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June 14, 2017

25 Picture Books to Promote Kindness, Empathy, and Justice

By Christy Crawford
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    Even among the youngest students, teasing for an audience has become a sport. Perhaps you’ve heard kids shouting, “Burn!” or “Roasted!” on the playground. Roasting or teasing about everything from handwriting to national origin is happening more often and there seems to be no shame in getting caught. Mean tween shows and the harsh tones in today’s political landscape have made being different. . . dangerous. To promote unity this summer or to get your fall classroom book list ready, check out these old and new favorites below. Read on to inspire upstanding on a variety of sensitive topics.

    Quotes from each book are listed to create starting points for conversation. Each book has one or more protagonists that will motivate readers to play together or empower themselves and others, despite differences.

    To Discuss POVERTY

    1. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson  

    “'I have new name for her,' Kendra whispered.

    'Never New.

    Everything she has came from a secondhand store.'”

     

    2. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

    “Then one day, in the middle of kickball, one of my shoes comes apart. 'Looks like you could use a new pair, Jeremy,' Mr. Alfrey, the guidance counselor, says. He brings out a box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need things.”

    Boelts protagonist, Jeremy, is strong and thoughtful. Even older readers may be surprised by the ending of Those Shoes.

    To Discuss DISABILITY/SPECIAL NEEDS

     3. Emmanuels’ Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson  

    Emmanuel, who was born with one deformed leg, cycled 400 miles across Ghana in 2001 to share his message: “Disability does not mean inability.”

     

    4. My Brother Charlie by Ryan Elizabeth Peete and Holly Robinson Peete

    “Charlie has autism. Autism doesn’t have Charlie.

    If you ever get to meet my brother, you’ll be lucky to be his friend.”

    To Discuss SMALL ACTS OF KINDNESS/ INCLUSION

    5. Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig

    Ludwig’s protagonist, a young holocaust survivor explains, “That’s when I learned my most important lesson in life: There are the kind and the cruel in every group of people. How those you meet in life treat you is far more important than who they are.”

     

    6. Wings by Christopher Myers

    “Walking home from school, I knew how he felt, how lonely he must be. Maybe I should have said something to those mean kids.”

     

    7. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

    “And the kids laugh. All of them, that is, except Brian. He sits there wondering which is worse — being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

     

    8. How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer

     “The strange thing was that for every drop he helped put in someone else’s bucket, he felt another drop in his own bucket.”

    To Discuss IMMIGRANTS/ REFUGEES

    9. We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

    “In spite of where we came from,

    Or how or why we came,

    We are all Americans,

    Just the same."

     

    10. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruers  

    “Now the war has come. People fled our village. Joining a river of strangers. Searching for a place to be free again. Across the great sea. What awaits us there?”

     

    11. How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting   

    Bunting’s young Caribbean protagonist states, “It was nice in our village ’til the night in October when the soldiers came. My mother hid my little sister and me under the bed.”

     

    12. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

    Farah, Bunting’s young Muslim protagonist states, “I would prefer to go home. My father has explained to me that we are not always liked here. “Our home country and our new one have had difficulties,” he says. “But it will be good for us here in time.” How much time, I wonder.

    For more great books with Muslim protagonists, see Alicia Zimmerman’s post, “Books and Activities to Teach About Islam.”

     

    13. Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams  

    Orphans in war-torn Sudan ban together to travel to safety. Williams’ survivors’ story recounts the bravery of Chuti, an 8-year-old, and the boys who helped him.

    “Chuti, your mother and father did not want to leave you. They love you very much. They lost you when war came.  Don’t worry I will take care of you,” I said.

    To Discuss CIVIL RIGHTS:

    14. Teammates by Peter Golenbock  

    “Stopping beside Jackie, Pee Wee put his arms around Jackie’s shoulders. An audible gasp rose up from the crowd when they saw what PeeWee had done. Then there was silence.”

    Teammates is the touching true story of the relationship between Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodger's shortstop Pee Wee Reese. During Robinson's foray into major league baseball, players and fans hurled glass bottles and racial epithets at Robinson, but Reese dared to publicly befriend him. For more baseball picture books with a social justice theme, see my post, “Picture Books for America's Favorite Pastime."

     

    15. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and the her Family’s Fight For School Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh  

    “Go back to the Mexican school. You don’t belong here.”

    Years before the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, the Menedez family integrated California schools. Young protagonists make the story simple enough for any child to understand the power of never giving up.

     

    16.  Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

    “This was the law’s recipe for segregation. Its instructions were easy to follow: Do not combine white people with black people. Segregation was a bitter mix.

    Now it was the friends’ turn to ignore and refuse.

