Family Stories

Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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This collection of Ten Titles presents books that examine the many variations of family stories. Use this resource to add to your classroom library as we have a diverse group of insightful books that you and your students will grow to love.

Show Way

One of few picture books awarded the Newbery Honor Book designation, this book written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott certainly stands out among picture books. The story offers layers of complexity, combining flashbacks and flash-forwards to move across history from slavery on a South Carolina plantation to present day. The story is the common thread connecting the women across generations in a family. With the poetic presentation of themes of family, freedom, civil rights, matriarchy, love, and hard work, you can read and reread Show Way and reach new understandings of its depth with each interaction with the text. We are grateful to Jacqueline Woodson and Hudson Talbott for giving the world Show Way.

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Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

Just in time for Valentine's Day, this book by Eileen Spinelli and Paul Yalowitz illustrates how love can change us. Mr. Hatch follows a lonely routine each day until he unexpectedly receives an anonymous gift with a card signed, "Somebody Loves You." Realizing that someone loves him changes the way Mr. Hatch thinks of himself and, as his self-opinion becomes more positive, so do his interactions with others. The palette of Yalowitz's illustrations complement Mr. Hatch's changing moods, engaging readers visually. The surprise ending introduces an unexpected tension that will engage your students emotionally. Use this book to help students consider the power of loving and being loved.

Grandpa Loved

Grandpa Loved is a fictional memoir in which Josephine Nobisso connects with the grandfather she never knew in person. Growing close to her grandfather through family stories, Nobisso wrote of him in four settings, coupling him with an imaginary boy as main character. Nobisso writes, "Grandpa loved to stand on the beach. He showed me how to love it, too." Following this pattern, Nobisso connects the boy in the story to the grandfather in four settings, as the boy grows to love the places dear to his grandfather. Nobisso's language is gently poetic and Maureen Hyde's watercolor illustration provide a warm companion to the words. This book lends itself nicely as a model text for writing about the things family members have taught us to love.

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Dad, Jackie, and Me

In 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black baseball player to participate in the Major Leagues. The '47 season is recounted here by author Myron Uhlberg, who experienced it first-hand with his deaf father. Though baseball stories are on the surface of this book, a relationship between father and son is at its core. Young Uhlberg, a baseball enthusiast, helps his father understand the rules of the game but his father's true aspiration seems to be a better understanding of Robinson himself. He relates to the player's determination and courage to triumph in a world of adversity. This point is poignantly communicated when Robinson is purposely injured by another player during a game and Uhlberg's father yells, in his indistinct form of speech, "NOT FAIR, AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE." Rather than gawking, the crowd joins him. Uhlberg, once embarrassed of this mispronunciation of Robinson's first name, sees his father as "one of the crowd." Illustrations by Colin Bootman present a scrapbook style and depict some action-packed baseball scenes.

The Memory String

The buttons on Laura's memory string have been collected from various events in her life and the lives of her relatives. The string holds a special meaning because it had been passed down from generation to generation, starting with her great grandmother and ending with her. Most importantly, it belonged to her mother who passed away. Now, she struggles to move on and accept the future with Dad and his new wife, Jane. Eve Bunting and Ted Rand pair up to share a message that inspires optimism in situations that don't seem picture perfect. Perhaps readers will be moved to create memory strings of their own family histories.

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Touch the Sky Summer

For children, summers are often a magical time when exciting new adventures take place. For Luke and his brother, Peter, it is a time spent at Grandma and Grandpa's lake house with his family. In this story by Jean Van Leeuwen, new memories are created as the boys cast lines for a legendary mammoth fish, show off their new swimming skills, and brave Dad's ghost stories. Van Leeuwen's tale mixes mundane incidents with exhilarating accounts while Dan Andreasen's oil-paint illustrations provide breathtaking views of the great outdoors.

The Terrible Thing that Happened at Our House

Though published in the mid-1970s, this book by Marge Blaine has a timeless message of the give and take that must occur when families undergo change. A stay-at-home mother goes back to work, wreaking havoc with the world as her children know it. John C. Wallner's illustrations beautifully provide the details of this family's story. We see the house becoming cluttered and general emotional upheaval that the daughter, in particular, experiences. Things come to a head at the dinner table one night and the resulting family meeting sets the family on a new course. This book gently and tenderly deals with a sensitive subject and would be appreciated in any family's home or classroom library.

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How My Parents Learned to Eat

Cultural differences can be scary and intimidating to both children and adults. This picture book written by Ina R. Friedman tells a realistic story of an American sailor and a young Japanese woman as they meet, become friends, and fall in love. Each secretly tries to learn the other's way of eating, chopsticks for John and western utensils for Aiko. Narrated by the couple's bicultural daughter, the story illustrates differences and similarities between cultures. Allen Say's beautiful watercolor images are the perfect accompaniment for this tale of cultural harmony and pride.

Voyage to the Bunny Planet

This collection of three picture books (First Tomato, The Island Light, Moss Pillows) written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells are rich and significant in their message, if you choose to read between the lines. At face value, they are sweet little tales about the terrible day that a sweet bunny boy or girl experiences and how it's turned around. At the core, the lesson is that our imaginations can help us when we're sick, bored and feeling our worst. Turning around a horrible day is not an easy thing to do with a child. These books can help you teach and model the sometimes difficult task of rearranging our mental and emotional focus.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Family Book

Using his trademark style in which few words and simple images present big ideas, Todd Parr explores family. Parr manages to consider familial connections, such as how we show affection, how they eat, and traditions and customs. The Family Book makes room for diversity among and within families. Even though the characters are often primary colors or animals, they are easy to relate to, and students are likely to find a family like their own in this book. Parr dedicates the book to his own family.