November 2021 Book Birthdays!

November has been packed with surprises, support and accompaniment in the most incredibly delightful of ways. I am over the moon overwhelmed with the fact that my debut picture book exists and doubly so when I see Room for Everyone on the shelf or in a list alongside other new gorgeous books by authors and illustrators who I deeply respect and admire. A lot of books have come to life and captured my heart this month…here are just a few that I am honored and grateful to celebrate a book birthday month with. No full reviews this time, but I’ve added the links to publisher book descriptions and author/illustrator websites. Much love to all the new books making their way into the world.

My First Picture Book!

It’s book release week for my first picture book, Room for Everyone! Can’t believe this moment is actually here! Book comes out Tuesday, November 9th, and will be available anywhere books are sold! You can pre/order here or from your local bookstore and/or library.

If you’d like a sneak preview, check out this video I made for the Barnes and Noble Story Time Channel on Youtube.

If you’re interested in learning more about the story behind the story, you can also join me and my dear friend Ruth Forman for a live Q&A at Politics and Prose

Please click here for tickets.

If you’d like to learn more about the book, read reviews, or schedule a visit please visit my author website or feel free to contact me at

So excited to be on this journey with you!

October Gems

Hi friends, sorry I’m so behind this month. Because of the late timing I’m just going to focus on books related to the holidays taking place this week including Larry Itlion Day (October 25th) Halloween (October 31st) and, Dia De Los Muertos (Oct. 31st – November 2nd). Hope you enjoy these treats (and bones, spiders, pumpkins, ghosts and zombies) as much as I do!

Journey For Justice: The Life of Larry Itlion
By Dawn B. Mabalon, PhD, Gayle Romasanta, Illustrated by Andre Sibayan

Last year, October 25th was officially declared Larry Itliong Day – a day honoring Filipino American social justice farm worker, Larry Iliong, who worked along side the more famous Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. The Californian in me loves that this part of farm worker history in the United States is finally coming to light! Also – can’t believe this is the first non-fiction illustrated children’s book about a Filipino American. Wow. So glad his inspiring story and spirit have come to life in such a beautiful way through this book. For more information about his life, his work with farmworkers you can check out this resource created by the Zinn Education Project:

Now on to the Halloween(ish) and Dia De Los Muertos Books!

Old Black Witch! By Wende and Harry Devlin

I wanted to start off by sharing this book because it was my very first introduction to Halloween AND more importantly…to blueberry pancakes! I still have a vivid memory of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Kelly, dressing up as a witch and all of us students marveling at the bubbling blueberry batter that magically turned into a deliciously scrumptious breakfast. The blueberry pancake recipe that’s included in this book is inspired by the culinary skills of the Old Black Witch, who is suprised by a mother and son who have come to live in what she considers to be her house. Though at first there is some confusion about who the house belongs to, by the end of the story, the Old Black Witch’s delicious pancakes help the mortal humans with their attempts to start a successful dinner. Everyone shares the space, feels at home, and works together to create a super successful pancake business! Much love to this classic!

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack
By Stacy McAnulty, Illustrated by Matthew Rivera

If you’re looking for ways to add a little science to your Halloween activities, you have to check out this book! Stacy McAnulty brilliantly brings the brain to delightful life in this funny, quirky, clever book that will fill your brain with awesomely interesting fun facts and have you salivating for more after every page! A super fun book for readers looking for something brainy and zany to read this Halloween, or any time of the year. Fore more fun science books from this author visit:

Whose Bones?

By Gabrielle Balkan, Illustrated by Sam Brewster

I’ve been seeing a lot of skeletons lurking around in peoples yards, getting ready to scare trick-or-treaters on Halloween, so I was thinking, what a perfect time for kids to explore skeletons! This page turner book will have kids and grown ups excited about the process of guessing and learning about animal bones, including the bones of chimpanzees, giraffes, and of course – humans! Super informative and super fun! There’s also an fun accompanying activity kit to go along with the book! Interested in more of Gabriell Balkan’s non-fiction books? Check out her website!

By Mags DeRoma
If spiders have entered the conversation, or your bedroom at home, you’re going to adore this thoughtful, beautifully illustrated and practical book by Mags DeRoma. A sleepy young girl is about to go to bed when she discovers a spider in her room and is suddenly, AWAKE! I know that feeling! Fear or discomfort can sometimes lead to reactions that may be harmful, but DeRoma shows us that if we take a moment to breath, and think, we CAN find ways to keep ourselves and others (in this case a spider) feeling safe. This story is also a wonderful reminder that the things we might be afraid of, may very well be just as scared of us! My favorite part is the back matter, which outlines steps for the reader to learn how to use a jar or glass to capture a little critter and safely release them outside. To see more of Mags DeRoma’s glorious artistry please visit:

Carlito the Bat Learns to Trick-or-Treat
By Michelle Lizet Flores. Illustrations by Kiara Amaris Sanchez

Trick-or-treating and getting candy can be a lot of fun, but sometimes super spooky places can be a little terrifying, especially if you’re new to the tradition. If you’ve got a little one who may be nervous about all the scary yards and costumes, this book is a great way to help them gain a little courage, and get familiar with what they might encounter during their Trick-Or-Treating adventures.

I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story/Yo Recuerdo A Abuelito: Un cuento del Dia del los Muertos

By Janice Levy, Illustrated by Loretta Lopez, Translated by Miguel Arisa

If you’re looking for something gentle and realistic that that has a more narrative and emotional explanation of the Day of the Dead, I recommend this story about a little girl who dearly misses her grandfather, Abuelito. The story reminded me of my first time being invited to an intimate Day of the Dead celebration at a Mexican friend’s house. As much as I enjoyed the home made mole, the beautiful flowers and the thoughtfully decorated alter, what touched me the most, was the way in which I actually did invite and feel connected to the spirit of my own grandmother. That evening, and this book reminded me of how sometimes there are deeply profound experiences that are gifted to us – experiences that cannot be explained, proven or understood, but feel as real to us as the sound of our beating hearts.

The Day of the Dead/El Dia de Los Muertos: A Bilingual Celebration
By Bob Barner, Illustrated by Teresa Mlwaer

With bright bold colors and simple text, this fun and informative bilingual book is a great introduction for those who may be new to the holiday of Dia De Los Muertos. Please note that the English words rhyme, but the Spanish lines do not. For those who are musically inclined you can also check out Bob Barner’s website and listen to an accompanying song: The end of the book includes a helpful author’s note about the history of the holiday, and the inspiration behind the art work…which leads me to our next book!

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras

Dia De Los Muertos is often associated with Calaveras – images of skeletons performing daily activities. This award winning book tells the story of artist/political activist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, the artist who first created these types of skeleton works of art. The richly illustrated pages are perfectly paired with the fascinating details of a story full of depth and detail not only about this incredible artists, life, but also the style and technique of his art work. This work of art is simply spine tinglingly splendid!

Gustavo the Shy Ghost
By Flavia Z. Drago
There is a reason this treasure of a book has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I am in love with Gustavo and every gorgeously illustration in this book – the details seem to tell a story of their very own. It’s one of those books that you want to just look at over and over because you discover something new every single time. In the story, Gustavo, a shy ghost, feels unseen. No matter what he does (turn into a canvas in front of an artists, turn into a sheet for someone hanging up laundry) he seems to be invisible and unable to make any friends. He’s even less likely to capture the heart of the monster he loves – Alma. He decides that he must make a move and invite everyone to the graveyard on Dia De Los Muertos so they can listen to him play what he loves the most – the violin. When no one arrives, Gustavo is disappointed, but decides to do what he loves to do anyway. As he plays, and is filled with joy and confidence through his music, Gustavo begins to glow, creating a light and sound so beautiful that it draws all the monsters to him. A beautiful story to share with anyone overcoming a shyness and learning to love and embrace who they are.

Boo Stew By Donna L. Washington, Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler.

With beautiful spreads and deliciously juicy writing that’s sure to delight young readers, Boo Stew takes us on an entertaining story about being brave and continuing to do what your heart loves, no matter what the critics say. Curly Locks loves cooking up all kinds of interesting dishes (cat hair cupcakes, and batwing brownies) but sadly the townsfolk run the other way. When the Scares of Toadsuck Swamp start to terrify the townspeople however, Curly Locks musters up her courage, confront the Scares and saves the day with her Boo Stew! In addition to being an author, Donna J Washington is also a renowned and gifted storyteller and educator. To learn more about her work you can visit:

When Pumpkins Fly
By Margaret Lawrence, Illustrated by

I knew very little about Artic culture until I came across Inhabit Media – an awesome publishing house that focuses on Innuit culture and children’s books! When Pumpkins Fly (on a plane) into the Sanikiluaq community, students are excited to have some pumpkin fun including carving, tasting the insides, and roasting seeds. After a night of trick or treating, we learn that one of the lucky students who gets to take a pumpkin home is suddenly feeling a little bit scared because he can feel the presence of the tunnaat – ancient and wise beings that travel through the night…readers are then invited to wonder…what will these ancient spirits do with the pumpkin? Love that this book gives us a fresh new perspective on pumpkins and Halloween!

She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
By Lynn Fulton, Illustrated by Felicita Sala

Kids (and grown ups) may be familiar with Frankenstein, but not as familiar with the story of how this world renowned monster actually came to be. This fascinating story about the talented and gutsy writer, Mary Shelley reveals the little known details of how this creature came to her in a dream, after an invitation by Lord Byron, daring his friends to come up with best ghost story they could imagine. Fulton not only does a stellar job of pulling us into this moment, but also highlights how significantly important this moment was for women writers. And of course, as always, Felicita Sala’s illustrations capture the mood and tone absolutely perfectly. For more information about Mary Shelley, including the scientific conversations that influenced Frankenstein, you can visit Lynn Fulton’s resources for the curious…

Myth Atlas: Map and Monsters, Heroes and Gods from Twelve Mythological Worlds
By Thiago de Moraes

If you and your readers are curious and interested in expanding your knowledge of monsters, this book is a wonderful way to start exploring monsters and mythical stories from cultures across the planet. It features creatures with brief descriptions that are part of Polynesian, Japanese, Ancient Egyptian, Yoruba, Yanomami, Aztec, Irish/Celtic, Greek, Slavic, Norse, Hindu, and Native American cultures. The atlas is careful not to clump all cultures together, and does give details on which stories are from which North American nations. As is indicated in the title, it’s more of an atlas than a collection of in depth stories, but wow, do those marvelous illustrations capture your attention. This beautiful book is a feast of fantasticallness! And yes – I just made up a word. It’s a kind of fun thing to do sometimes. 🙂

Back to School!

I’ve been missing in action for a bit, BUT now that we’re back to school, I am back with some books as well!

Ruby Head High: Ruby Bridges First Day of School
By Irene Cohen-Janka and Marc Daniau
Originally written in French, this book tells the story of how Ruby Bridges attended an all-white school in the segregated South in the 1960s. The story is initially set in a classroom where a teacher shares Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “The Trouble We All Live With” and students try to guess why a little girl is being accompanied by body guards on her first day to school (maybe she’s rich and famous?) Readers eventually learn about Ruby Bridges’ family life, the difficult test she had to pass to be chosen to go to the school and the challenges of attending an all-white school where she was unwelcome because she was black. This extraordinary story of courage, community and social change is a reminder that even the youngest of people can make a powerful impact.