    They ignored the law, and refused to leave until they were served.

    Those kids had a recipe, too. A new brew called integration.”

    This powerful retell of the Woolworths’ lunch counter sit-in includes a civil rights timeline for young historians.

    To Discuss DIFFERENCES AND SUPERIORITY

    17. The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

    “But McBean was quite wrong, I’m quite happy to say.

    That the Sneetches got quite a bit smarter that day,

    That day, they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

    And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

     

    18. Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

    “I’ll take off my skin. Will you take off yours?”

    To Discuss GENDER STEREOTYPES

    19. William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow

    “‘…but you know what I really want is a doll.’ ‘Wonderful,’ said his grandmother. ‘No,’ William said. ‘My brother says it will make me a creep and the boy next door says I’m a sissy and my father brings me other things instead.’

    ‘Nonsense,’ said his grandmother.”

     

    20. Oliver Button is a Sissy  by Tomie dePaola 

    “But Oliver Button didn’t want to play any kind of ball. He didn’t like to play ball because he wasn’t very good at it.”

     

    21. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

    Underwood’s protagonist fixes things, has a fairy godrobot and pink hair. Upon a marriage request, Underwood’s new age Cinderella states, “I’m far too young for marriage, but I’ll be your chief mechanic.”

     

    22. Papberbag Princess by Robert Munsch 

    “There was Prince Ronald. He looked at her and said, ‘Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.’    

    “‘Ronald,’ said Elizabeth ‘your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince but you are a bum.’ They didn’t get married after all.”

     

    23. Grace for President by Kelly Dipucchio

    “‘The truth is our country has never had a woman president.’ ‘No girl president ever?’ Grace asked. ‘No, I’m afraid not,’ said Mrs. Barrington. Grace sat at her desk and stewed. No girls? Who’d ever heard of such a crazy thing?”

    To Discuss GENDER TRANSITIONS

    24. I Am Jazz by Jessica Hershel and Jazz Jennings  

    Teen activist and author Jazz Jennings shares her experiences in this award-winning book.

     “I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way. “

     

    25. When Kayla Was Kyle by Amy Fabrikant

    “His head felt like it might explode tears that would flood the whole gym.”

    Special thanks to Wendy, Kate, Sasha, Jess, John, Sharon and the staff of the Bronx Community Charter school for their book suggestions. It is a blessing to work with teachers who motivate and assist every learner in a myriad of ways, every day.   

    Even among the youngest students, teasing for an audience has become a sport. Perhaps you’ve heard kids shouting, “Burn!” or “Roasted!” on the playground. Roasting or teasing about everything from handwriting to national origin is happening more often and there seems to be no shame in getting caught. Mean tween shows and the harsh tones in today’s political landscape have made being different. . . dangerous. To promote unity this summer or to get your fall classroom book list ready, check out these old and new favorites below. Read on to inspire upstanding on a variety of sensitive topics.

    Quotes from each book are listed to create starting points for conversation. Each book has one or more protagonists that will motivate readers to play together or empower themselves and others, despite differences.

    To Discuss POVERTY

    1. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson  

    “'I have new name for her,' Kendra whispered.

    'Never New.

    Everything she has came from a secondhand store.'”

     

    2. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

    “Then one day, in the middle of kickball, one of my shoes comes apart. 'Looks like you could use a new pair, Jeremy,' Mr. Alfrey, the guidance counselor, says. He brings out a box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need things.”

    Boelts protagonist, Jeremy, is strong and thoughtful. Even older readers may be surprised by the ending of Those Shoes.

    To Discuss DISABILITY/SPECIAL NEEDS

     3. Emmanuels’ Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson  

    Emmanuel, who was born with one deformed leg, cycled 400 miles across Ghana in 2001 to share his message: “Disability does not mean inability.”

     

    4. My Brother Charlie by Ryan Elizabeth Peete and Holly Robinson Peete

    “Charlie has autism. Autism doesn’t have Charlie.

    If you ever get to meet my brother, you’ll be lucky to be his friend.”

    To Discuss SMALL ACTS OF KINDNESS/ INCLUSION

    5. Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig

    Ludwig’s protagonist, a young holocaust survivor explains, “That’s when I learned my most important lesson in life: There are the kind and the cruel in every group of people. How those you meet in life treat you is far more important than who they are.”

     

    6. Wings by Christopher Myers

    “Walking home from school, I knew how he felt, how lonely he must be. Maybe I should have said something to those mean kids.”

     

    7. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

    “And the kids laugh. All of them, that is, except Brian. He sits there wondering which is worse — being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

     

    8. How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer

     “The strange thing was that for every drop he helped put in someone else’s bucket, he felt another drop in his own bucket.”

