Applegate, Katherine (2012) The one and only Ivan. HarperCollins. Easy Chapter Book. This book was inspired by the somewhat tragic story of a captive gorilla who lived in a shopping mall for twenty-seven years. After a public outcry, Ivan, the Shopping Mall Gorilla, was moved to Zoo Atlanta where he became a celebrity. Ivan is well known for his art work, which he signs with a thumb-print.
Benson, Lorri Antosz & Benson, Taryn Leigh (2008) Distorted: How a mother and daughter unraveled the truth, the lies, and the realities of an eating disorder. Health Comunications. Chapter Book/Young Adult. Mother (Lorri) and daughter (Taryn) take turns telling their story of Taryn's eating disorder and what they had to go through to resolve the issue. While Lorri researches ways to help, Taryn finds new ways to hide her compulsion. Distorted addresses the psychological factors that drive teens to purging, details successful and unsuccessful therapies, and sociologically explores the consequences of the disease for the teen and her family.
Carle, Eric (2011) The artist who painted a blue horse. Philomel. Picture Book. Building off of the art of Franz Marc, a German who loved to paint animals in bright and unusual colors, Eric Carle invites children explore “Who, indeed, is a good artist?” This almost wordless text challenges many artists' early notions that art needs to be realistic to be good. In place of realism, Eric Carle advocates imagination and creativity.
Deedy, Carmen Agra (in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah) (2009) 14 cows for America. Illus. Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree. Picture Book. The Maasai people of Kenya have a saying, “To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.” Kimeli Naiyomah was in New York on September 11 studying to be a doctor when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were hit. In the tradition of the Maasai, he decided to give a cow as a gift to the help heal the American people. When he went home, 13 other elders also donated cows. In 2009 the herd numbered 35 and continued to be a symbol of hope from the Massai people of Kenya to their brothers and sisters in America.
De La Pena, Matt (2011) A nation's hope: The story of boxing legend Joe Louis. Illus. Kadir Nelson. Dial. Picture Book. On the eve of World War II, African American Joe Louis fought German Max Schmeling for the heavyweight title of the world. Because of Hilter's belief in Aryan superiority, there was more at stake than just winning the title. This is the story of how Joe Louis overcame childhood deficiencies and came to symbolize America's belief in equality and freedom for all people.
Draper, Sharon (2007) Fire from the rock. Penguin. Chapter Book. In 1957 the federal government mandated Arkansas to integrate its schools and sent federal troops in to make sure the mandate was carried out. Governor Faubus went so far as to close the entire school system for the 1958–59 school year in defiance of this order. This historical fiction novel is an account of the integration of Center High School in Little Rock by nine African-American students. Sylvia, the main character, is invited to participate in the integration, but decides not to after the fire bombing of a store she was shopping in. The novel captures the complexity of emotions surrounding students' decisions to participate as well as a first hand account of the actions of Governor Faubus and other segregationists.
Durrow, Heidi (2011) The girl who fell from the sky. Algonquin. Sophisticated Young Adult. Rachael, an eleven-year-old, suddenly finds herself living with her grandmother in an African American neighborhood in Portland, Oregon after a family tragedy she slowly comes to understand. As a child of a Danish mother and an African American G.I. father, Rachel finds her light brown skin and blue eyes constantly calling attention to her biracial heritage. The story addresses the twin issues of race and class as it deals with a family tragedy almost too horrible to comprehend. This book won the Bellwether Prize for fiction addressing issues of social justice.
Erlbruch, Wolf (2001) The miracle of bears (Trans. Michael Reynolds). Europa. Bear wakes up hungry and thinks about how he might become a big strong papa bear. He asks advice from an array of animals but no one can help him until he meets a girl bear who suggests they find a nice soft place in a glade, “in the middle of some long, some very long, grass.” “Next spring,” she promises, “we could have some marvelous bear cubs.” While the enigma of birth is never made explicit, the book addresses a question on lots of young children's minds.
