Later, when she puts a green apple into the cider press instead of a ripe red one as her classmates have done, they protest. But the cider from all their apples mixed together is delicious–a metaphor for the benefits of intermingling people who are different.
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Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Young Trisha is eager to taste the "sweetness of knowledge" that her grandfather has always revered. But when she looks at words and numbers, everything is a jumble. Trisha endures the cruel taunts of classmates who call her "dumb," and falls behind in her studies. But finally the encouragement and efforts of a new fifth grade teacher, Mr. Falker, trigger a monumental turning point in Trisha's life. She begins to blossom and develop all of her talents, including reading.
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Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola
A little boy must come to terms with being teased and ostracized because hed rather read books, paint pictures, and tap-dance than participate in sports.
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Two Frogs by Chris Wormell
Two frogs are sitting on a lily pad and one of them has a stick. The stick, he says, is to beat off the dog. But there is no dog -- yet. So begin the trials of this hapless pair whose adventures build to a brilliant conclusion.
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Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Through a series of paired questions and answers, the rabbit is queried about why he is sitting in, standing on, spraying, or wearing a box.
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My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
This moving story depicts a Korean girl's difficult adjustment to her new life in America. Yoon, or "Shining Wisdom," decides that her name looks much happier written in Korean than in English. Although her teacher encourages her to practice writing "Yoon," the child substitutes other words for her name, words that better express her inner fears and hopes. In the end, she comes to accept both her English name and her new American self, recognizing that however it is written, she is still Yoon.
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I,Doko by Ed Young
This fable begins at the marketplace, when a young father chooses a new basket for his family. Told from the point of view of the basket, the story proceeds as the baby boy grows up, the man's wife dies, and the son marries and has a family of his own. At last, the father is a disabled old man and his son proposes to leave him at the temple so the priests will have to take care of him. The basket is consigned to carry him there, until the grandson intervenes with a haunting question that offers the moral of this traditional tale from Nepal.
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Freedom Child of the Sea by Richardo Keens-Douglas
A fable of the horrors of the slave trade, Freedom Child of the Sea tells young readers the basics about its subject and offers a parable of hope and possibility as well.
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Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman
Marketed as being based on a true story, this picture book about a young girl and boy who meet on opposite sides of a Labour Camp during World War II was revealed to be a hoax. An excellent example of critical literacy.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_at_the_Fence
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Storm at Batoche by Maxine Trottier
James falls out of his Scottish immigrant family's wagon during a snowstorm on the Canadian prairie and is rescued by a man who identifies himself only as Louis. Waiting out the blizzard in his small cabin, the two bake gallette, as the man calls it, or bannock, as James stubbornly insists it should be called. Three days later when the weather has cleared, Louis drops the boy off near his town but refuses to go closer. The "Louis" is Louis Riel.
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Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Judith Heide Gilliland and Florence Parry Heide
With a child's frankness, Sami tells of life in war-torn Beirut--an existence spent between the relative safety of Grandfather's cellar hearing gunshots and falling bombs, and brief sojourns into the city's rubble to experience life above ground. Left fatherless by a bomb blast, he has boyish yearnings to play at soldiers and build a sandcastle, but these are tempered by ever-present reality.
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Rough Faced Girl by by Rafe Martin and David Shannon
An Algonquin folktale. The youngest of three sisters is forced by the other two to sit by the fire and feed the flames, which results in the burning and scarring of her hair and skin. Desirous of marriage to an Invisible Being who lives in a huge wigwam across the village, these cruel siblings must prove to his sister that they have seen him, but they fail. The Rough-Face Girl, however, sees the Invisible Being everywhere and can answer his sister's questions correctly.
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My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov
Hussein lives happily in a Bulgarian village. He enjoys visiting his grandparents, celebrating Muslim holidays, and living in the midst of his loving, extended family. Midway through the story, though, the army arrives and forbids the villagers to speak their language, Romani, in the streets; go outside at night; or pray at the mosque. A policeman destroys the family's identity cards, which are reissued only after they have chosen Christian names. Written from a child's perspective in simple language and short sentences, this unusual picture book does an excellent job of showing the personal cost of political oppression in terms that are accessible.