    To Discuss IMMIGRANTS/ REFUGEES

    9. We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

    “In spite of where we came from,

    Or how or why we came,

    We are all Americans,

    Just the same."

     

    10. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruers  

    “Now the war has come. People fled our village. Joining a river of strangers. Searching for a place to be free again. Across the great sea. What awaits us there?”

     

    11. How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting   

    Bunting’s young Caribbean protagonist states, “It was nice in our village ’til the night in October when the soldiers came. My mother hid my little sister and me under the bed.”

     

    12. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

    Farah, Bunting’s young Muslim protagonist states, “I would prefer to go home. My father has explained to me that we are not always liked here. “Our home country and our new one have had difficulties,” he says. “But it will be good for us here in time.” How much time, I wonder.

    For more great books with Muslim protagonists, see Alicia Zimmerman’s post, “Books and Activities to Teach About Islam.”

     

    13. Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams  

    Orphans in war-torn Sudan ban together to travel to safety. Williams’ survivors’ story recounts the bravery of Chuti, an 8-year-old, and the boys who helped him.

    “Chuti, your mother and father did not want to leave you. They love you very much. They lost you when war came.  Don’t worry I will take care of you,” I said.

    To Discuss CIVIL RIGHTS:

    14. Teammates by Peter Golenbock  

    “Stopping beside Jackie, Pee Wee put his arms around Jackie’s shoulders. An audible gasp rose up from the crowd when they saw what PeeWee had done. Then there was silence.”

    Teammates is the touching true story of the relationship between Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodger's shortstop Pee Wee Reese. During Robinson's foray into major league baseball, players and fans hurled glass bottles and racial epithets at Robinson, but Reese dared to publicly befriend him. For more baseball picture books with a social justice theme, see my post, “Picture Books for America's Favorite Pastime."

     

    15. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and the her Family’s Fight For School Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh  

    “Go back to the Mexican school. You don’t belong here.”

    Years before the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, the Menedez family integrated California schools. Young protagonists make the story simple enough for any child to understand the power of never giving up.

     

    16.  Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

    “This was the law’s recipe for segregation. Its instructions were easy to follow: Do not combine white people with black people. Segregation was a bitter mix.

    Now it was the friends’ turn to ignore and refuse.

    They ignored the law, and refused to leave until they were served.

    Those kids had a recipe, too. A new brew called integration.”

    This powerful retell of the Woolworths’ lunch counter sit-in includes a civil rights timeline for young historians.

    To Discuss DIFFERENCES AND SUPERIORITY

    17. The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

    “But McBean was quite wrong, I’m quite happy to say.

    That the Sneetches got quite a bit smarter that day,

    That day, they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

    And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

     

    18. Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

    “I’ll take off my skin. Will you take off yours?”

    To Discuss GENDER STEREOTYPES

    19. William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow

    “‘…but you know what I really want is a doll.’ ‘Wonderful,’ said his grandmother. ‘No,’ William said. ‘My brother says it will make me a creep and the boy next door says I’m a sissy and my father brings me other things instead.’

    ‘Nonsense,’ said his grandmother.”

     

    20. Oliver Button is a Sissy  by Tomie dePaola 

    “But Oliver Button didn’t want to play any kind of ball. He didn’t like to play ball because he wasn’t very good at it.”

     

    21. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

    Underwood’s protagonist fixes things, has a fairy godrobot and pink hair. Upon a marriage request, Underwood’s new age Cinderella states, “I’m far too young for marriage, but I’ll be your chief mechanic.”

     

    22. Papberbag Princess by Robert Munsch 

    “There was Prince Ronald. He looked at her and said, ‘Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.’    

    “‘Ronald,’ said Elizabeth ‘your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince but you are a bum.’ They didn’t get married after all.”

     

    23. Grace for President by Kelly Dipucchio

    “‘The truth is our country has never had a woman president.’ ‘No girl president ever?’ Grace asked. ‘No, I’m afraid not,’ said Mrs. Barrington. Grace sat at her desk and stewed. No girls? Who’d ever heard of such a crazy thing?”

    To Discuss GENDER TRANSITIONS

    24. I Am Jazz by Jessica Hershel and Jazz Jennings  

    Teen activist and author Jazz Jennings shares her experiences in this award-winning book.

     “I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way. “

     

    25. When Kayla Was Kyle by Amy Fabrikant

    “His head felt like it might explode tears that would flood the whole gym.”

    Special thanks to Wendy, Kate, Sasha, Jess, John, Sharon and the staff of the Bronx Community Charter school for their book suggestions. It is a blessing to work with teachers who motivate and assist every learner in a myriad of ways, every day.   

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