Monthly Archives: March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Books to Teach Global Justice

top 10

Last term, I worked with the two grade seven classes at my school exploring different Global Justice issues.  Using historical picture books, students explored and responded to a variety of global justice issues including: colonization, emancipation, segregation, discrimination, persecution, dictatorship, censorship, immigration, racism and civil rights.   As I have come to believe about everything I teach – and to quote my friend Carrie Gelson’s blog  – there’s a book for that!   Each week, I read a picture book which focused on one of these issues.  Each week, there was rich conversation as the students “filled their fact pockets” and did a whole lot of deep learning and deep thinking!

Here are my top 10 books to teach global justice issues:

Image result for encounter - jane yolen

                      1.  Colonization             EncounterJane Yolen   

This powerful picture book shows an alternative perspective of Christopher Columbus’s first landfall in San Salvador in 1492.  The story is narrated from the point of view of a native Taino boy and readers learn how the Taino eventually lost their culture and language because of this encounter.


            2. Emancipation          The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom – Betty Stroud

This is an excellent book about the underground railroad, that helped slaves escape from slavery to freedom in Canada and the coded quilts that were used.  Students are captivated by the story, which really explains how the quilt squares were used to help  After reading it, we review what each of the quilt squares was called and what its code indicated to the runaway slave.  Beautiful illustrations.

                  Alternative choice –           Underground Christopher Evans    


         3. Segregation                   A Taste of Colored Water – Matt Faulkner

This thought-provoking story is set in the early 1960s and tells about segregation from the viewpoint of a young white girl, Lulu and her cousin Jelly.  When taking a trip to the “big city”, they are excited to take a drink from the “colored fountain” that their friends have been talking about.  They imagine this water is going to be many colors with many wonderful flavors. When they finally get to the city though, they discover the water is clear and they witness a march for civil rights.  I love how this book gives a glimpse of this difficult time in history to children in an appropriate and accessible way and promotes a lot of discussion. 

Alternative Choice:                        White Socks Only – Evelyn Coleman


4. Assimilation               I Am Not a Number Jenny K Dupuis (residential schools)

Based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, this heart-wrenching picture book captures the experience of First Nations people in Canada being sent to Residential Schools. Under threat of fines and jail time, First Nation parents were forced to give their children up to the government. When Irene is taken to her new “home”, she is forced to forget her name, her home, her family, her culture, and her language.  A powerful and important picture book.

Alternative Choice:                     When I Was Eight –  Christy Jordon Fenton


        5. Dictatorship                          Sparrow Girl – Sarah Pennypacker

In 1958, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, dictator leader of China, declared war on the sparrows because they were damaging the crops.  Chairman Mao made an irrational decision to order everyone in China to drive away or kill all the sparrows by going outside and making as much noise as possible.  After three days, the sparrow population was eliminated, but his thoughtless disruption of the food chain resulted in locusts  doing more damage to the crops than the sparrows had done.  The famine that followed lasted six years and killed more than 40 million Chinese people.  This fictional account of the story has young Ming Li and her brother rescuing 7 sparrows and hiding them in the family barn.  This is a powerful, true story combining social studies (dictatorship), science (food chain), and Reading Power(questioning).

             Alternative Choice:        The Composition – Antonio Skarameta


6.  Censorship                The Stamp Collector – Jennifer Lanthier  (freedom of expression)

This is picture book about human rights violations in present day China was inspired by two writers: Nurmuhemmet Yasin and Jiang Weiping. Weiping spent 6 years in prison for exposing govt. corruption. Yasin is serving 10 yrs for writing a short story called “The Wild Pigeon”. In the story, a young boy from the country who loves words and a young boy from the city who loves stamp eventually meet.  The stamp collector becomes a prison guard; the writer is imprisoned for a story he wrote.  Eventually, they connect through the power of words and stories.      

     Alternative Choice:    Secret of the Dance – Andrea Spalding  (banning of  The Potlatch)


7.  Civil Rights                 Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged Jody Nyasha Warner

Viola Desmond, known as the “Canada’s Rosa Parks” was arrested and thrown in prison for sitting in the wrong section of the Roseland Movie Theater in Nova Scotia in 1946.  Her actions gave strength and inspiration to Canada’s black community and she became the pioneer for Canada’s Civil Rights movement.  The new ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond will be released in 2018, making her the first Canadian woman to be celebrated on Canadian currency.

                                                Alternative choice:  RosaNikki Giovanni


      8. Persecution                 The Harmonica – Tony Johnston (Holocaust)

Based on the true story of a young boy who survived the Nazi concentration camp in Poland during the Holocaust by playing Schubert on his harmonica every night for the commandant of the camp.  This is a chillingly effective and hauntingly beautiful written historical fiction.  Gorgeous writing with many wonderful examples of similes and metaphors. 

