2 Picture Books about Welcoming All People (and Pets)


Yard sign in Millersville, PA. Dec. 25, 2016

Is there room at the inn*? What about in your club? Your school? Your country?

Christmas 2016 seems like a pretty appropriate time to highlight two picture books about welcoming others. Please share your recommendations for similar titles in the comments!

Strictly No ElephantsStrictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: When the local Pet Club won’t admit a boy’s tiny pet elephant, he finds a solution—one that involves all kinds of unusual animals in this sweet and adorable picture book.

Today is Pet Club day. There will be cats and dogs and fish, but strictly no elephants are allowed. The Pet Club doesn’t understand that pets come in all shapes and sizes, just like friends. Now it is time for a boy and his tiny pet elephant to show them what it means to be a true friend.

Imaginative and lyrical, this sweet story captures the magic of friendship and the joy of having a pet.

My review: A picture book about a boy and his tiny pet elephant? I’m already sold, but what makes “Strictly No Elephants” worth telling everyone about is the timeless story about being excluded for being different and then finding the people (and pets) who will like and embrace you for who you are.
Published in 2015, the final message that “All are Welcome” feels particularly poignant and relevant in late 2016. Many adults could benefit from reading this as much as children will. It would be an especially great addition to classroom libraries in schools that have historically been homogeneous but are become more diverse.

My Two BlanketsMy Two Blankets by Irena Kobald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Cartwheel has moved to a place that is so strange to her, she no longer feels like herself. This is a story about new ways of speaking, new ways of living, new ways of being.

My review: Told through the eyes of a Sudanese refugee, this is a universal story of loneliness transformed by a simple gesture of friendship. Anyone who’s ever felt like a stranger in a strange land will identify with the main character through her simple but evocative descriptions of her feelings. For example:
“Nobody spoke like I did.
When I went out, it was like standing under a waterfall of strange sounds.
The waterfall was cold.
It made me feel alone.
I felt like I wasn’t me anymore.”

The soft oil and water color illustrations subtly reinforce such passages by showing the main character dressed in orange amid scenes of blues, browns and grays. In the final scene at a park, other characters and features have taken on orange accents, just as the main character has become more comfortable under her blue “blanket” while still wearing her orange outfit. The author uses blankets as a symbol for the main character’s native language and her comfort with it, as well as for the process of learning a new language — woven together word by word, with the aid of a new friend.


*Did you know that the phrase “no room at the inn” in the story of Christ’s birth may be better translated as “no room in the guest room,” suggesting Mary and Joseph may actually have been staying with family? Shows the power of one little word to shape a story, right??

2 Picture Books about … family and migration

Within the first few pages of reading “The Keeping Quilt” this morning I was thinking about “This is the Rope.” It’s impossible not to make the comparison.

Both books tells stories of family and love by following an object that is passed down over generations. And both hint at larger histories of human migration.

First published in 1988, Patricia Polacco’s “The Keeping Quilt” is at this point a classic among picture books and comes from the real quilt and story of Polacco’s family. Jacqueline Woodson’s “This is the Rope,” is a more recent fictional work that I believe will one day be a classic.

The Keeping QuiltThe Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet (and true) story about the transformation of a young immigrant’s babushka into a quilt that is used at meals, weddings, births and more. The book spans several generations of a Russian Jewish family in America. Though the theme is continuity and connection, the small changes that happen to traditions over time and with human migration form a backdrop to the text and illustrations. The charcoal drawings, in which only the quilt gets a pop of color, are as timeless as Polacco’s quilt itself.

This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great MigrationThis Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intergenerational story of a family’s move from South Carolina to New York City. The narrative centers on a rope that is first used for skipping under a sweet-smelling pine in South Carolina, then for tying suitcases to the car, later for hanging laundry on a city block, and so on.
Jacqueline Woodson makes the historical context of the book clear in an author’s note describing the Great Migration:

From the early 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to northern cities. … We came for better jobs, better treatment, better education and better lives. … The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.

The warm colors and soft focus of James Ransome’s oil illustrations evoke the familiarity of home, even as the characters move across states and neighborhoods.

View all my reviews

Two picture books about Irena Sendler | #IMAWYR 6/5/16


“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

In recent weeks I’ve read two biographies of WWII hero Irena Sendler.

