Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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This collection of Ten Titles presents books with characters who have agency. Some of these texts can serve as mentor texts for persuasive writing, some are stories about changing the world, and still others are both!

Giant Steps to Change the World

How often do we ask our children, "How are you, dear one, going to change the world?" This beautiful book challenges young readers to anticipate their glorious futures by using examples from great Americans. Authors Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee have written an inspirational book that honors the bright possibilities of their young readers. Sean Qualls' paint, pencil, and collage illustrations are mesmerizing and do a stellar job of representing the vibrant lives of those like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jesse Owens, and Mother Theresa.

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Sophie's Masterpiece

Sophie is a selfless, kind and unappreciated artist who happens to be a spider. She creates beautiful things for herself and her friends, though her gifts are often unappreciated. Eileen Spinelli's story explores themes of stereotyping, selflessness, and tenacity. Sophie's life story is illustrated with Jane Dyer's moving and gentle watercolors with special artistic details hidden on many pages. This book offers complex layers for conversation and promises to be a classic.

Something Beautiful

The sweet smiling face on the cover of Something Beautiful welcomes you to open this picture book. Inspired by her own childhood experience, Sharon Dennis Wyeth tells the story of one girl's search for something beautiful in her urban neighborhood -- a community that at first glance might appear unpleasant. Told in the girl's voice, Wyeth's text illustrates the tough spirit of children. Chris Soentpiet's lifelike watercolor paintings add to the contemporary, real-world feel. This book is an excellent prompt for a discussion on what it means to be beautiful, and could also jumpstart a community service project with your students. Enjoy Something Beautiful with your students and empower them to change the world!

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed

Children often feel they have to wait until they grow up to change the world. This sweet story of a very ordinary girl illustrates the extraordinary power of one person. Mary's one small act of kindness launches a chain of events that impact the lives of over six billion people! The math showing the consequences of Mary's gesture is shown on a lovely two-page spread -- truly impressive! Fumi Kosaka's simple, yet expressive illustrations make this story of "paying it forward" come alive. This picture book would be an excellent way to introduce the idea of service learning to children, and the mathematical "summary" at the end of the book illustrates that you don't have to be big to make a big difference.

One Smile

Sometimes it's good for children to see that something as easy as a smile can make a significant difference. Cindy McKinley's picture book is simple but important, showing people of all ages and races being kind to one another. Mary Gregg Byrne's watercolor illustrations add color and clarity. You'll find information in the back of the book listing discussion prompts on kindness, values, and the Pay It Forward Foundation. This is yet another book that can inspire your students with agency!

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The Golden Rule

Religious differences are often cited as a starting point for political and military clashes. This is bizarre, as the simple and powerful Golden Rule can be found in the holy books and writings of many belief systems. This oversized picture book by Ilene Cooper examines the Golden Rule as it exists in six different religions, including Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. A boy and his grandfather come across the words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," on a city billboard. This serves as a conversation-starter as the grandfather embraces an opportunity to explain this valuable code of life. After the elder illustrates simple ways that his grandson could apply the code of conduct, we clearly see that the boy begins to internalize the message, observing, "... I don't think everyone is practicing [the Golden Rule] as they should." This is yet another picture book that will empower young readers to change their world. The closing words of Grandfather's are a charge to us all: "YOU. IT BEGINS WITH YOU." Gabi Swiatkowska's layered textured paintings lend a sacred feel with deities and animals of the world's religions hovering in the background. Make sure you read the author's note that gives the original forms of the Golden Rule from the Talmud, the King James Bible, and other sources.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference

Many children naturally only think about their immediate surroundings. This book forces the reader to think beyond their own community. One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference illustrates family values, social justice issues, global poverty, and community development, all in a way that children can understand. This book tells the true story of Kwabena Darko, a boy in the West African nation of Ghana, who used a microlending program in his village to start a business for his family after his father died. This story illustrates how the teamwork of a community can function for the good of all. Eugenie Fernandes's acrylic paintings express the warmth of Africa with native animals and kente cloth. Like other books in this Ten Titles collection, the back of the book includes a photograph and short biography of Darko, information on microcredit organizations, and a glossary.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Circles of Hope

The simple story of a boy who wants to plant a mango tree for his new baby sister is unusually poignant, as young Facile lives in Haiti. Many trees have been cut down there for lumber and to make charcoal for cooking fires. With great perseverance, Facile fights a hungry goat, a soaking rainstorm, and scrub fires only to succeed in the end. Linda Saport's vibrant charcoal-and-pastel full-spread illustrations are rich with color and author Karen Lynn Williams includes a Creole glossary and an interesting author's note that you shouldn't miss.

Boxes for Katje

While some liberties are taken with facts from an actual event, this story sets the stage for discussions about generosity and reaching out to those in need. Candace Fleming portrays an actual event from her mother's life, in which a family in the United States rallies support from their community to help a young girl in a Dutch town left impoverished after World War II. The communities are made aware of each other through the pen pal writings of two girls: Rosie in Mayfield, Indiana and Katje in Holland. There are actually two characters in this story who represent catalysts for change. Rosie is the first, reaching out together with her family and community to her long-distance friend by sending her food and clothes. Katje is the next who decides to share what she has received with other needy members of her town. Stacy Dressen-McQueen illustrates with a cheery palette that tends to eclipse the suffering of the Dutch people, but does a great job of showing their gratitude. Fleming's author's note is especially poignant and well worth sharing with a group of youngsters.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Melissa Parkington's Beautiful, Beautiful Hair

Who would have thought that a haircut could change the world? Well, it may not change the world, but in Pat Brisson's story, it does make a difference in it. Melissa Parkington has long, thick, shiny hair that others admire and that elicits her father's references to her as "Melissa of the Beautiful, Beautiful Hair." But Melissa wants to be known for more than just her hair; she wants to do something spectacular. When she gets her luxurious locks cut to donate to children who need wigs, she takes pleasure in knowing that she has helped someone in need. Use this story to inspire children to find their own ways to make a spectacular difference for someone. Colorful pages with a diverse group of characters enhance the story's tender message.