Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey is a beautiful book, and I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard about it before stumbling upon it in the library. Author Margaret Ruurs tackles a difficult and current topic by telling the story of a fictional refugee family’s journey from their endangered home to the hope of safe haven in a foreign land. Ruurs skillfully weaves a tale that is appropriate for young readers, yet it doesn’t minimize the danger the refugees face.
Nizar Ali Badr’s artwork is the true star of this book. He illustrates the story in stone-scapes, using only stones to create scenes. When I first read this book, I was stunned at how this stone artwork has so much life infused into it. It seems counterintuitive, but there is so much expression in the stone figures. Badr is himself Syrian, and he created his scenes with materials that were available to him there. In fact, Ruurs wrote the story after seeing Badr’s artwork, wanting desperately to bring his work to the attention of others.
Stepping Stones would be a wonderful book to introduce children to the plight of refugees. While the content is likely okay for children of all ages, I believe children ages 8 and up will benefit most from the meaningful conversations that may follow its reading.
Rhino in the House: The True Story of Saving Samia by Daniel Kirk tells the true account of conservationist Anna Merz and her efforts to provide sanctuary to Africa’s rhinos. Anna created an animal sanctuary to protect the wildlife from poachers. She rescued an abandoned rhino calf, which she named Samia and raised as a pet in her home.
Naturally, as the rhino grew bigger, it became more difficult for Anna to keep Samia at home. Children will entertained as they learn about some of the problems Samia caused, such as barging in while Anna was taking a bath! Anna reintroduced Samia to the wild, though the two continued to meet and share their special bond.
There are four pages at the end of the book that include photographs of Anna, Samia, and other African wildlife. An author’s note goes into further detail on Anna’s preservation efforts, and a bibliography guides students in further research. I recommend this book for ages 4 and up.
Not many picture books tackle the difficult topic of homelessness, and fewer books feature a homeless child character. Still a Family, by Brenda Reeves Sturgis, illustrated by Jo-Shin Lee, affirms the family unit, even when the situation is less than ideal.
A young girl, her mother, and her father are split apart as they reside in separate homeless shelters. But they are still a family. They meet to play at the park , wait in lines for dinner, and look for work, and they are still a family. Weeks and months go by. They celebrate holidays and birthdays. They are still a family.
This book celebrates familial love and gives voice to all the children whose families do not have a place to call home. I recommend it for ages 4-8.
Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin is a beautiful picture book, both in text and illustrations. In a gentle yet engaging manner, it introduces young readers to the water cycle. The rhyming text and cleverly placed page turns make this book a wonderful book to read aloud because there are many opportunities for interaction and participation between reader and listener.
The text is simple, but there are four pages at the end of the book that provide more detailed information about water. In these pages, scientific words (such as evaporation and condensation) are defined and there are some fun facts about the water content of familiar objects.
I highly recommend Water is Water for children ages 4-8. As a lyrical nonfiction science text, it would be a great addition to any classroom or home library.
Duncan Tonatiuh’s books are well received, winning various awards. A Mexican-American author and artist, his illustrations have a unique style that celebrates his heritage. The content of his books draws from Mexican-American history and culture, from biographies to legends.
In Separate is Never Equal, Tonatiuh presents the story of the Mendez family, focusing on daughter Sylvia. After moving to Westminster, California, the Mendez children attended public school, only to be told that they needed to go to the Mexican school instead. The Mendez family was infuriated, and rightfully so. Sylvia’s father, Gonzalo, was from Mexico, but had become a U. S. citizen. Her mother, Felícitas, was from the U. S. territory, Puerto Rico. The children were U. S. citizens and spoke perfect English.
The Mendez family filed a lawsuit against the Westminster schools. The court ruled in favor of the Mendez family, which led to the desegregation of schools in California, seven years before the famous Brown v. Board of Education case desegregated schools in the entire country.
I found this story riveting. I was somewhat embarrassed that I knew absolutely nothing about the Mendez case before reading this book. The case paved the way for similar lawsuits and led to awareness for racial equality, so why do we not teach our students about it?
I highly recommend this picture book for ages 6-10, though I think even younger children may be captivated by the illustrations, and older students will be interested in reading a little known piece of history. Separate is Never Equal would be a wonderful addition for any study on U. S. History or in discussion of current events and the fight for racial equality. The biographical matter, family photographs, bibliography, and glossary at the back of the book make it easy for students to dig a little deeper to learn more about the Mendez family.
The William Hoy Story, by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Jez Tuya, is one of my favorite picture book biographies. I love reading how William Hoy not only overcame obstacles at a time in which there were few resources for deaf people, but he also went on to make an impact on the game of baseball that continues to this day.