Erlbruch, Wolf (2008) Duck, death and the tulip. Gecko. Sophisticated Picture Book. Duck realizes that Death is following her. Although she is frightened at first, together Duck and Death explore what happens when someone dies. In the end Duck realizes that death is very much a part of life. An edgy book about a topic rarely explored with children.
Evans, Shane W. (2011) Underground: Finding the light to freedom. Roaring Book. Picture Book. Freedom is a word that means different things to different people. For Southern African American slaves it meant escape to the North via a complex network known as the Underground Railroad. This sparely written text tells the story of one family's journey and is meant to invite readers into exploring the topic and time period further.
Gleeson, Libby (2011) I am Thomas. Illus Armin Greder. Allen & Unwin. Sophisticated Picture Book. Thomas is being invited to be like everyone else — come to the Lord, open your heart and be saved, vote like us, think like us, let the army make you a man. But Thomas does not agree. An unsettling book that invites conversations around what some have called “group think.”
Greder, Armin (2007) The island. Allen & Unwin. Sophisticated Picture Book. What happens when a stranger visits “The Island”? They take in him. They understand they have a responsibility. But the stranger is not like them. They pen him up and because he disrupts ongoing life, they finally force him back out to sea. To insure that nothing this disturbing ever happens again they build a fortress around the island to keep everyone out, including the seagulls and cormorants. (The closing illustration shows the fortress and a seagull with an arrow shot through its body falling to earth.) Metaphorically the story explores xenophobia and a society's notion of right, wrong, and who does and who does not belong.
Greder, Armin (2009) The city. Allen & Unwin. Sophisticated Picture Book. A mother goes to great lengths to protect her child by making sure he is never hurt, threatened, nor even influenced by other people. But, one day the mother dies and the child is left to decide what to do with her bones. Never having made a decision for himself, he is at a loss, until a wolf threatens him and he drops the bundle of bones. The book provides a great way to start conversations about problems that result when people constantly defer decision-making to others.
Jones, Bill T., & Kuklin, Susan (1998) Dance. Photographs by Susan Kuklin. Hyperion. Picture Book. Jones, a renowned performer and choreographer, shares his love of dance. The text in this photo-essay is brief and to the point while the close-ups of Jones' hands and feet as well as Kuklin's full-body shots captures the sheer joy of movement. A great book to use when introducing dance to students.
Green, John (2012) The fault in our stars. Dutton Juvenile. Chapter Book. Draw a circle representing all the kids in the world. Then draw a much smaller circle in the middle of this circle representing all the kids in the world with cancer. What you have is a Venn diagram of The fault in our stars. Here is an emotional and elegantly told story of Hazel and Augustus, both sixteen, who meet at a kids-with-cancer support group. This is a coming of age novel that addresses the hard questions of life — Will I be remembered? If so, why and for what? Does my life and death have meaning? Guaranteed to make you laugh as well as make you cry and, despite the topic, beg for more.
Mason, Margaret H. (2010) These hands. Illus. Floyd Cooper. Houghton Mifflin. Picture Book. It wasn't until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that deciding what jobs people could do based on their skin color was against the law. This is the story of Joseph and his grandfather as he teaches Joseph to tie his shoes. “These hands,” his grandfather says, “could play the piano, throw a curve ball, and fix a bowline” but they weren't allow to touch the Wonder Bread dough where he worked. The book provides a compelling oral history of the unwritten rules that supported racial discrimination in America and a nice jumping off point for exploring the “unwritten rules” that might still be operating.
Muller, Jorg (1996) El soldadito de plomo/The Lead Soldier. Loguez. Wordless Picture Book. A tin soldier and a Barbie doll are discarded and end up in a third world nation where they are recycled as children's toys. A tourist buys the recycled toys and over time they end up in a historical museum as treasured artifacts. This delightful story invites conversations about the psychological, cultural, and political stories and social practices that give meaning to artifacts in our everyday world.