To learn more about this story from Ruby Bridges herself, check out this 2010 CBS interview with her.

Amina’s New Friends
By Anne O’Brien Conelli and Roberta Collier-Morales
Amina is a Somali refugee who is about to start school in the United States and is worried about how to make friends. Her social worker, who speaks Somali, assures her that she will be fine and tells her she can wave and say hi and friends will say hi back. On her first day of school Amina encounters a number of children, but nobody says hi. They do however, offer her a seat on the bus, a place at the lunch table, a gesture to join a game and even a push on the swing at recess. Soon Amina realizes that even though she doesn’t understand her classmates’ words she does understand that they are trying to be friends with her. This heartwarming story is a great way to show kids how to create a welcoming space for students who may be new and don’t speak the language that most students at the school speak. Author Anne O’Brien was inspired to write this book because of her work with refugee youth and has an excellent website with resources about how to create a welcoming community for refugees in the classroom. Please check it out at She is also the author of I’m New Here and the companion book Someone New

My First Day
By Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien

With gorgeous, dreamy illustrations, this adventurous story about a boy getting to school in a boat literally took my breath away. An, the main character lives in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and must face giant waves, rainfall and darkness as he courageously makes his way, solo, through the mangrove forest and out towards an unknown destination. We only find out at the very end that he is on his way to his first day of school.

There is also an excellent resource guide by Reading Across America that features a teachers’ guide with lesson plans, reflective discussion questions, writing prompts, and links to media highlighting how kids across the world go to school.

Books About Boundaries:

Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison and Daniel Wiseman
Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller

Don’t Touch My Hair!
Don’t Hug Doug

I never thought a book about consent could be so much fun while also using simple straightforward language. Don’t Hug Doug *(He Doesn’t Like it) by Carrie Finison and Daniel Wiseman makes it easy for readers to learn how to set and respect boundaries, be yourself, show your love and care in different kinds of ways (high fives, fist bumps etc.) and be clear about who you want a hug from and when. Conversations are modeled in a way that is simple, fun, positive and doesn’t feel preachy. Another great companion book about consent is Don’t Touch My Hair, by Sharee Miller in which the character starts getting frustrated with people who want to touch her hair. She’s full of spunk and uses her voice to set boundaries and let people know what she wants and doesn’t want. It’s honest, funny, sensitive and also gives great examples of how to express yourself. Both books are excellent teaching tools!

What’s My Super Power?
By Aviaq Johnston and Tim Mack

On the first day of school, Nelvana is wowed by how fast one of her classmates can run. She boosts his mood by telling him how it’s as though he has a super power. Later, when she sees her friend Matta flying high on a swing, and her cousin Jonasi building snow sculptures, she once again enthusiastically describes their talents as super hero powers, making them feel proud of what they can do. As school continues Nelvana keeps cheering people on and helping them see the super powers they have within themselves. She wonders however, what her own super power is until one day she finally realizes that she has the power to cheer people on and make people feel awesome about themselves. This book is a great way to celebrate differences and help kids explore different ways that they can celebrate the best of who they are, and the joy of celebrating other people’s unique talents too. This book is one of several picture books published by Inhabit Media Inc. which is a the first Inuit-owned, independent publishing company in the Canadian Arctic.

Ikru’s First Day of School
By Sunaina Coelho

This wordless picture book, available for free through Pratham’s Storyweaver program is a delightful, character packed story that’s full of feelings and opportunities to talk to your kids about the everyday happenings of school life. You see familiar scenes of grown ups dropping kids off at school and a range of emotions as kids joyfully or tearfully begin their first day. Scenes include the excitement of climbing a tree, the fear of falling, the comfort of having a friend’s help, the panic of needing to go to the bathroom and missing mom’s food. Love the way it captures all the details of a traditional Indian school as well, with kids sitting on the floor to eat, and grownups dressed in traditional clothing. Ikru’s First Day of School is just one of hundreds of stories created by Pratham, an Indian non-profit organization that creates free books online for kids. To check out this story you can visit Storweave For more free stories in multiple Indian languages you can visit

The Day You Begin
By Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

I love EVERYTHING about this must-have book. Gorgeously crafted words, illustrations drenched in vibrant yet comforting soft tones of color and an affirming story about embracing your unique self and forging joyful and meaningful friendships.

You can also check out a sample reading from author Jacqueline Woodson (from Penguin Random House) as well as a PDF teacher’s guide produced by Penguin Random House

My Name is Sangoel
By Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammmed, Illustrated by Catherine Stock

As Sangoel leaves the refugee camp, he is offered words of wisdom from an elder about being proud of his Dinka heritage and name and remembering that education is his mother and father. When he comes to the United States he is happy to have a new home, but at school the students and teachers don’t pronounce his name correctly. Though he continues to repeat his name, he feels as though he has lost his name in the United States and is told by his mother that maybe he could consider changing his name to an American one. Sangoel however, decides to keep his name and then cleverly uses drawing as a way to share the correct pronunciation of his name by drawing a sun and a goal. His classmates are delighted and are then inspired to create their own name drawings. This book does a fabulous job of capturing the reality of the refugee resettlement process, and bringing ease to the transition, while also encouraging students to honor and feel proud of their heritage.

For how to use this book in the classroom you can check out the author’s teacher’s guide or the discussion guide produced by Eerdman’s Books For Young Readers.

The Magical Yet
By Angela DiTerlizzi, Illustrated by Lorena Alvarez

When kids head back to school they can sometimes get stuck in the feeling of not being able to do or learn something…especially if it’s a skill that other kids already know. This book centers around a girl who is trying to learn how to ride a bike and gets a bit discouraged. A magical creature – YET, shows up and encourages her to keep trying because she is on her way to where she wants be. In the background you also see a number of kids all trying and learning new things. It’s a colorful, playful, inspiring, motivational feast of color and believe-in-yourself magic for both kids and grown ups. If your’e looking for a fun goal oriented craft activity to go along with the book, you can check out this Magical Yet Activity by MaiStoryBook. She also has awesome daily book recommendations.

Your Name is a Song
By Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Luisa Uribe

A girl declares to her mother that she doesn’t want to go back to school after her first day because no one at school can pronounce her name. In fact, some students pretended to choke on her name. Mama shows her how names are musical songs that come from the heart and how by saying someone’s name hearts can be opened. The girl then returns to school, sings everyone’s name as a song, and finally encourages her teacher and her classmates to sing her name as well, which sounds like music to her ears. This beautiful, uplifting story illuminates the power of names and is the perfect way to encourage students and grown ups to learn about the beauty, power, magnificence and melody of names. Click here for resources, including a name pronunciation video from the author.

Mae’s First Day of School
By Kate Berube

A friend of mine recently told me that one of his daughter’s first grade classmates described his daughter as a girl who can’t read. I recommended two books: The first was The Magical Yet – below, to remind her that there are lots of things that we can’t do, but there’s also something magical and wonderful about the process of learning how to do something new. The second was Mae’s First Day of School. Mae doesn’t want to go to school and when she is dropped off decides to hide away in a tree. There she finds another reluctant student who is also afraid of her first day. The fears range from worrying about people discovering that they don’t know how to read, or that they won’t know how to make a new friend. A few minutes later a teacher comes up and hides with them. This is the teacher’s first day of school too and she doesn’t want to go because she is afraid as well. What if the students don’t like her? They all come to realize that they are not alone in their fears and that school is a place for learning. In fact that’s WHY people go to school – because they want to learn something new that they do not yet know. The girls comfort the teacher, assuring her that the students are bound to like her, because, well, they really like her! All of them then decide to go to school and get excited about learning new things together. A simple, touching book that directly addresses some of the emotions of feeling alone that students may have on their first day.

Nasreen’s Secret School
By Jeanette Winter
With a number of Afghan families coming into the United States and Afghanistan being on the news a lot these days, I felt it was important for all kids, including Afghan kids to see and understand this aspect of educational history. What I particularly appreciate about this book is that it explicitly paints a vibrant picture of Afghan culture and reminds people of the region’s rich literary, musical and artistic history, and how women are a part of this vibrant cultural legacy. The story begins with this history, and then moves on to talk about how soldiers (The Taliban) emerge and ban girls from going to school. Told from the perspctive of Nasreen’s grandmother, we see how the grandmother takes Nasreen to a secret school and how the community keeps this secret school safe so that Nareen and her classmates can learn. It also addresses the harsh reality of disappearances – Nasreen’s father is taken away and ever since then Nasreen doesn’t feel like talking. Attending school however, gives her a new perspective and hope.

Running the Road to ABC
By Denize Lauture and Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins

This stunningly illustrated book follows a group of children in Haiti who start their journey to school at dawn. With no watches or clocks to tell them the time, they must look at the colors in the sky to determine how fast to run in order to get to school in time. The gorgeous illustrations are beautifully paired with lyrical vivid descriptive writing that transport the reader to lush landscapes, and rich, textured soundscape. Just lovely.

The Proudest Color by Sheila Modir, Jeff Kashou, LMFT, lllustrated by Monica Mikai
Zahra feels her world through color. When she’s mad she feels sparks of red, and when she’s excited she feels the razzle dazzle of pink. And when she feels proud, she feels like her heart is brown. Brown after all is the color she sees when she sees herself, and what others see when they see her. When she goes to school however, someone makes a comment about not liking her dark skin and Zahra suddenly feels like colors are swirling all around her insides. At home, her family reminds her of all the beautiful and important people that have brown skin, like her abuela, her doctor, and even famous people who have made a big difference in the world like Cezar Chavez. Zahra then creates a hand drawn gallery of portraits of all these wonderful people, including herself, and once again begins to feel proud of her brown skin.

Stolen Words
By Melanie Florence, Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
When a girl asks her grandfather to teach her how to say something in Cree he responds by telling her that he lost his words a long time ago. Confused about how you can lose words, she asks him how this is possible. He then begins to tell her the story of how he was taken away from his home in order to attend a residential school – a place where his Cree words were locked away. After school the next day, she excitedly shares something she has found with her teacher – a book with Cree words. She says a few words in Cree to her grandfather – words she learned with her teacher. She asks her grandfather once again, if he will teach her Cree, and this time, he holds the book against his heart, a heart which is now dancing. This poignant book beautifully weaves the painful memories and wounds of residential life, with a tender and hopeful intergenerational message of healing and learning. This book is available in a bilingual Cree/English version as well.

Remembering the History of Residential schools: As children head back to school I am reminded of how historically, the first day of school was also a day of separation and pain as children from native and first nations families were taken away from their homes and forced to attend residential school. This topic is a challenging one to address with younger children, but I believe there are ways to bring this history to light in a way that is both accessible and honest. Other children’s books that address this topic are below. I also highly recommend the PBS series Molly of Denali – this animated series directly addresses this issue of residential schools in it’s first episode – Grandpa’s Drum.