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Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs and Shane Evans
The boy is teased for looking different than the other kids. His skin is darker, his hair curlier. He tells his mother he wishes he could be more like everyone else. And she helps him to see how beautiful he really, truly is.
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The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and E Lewis
Clover, the young African-American narrator, lives beside a fence that segregates her town. Her mother instructs her never to climb over to the other side because it isn't safe. But one summer morning, Clover notices a girl on the other side. Both children are curious about one another, and as the summer stretches on, Clover and Annie work up the nerve to introduce themselves. They dodge the injunction against crossing the fence by sitting on top of it together, and Clover pretends not to care when her friends react strangely at the sight of her sitting side by side with a white girl. Eventually, it's the fence that's out of place, not the friendship.
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The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and George Ford
Sustained by family and faith, one brave six-year-old child found the strength to walk alone through howling protesters and enter a whites-only school in New Orleans in 1960. Ruby Bridges did it every day for weeks that turned into months. The white parents withdrew their kids, and Ruby sat alone with her teacher in an empty classroom in an empty building and learned her lessons. Here is one girl's heroic story, part of the history of ordinary people who have changed the world.
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Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones
All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for "want," just "need," when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than
the things he wants.


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The Lady in the Box By Ann McGovern and Marni Backer
Grade 2-5. A modern morality tale that never strays too far from the stark reality of homelessness while portraying the generosity and concern of two children for a stranger. Written in direct, disarming prose, Ben's story tells how he and his sister try to help the "lady in the box" who keeps her "home" over the heating grate outside the Circle Deli. Worried, they take gifts of food and warm clothing and eventually find out that her name is Dorrie. When the owner of the Circle Deli tries to force the woman to move, the children's mother convinces him to let her stay. The family volunteers at the soup kitchen, where they see Dorrie and she smiles and says hello. It's a nice moment as the boy realizes that he has made a difference in someone else's life.
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The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta
Grade 2-6-Children living under an unspecified dictatorship watch as one of their fathers is taken away by soldiers. The next day, a military officer visits their classroom and tells them they must each enter a composition-writing contest about "What My Family Does at Night." Although the adults have tried to shield the youngsters from the dangers of their political situation, several of them know that their parents are opposed to the government and that their sentiments, , and conversations are perilous to divulge. What can they safely say?
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Voices in the Park By Anthony Browne
Kindergarten-Grade 5-A mother takes her son and their dog to the park, where she thinks about dinner and turns up her nose at the "frightful types." Meanwhile, an unemployed father sits on the same bench and searches the want ads while admiring his daughter's chatter and their dog's energy. The two kids, of course, find one another. In four short first-person narratives, each of the characters recounts the same outing from a different perspective and at a different emotional level.
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Ghost Train By Paul Yee
Choon-yi's father loves her dearly, even though she is born with only one arm, and with that arm she is capable of creating images so real they seem to be alive. Extreme poverty forces the father to leave his family behind to take a dangerous railroad construction job in Canada. After two years of sending his pay home, Ba asks that Choon-yi join him, but when she arrives in Vancouver she learns that her father has died in a landslide. Her plans to return to China come to an end, however, when her father appears in a dream, imploring her to paint the fire car that runs on the railway he has helped to build.
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Freedom Summer By Deborah Wiles
Ages 5-8. "John Henry Waddell is my best friend," begins the narrator of this story, set during a summer of desegregation in the South. John Henry is black and the narrator is white, so the boys swim together at the creek, rather than at the whites-only town pool, and the narrator buys the ice-cream at the segregated store. When new laws mandate that , and everything else, must desegregate, the boys rejoice, until the town fills the pool with tar in protest and the narrator tries to see this town, "through John Henry's eyes.