Pilobolus (2005) The human alphabet. Photographs by John Kane. Roaring Book. Picture Book. The American dance troupe Pilobolus uses their talents to portray the alphabet in a variety of twisted, contorted, human forms. Thankfully, there is a guide at the end of the book. While each letter is recognizable, the objects being depicted are often quite abstract.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis (1995) Alvin Ailey. Illus by Brian Pinkney. Hyperion. Picture Book. Alvin Ailey (1931–1989), an African American, was both a dancer and choreographer. He began his career in the mid-1940s and founded the still operating Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York City in 1958. While historical fiction, the book intertwines facts about Alvin's childhood with what the authors see as the ethos of the time.
Ramos, Mario (2011) I'm so strong. Gecko Press. Picture Book. A cheeky wolf saunters through the woods bullying everyone he meets, including the three little pigs and the seven dwarfs. But then, he meets someone bigger and stronger than himself. A great book to add to a text set on bullying or even on gender stereotyping as the wolf, of course, is male.
Saltzberg, Barney (2010) Beautiful oops! Workman. Picture Book. “A torn piece of paper…. is just the beginning!” Smudges and smears, hot chocolate stains, even holes can be made into great works of art when a little paint is applied. There is no such thing as a mistake, only the opportunity to explore artistic talents. This festive invitation to young artists is a must for early childhood educators and a great gift for any child.
Sepetys, Ruta (2011) Between shades of gray. Philomel. Chapter Book/Young Adult. In 1939 Russia invaded Lithuania and sent much of its population to labor camps in Siberia. Sixteen-year-old Lina, a gifted artist, tells their family's story including their ongoing hope of being reconnected with their father. Even though this proves unlikely, it is her art that saves her by helping her retain her identity as well as her dignity. Historians estimate that the Baltic States lost more than one-third of their population during the Russian genocide.
Thompson, Colin, & Lissiat, Amy (2007) The short and incredibly happy life of Riley. Kane Miller. Picture Book. While overly pedantic, this is the story of Riley, a rat who has never experienced anything but happiness, while his human friends have experienced everything but happiness. Realizing that rats have a better life than humans is moderately sad, but the answer is very simply, “You just have to be happy with a lot less.” While a bit preachy, the text makes a great read aloud and opens up conversations about consumerism and questions the throw away society in which we live.
Tullet, Herve (2011) Press here. Chronicle. Picture Book. This beginning reading/participation book asks young readers to follow directions by pressing a yellow dot initially, and various combinations of dots later on in the book. Like magic, actions create changes only to be discovered when the next page is turned. The dots multiply, change directions, and grow in size as pages are shaken, the book is tilted, and dots are pressed. Wonderfully imaginative.
Woodson, Jacqueline (2008) After Tupac and D Foster. Puffin. Chapter Book Middle School. A friend's departure and a hero's death change the lives of two eleven-year-old girls living in Queens, New York. When D Foster wanders onto the block, her arrival open up the girls' eyes to a larger world. Suddenly they are aware of new possibilities as well as new tragedies such as the shooting of Tupac Shakur, a local hip-hop artist who has made it big. Foster's sudden departure leaves the girls stunned as well as seeking what she called “The Big Purpose” in life. A sensitive story capturing how short-lived events at even a very young age can affect one's life outlook and trajectory.
A Nitty-Gritty, Risky Adolescent/Young Adult Text Set
Not all books are pleasant stories. Some deal with the problems of being a teenager and include topics like coming to grips with one's sexuality, the suicide of a classmate or friend, finding oneself homeless, experiencing the pressure and expectation to join a gang, use drugs, and the list goes on. Peter Johnston has been working with middle school teachers in the Rochester, New York area who have decided to use books of this sort with their middle school students. His findings, while preliminary, are that student interest is high and students, as a group, find these books thought provoking. Some of the books he and his teachers are using that we have read follow. For a more complete list readers are encouraged to check out Peter Johnston's website at the University of New York, Albany.
- Living dead (Elizabeth Scott)
- Snitch (Allison Van Diepan)
- Street Pharm (Allison Van Diepan)
- Cashay (Margaret Cashay)
- If I grow up (Todd Strasser)
- Black and white (Paul Volponi)
- Response (Paul Volponi)
- Riker High (Paul Volponi)
- Rooftop (Paul Volponi)