February Gems: Books for the Pandemic, Presidents Day, Valentines Day, Black History Month, the Super Bowl, Purim, Snow, and the Lunar New Year

Outside, Inside by LeuYen Pham
Poignant and thoughtfully crafted, this book about life during the pandemic touched my heart deeply, and is the perfect way to reflect on and process the stories that unify and connect us. With simple text and rich illustrations that are based on the artists personal experiences and researched stories, this book captures the challenges of the past year while also highlighting the strength, beauty and resilience of hope within the human spirit.

Questions for Kids: Why are so many people staying inside of their homes these days? What are some safe ways that you can be outside with friends or family members? What are some fun ways you are able to connect with people you can’t see in person? When you miss someone, what are some things you can do to feel better? What are 3 things that help you feel strong and healthy? Who is one person that has helped you, make you smile or taught you something new during this time? How can you show your gratitude to this person? What are some fun things you are able to do by yourself inside your home? What are some fun things you can do with the people that you live with? What is one new thing you have learned how to do this past year? What is one thing you would like to learn? Interested in learning more about the author/illustrator’s process and inspiration with bringing this book to life? Check out this interview with the School Library Journal.

Love Is Powerful By Heather Dean Brewer, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Based on the real experiences of a young girl attending a demonstration in New York City, this story highlights a form of love related to feeling connected and making a change in the world. When initially making a poster with her Mom to take to a march, Mari isn’t sure if anyone will pay attention to her little sign that says Love is Powerful. As she raises her voice in the crowds however, more and more people hear her message until, finally the crowd of hundreds of marchers begin to chant and amplify her message that Love is Powerful.

Questions for Kids: What are some places and things in your home, your city, your country, or the world, that you love? What are some ways you can show your love to the things and people that are in your home. What are some ways you can show love to the people and places in your community or city? If you could make a sign to keep in your window or post somewhere in your neighborhood, what would it say? If you could make a sign that had a message for the world, what would it be?

Crankestein Valentine by Samantha Berger and Illustrated by Dan Santat

Are the hearts and hugs and smooches and love talk getting to be too much? As much as we all love love, Valentine’s Day can sometimes bring out the crankenstein in us too! This funny, adorable, story about a cranky kid who hates Valentine’s Day will not only make your little one laugh, but will also be fun as a read along. Our hero, Crankestein, whose response to everything is “YECHHHH” is forced to take part in the Valentine’s Day festivities at his school, but it’s driving him crazy…that is until he meets another who hates Valentine’s Day as much as he does…and then? A bond of friendship develops that brings out the sweetness in both of them.

Questions for Kids: What are some things that you don’t like to do or that make you go YECHHH? Are their things that you love to do that makes other kids or grown ups say YECHHHH? What can you do when you’re feeling annoyed or grossed out by something? What can you do when a friend is feeling annoyed or grossed out by something? Have you ever been in a situation or place where you weren’t having any fun? What did you do about? If it happens again, how can you make the place or situation a little more fun?

Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlise Indian School Football Team Defeated Army  by Art Coulson and Illustrated by Nick Hardcastle
With Super Bowl time taking place this month, it’s the perfect time to dive into some American Football History! This true story is set in the early 1900s, during a time when American Indian youth were forced to leave their homes and attend boarding schools. The book is centered around the life of athlete Jim Thorpe, or Wa-Tho-Huk, which means bright path in his native language, Sauk. Readers then learn about the school Jim Thorpe attended, and describes how students attending Haskell were from different tribes across the country and spoke many different languages, but were excited about the game of football. The story peaks when the American Indian students are scheduled to play a game against the West Point football team and use their smarts and strategy skills to show the country how talented they are.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever tried to play football? Do you have any favorite teams? What type of things do you think are important to have a good football team? What does it mean to be part of team, or to be a team player? How do you think Jim Thorpe felt about leaving his home and being apart from his family? Have you ever had to leave your home and live away from your family? What are some things you might miss? What is a sport that you enjoy watching? What is a sport that you enjoy playing? Is there any game that you would like to try playing for the first time? Who can help you learn how to play? Are there fun active games that you can try and play with your family?

Nacho’s Nachos by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez
One of the things that makes Super Bowl Sunday so much fun is the snacking action – or snacktion as I like to call it. Whether or not you’re into football, it’s hard to resist a scrumptious serving of Nachos! Yum! But did you know the story of how this favorite Sunday Night football snack came to be? It’s all thanks to Iganicio Anaya (also known as Nacho) who was born in Northern Mexico in the late 1800s. This book shares the story of how Nacho first learned how to cook from his foster mother when he was young, and follows him through his journey of working at restaurants, moving to Piedras Negras, and experimenting with ingredients.

Questions for Kids: Do you have a favorite snack? Are there any snacks that you can make on your own? What are some special foods that you and your family eat on special occasions? Is there a special snack that you love and would like to learn the recipe for? If you could make your own special version of Nachos, what ingredients would you include?For more check out Lee and Low’s story time activity kit. If you’re interested in learning more about different foods from around the world you can also check out the website taste atlas, which has details about the history of Nachos as well as other international foods.

President Taft is Tuck in the Bath
By Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

This funny, silly, yet true to life story, gives kids, and adults, a reason to giggle and remember that sometimes presidential problems can actually be quite comical. Yes, it’s true, President Taft was once stuck in a bath, and called upon various people to help him solve the problem, including the First Lady, The Secretary of State, The Secretary of the Interior and more. With bright comical illustrations, this is a really fun way to get kids interested in the histories of presidents as well as to introduce them to the various roles of government officials who help the president.

Questions for kids: Who are all the different people who are able to help the President? Do you think the President makes decisions on his own? How can it be helpful to have a team of people to think about how to solve problems? Have you ever been stuck in a situation that you didn’t want to tell anyone about? How did you feel? How did you solve the situation? If you were stuck somewhere or in something, who could you ask for help? How can it be helpful to work in a team to solve a problem? What are some different ways that different friends have helped you out? What is one way that you recently helped a friend or family member who was trying to solve a problem? What did you do? How do you think it feels when you are able to help someone solve a problem?

Grace for President
By Kelly DiPucchio, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
For a book on how a person becomes president, look no further. The story starts off with Grace wondering why there has never been a woman president in the United States. When her 1st grade class decides to hold an election of their own, Grace decides to run and learns a lot about the election process. This fun, lively and informative story is a great way to introduce kids to the process of voting, elections, and all the steps that it takes to become the president of the United States.
Questions for Kids: What is the job of a president? Do you think there should be rules about who can be the president of a country? What would those rules be? If you were to write a letter to the president of your country, what would you say? What do you think the president’s goals should be for the next four years. What are 10 recommendations you would like to offer? Ready to share your ideas with the president? Check out this link and learn how you can contact the White House!

Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith

Get ready for a wild adventure this well researched graphic novel that features a part of black history, which often gets overlooked. With beautiful, bold and detailed artwork, the stories of 3 awesome heroes, Stage Coach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons, come to life in a way that will get you excited and curious for more!

Questions for Kids: What do you imagine when you hear the word hero? What are the characteristics of a hero? Can you think of other people that have some of these characteristics? What are some of the qualities that you admire in the heroes of each of these stories? What is one thing you can you do to build one of those qualities in yourself?

Little Legends, Exceptional Men in Black History + Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison.
These beautiful, simple, informative texts, accompanied with colorful detailed, illustrations capture the vibrant personalities of these leaders and legends is a fabulous way to ignite a fire of inspiration within the hearts of your little ones. Biographies include a wide range of people from different backgrounds and include Benjamin Banneker (inventor of America’s first full sized clock), James Armistad Lafayette (a war spy) and musicians like Prince and Louis Armstrong.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever tried to do something new and different? Was it easy or were there some challenges? Is there a dream you have for yourself? What are some steps you can take toward making your dream come to life? Is there a person who can cheer you on or motivate you to keep going when things get difficult? Is there a dream or goal that one of your friends or family members has? What can you do to help encourage that person to continue believing in their dream and work toward making that dream come true?

Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Tale by Barbara Diamond Golden, Illustrated by Jaime Zollars

Hershel loves spending time outdoors, and especially enjoys using his hands to create interesting shapes with mud from the river. When he offers to help his mother make hamantashen to sell in the market for Purim, his mother doesn’t believe that he can help her because he is blind. An angels comes to visit Hershel at night and tells him that even though he is blind he can see the world in ways that nobody else does. She reminds him that he can see in his dreams and that he has the gift and capacity to follow his dreams. Hershel then feels inspired to get up the following night and bring his inner vision to life. The feel of the dough reminds him of the way he crates shapes with the mud from the river, and by the morning Hershel creates beautiful cakes in the shape of fish, birds and goblets.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever been told that you couldn’t do something? How did it make you feel? What is something that you have seen someone else in your family do that you would like to try? Would you like to make your own special cookies? For more information on Purim and how to make hamantashen check out these resources and activities from PJ Library!

Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper, Illustrated by Kenard Pak
Love the sounds of a snowy day? Join Lena as she walks over to visit her grandma, Sitti, on a cold and wintery day. You’ll hear swishes, thwomps and all kinds of other sounds as she heads on over for their weekly grape leaf making session. After they finish up cooking they both head out to hear their favorite sound of all….the quiet.

Questions for Kids
What are some fun things you like to do when it snows? If you were to make up your own words for the sounds that you hear in the snow, what would those words be? Is there a delicious dish that you like to make or eat when it’s cold outside? When is the last time you remember standing outside quietly looking out at nature? Were you with anyone? What did it feel like?

Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan, Illustrated by Timothy Banks

The fantastical art work of this action packed retold story of the Chinese New Year dragon is an absolute magical delight! Nian is a dragon was once put under a spell by a magical warrior, but still comes out of hiding each spring to eat children. Mien, our leading lady however, is a clever young woman who uses her wit, courage and creativity to scare him away and save her village.
Questions for Kids: If you could be a magical warrior what kind of magical powers would you want to have? What would you do with the powers you had? Did Mien need magical powers in order to defeat the dragon? What did she have inside of her that helped her save her village? What do you have inside of you that could bring joy or peace to people in your home or community?

August Gems: Books About Resilience, Community, Friendship and Hope.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ~ C.S. Lewis

This August round up includes books in honor of Independent Bookstore Day, Women’s Equality Day and the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Each of these biographies remind us of the power of hope, resilience and striving for what you believe in. There are also several books related to spiritual holidays, including the Ganesha Festival, Islamic New Year, Ashura and the Assumption of Mary. Times are a bit unpredictable, so I’m also sharing a book related to shelter and welcoming spaces, a story about what to do while we can’t hug our dear ones, and a classic tale, which reminds us that even though life has unfortunate events, it is also full of surprises that make our hearts shine with wonder and joy. So with that, stay safe, and stay hopeful…you just never know how the story is going to unfold.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
(In honor of Independent Book Store Day)

This inspiring true story reminds me of how and why bookstores and books are superheroes. Every line on every page bursts with a wisdom and life force – a testament to the truth, freedom and power of written words. Lewis Henri Michaux is itching to open a bookstore in Harlem, but when he applies for a business loan, the banker offers a loan to sell fish and chips or friend chicken, but not books, because he believes “black people don’t read.” This doesn’t stop Lewis’ dream from becoming reality though. With dedication and hard work, the book store opens and becomes an important community space for people to learn, grow, connect, discover, and speak. Towards the end of the book we are told of the tragic killing of Malcolm X, who frequently visited the store. Lewis reminds us that even when there is a loss of life and the people we love are gone, their words never leave us.