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The Wall By Eve Bunting
A boy and his father have come to the Vietnam War Memorial to look for the boy's grandfather's name among those who were killed in the war. They find his name surrounded, but far from lost, in the rows of print that "march side by side, like rows of soldiers." "I'm proud that your grandfather's name is on this wall," says the boy's father. The boy agrees, adding, "but I'd rather have my grandpa here."
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Encounter By
The imaginative story examines the first meeting between Columbus and the indigenous peoples of San Salvador (the Taino) through the eyes of a young native boy. The unnamed narrator has been warned in an ominous dream that the strangers may bring trouble to his people. His concerns are ignored, however, and the Taino greet their guests with customary feasting and gifts, only to be repaid by the abduction of several of their young people.


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Colors of Us By Karen Katz
Lena discovers that she and her friends and neighbors are all beautiful shades of brown. "I am the color of cinnamon. Mom says she could eat me up," says Lena. Then she sees everyone else in terms of delicious foods: Mom is the color of French toast. Lena's friend Sonia is the color of creamy peanut butter. Isabella is chocolate brown like the cupcakes they had for her birthday. Lena's best friend, Jo-Jin, is the color of honey.
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It's Useful to Have a Duck By Isol
The same pictures from two very different points of view give us two wildly different stories. A book that looks deliciously simple, but offers up complex ideas and some wit, too.
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The Black Book of Colors By Menena Cottin
This inventive picture book relates the ways the unseen Thomas experiences colors. . . . Black raised line art is set against black pages that echo Thomas’ spirited imagery and invite readers to explore what it’s like to read with their fingertips.
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The Magic Beads By Susin Nielsen-Fernlund
It's seven-year-old Lillian's first day at a new school, and she's got butterflies in her tummy. When she learns she has to bring something for Show and Tell at the end of the week, her butterflies turn into grasshoppers. Lillian and her mother have just moved away from Lillian's abusive father and into a family shelter, leaving behind all of their possessions. Every day that Lillian anxiously watches her classmates bring toys in to share, the creatures in her stomach and grown, until finally, she realizes that imagination can make anything magical, even an ordinary string of beads.
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Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach By Melanie Watt
We know by now that Scaredy Squirrel only feels safe when he's at home in his nut tree, with his defenses, his emergency kit and his back?up plans at the ready. So even though the sun is shining and it's time for a vacation, Scaredy does not want to go to the beach -- that vast, frightening place where a squirrel could get stranded. (Not to mention other hazards such as sea monsters, falling coconuts, seagulls, pirates and lobsters.) Instead, Scaredy builds his own safe beach getaway under his nut tree, complete with germ-free inflatable pool, artificial beach scenery, a flashlight and a plastic flamingo. Still, the lure of the genuine beach is strong
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Four Feet, Two Sandals By Karen Lynn Willians and Khadra Mohammed
Based on co-author Khadra Mohammed's experiences with refugees in Peshawar, a city on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Four Feet, Two Sandals is a children's picturebook about ten-year-old Lina and her young friend who each discover one of a wonderful pair of sandals. Together they must solve the problem of how to share one pair of sandles between four feet
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Erika's Story by Ruth Vander Zee
"My mother threw me from the train." A Jewish woman in Germany today tells how, as an infant, she survived the Holocaust after she was thrown from a train on its way to the camps in 1944 and was taken in and raised by a village woman. The survivor imagines her parents in the ghetto and transports. Did they hold her close and kiss her before throwing her away to save her life?
One possible use: Point of view--Develop a recount from her parents point of view. What would her parents have said?
(book suggested by Lisa Hascal)

Yo! Yes
Against pastel backgrounds, in vibrant, colorful images, an African-American boy and a white boy meet on the street. [Their] one- and two-word exchanges on each spread lead to a tentative offer of friendship, sealed as both boys jump high in the air and yell "Yow!" With a beautifully balanced, economical style, the book illumines the peaks and pitfalls of getting acquainted, and puts in a good word for brotherhood as well.

Gettin' Through Thursday
*Books suggested by
Maureen McLaughlin and Glenn DeVoogd in
Critical Literacy: Enhancing Students' Comprehension of Text