William was a natural ball player, but his deafness made it difficult for him to play because he couldn’t understand his teammates and the officials. After some disheartening experiences and discrimination, he created hand motions for the officials to use so that he would know if he was safe or out, and if pitches were balls or strikes. William went on to become a well-beloved and highly respected baseball player, playing for various professional teams.
Baseball enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy The William Hoy Story. Further, this story could inspire all children ages 4-8 to work hard and push through barriers to achieve their dreams.
Sparse rhyming text and vivid illustrations make Flying Eagle a wonderful non-fiction option for young children. Author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen uses rhyming couplets to tell of a father eagle hunting to bring food back to his family in the nest. As the eagle surveys the land, the reader is introduced to additional types of wildlife in the Serengeti Plain. Illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray utilizes a bold, warm color palette for the first two-thirds of the book, and then offers the contrast of deep dark blues and purples as evening sets. Animals pop from the pages against the colorful backdrops.
Flying Eagle is suitable for children ages 4-8. There are three pages of back matter that provide additional information about the tawny eagle and the Serengeti Plain in Africa. In addition, recommended resources are given for further reading and research.
If you are seeking a good laugh, then look no further. President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett and Chris Van Dusen is a humorous interpretation of the speculative story that President Taft did indeed get stuck in his bath. Barnett’s prose is witty and comically irreverent. Van Dusen’s illustrations add another layer of hilarity to create picture book perfection.
Candlewick Press recommends this book for ages 4-8, but I believe all audiences will find great enjoyment in it. Young children will laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and the illustrations that play out Taft’s indelicate dilemma. Older children and adults will appreciate the incorporated wordplay as government officials are brought in to help Taft out of the bath.
There is some uncertainty as to whether Taft was ever stuck in his bath, but there are two pages in the back that recount some of the theories. In addition, there is a funny historical account of Taft’s factual interactions with bathtubs. As such, President Taft is Stuck in the Bath would be an entertaining supplement when studying this president in American history.
The Cat in the Hat forever changed the stigma of “early reader” in the best way. Challenged to write an engaging story that young readers could tackle themselves, Dr. Seuss created his masterpiece to promote literacy. The book has maintained “classic” status ever since it was published in 1957. Its popularity led to a sequel (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back) and spawned a whole series of easy reader books, some written by Seuss, some written by other authors. Many of these books are also classics in their own right (Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, Go, Dog. Go!), continuing to teach newer generations of children to read.
In 2007, fifty years after The Cat in the Hat debuted, popular author-illustrator Mo Willems introduced young readers to Elephant and Piggie. In under ten years, Willems created 25 books in his series, all done in comic-book style. Text is sparse and done in dialogue. The stories are engaging, full of heart, and always served with a heaping dose of humor. Adults and kids love Elephant and Piggie, and I know I am not alone in being seriously bummed that The Thank You Book, published last year, is the final book in the series.
Just like the Cat in the Hat, Elephant and Piggie have become iconic. Go out and find first and second graders and ask – they all know Elephant and Piggie! And just like the Cat in the Hat generated a new line of early readers, Elephant and Piggie now give their stamp of approval on early readers written by various authors.
The American Library Association (the same group awarding the Newbery and Caldecott Medals) created the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award in 2004 as a way of honoring Seuss’s contributions to children’s literature. The award is given annually to “the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished contribution to the body of American children’s literature known as beginning reader books published in the United States during the preceding year.” (For more information on the Geisel Award and to see past recipients, visit the ALA’s site here.) It’s fitting that several of the Elephant and Piggie books have either won or received honors.
I had the pleasure of listening to Jen Bryant in a recent webinar. She has a passion for children’s nonfiction and finds interesting, but less known, subjects to feature in her narrative stories. After the webinar was over, I reserved all of the nonfiction picture books that my library had available.
The collaborations between Ms. Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet are especially wonderful. I will cover several of their books in future posts, but I thought I would first feature A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. I appreciate art, but I was unfamiliar with Horace Pippin before reading this book. I speculate that I am not alone in this.
Horace Pippin’s story is a wonderful example of perseverance. As a young boy, he loved to draw and paint, and showed promising artistic talent. After injuring his arm in World War I, however, Horace was no longer able to create the art he so loved. He eventually taught himself to use his left hand to support his injured right arm. As Bryant writes, “Pippin’s masterful use of color, form, and composition … is considered his greatest artistic strength.” His work was discovered by notable artists and critics during his lifetime, and today his paintings are displayed in museums across the country.
A Splash of Red would be a wonderful book to supplement studies in art, art history, and U.S. history. Although picture books are usually considered for younger children, older ones will enjoy this book as well, and it would serve as a fine starting point to introduce them to Horace Pippin.