Questions for Kids:

The author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, is the grand niece of Lewis Henri Michael, who owned the National Memorial African Bookstore. She learned about him by interviewing her relatives. Is there a place in your neighborhood that you would like to learn more about? Who could you interview to learn more about the history and story of this very special place? Is there anyone in your family or community who you would like to learn more about? Was there ever a time that somebody told them that they couldn’t do something, and they did it anyways? What is a dream that you have in your heart? What are you itching to do? What would you need to do to satisfy that itch? Who can help you bring your vision to life?

A Bowl Full of Peace, By Caren Stelson, Illustrated by Akira Kusaka
(In memory of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.)

This moving story is based on the life of Sachiko, a survivor of the atomic bomb, who was six years old at the time it dropped and killed members of her family. The story is centered around an old bowl that belonged to her grandmother, and that has been passed down from mother to daughter for who knows how many generations. When war begins to make life more challenging, and the bowl holds just a little bit of food, Sachiko remembers, Itadakimasu, (I humbly receive) which for her family, and the author is a gesture of gratitude. When the family flees their home for safety, everything is lost, and after the bombing, Sachiko loses members of her family. When she returns to her home, she sees that her grandmother’s bowl has survived, and from then on, the bowl becomes a way for the family to not only remember those who have passed but to also remember the resilience, and strength that comes with the hope for a peaceful future.

Questions for Kids: What comes to mind when you hear the word peace? What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like? If peace had a smell or a taste, what would it be? Have you had anyone close to you leave your life? How did it make you feel when it first happened? How does it make you feel now? What are some ways we can honor the people who have passed from this world? What are some ways we can bring a feeling of peace into our hearts? families? homes? neighborhoods? community?

Superheroes Are Everywhere, by Kamala Harris, Illustrated by Metal Renee Roe
(In honor of Women’s Equality Day and the possibility of the country’s first female Vice President)

This fun and interactive autobiography is an awesome way to get kids to think about what makes someone a hero, and who might be a hero in their own personal life. Every page features someone special in Kamala Harris’ life, and gives concrete examples of why and how that person is a hero. When describing her sister, for example, she explains that heroes are people you can count on, and then asks readers, “Who can you count on?” Other questions include “Who makes you feel brave? Who helps you explore? Who protects you? and Who is kind to you? The end of the book encourages kids to think about ways they can be a superhero and invites them to take a superhero pledge.

Questions for Kids: What do imagine when you hear the word superhero? What are some qualities that superheroes have? If you could have a super power what would it be and what would you do with this power? Who are some people in your life that are kind to you? Help you feel brave? Encourage you to try new things? What is a power inside of you that you may already have? What can you do to strengthen that power within you? If you were to create your own superhero cape, what would it look like?

Ganesh and the Little Mouse, By Anjali Joshi, Illustrated by Christy McCreery
(In honor of Ganesh Chaturthi)

This wisdom tale of love and friendship is based on the story of the Hindu gods, Ganesh and Karthikeya. Ganesh, who has the head of an elephant, is very dear friends with a little mouse, but others make fun of their friendship because the two are so very different. When the time comes for a race around the world, Ganesh is determined to join and show the others how special his mouse really is. The mouse is unable to take on the journey however, leaving Ganesha feeling bad for pushing his friend in this way. He explains to the mouse that the race doesn’t matter, and that in fact, the mouse is his world. Upon saying this Ganesha has an idea. He decides to run around the mouse and then cleverly declares that he has won the contest because the mouse is in fact his world. The crowd cheers at his wisdom and the friendship between Ganesha and the mouse is celebrated.

Question for Kids: Do you or does anyone you know celebrate the festival of Ganesha? How can you learn more about this holiday? Have you ever had a friend that looked very different from the way you looked, or who had different abilities? What are some things that friends can do for each other? Has anyone ever said anything unkind to one of your friends? What happened? What did you do? What can you do or say when someone makes fun of someone you’re close to? Who do you care about who is a part of your world?What is one way you can show a friend that you love and care for them?

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes By Hena Khan, Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
(In honor of the Islamic New Year and Ashura)

This fun and brightly colored book of shapes takes readers around the world to marvel at the different places Muslims gather and worship. The vibrant illustrations include depictions of mosaics, carved wooden doors, fountains and special drums called daffs, that in some places are played on special days such as Ashura. This book is an awesome way to introduce kids to different shapes as well as Muslim culture.

Questions for Kids: Do you or does anyone you know celebrate Ashura or the Islamic New Year? Where do people often go to honor these two holidays? What are some things that you may find in a mosque? What are some other places of worship where people celebrate holidays? What are some shapes that you see in your home, place of worship, park or neighborhood? What are some special places that you go to with your family? What do you do when you’re there? Is there a place that you would like to visit or learn more about? If you could create your own community space what would it look like?

Mary, The Mother of Jesus, By Tomie De Paola
(In honor of the Assumption of Mary)

With gorgeous illustrations, and informative flowing narrative, this story begins with Mary’s Jewish parents, and the blessing of Mary’s birth. Readers learn about how Mary was presented at a temple as a child, and blessed by a priest who declared that her name would be magnified for all generations. Each page features a simple and beautiful spiritual verse that inspires and sets the tone for the various stages of her life including her role as a mother, a refugee, a witness to Jesus’ miracles, and eventually a Queen of Heaven.

Questions for Kids: Do you or does anyone you know celebrate the life of Mary? What are some ways that you can learn some more about this special holiday? Is there a woman in your life that you admire and love very deeply? How can we show our love and respect to those who we may not be able to see with our eyes? Do you or does anyone in your family or community believe in angels or saints? Why do you think people may want to feel connected to angels or saints? What are some ways people do this?

Everybody’s Welcome by Patricia Hegarty, Illustrated by Greg Abbott

This heartwarming book, with beautiful rhymes, builds on the theme of hope, and working together to build a new home in which everybody is welcome. A mouse in the forest is dreaming of the future in a great big happy house. when a frog appears, with no place to go, because he has lost his home. The mouse offers comfort, and together the frog and the mouse begin to create a shelter. Not long after some rabbits appear, who are running away from a dangerous eagle. Again the mouse offers refuge and care, and together they all continue building a shelter for everyone. The story continues with various animals seeking safety, comfort and care. Together, they hope, and build their future home where there will be happiness, songs and where everyone will know that they belong.

Questions for Kids: What is a home? Can we have more than one home? What makes a home feel happy? Have you or has anyone you know had to leave their home for some reason? How can we make a neighborhood or a city safe for everyone? If you could create a new home for yourself or someone you love who would live with you? What would your home look like or feel like? What can you do to make a place feel like home? What can we do to help someone feel like they belong in a place? How can we make our cities a home where everybody feels welcome?

While We Can’t Hug, By Eoin McLaughlin, Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Covid makes it hard to hug all the people we care about, but this tenderly illustrated story shows us how love can be expressed in other special ways. Two loving friends (a hedgehog and a mouse) show love by waving to each other, eliciting the giggles by making silly faces, drawing beautiful artwork, writing letters and singing and dancing together (from a distance) as well. A lovely, timely testament to the many ways we can all still stay connected with our dear ones.

Questions for Kids: Are there any people you care and would like to see more often? Who is it? How do you feel about them? How do you feel inside when you think about them? What are some ways that you can show your love and care for someone? Do you have a fun song, dance or joke that you would like to share with a friend or family member? What are some ways that you can share the things that are special to you? What is something you can make for a person that you care about?

Fortunately, By Remy Charlip
(A reminder that you never know what may be coming next)

There’s a lot of unpredictability in the air these days, but this little classic is a great reminder that there might be something wonderful, just around the corner. Woven in with a series of unfortunate predicaments are a series of matching fortunate circumstances too. When the hero of the story a little boy is fortunately invited to a party, he realizes that unfortunately the party is on the other side of the country, but then fortunately a friend loans him an airplane, which then unfortunately has a damaged motor that explodes, but then fortunately there is parachute in the airplane. The pages continue with each unfortunate even being followed by a fortunate one. The adventure includes tigers and sharks as well, but at the end of it all, there is a wonderful celebration.

Questions for Kids: What is something that has recently made you feel sad or disappointed? What is something that has helped you feel hopeful, excited, or happy? What are some things we can do when we feel sad or disappointed? Can you think of 3 things that made you smile this week? What are 3 things you feel grateful for? What are some ways we can bring a feeling of hope to our home or community?

July Gems: Books about faith, friendship, and compassion through action!

July has been a reminder that when faith, trust, and hope, are accompanied with actions of love and compassion, beautiful new realities can unfold. The stories I’ve chosen all reflect this spirit of believing in, striving for, and sharing everything we consider to be beautiful in this world…freedom, opportunity, friendship, well-being, and connection.

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
By Jabari Asim, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
(In honor of the passing of Representative John Lewis)

Representative John Lewis was a deeply compassionate and caring individual who not only believed in freedom, but demonstrated what it means to give life to your dreams of freedom through action. This poignant story describes how it was through caring for his family’s chickens that he “learned to speak up for those who couldn’t speak up for themselves.” The story also beautifully captures how young John lovingly preached to his chickens, saying “Blessed are the peace makers,” when he saw them fighting over the food, or reminding a chicken, who rescued from a well, that “God makes miracles everyday….he lifts you up when you are down.” The end of the book has an author’s note which describes Johns’ significant contributions to the civil rights movement, and also explains how this children’s book was inspired by the childhood stories written in John Lewis’ memoir, Walking With the Wind.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever spoken to animals, or other living things who do not speak? If you could, what would you say? How can we show love and compassion for the people and things we care about? Is there anything you are responsible for in your home? What is one action that you can take to help someone or something that you care about? John Lewis actively participated in many civil rights campaigns so that he could work towards creating a beloved community. What does a beloved community look like and feel like for you? What are some ways that you can contribute to John Lewis’s dream of creating a beloved community? What are some organizations that are taking action to make his dream a reality?

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
By Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Quall
(In honor of the 30th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act)

The American Disabilities Act dramatically changed opportunities for differently abled people in the United States, but also inspired and encouraged people all over the world to create new realities. Born with one strong leg, Emmanuel was initially considered to be useless, and some people even thought that his condition was a curse. His mother, however, had faith in his ability to do anything, and so Emmanuel learned to climb coconut trees, ride a bicycle, and even hopped to school and back (2 miles each way). When Emmanuel’s mother passes away, she reminds him that “being disabled does not mean being unable, and so Emmanuel began to work even harder to fulfill his dream of riding a bicycle all across Ghana (400 miles in 10 days) His journey reminded people all over Ghana, and the world that “one leg is enough to do great things, and one person is enough to change the world.”