          Alternative Choice:    Baseball Saved Us – Ken Mochizuki    (Japanese Internment Camps)


     9. War                     Sami and the Time of the Troubles – Florence Parry Heide

“My name is Sami.  I live in the time of the troubles.  It is a time of guns and wars.  It is a time that has lasted all my life, and I am ten years old.”  This story depicts the Lebanon Civil War from a young boy’s point of view.  The “time of the troubles” refers to the many times when bombs are being dropped outside young Sami’s home. During the many hours they hide in the basement for safety, they pass the time by thinking about happier times they shared.  A wonderful book with amazing pictures to help depict life in a war-torn country.   


    10.   Immigration                           Gleam and Glow  – Eve Bunting

This amazing story is based on the true experience of a Bosnian family forced to flee their country during the recent civil war. Because they had to flee their home, their fish, Gleam and Glow, were left behind in a lake behind their home. When the family returned years later, they found that the fish had not only survived but thrived over the years. Gleam and Glow creatively retells this story and weaves in the trials and suffering of a family surrounded by the danger and destruction of war who are forced to flee their home.  Stunning illustrations. 

Alternative choice:              Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey – Margriet Ruurs

What are your favorite Global Justice picture books?



Filed under New Books

Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Picture Books to Celebrate Spring!

top 10

It’s the first day of spring!  So, to celebrate the end of winter, (we had a particularly snowy one here in Vancouver!) here are my top 10 new (and a few not so new) picture books to celebrate this season of new growth, new life, new colors, new hope.

  1. Spring for Sophie by Yael Werber

Sweet story of a young girl waiting for spring.  You might think, as I did, “been there, done that” – but, like me, you will be charmed and delighted by the gentle, detailed  story and lovely illustrations. After the long winter we have had, this book warmed my heart.

2. When Spring Comes – Kevin Henkes

Lovely, soft book about spring.  Gorgeous illustrations, imagery, repetition, and alliteration to introduce the changing of the seasons and the transformation from quiet, cold winter to the joy of spring.  Kevin Henkes is a master story-teller and Laura Dronzek’s illustrations are delightful.

3. Egg – Kevin Henkes

A graphic novel for emergent readers?  I think this is a first!  I love Kevin Henkes, and this almost wordless book reminds me why. Henkes tells a clever, interesting, suspenseful story about four eggs.  Gorgeous pastel illustrations – this page turner will have you guessing until the last page.

4.  And Then It’s Spring – Julie Fogliano

“Please do not stomp here. There are seeds, and they are trying.”  This is not a new spring book, but I believe it to be my favorite.  Tender, beautifully written story about a boy and his dog who dig and plant and wait away the winter.  Beautiful.

5.  Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt – Kate Messner

Well, you can’t get a better book for combining literature, science, spring, plants, nature, and don’t forget -art.  This book has it all!  With a clever “split screen” format, readers learn all the amazing things that grow and live under and over the dirt.  An amazing companion to Over and Under the Snow and Kate Messner’s latest Over and Under the Pond.

6. What Will Grow? – Jennifer Ward

This is such a clever, interactive book about seeds that will keep you guessing just what is growing.  Soft wonderful water colors and large and large fold out pages are delightful.  Repatative and lyrical language makes this a great choice for read-alouds.   I loved the end papers showing close ups of many of the seeds.

Robins!: How They Grow Up by [Christelow, Eileen]

7. Robins!  How They Grow Up – Eileen Christelow

Two juvenile robins narrate the story of their lives, starting with their father’s migration. So much interesting information about robins packed into this book: nest-building, egg-laying, nest-guarding, feeding, siblings, predators, development, flight, roosting – Wow!  I enjoyed the balance of silly parts with true parts, including the death of a sibling.

8.  Plant a Tiny Seed – Christie Matheson

Reminiscent of  Tap the Magic Tree, here is another interactive book by Christie Matheson which has readers pushing seeds into the dirt, rubbing leaves, and blowing seeds around the page. Adding the plant life cycle in the book is a bonus.  Kids will have fun with this one!

9. Bloom – Deborah Diese

Gorgeous, tender book that celebrates life, relationship, and growing up.  A mother and daughter plant a garden to see how something small blooms into something beautiful. Lots of love blooming in this one! Would make a wonderful Mother’s Day present!

