My Favorite Chapter Books of 2016

It is with great trepidation that I make this list.  Inevitably a book will be left off or I will somehow screw this up.  But…these books have shaped my year.  These books with their worlds, their heart, and their dreams have made me better.  Have offered me solace on long winter nights, have lulled me to sleep on airplanes and in hotel rooms.  When work has been too hard and life has been too busy, these books have kept me afloat.  So how can I not praise them?  (Thank you Goodreads).  While are new this year, some are not, but all were new to me.

Please read them.  Please love them.  Please share them with others.  After all, books may just be the very thing that brings us all together.

It is always exciting when I discover a new series and The Reader by Traci Chee did not disappoint.  While it took me a few days to read, my confusion was rewarded at the end when everything made sense and I was left with a longing to read on.  PG13 and up.

I had heard of Gene Luen Yang before he was chosen as National Book Ambassador but his new title led me to discover more of his work.  While I loved all of his that I read American Born Chinese was definitely my favorite.  This is a must add to any middle school classroom and up.

It is hard not to love Pax by Sara Pennypacker.  This book was the Global Read Aloud choice for elementary and up for 2016 and I still think it is one of the most powerful reads of the year.  This story of a fox and his boy will simply stay with you for a very long time.

I thought I knew a lot about hurricane Katrina but after reading Drowned City by Don Brown, I realized how little I actually knew.  Sparse, powerful, and haunting is the best way for me to describe this graphic novel nonfiction book.  Must add to middle school and up.

It is hard to not admire Kate Messner and her formidable brain, she epitomizes to me what it means to be creative.  I love her new series, Ranger in Time,  geared toward early readers and have brought the books in to my own 7th grade classroom as well.  What a wonderful way to discover history.

This was my very first read of the year and it was oh so good.  In fact, I think Shadow and Bone from Leigh Bardugo was the series feeling I chased all year.  Magic, action, love, this series has it all for our PG13  readers.

It is hard to describe the sadness that overcame me as I read the graphic novel Yummy – the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri.  After all, this is the story of an actual child, this is the story of something that actually happened.  This is the story of a child who got so lost that he ended taking the life of another child and then losing his own.  PG13 and up.

I teach using the Notice and Note signposts, and a A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is one of the texts used.  I knew I had to read it when I saw how it captivated all of my students.  This story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is one that many students throughout the year has also gravitated toward.  This could be placed in the hands of the right 5th grader who was ready for it.

There is always something bittersweet when you realize a book you loved and booktalked is missing in your library.  This is the case of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.  I loved it, I book talked it, someone snagged it to read and poof it has disappeared.  This is a graphic novel tale I will gladly re-order though.

I  wonder how many times I have booktalked Gym Candy by Carl Deuker this year?  This is the book I reach for when I am running out of options for my resistant readers.  This is the book that I found myself sucked into as I ignored my family on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  This is one of those books that becomes a magic weapon when we try to help students love reading more.  PG13 and up.

With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 we saw a slew of powerful books being published about the events.  While I read almost all of the ones published, Eleven by Tom Rogers is still the book that for me captured the day in the most powerful way.  4th grade and up but my 7th graders devour it as well.

I came across Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins as I booktalked poor covers.  My librarian told our class that while the cover might leave something t be desired, this was a really popular series.  I therefore promptly took t home to read it and boy was she right.  Love, action, magic, yes please.  Great middle school and up series.

Another fox book?  Yes please!  Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee is a powerful story of loss and discovery.  Of a family seemingly torn apart.  Of a fox that knows that it plays an important part in the healing.  This book is beautiful and for 4th grade and up.

This was the year i started to re-think my hatred of dog books and Maxi’s Secret by Lynn Plourde played a big part in that.  While yes the dog dies (it is told to us in the first chapter) this story is bigger than that of a dog.  It is about friendship, finding your place, and finding yourself.  4th grade and up.


I was told to read The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid this summer by a friend because she thought  it would be one of those books that I could not wait to share.  She was right.  The Diabolic is a masterful piece of work; challenging science fiction that still is a page turner.  PG13 and up.