Questions for Kids: Have you ever felt like there was something you wanted to do, but couldn’t do because of the way your body is? Who are some people who helped and encouraged Emmanuel to follow his dreams? Who are some people who you can ask for support to follow your own dreams? What are some dreams that friends or family members of yours may have? What actions can you take to show them encouragement and support?

Note to Families: This book is one of several to win the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors an author or illustrator “for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” For an extensive list of children books about the disability experience check out their list here.

By Holly Hobbie
(Shared with the hope that this will inspire kids to support the United States Postal Service!)

Kids right now may be missing friends, feeling lonely, and even getting a bit zoomed out, but Elmore may inspire your little ones to explore a new, old fashioned, way of staying connected with friends. Elmer is happy, but sometimes gets lonely, and isn’t sure how to connect with other animals. He is prickly and so, can’t get too close because his quills might hurt people. He doesn’t mean to cause, harm, but there’s not much he can do…until, Elmer cleverly thinks of a way he can use his uniqueness to form a new kind of friendship. He offers his quills as free pens to the other forest creatures, and soon enough, everyone is having a fabulous time, writing letters to each other!

Questions for Kids: Have you ever written a letter to a friend or someone you know? How did you know where to send it? Is there anyone that you would like to write a letter to? or send a drawing too? How does a letter, drawing or card get from one place to another? What information do you need in order to send a letter? Who can help you find this information? How would you feel if someone sent you a letter or card through the mail? How do you think someone else might feel if they receive a card or letter in the mail from you?

Note to Families: Scholastic and the United States Postal Service have collaboratively created some fun resources for kids to learn how to write letters. Check it out here!

Our Favorite Day of the Year
By A. E. Ali, Illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell
(In honor of Eid)

On the first day of school, Ms. Gupta explains that ” a great way to make new friends is by sharing things you like.” Musa’s favorite day is Eid, and initially he assumes that must be everyone’s favorite too. After some conversations with his new classmates however, Musa learns about other fun holidays. As the year progresses, the class has a fabulous time sharing their favorite days, including Rosh Hashana, Pi Day. There is also a recognition that not everyone celebrates the same holidays in the same way. When Christmas comes around for example, Moise shows how his family celebrates Las Posadas which lasts nine days and involves hitting a piñata. With vibrant, thoughtful and detailed illustrations that make your heart swell with joy, this book is a must have for any household or classroom that is interested in fostering an appreciation for diverse celebrations.

Questions for Kids: Do you have a favorite day of the year? Who do you celebrate with? What are some special things that you do on that day? When in the year does this day take place? Are there any special foods that you eat? Is your favorite day similar to any of the favorite days you read about in the book? Who would you like to share your favorite day with? How would you like to share it with them? What can you do to help a friend celebrate their favorite day?

Pie is for Sharing
By Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, Illustrated by Jason Chin
(For the 4th of July)

A community gets together for a fun filled day outdoors in this celebration of friendship and the joy of the delights of summer time togetherness. Kids start the day with a picnic, and sharing pie , as well as other wonderful things, like a book, a ball, trees, time, hugs, stories, and treasures. With soft and action packed illustrations, this book feels like a dream full of sun drenched summer memories, that include the magic of sharing a sunset sky, blankets, music and of course, a night full of sparkling fireworks.

Questions for Kids: Who do you sometimes share your treats, toys, or time with? Has anyone ever shared something special of theirs with you? How did you feel this happened? Have you ever had a time when you felt like it was more fun to share something with someone, than to keep it to yourself? Is there anything that makes you happy that you would like to share with someone? A song? A dance? A story? A treasure? A book?

My Friends
By Taro Gomi
(In Honor of Friendship Day)

This book celebrates the uniqueness of every friendship and how we learn wonderfully different things from each of our wonderfully different friends. Each page introduces readers to a different friend, (a monkey, a chicken, a Butterly, a bird) and what this child has learned from this friend (how to climb a tree, march, smell flowers, sing). And of course there’s a page on books being friends as well! Gotta love that!

Questions for Kids: Are there things in your home that you think of as your friends? What have you learned from these special friends? What are some things you have learned from a friend? Are your friends all the same or are they different from you and from each other? What do you think are some things your friends have learned from you?

I Am Love
By Susan Verde, Art by Peter H. Reynolds
(In honor of Asalha Puja Day/Dharma Day)

This book on compassion is a beautiful way to introduce children to one of the fundamental values, teachings and practices of Buddha…compassion. The gorgeous, bright colored illustrations gently accompany readers through examples of compassion, and how to connect with yourself and others in order to feel and show compassion. We see for example a girl in a storm, and the main character asking themselves, “What can I do to help let the light back in?” Readers then see examples of listening, self care, creativity, and also understand that sometimes, compassion means doing your best to make things better, and how this form of love takes effort. At the end of the book the author also offers some yoga practices and a meditation for opening up ones heart.

Questions for Kids: When you hear or see the word compassion, what situation or image comes to mind for you? Have you ever tried to imagine what it might be like to walk in somebody else shoes for an hour, a few hours or a full day? What do you think might be easy or difficult for that person? What do you think might make them feel happy, angry, scared, or loved? Do you think people only practice compassion with people they know? What is one way you can practice compassion with someone you know? What about someone you don’t know? Can you think of a time you wish someone showed compassion to you?

The Star People: A Lakota Story
By S.D. Nelson
(In honor of the Sun Dance Ceremony)

The Lakota Sun Dance Ceremony, typically takes place in the summer and represents life and rebirth. It is also a time to remember and honor the power of endurance and patience. Though this book is not specifically about the Sun Dance, it reflects a similar theme of faith, trust and knowing that even when there is difficulty, there is also a powerful goodness alive in the world, guiding us toward all that is sacred and beautiful.  This story is centered around a brother and sister who wander out in the prairie, enjoying the beauty the earth has to offer. They search the skies for shapes in the clouds and find horses, eagles and the spirits of the Cloud People, including their grandmother. A storm begins to brew and then, suddenly an unexpected fire emerges, causing the children to run. They find safety, but then are lost and scared, until at night the stars appear, along with the Star People, including the spirit of their grandmother, who comforts them, and dances with them in their dreams. Upon awaking and walking along a barren path they find fruit that hasn’t been touched by the fire, and seeing this gives them hope. With that hope in their heart and their grandmother’s spirit guiding them, they eventually find their way home.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever looked up at the sky and looked for shapes in the clouds? Have you ever looked at the night sky and found shapes by connected the stars, like dots? Have you ever felt scared, lost or confused? What can you do when you feel this way? Who can you turn to for help? How do stars help guide people? Does your family share stories with you about people who have passed away? How can we stay connected to the people that we love, who may not be living with us any more? Do you believe in spirits or angels? If you could speak with an angel, what would you say or ask?

Note to Families: If you would like to help support educational programs for Lakota Youth, please consider making a donation to Oceti Wakan, a non profit organization, based in Pine Ridge Reservation, in South Dakota, and founded by Pete S Catches Sr. (Petaga Yuha Mani) a 37th generation Lakota medicine man and Peter V. Catches (Zintkala Oyate) a 38th generation medicine man. There is currently a campaign with go fund me to help provide students with notebooks for their curriculum. Details can be found here.

June Gems: Books that inspire us to speak up, be proud, persevere and strive for a welcoming world.

June is full of special days that inspire us to explore ways we can speak up, be a good friend and strive to create a community in which everyone feels welcome to celebrate who they are and what they can be. The books I’ve picked for this month are in honor of Race Amity Day (every second Sunday of June), Loving Day (June 12) World Refugee Day (June 20th), Juneteenth (June 19th), Helen Keller Day (June 27), as well as Pride Month, Caribbean American Heritage Month, and Black Music Month.

A wrap up of my book recommendations for June 2020

I Am Helen Keller by Brad Meltzer, Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos.
This well researched graphic novel biography is rich with information that details Helen’s childhood, as well as her accomplishments as a student, writer, and activist who fought for equal rights for all. I have always admired her story, but the emotional first person writing style and compelling illustrations pulled at my heartstrings in ways that took my breath away and inspired me to learn more about this extraordinary hero. This book is just one of a series of fantastic books, written by Brad Meltzer about people who change the world. Other heroes in the series include Jackie Robinson, Jane Goodall, Harrriet Tubman and Jim Henson. Brad Meltzer has several read aloud videos online, including one for I am Helen Keller! You can also find a teachers/librarian guide on his website, and links to the animated PBS series, the Adventures of Xavier Riddle, in which a group of friends tackle real world issues by exploring the life of a person who changed the world.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever tried to learn something new? Was it easy? How did you feel? Do you think people learn how to do something new and can do it the very first time that they try? Is there something that you would like to learn? Who do you think might be able to help? Do you have a teacher you love? Who is it and why do you love this person? How can we show our gratitude to the teachers who have helped us? Is there anything you have learned that you would like to share with your friends or family members?

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, Illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

Get ready to get up and groove with this true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriago, a musician of Asian, African and Cuban descent who dreamed of becoming a drummer even though she was told that drumming was only for boys. With vibrant illustrations and poetic text, this book is a beautiful celebration of Millo’s perseverance and passion. The story, which takes place in the 1930s, shows us how Millo keeps drumming and dreaming until she, and her musical sisters, establish Cuba’s first all girls music ensemble, Anacaouna! To hear a little bit of their music, click here! For more international music that’s specifically geared towards kids you can also check out Putumayo Kids!

Questions for Kids: Has anyone ever told you, you couldn’t do something because of who you are? If yes, how did you feel and what did you do about it? Do you every dream about how you want to share a part of yourself with the world? Do you have any friends who have dreams about what they want to be when they grow up? How can you support your friend with their dreams? What kind of music do you like to listen to? Have you explored different kinds of musical sounds from different parts of the world? Is there a country in the world you would like to learn more about? How can you learn about the kind of music that people listen to in that country?

What Riley Wore, By Elana K. Arnold, Illustrated by Linda Davick

If you know of a kid who loves dressing up, this is a great choice! Riley loves wearing special clothes that reflect the mood or occasion of the day. When visiting the dentists office for example, Riley wears a superhero outfit, because sometimes going to the dentist is scary. For a dinner out, Riley wears a bright yellow gown, and when it’s universe day at school, Riley wears space pajamas! At the end of the week Riley goes all out with a spectacular outfit which includes a tutu, a dinosaur hat, goggles and more. At the park a child approaches Riley, asking, “Are you a boy or a girl?” to which Riley replies, “Today, I’m a firefighter, and a dancer, and a monster hunter, and a pilot and a dinosaur.” The child then responds by welcoming Riley to play with all the other kids. The fun outfits and simple story make it easy for kids to connect with Riley, and also encourages self expression, acceptance and being true to yourself.