10. Bee – A Peek-Through Picture Book – Britta Treckentrup

With clever peekaboo holes throughout, each colourful collage page in this book reveals new flowers and plants, plus a look inside a beehive as the bees work together to help a plants grow.  A perfect book for looking at nature, cycles and inter-connectedness.

Thanks for stopping by!  Which Spring book has caught your eye?





Filed under New Books

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Great Book Finds from Toronto!


It’s Monday and I’m happy to be participating in a weekly event with a community of bloggers who post reviews of books that they have read the previous week. Check out more IMWAYR posts here: Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers

Last week, I was presenting at RFTLOI (Reading For the Love Of It) conference in Toronto.  One of my favorite parts about the conference is book browsing (and buying) at the publishers displays.  Here are some of my favorite new books I squished into my suitcase!


I am Josephine (and I am a living thing) – Jan Thornhill

A charming introduction to the concept of classification in the natural world for early primary students.  The combination of science and search-and-find works brilliantly and I love the colorful cheerful, cheery illustrations!

The Tree: An Environmental Fable – Neal Layton

When a family wants to cut down a tree and build a house, what will happen to the animal nests and burrows?  A sweet, simple tale about harmony in the natural world with a gentle message of taking care of the environment.

Teacup – Rebecca Young

Stunningly beautiful book about loss, redemption, adventure, hope – so breathtaking that it made me quite teary.  A young boy leaves his home and sets off to begin again.  Before he leaves, he fills a teacup with soil  from his home.  This is a book filled with subtle messages and would be an excellent choice for teaching inferring, symbolism and metaphor.  Gorgeous illustrations and poetic language – LOVE this book.

The Wolf-Birds – Willow Dawson

This book is fascinating!  Set in the winter woods and based on scientific data and anecdotal reports from Aboriginal hunters, the book explores the fascinating symbiotic relationship shared by wolves and ravens.  Gorgeous, calming illustrations and beautiful language – a perfect introduction to survival and the circle of life.

Abigail, the Whale – David Cali & Sonja Bougaeva

I was immediately attracted too the cover of this book and the adorable illustrations.    As a child, I was very chubby and was teased a lot for being a “butterball”.  I completely connected to this heartfelt story of Abigail, who is teased at swimming lessons because of her round frame and called “a whale”.  Her swimming teacher gives her some support and advice on how to “think light”.  This is a tale of positive thinking and would be a great starting point for a discussion about teasing, self-esteem, empathy, and perspective.

A Change of Heart — Alice Walsh

This year, I have been developing a unit called “Reading and Thinking Across Canada”, using picture books that tell true stories of Canadian events.  This book fits perfectly into the theme – and tells the remarkable true story of Lanier Philips, a US soldier in WWII who escaped the racism and segregation of his hometown in Georgia, survived a shipwreck, became an honorary Newfoundlander and went on to become a civil rights activist.  REMARKABLE!

The Stone Thrower – Jael Ealey Richardson

Another remarkable true story about an unknown Canadian hero..The Stone Thrower is the true story of Ohio-born Chuck Early who, despite his outstanding record as a high school and college quarterback, is rejected by racist NFL and instead plays for the Canadian Football League where he is named a Most Valuable Player. Themes of segregation, poverty, resilience and civil rights all tied up into an inspiring sports story – what more could you ask for?

My Beautiful Birds – Suzanne Del Rizzo

When Canadian author Suzanne Del Rizzo was looking for something to read to her own children that would explain the Syrian Civil War, she came across an article about a young Syrian refugee who found solace in a connection with wild birds at the Za’atari refugee camp. And so she wrote this book.  This book is gorgeous – textured filo illustrations reminiscent of Barbara Reid and a gentle, moving story that illuminates how this crisis is impacting children. It shows the reality of refugee camps and the struggle of families uprooted who are trying to redefine “home”. 

Lost and Found Cat – Doug Kuntz & Amy Shrodes

A true, heartwarming story about an Iraqi refugee family who is separated from and eventually reunited with their beloved family cat.  Such an amazing story it is hard to believe it is true – but it is.  Your students will break into spontaneous applause when you read the last page!   Will also inspire discussions about what it means to be a refugee.

Bob, Not Bob! (to be read as though you have the worst cold ever)   – Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick

This book made me laugh so much!  A little boy is stuffed, snuffly and sick in bed with a terrible cold.  All he wants is his mom – but when he calls his mom – it comes out “bob” – and soon the slobbery family dog comes running!  LOL!  A great read aloud!  Cracked me right up!

                            Thanks for stopping by!  Which book or books caught your eye?

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Filed under 2017 releases, Canada, It's Monday, What Are You Reading?, Links to content, New Books, Refugee, Science, social justice