Jars of HopeJars of Hope by Jennifer Roy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simultaneously chilling and powerful story of one woman’s bravery in saving children during the Holocaust. It shows two opposite extremes of human capabilities.
I appreciate that although the book focuses on Irena Sendler, it also shows and names some of the others who also risked their lives in Zegota, an underground group of Polish men and women who rescued Jews from the Nazis. I also appreciate that it shows multiple families and scenarios in which Irena worked to rescue children. As opposed to other excellent books that focus on one individual or family’s experience, that choice points to the magnitude of the atrocities, as well as underscoring Irena’s courage.
There is something a little strange about the book’s layout, though — particularly the text placement and end pages — that makes it feel a bit like a print-on-demand text.
This is definitely worth reading if you don’t know anything about Irena Sendler, as I didn’t.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw GhettoIrena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An illustrated biography of a Polish social worker who risked her life over and over to save Jewish children during the Holocaust. Illustrations done in oil paints bring the historical figure to life. The story is best suited for older children with some background knowledge about WWII. It is text-heavy, so it’s not ideal for a read-aloud, but it provides more details about Irena Sendler’s work than a similar book, “Jars of Hope.” Good for an elementary classroom research project.

Nonfiction picture book Wednesday: Fearless Flyer and Queen of the Track

nonfiction picture book Wednesday

Check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Last week I discovered an author kindred spirit.

It started when I pulled “Fearless Flyer” off the new books shelf in the children’s section of the library. After reading the story of pilot Ruth Law’s attempt to fly from Chicago to New York in one day in 1916, I did what I always do at the end of a when a book rings my kidlit bells: I read the author bio. Continue reading

2 (true) children’s books about transgender youth

I am Jazz and Beyond Magenta

With all the buzz this month around Caitlyn Jenner — formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist — making her first appearance as a woman, you might be wondering how to help the kids in your life understand what “transgender” means. Here are two good nonfiction resources published last year. One is for young kids and one is for teens, though plenty of adults could learn from both.

In “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, the story arc is straightforward — Jazz introduces herself, her favorite things and best friends, then tells us that she’s not quite like the other girls. “I have a girl brain but a boy. This is called transgender. I was born this way!” she explains before describing her and her family’s journey. The simple delivery of course makes this book a good mirror for trans kids or window for cis-gender ones, but beyond the subject of gender, it offers a entry into broader conversations about empathy.

“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” is written and photographed by Susan Kuklin, but much of the text is directly in the teens’ own words. That’s what makes it powerful. Six teens share early memories of gender identity, struggles with un-accepting family members, experiences with taking hormones and much more. The text is accompanied by sometimes serious, sometimes playful photographs of the featured teens.

If you’ve read these books, let me know what you think in the comments. What children’s books featuring transgender individuals would you recommend?

Two Picture Books About … Queens of Music

Mahalia and MelbaMahalia Jackson and Melba Liston had a number of things in common. One was their love of music. Another was their talent.

Mahalia sang gospel. Melba played trombone. Both stood up for the rights and dignity of African-Americans.

These exceptional women are celebrated in the books, “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens,” written by Nina Nolan and illustrated by John Holyfield (2015), and “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison (2014).

Continue reading

2 Picture Books About…Pen pals

Dear Primo and Same Same but Different

“Dear Primo” by Duncan Tonatiuh and “Same, Same but Different” by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw would make great classroom books because of their focus on cultural exchange. The premise is in each is simple: two boys in different countries write each other letters comparing and contrasting various elements of their lives.

For instance, in “Dear Primo,” when Carlitos tells his cousin about riding his bicycle past dogs and cacti on his way to school in Mexico, Charlie counters with a description of a riding a subway, which “is like a long metal snake, and it travels through tunnels underground.” They go on to compare favorite snacks, games, holidays and more. Throughout the text, Carlitos’ notes are peppered with Spanish terms, like cohetes (fireworks), explained in a glossary at the back.

Continue reading

2 Picture Books About … Music and dance

A dance like starlight and When the beat was born

Arriving in the classroom, I heard music before spotting a mini-crowd of preschoolers break dancing on the circle carpet.

“Yeah, our classroom is a fun one,” the other teacher said to me by way of a greeting.

This was just one of the classes I worked in as a substitute Head Start teacher in 2011-12. The Head Start classrooms were always consciously stocked with diverse children’s books, but even though I was sometimes entertained by pint-sized break dancers and beatboxers, I never encountered a book about hip hop.

Hopefully some of those classrooms (or maybe their elementary school counterparts) have since acquired When the Beat was Bornwritten by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook Press published it last year, and Taylor won this year’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

Continue reading

Two picture books about … Girls who dared

2 pic books

You know how a lot of people have been binge-watching TV shows like “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? Well, I’ve been binge-reading books by Shana Corey.

That’s because she writes about “old-time gals with gumption.”

Who doesn’t love an old-time gal with gumption?

Okay, maybe kids who love truck books and the like, but the description applies to many of my beloved children’s book characters, like Anne Shirley. Continue reading

2 picture books about … boys who like dresses

2 pic books

These two picture books came to my attention through the May discussion on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center listserv, which is focused on gender non-conformity.

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino both feature a main character who’s a preschool/early elementary school boy in love with a dress at the classroom dress-up center. Continue reading