Questions for Kids: Do you ever like to dress up? What are some different occasions that you dress up for? Do you have a favorite outfit? What is it? How is it similar or different from outfits your friends, classmates or family members might wear? Have you ever worn something that was surprising to somebody else? What happened? What are some different ways that people express themselves? Have you ever asked if someone was a girl or a boy? Why did you want to know? If somebody asked you that question, how would you feel? What would you say?

A Church for All by Gayle E. Pitman, Illustrated by Laure Fournier
A Church For All is a book inspired by the real world experiences of writer Gayle E. Pitman, an award winning author of several LGBT books for kids, including Sewing the Rainbow, This Day in June, and My Maddy. Based on the history and mission of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, this colorfully illustrated story depicts an inclusive church that is welcoming to all kinds of individuals. Each page is packed with the joyful feel of community love, and features characters who present in ways that are unique and diverse. There are also just a few words on each page, that flow together with a rhyming text, making this a great choice for early readers as well.

Questions for Kids: Is there a place that you go to with your family that is special? What do you do together in this special place? Do you meet other people? Do you feel welcomed in the place you go to? How do people treat you? What do you they do? What do they say? What is a way that you can make someone feel comfortable and welcome in your home? in your neighborhood? At school?

Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds
In honor of Race Amity Day, which takes place every second Sunday of June, I wanted to share a book that encourages friends to support each other by speaking up. With bold illustrations, simple language and concrete ideas, Say Something reminds kids that the world needs their voice, and to not be afraid if their words aren’t perfect…what matters is if they speak from their heart. It explains how you don’t have to be loud, and can use words (saying Hey Stop!), actions (like planting seeds) or creativity (making a poster) to show up with and for your friends. It also acknowledges that sometimes it may feel like no one is paying attention, but that if you are true to yourself, and keep at it, the whole world may end up listening.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever wanted to say something outloud, but felt too shy or scared? What was the situation? What are some thoughts you have in your head or your heart that you have difficult sharing? If you feel like you have something important to say, what are some ways that you can express yourself? If you see something hurtful or unfair and stay silent about it, what might happen? If you see something hurtful or unfair and you say something about it, what might happen? Has anyone ever done something to you that made you feel sad or angry? What happened? What can people do or say if they’ve made a mistake or done something hurtful? Have you ever had someone stand up for you? How did it feel? What did they say? What are some situations that you have seen at home, school, or in your neighborhood that made you feel sad, confused or angry? What are some things you can say that might make a difference?

The Case for Loving by Selina Alko, Illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Written by an interracial couple, this tenderly written story beautifully commemorates the journey of the Loving family and their contribution to the struggle for marriage equality. The story begins with love of course, and how Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter’s knew from the moment they met that they wanted to get married and have a family. They lived in Virginia at that time, which was one of 16 states that didn’t allow interracial marriage. After facing several challenges, and leaving their hometown, the couples decided to file a court case in order to fight for interracial marriage to be legalized. On June 12th 1967, they won the case and paved the way for other couples all over the country to marry each other. The back matter also includes photographs, a personal note from the authors, and a note on how this book is connected to the struggle for equal marriage rights for all.

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Another historical book related to racism and freedom is Juneteenth for Maisy. Maisy is feeling grumpy because she doesn’t like being told what to do. Her father explains how just a few generations ago, Grandpa Mose had been enslaved and didn’t have any rights at all. He tells her how even after freedom from slavery was declared, it took almost two and a half years for the news to reach everyone. It was June 19th, 1865 when the last enslaved people, who were in Galveston, Texas heard the news and celebrated freedom. The story highlights how struggle for equality is part of an ongoing journey, and how Juneteenth inspires people to march, learn, celebrate and fight for other freedoms. At the end of the book we see that it is now Mazie’s turn to celebrate, and remember. For more kid friendly information about this holiday you can check out this blog post from We Are Teachers.

Questions for Kids: What do you imagine when you hear the word slavery? What do you imagine when you hear the word freedom? How would you feel if you had the freedom to do something but a friend of yours did not? What do you think you could do about it? What if a friend of yours had the freedom to do something that you were not allowed to do? How would you like your friend to help you? Do you feel like people in your community or country are treated equally and have the same freedom? Why or why not? What are some things that people in the past have done to fight for equality and freedom? If you could create a list of freedoms that everyone should have, what would you have on your list? Is there anything on the list you’d like to focus on and work on?

First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make American Great, By Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, Illustrated by Agata Nowicka

This collection of one page biographies about refugees and immigrants includes inspiring individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds including naturalist John Muir, musician Celia Cruz, and sport star, Martina Navratolova. It reminds us that people may feel connected to multiple communities and is also a way to help kids understand intersectionality. Each biography includes a full page illustration, a fact box and a highlighted quotation, making it fun and easy to browse through. A great addition for any home or school library!

Questions for Kids: Do you know anyone who was born in another country? What do you know about that person’s journey or experience? What are some challenges somebody might experience if they are new in a place? What are some ways communities can help people feel safe and welcome in a new neighborhood or city?

Salma the Syrian Chef, Written by LGBTQ+ activist and Syrian Refugee Danny Ramadan, Illustrated by Ana Brown

Salma and her mom are refugees who have recently moved to Vancouver, but Papa is still in Syria and they miss him, a lot! Salma tries to boost her Mom’s mood, but nothing seems to be working, until she has an idea – maybe she’ll make her Mom’s favorite Syrian dish – Foul Shami! Salma is still learning English, and doesn’t know much about cooking, but her friends from the welcoming center help her find a recipe, shop for ingredients, cut vegetables, and most importantly, offer loads of encouragement. This heartwarming story about community care and not giving up is a feel good delight. There is also a yummy recipe included on the publishers page for anyone who is interested in exploring some Syrian cooking!

Questions for Kids: Have you ever had to move from one home to another? How did you feel about it? Do you know anyone who has moved from one country to another? What are some reasons that people might move from one place to another? What might somebody have to learn if they are new in a place? What are some different ways that Salma’s friends are helpful to her? If you miss a person or a place, what are some things you an do to feel more connected? Have you ever tried to do something special for someone who was feeling sad? What did you do? Was it easy? What are some ways that you can be helpful to someone who is new at your school, or in your community? Who can you talk to learn more about helping refugees in your community?

The Family Book by Todd Parr

Father’s Day is in June, but not everyone has a dad in their life, so when it comes to family holidays, I like to first focus on how these special days are about celebrating the love of people who are close to your heart and feel like family. With bright and quirky illustrations, this book uses opposites to describe different families. Some are small, some are large, some families are the same color, some families are different colors, etc. The book also features families with two moms, two dads, single parents and families who live with other families. Kids are ultimately told that no matter what, all families love to hug and help each other feel strong.

Questions for Kids: Who are some people (or animals) in your life that you think of as family? How are you similar or different to some of the families in the book? How is your family similar or different to other families you know? If you could draw a portrait of your family, what details would you include?

The Daddy Book By Todd Parr

If you’re looking for something Daddy specific, this is a fun one that features similarly, uses fun comparisons to describe different daddies – some who take pictures and some who draw pictures, some who have hair and some who are bald. As is always the case with Todd Parr, the illustrations are quirky, fun, bright and enjoyable for kids and adults. For more on this authors super fun and meaningful books, accompanying activities and read alouds, check out Todd Parr’s website.

We’re Different, We’re the Same, By Bobbi Jane Kates and Joe Mathieu.

Celebrate diversity, AND similarities with Sesame Street’s book about how our noses, hair, skin, mouths and lips are wonderfully unique in their appearance, and also wonderfully similar in the way that each body part functions. Each spread focuses on a body part and features variations (a page on noses, for example features, big birds, nose, honking noses, and different shapes and colors of human noses as well). The following page then explains how noses are the same because they “Breath and sniff, and sneeze and whiff.” Interested in a read aloud? Check out this video of We’re Different, We’re the Same from Sesame Street.

Questions for Kids: What are some ways that your body parts are unique? What are some ways that your body parts are similar or different from your friends and family members? In what other ways are you similar to or different from somebody that you know? What is one thing that is wonderful about being similar? What is one thing that is wonderful about being different?

Oh, and last but not least, here’s little fun music video from Sesame Street as well…about being who are you, called “What I am,” by

May Gems: Honoring Heroes, Histories, and Feelings

There was a lot going on in the month of May – Mother’s Day, Nurses Appreciation Day, Ramadan, Eid, Jewish American Heritage Month, Asian American Heritage Month, Buddha’s Birthday, Malcolm X’s birthday and Mental Health awareness month. This is also however a time when people are questioning how to talk to kids about issues of race and social justice. So, in light of that, and in remembrance of people such as Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and so many others whose names we don’t know, who have lost their lives because of hatred and systemized racism, I am also sharing a few books that explicitly address race, social justice and skin color. Hope these books touch your heart as much as they’ve touched mine.  

Something Happened in Our Town, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazard, Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin

Emma, a white girl, and Josh, a black boy, hear about a black man being shot by a police officer. Each of them has a conversation about the situation with their family members. The questions, and answers, are not always easy, or simple, but they are honest, and reflective of the kinds of conversations kids are having or listening to. Different family members also have various perspectives, thus creating space for kids to talk about and explore the different perspectives they may come across in real life. By the time they are back in school the next day, readers see that the conversations have shaped them in a way that inspires them both to speak up and reach out to a new kid at school who doesn’t speak English and feels excluded. Co-written by child psychologists, (1 black woman, 2 white women) this book does not tiptoe around the issues, nor does it neatly answer each child’s questions. The book does however address race and terminologies directly. The back of the book offers guidelines on how to talk to young children about race and offers additional resources. For more information about the book and guidelines for how to start conversations at home or at school with your kids you can check out the resources page. Though I highly encourage readers to support the authors and publishing company by purchasing the book, I did, at this time want to share with you a read aloud video that’s being read with permission from Magination Press – A children’s book imprint of the American Psychological Association.

Questions for Kids: Have you heard of something similar happening in your town? What happened and how did you feel? Who are some people you trust that you can talk to about your feelings? How does it feel when you hear different thoughts and opinions from people you love and trust? Have you ever felt sad, confused, and unsure of how to be of help? Who can you talk to about this? What do you think is your personal super power? How can you use this power to make a difference in your family or community?

The Wedding Portrait by Innosanto Nagara
There are currently lots of questions and challenging conversations around the topic of why people are out in the streets right now. If you’re looking for a way to explore this topic with kids, this is an excellent way to bring a little historical context, and introduce your kids to the history of civil disobedience. The book starts by describing a wedding portrait in which a married couple is standing in front of a group of armed police. This picture is then used to begin explaining how sometimes when rules are unfair, people break the rules in order to change an unjust system or law. During the time of segregation for example, people chose to ignore the rule of having to sit at the back of the bus just because they were black. Children are then introduced to terms such as boycott and civil disobedience in a way that focuses on both intention and impact. The author also makes connections to global events such as the Salt March in India when Indians chose to march to the sea and make their own salt, even though the colonial British government did not allow this. Thousands were arrested, but events like this eventually lead to the end of colonization. After several examples, we eventually learn that the portrait is a picture of a husband and wife who were protesting nuclear testing. At the time they were not able to stop the test, but because they were there as a couple, a journalist took a photograph, published it in a paper, and was able to bring more public attention to the issue. If you’re interested in learning more about author/illustrator Innosanto Nagara, who describes himself as an activist designer, please check out his website.

Questions for Kids: Why do you think we have rules and laws, in our home, our school, city, and country? What are some rules that keep us safe? Have you ever heard of a rule that you had questions about? What was it and how did you feel? What are some ways you can learn more about the rules and laws of your city, state, or country? Have you ever seen protestors engaging in a civil disobedience? What new rule were they trying to create? If you could create your own book of rules, what would it include?

Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America, By Emily Easton, Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

This visually focused book features protestors ranging from Samuel Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman and the Parkland kids. Each full spread illustration is accompanied with one simple phrase such as “Samuel threw a tea party” “Harriet led the way,” and “Susan cast her vote.” Families and teachers then have the freedom to choose how in depth they want the conversation to go. The back of the book features basic details (dates, full names, context, intention and impact.) A great way to introduce little ones to the meaning, history and impact of protest.

Questions for Kids: What are some things that you have seen or heard about that you think are unfair? In your home? School? Neighborhood? Community? Country? Have you ever been to or seen a protest? What was the protest about? What did you see? How do you think people felt and why? Did everyone look the same? What were they doing? How do you feel when you see or hear about people protesting?

What’s The Difference? Being Different is Amazing By Doyin Richards

If you’re looking for something that focuses in on race unity and has a bit of a brighter tone, this photo based series of questions is a great way to encourage children to recognize differences, listen to friends, and engage in togetherness. Some many find it a bit too direct – there’s a page for example that tells children not to be colorblind. And while I do believe it can be valuable for children to figure things out on their own, in this instance, I as though the approach is helpful without sounding pushy or preachy. The author, Doyin Richards, also facilitates workshops that focus on race relations, diversity, and fatherhood. Check out his work or his podcast here!

Questions for Kids: What are some ways that you look different from or similar to your friends, family members and teachers? How does this make you feel? What are some other ways that you and your friends are similar or different? (The way you talk, the food you like, the activities you love, or hate.) Do you ever talk about those differences with each other? What do you talk about it? What do you do when you and your friend have different opinions or ways of doing things? What are some things you love to do together?

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X By Ilyasah Shabazz, Illustrated by RG Ford

Written by his daughter, this biography of Malcolm X shows readers how he was shaped by the beautiful and horrific memories of childhood. It describes, for example how he and his siblings spent a lot of time gardening, and how his mother would use nature as a way to help him understand that everything was uniquely beautiful and had a purpose. The book also describes his father’s activism, and how his family was violently targeted by the KKK . Rich with detail, and lyrically written, this beautiful story sheds new light on how Malcolm X came to be the teacher, leader and activist we all know. There is also a helpful curriculum guide available from the publishers.

Questions for Kids: Has anyone ever treated you meanly because they thought they were better than you? How did you feel at the time? How did you react? How did you feel afterward? Has anyone ever tried to hurt you, or someone in your family because of the way you looked? What can you do if you see someone else getting hurt or treated unfairly? What kind of power do you feel like you may have inside of you? How can you be helpful when you see or hear about someone being treated in a way that is unfair? Have you ever felt small or lonely? What can you do or remember when you or a friend feel this way?

Hooray for Nurses by Elle Parkes

National Nurses Day takes place on the 6th of May, but we can celebrate and honor all of their hard work and dedication, every day! This photo based book is part of a larger series featuring different jobs and what each awesome person does to make a difference. Each page gives one simple example of what a nurse does (ex: work long hours because caring for people is very important to them). A few pages also include little question bubbles for kids to make it a bit more engaging. This Hooray series includes books about Teachers, Mail Carriers, Garbage Collectors, and Farmers, and is a great way for kids and parents to explore, understand, and celebrate the daily lives of different community helpers. A great way to say Hooray to all the dedicated folks who are risking their lives and working hard to make this world a healthier, safer, and brighter place. Thank you!

Questions for Kids: Who are some people in your home, neighborhood or city that keep you safe, happy and healthy? What do you they do? What are some ways that we can say thank you or show appreciation to helpers in our neighborhood? Have you ever written a thank you card? Is there someone who can help you write and send a thank you card to a helper in your community?If you were to be a community helper, what would you do? Can you think of a safe way to be a helper in your home or neighborhood right now?

Yo Soy Muslim by Mark Gonzales, Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

In this gorgeously illustrated book, written in the form of a letter from a father to his daughter, a young girl is encouraged to ask questions, and learn about her cultural and spiritual heritage. Her father also reminds her that sometimes there will be people who ask questions of her as well – like “What are you? and Where are you from?” There may come a time when people will choose not to smile at her, but when those times arrive to be proud of who she is. To say for example: “Yo Soy Muslim. I am from Allah, angels, and a place almost as old as time…our prayers were here before any borders were.”

Questions for Kids: What do you know about your family’s cultural or spiritual heritage? Has anyone asked you where you are from? How did it make you feel? What did you say? Do you have any questions about your heritage? Who can you speak with to learn more?

The Life of the Buddha, by Heather Sanche, Illustrated by Tara di Gesu
(In Honor of the Buddha’s birth anniversary)

With elegant verses and enchanting illustrations, this recently published story about Buddha’s childhood and early life is as captivating as it is informative. The story begins with the birth of Prince Gautama amongst a garden of flowers in bloom and follows him through childhood and when he first begins to explore life outside the palace after hearing a sad but beautiful song drift inside the walls of his home. What strikes me about this story as I read it in the context of current events, is that the prince had the option of continuing to live his life inside the palace, but chose to try and deepen his understanding of the suffering taking place outside of his home. He deliberately chose to investigate the cause of the suffering he witnessed (attachment), and also encouraged others to do the same.

Questions for Kids: What do you see when you walk around town? Do you ever see anything that makes you feel sad? worried? or uncomfortable? What can you do when you feel upset? When was the last time you sat very still? Would you like to try that now? What did you feel? See? Experience while sitting still and quietly? What does it mean to feel attached to something or someone? Why might letting go of something familiar decrease suffering? Why do you think it may be difficult to let go of what’s familiar? What are some possible benefits of letting go of the things we’re familiar with?

The Key from Spain by Debbie Levy, Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, I wanted to share this inspiring true story of musician Flory Jagoda, and the history of her family’s language (Ladino), culture, music and courage. The story starts in Al-Andalus Spain, where the Altaras family lives in harmony with people of various backgrounds. When a new king begins to establish laws that persecute religious minorities, the Altaras family is forced to flee, travel through Turkey and create a new home in Bosnia, where they once again share their music and contribute to the creation of a harmonious community. Years later, a war breaks out, and the family must once again flee for their lives. Flory travels on a train, and keeps her self safe by singing to the passengers and hiding her Jewish identity. She eventually escapes to the United States, where she then shares how even though she no longer carries the key to their original home in Spain, she carries her family’s gift of traditional Sephardic music, which serves as a key to the heart. Her story reminds us that even when we lose the things and people we love, we keep their light and life alive by remembering and honoring their gifts and stories.

Questions for Kids: If you wanted to learn more about your heritage, who could help you? Are there any songs, languages, or stories about your personal family history that you would like to share? What questions do you have about the elders in your family? Would you like to learn more about the songs, languages and culture of your friends, teachers or neighbors? If you could draw a map of your family or neighborhood history or story, what would that map or story look like?

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Though Memorial Day first started in honor of soldiers who had lost their lives while fighting to end slavery, it is now a day to honor every soldier who has lost his or her life during battle. One of the most moving monuments that honors these fallen soldiers is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington DC, which was designed by architect Maya Lin. The story does a beautiful job of sharing how Maya’s family and childhood experiences shaped her sense of artistry. It also describes how Maya anonymously submitted her proposal for the design of the memorial. She won the competition, fair and square, but after the judges discovered who she was, they were surprised, and some began to object. Maya didn’t back down though, and eventually she and a team were able to build a memorial that to this day helps us all remember and honor soldiers who lost their lives.

Questions for Kids: Is there someone who used to be a part of your life that you miss and want to remember? What are some ways you can honor their life or story? Why do you think it’s important to remember people’s stories? What are some ways that you like to be artistic or creative? What is one way you can use your artistic skills to be of support to or honor other people?

When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland
(In Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month)

A brilliant book that approaches the topic of sadness in a way that feels authentic, relatable and encouraging. It gives form to this sometimes scary feeling that can arrive all of a sudden, and offers simple ways for people to respect and connect with emotions. For example, the child in this story attempts to talk, ask questions, sit with, and go for a walk with this sadness that has somehow become a part of him. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in cultivating a sense of emotional sensitivity and resilience.

Questions for Kids: Can you remember a time when you felt sad? When was it? What happened? What did you do? How long did it last? What are some things that made you feel better? Do you think feelings last forever? Have you ever had a friend or family member who felt sad? How did it make you feel? What did you do? What are some things you can do if sadness comes to your door?

Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
(In Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month)

There are times in our lives when we don’t have the words to explain how we’re feeling or what we are experiencing. If you or someone you know has ever felt that way, than this may be a great book for you. Brilliantly illustrated, this wordless book, reminds us of the courage it takes to walk in the world without being able to fully get rid of the monsters that often walk with us. A monster that no one but Molly can see, lurks around every corner, following her wherever she goes, and preventing her from doing things. When Molly attempts to run or hide, the monster grows, and eventually a whole slew of monsters begin to follow her. At one point she stops, decides to be brave and faces the monsters, who then disappear…but not for long. As Molly walks forward, thinking the monsters have gone for good, the monster suddenly returns and continues to stand right behind her. This time however, Molly decides that even if the monster hasn’t completely disappeared, she will be brave anyways, and finds the courage to take a step and try something new.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever felt like Molly feels? What can you do when you feel this way? Have you ever felt like there are no words to describe how you may be feeling, or what you are thinking? If you were to draw the wordless feelings inside your heart or thoughts inside your mind what would that look like? Is there a time you were scared of something or someone but then chose to be brave? What was the situation? How did you feel before you did something brave? How did it feel after? If you were to draw bravery, or a story about bravery, what would it feel or look like? If you could design a bravery jacket, cape, hat or mask what would it look and feel like?

April 2020 Gems: Books to Shelter In With!

Hi friends,

Hope you’re well and staying safe. Like many of you, I’m sheltering in and away from my usual bookshelf, bookstore and library. I have, however, been able to check books out digitally, from my local library, order books from, and download books written in multiple languages (for free) thanks to an awesome organization called Pratham Books. Staying in is not always easy, BUT I’m sharing some gems I hope will bring some sparkle, inspiration, joy, and comfort to your hearts.

SAHANA MAKES MUSIC by Ravi Mundoli, Illustrated by Noorain Ahmed
(Just one of many multilingual books available from Pratham Books)

Like lots of kids, Sahana is at home, feeling bored. She starts to Tok Tok Tok on the table, Thump Thump Thump on a chair and tap tap tap on some glasses, which start to ting, ping, ting! As she plays around with the glasses, each with a different amount of water inside, Sahana suddenly realizes…she is making music! This short, easy reader is a simple way to introduce sounds, and demonstrates you can make music with just a few household items. If you’re interested, you can easily make your own music, just like Sahana. Check out this video on how to use glasses, water and a spoon to create your own water xylophone!

Questions for Kids: What are some objects you have at home that you maybe could use to make music? Sahana makes her own rhythms and beats by playing around on a table and chair. What are some objects around your home that you could use to create a beat? Do you think you could make your own musical glasses?

ADA’s VIOLIN by Susan Hood, Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Ada lives in Paraguay in a neighborhood that’s full of trash and where many people work as gancheros (recyclers). Ada and her family members love listening to music, but her absolute favorite instrument is the beautiful violin. When Abuela, her grandmother, signs her up for a music class, Ada is thrilled, but soon discovers there aren’t enough instruments for everyone. The music teacher then teams up with a carpenter to make instruments out of garbage. After lots of experimentation, they make enough instruments for everyone, including Ada, who receives a violin made up of an old paint can, a baking tray, some wooden crates, and a fork. After lots of hard work the orchestra begins to share their talents with families and neighbors, bringing joy and hope to their community. Eventually, the orchestra begins to share their music all over Paraguay and even travel around the world to perform.

Questions for Kids: What kind of music makes you feel calm? happy? hopeful? Do you already play an instrument? How do you feel when you play? If you were to try and learn something new, what would it be? Can you think of a song to sing or some instrumental music you’ve heard that makes you feel good? Is there anyone you’d like to share your favorite music with? Have you ever listened to music while closing your eyes and using your imagination to transport yourself to another place? Where, in your imagination would you go and what would be happening there?

Note: If you’re Interested in hearing the actual orchestra that this book is about, check out this documentary. For extension activities take a look at the author’s curriculum guide, which includes worksheets as well as resources for how to make your own instruments!

FEEL THE BEAT by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by Kristi Valiant

Get ready to move your body with this super fun multicultural celebration of dance and poetry. Each poem is written in the beat and rhythm of a particular dancing style, and includes Bhangra, the Foxtrot, and Hip Hop. The CD features background music for every poem and style of dance. For a little taste of the action, check out this “irresistible” sample of cha cha cha poetry! You’re going to want to boogie down on the dance floor after swirling through these lively beats and pages. An overall fantastic way to celebrate National Poetry Month and International Dance Day.

Questions for Kids: Have you seen or heard of any of these dances? Which types of dances would you like to try? What other kinds of dances have you seen and where? Would you like to try and come up with your own special dance?

UNDERWEAR by Jenn Harney
If you’re looking for medicine in the form of giggles and laughter, the silliness in this book is a mood boosting delight. After rounds of consultations with some parents and their experts (kids ages 3-9) this one came on top of the funny list. A bear who has just finished having a bath is asked to put his underwear on. The task turns into a game of imagination in which the underwear turns into a hat, a wig, a pair of goggles and of course, a superhero mask. The goofy illustrations, silly simple rhymes, word play jokes, and spot on parental facial expressions are sure to bring some humor to your day.

Questions for Kids: Did you do anything silly today that made you laugh or smile? Is there a joke or a riddle you know that you would like to share? Is there anything in your closet you can do something silly with? A sock? A scarf? A pillow case? What are some different ways that you can dress up and pretend to be a super hero? A monster? A bear?

IN MY HEART: A BOOK OF FEELINGS by Jo Witek, Illustrations by Christine Roussey

Feelings are difficult to talk about, even for adults, but with this gem, the conversation might get a bit easier. A child explains how her heart is full of feelings – some big, some small, some loud, some quiet. Each page describes the sensations of each feeling, in a way that gives some kind of form, shape and language to the emotion. She explains, for example, how on harder days, mean words can make her heart feel fragile, delicate and hurt, and that is when she feels heart broken. More importantly, she also explains how feelings like sadness don’t stay. “Like the springtime after winter, the sun comes out again. My heart grows tall like a plant, reaching toward the sky. This is when my heart feels hopeful.”

If you want to explore how kids in your life are processing some of their feelings, this is a great way to get the conversation started, and maybe even an opportunity to create your own feelings book: When (action or event) my heart feels (physical description or emotion). So for example, when I see a tree, my heart feels calm and happy.

Questions for Kids: Do any of these feelings sound familiar? What makes your heart feel a little bit brighter? What is one thing you can do if your heart feels confused? sad? angry? Have you ever felt angry? Do feelings always stay the same? Would you like to draw the different kinds feelings that you have felt inside your heart this week?

THE ARABIC QUILT by Aya Khalil, Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
(In honor of Arab American heritage month)

If you are part of a multilingual family, live in an international neighborhood, or are simply interested in learning languages, this little gem may inspire you to spend time practicing a heritage language or maybe learning a new one!
Kenzi, who is Egyptian American, doesn’t like that she’s different from her other 3rd grade classmates. When a student begins to make fun of the way Kenzi’s mother speaks Arabic, Kenzi feels even worse. That is, until her teacher reminds her that “being bilingual is beautiful!” She and her classmates then learn about how some English words, like Algebra and lemon, are actually from the Arabic language. Inspired by their learning experience and a quilt from Egypt that Kenzi brings to share with all her classmates, the students decide to create a little quilt like collage with all their names written in Arabic. The project then inspires others to learn about and share their knowledge of languages as well.

Questions for Kids: Do you or does anyone you know speak a language other than English? Are there any languages you think you’d like to learn? What are some Arabic words that you learned how to say while reading the book? Do you know how to say thank you in any other languages? Have you seen a collage or quilt before? Do you have any scraps of paper or cloth around your house? Is there anyone who can help you make a collage or quilt that tells a story about your family, your culture, or the things that makes you smile?

LITTLE HELPERS by IKids, Illustrated by Jillian Philips

Feeling helpful and knowing how your actions make a difference, can be really empowering for kids. This simply worded board book shows how even one person doing just one thing can have an impact on the earth. We see, for example, how planting flowers in a garden helps create food for bees, and how reusing and recycling can help keep more land open for deer to run on. With bright and joyful illustrations this “green” book (made of 98% recycled materials) is a must have for anyone trying to cultivate a sense of care and responsibility for this planet we call home.

Questions for Kids: Are you familiar with some of the ways that the kids in the book are helping the earth? What are some other ways that you can be a helper to the earth? What are some ways that you can be a helper in your home? How does it feel when something you do makes the world a better place?

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Gorgeously illustrated and rich with nature wisdom, this story about Nobel prize winning environmental activist Wangari Maathai is a treasure. The book describes how the stories she heard during childhood helped her develop a profound  love and respect for trees. As Wangari grows up she shares her wisdom and seeds with people from all over Kenya, who come to her with problems, such as hunger, animal sickness, and a lack of clean water. Wangari Maathai, also known as “Mama Miti” then offers seeds of trees as remedies for different problems. For example, she offers seedlings of a mubiru muiru tree, which grows nutritious berries, for a hungry family, or the mukuyu tree to filter stream water so that it becomes drinkable.  Whether or not you consider yourself a hugger of trees, this book will leave you in love and in awe of all the marvelous gifts that trees bring to our world.

Questions for Kids: Are you interested in doing some outdoor or indoor planting activities? Check out this video to learn how to regrow vegetables! You can also check out:,, or, to explore more gardening activities!

GOD’S DREAM by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Many people like sharing prayers with friends and family as a way to feel hopeful during times of uncertainty. April has been a special time of prayer for several faith traditions (Easter for Christians, Passover for Jews, Ridwan for Bahai’s and Ramadan for Muslims). In honor of these holidays, I wanted to share an interfaith book that reminds us of our oneness and also honors the different ways that people pray or “talk” to God. The book starts off with the author asking children what they dream about and then goes on to ask if they can imagine what God’s dreams are for children around the world. Centered around the values of sharing, caring, and celebrating diversity, this book is a great way to talk to kids about how different people worship and how everyone is part of one human family.

Questions for Kids: What is a dream you have for all the children on our planet? Is there anyone in your family or circle of friends that has shared a prayer or talked to you about their religion or spiritual beliefs? What did they share with you and how did it make you feel? What are some different ways that you have seen people praying? Some people believe that kindness is a form of prayer that honors all humanity. What are some ways that you can show kindness or love to your human family?

WE ARE THE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom, Illustrated by Michaela Goade

With stunning illustrations, this powerful book blends activism with sacredness. A young indigenous girl begins the story with the memory of an elder telling her, “Water is the first medicine…it affects and connects us all.” The story flows through mesmerizing imagery that reflects the spirit and resilience of communities and activists that have fought for the protection of the earth and her waters.

Questions for Kids: What are some of the different ways we use water in our daily lives? What other living things depend on water? What are some ways that water is indirectly connected to us? How are different bodies of water connected to each other? How does water get dirty? Where does dirty water go? How can we try to be mindful of the ways that we use water? What is one way that we can be stewards of the earth?

Note: For additional discussion questions please check out this teacher’s guide.

ALPHABREATHS by Christopher Willard and Daniel Rechtschaffen, Illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

With tender and playful illustrations, this easy to follow book is a wonderful way to learn the ABCs of the alphabet, and meditative breathing. Written by a clinical psychologist and a mindfulness teacher, Alphabreaths introduces a various breathing techniques that are easy to understand and also fun to try and follow. Some of my favorite breath and body practices include breathing like a butterly, breathing like you’re blowing out a birthday cake, and breathing like you’re a superhero. For video demonstration clips and a teachers guide check out the author page.

Questions for Kids: Have you ever seen or heard of any of these types of breathing exercises? Which ones did you like the most? How did you feel when you were trying them out?Are there any you would like to try and practice every day? When and where do you think would be a good place and time?

INVISIBLE STRING by Patrice Karst.

Note: There are two versions of this book. One illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, and another illustrated by Geoff Stevenson.

The story begins with two kids who get scared because of the noise from an unexpected storm. They run to their Mom saying “We want to stay close to you!” The mother then replies by saying, “Well, you know we’re always together no matter what.” And that’s when Liza asks the big question: But how can we be together when you’re out here and we’re in bed! And that’s when Mom begins to explain the invisible string – A string made out of love that you can feel within your heart , and that connects you to everyone you love. Whether someone is deep in the ocean, or somewhere in heaven, this invisible string always keeps you united with your loved ones.

This is one of several books you can borrow from Kinconnect, an organization that supports families through Kinship Legal Guardianship. Hachette also has an official activity guide that you can explore, which includes guidance questions and worksheets.

Questions for Kids: Who are some people, friends or family that help your heart feel calm? What can you do if you ever feel scared or unsafe? Who are some people that you can reach out to for help? Is there anyone in your life that you wish you could spend more time with? Anyone that you miss, who you wish could be right next to you? Who are some people that maybe you have an invisible string connection with? What are some ways we can try to feel more connected to the people that we miss or love?