I don’t know how I missed A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness for so long but I am so glad that I now have many copies of it in my classroom library.  This is one of those books you hand to those kids that say that they don’t like reading much.  I, along with many students, are eagerly awaiting the movie adaptation that is coming out in January.  Middle school and up.

Another book recommended to me by a trusted friend was Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart.  This book is needed in our libraries, especially as we focus on creating windows, mirrors, and doors into the lives of others.  Middle school and up.

I love complex fantasy, ones that have deep story lines where I need to find the time to fall into its pages and forget about life for a while.  Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is just the right kind of fantasy book.  Beautiful language and a story line that mesmerizes, I am glad this now a part of our library.  4th or 5th grade and up.

How amazing of a storyteller is Kate Messner?  I loved The Seventh Wishso much that it got it’s own stand alone review on this blog, and I stand by those words.  This book belongs in our classrooms, in our libraries, and yes even with elementary children.

Hands down one of the best non-fiction autobiographies I have ever read.  Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer! about E.B. White is a masterpiece in visual layout as well as text.  I have ordered another copy to house permanently in my classroom and will be using it to teach writer’s craft.  I cannot wait for children to fall into the delight of these pages and to be inspired to write more themselves.

I have loved the genius of Jenni Holm for a few years now and her new book Full of Beans is a delight.  This is one of those perfect books that will make for a great read aloud, especially in our 4th and 5th grade classrooms.  This is also a Global Read Aloud  contender for 2017.

I started my summer with The Best Man by Richard Peck.  Spurred on by my friends’ love of this book and by the sad fact that I had never read a Richard Peck book before, I was glad to start the summer with this one.  I was delighted, surprised, and ever so wonderfully tangled into the story and have loved booktalking it to students.  This one is great for middle school and up, or even a 5th grader.


How I have managed to go these years without falling in love with The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefwater I am not sure.  This has been one of my most recommended books this summer because I dropped everything just to read this whole series in a week.  Now that that the whole series is out there is no reason to wait to get this for your classroom library, I would recommend middle school and up.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is still one of the best books I have read all year. This is the book I hope most of my students discover.  This is the book I keep recommending.  A masterpiece in story-telling that I could not put down and neither could those I have handed it too.  This debut author has taken everything that is right about a great YA and put it into a book.  I cannot wait for his next book.


I was handed Fenway and Hattie by the author herself, Victoria J. Coe, and read it the very next day. Delightful, fun, and imaginative I have recommended this book to many people since.  I love how Victoria Coe writes it from the perspective of a dog and will be using this to show perspective writing with my 7th graders.  While this is geared toward a younger audience, I think some of my 7th graders will enjoy it as much as I have.  This is also a contender for Global Read Aloud 2017.

Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland is a must add to your library.  This text sheds light on the landmark case of marriage equality and is riveting in how it unfolds.  You fall in love with the Lovings and their simple fight to simply be allowed to be married.  (Note: Available for pre-order now).

What an incredible book Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is.  In fact, I would be surprised if we did not see this book receive awards later this year.  Unlike anything I have read in a long time, Wolf Hollow draws you into a world that speaks of simpler times and yet the story unravels in a way you would not expect.  From 4th grade and up, this book is also a must add in middle school.

I loved the scary tale and the beautiful language of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. I rooted for the main character Corinne as she fights for her father and the rest of her island, protecting them from the supernatural beings that live in the forest.  For kids that love a great scary story, I cannot wait to book talk this, and even better; there is a sequel coming.

I had the incredible honor of seeing Erin Downing, the author of Moon ShadowMoon Shadow, at NCTE.  This book is a must read in 2017 (our in May!).  With its creepy yet deep story, it promises to be a book that many middle grade kids will want to read, discuss, and share.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson is the book I keep telling people to read, keep telling people to pre-order (out in February).  This powerful story is one that simply needs to be experienced and then placed in the hands of our middle schools and up.  Powerful, eye opening, and also just a great example of wonderful story telling.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell is a book I didn’t expect to love as much as I did.  I had heard from others that it was a great title and yet whenever I picked it up, I just didn’t quite fall into the appeal of it.  Its tale of honor, family, and yes, wolves left me mesmerized from page 1.  This is the best of books; nature and survival, historical fiction and fast paced adventure.  This is a must for 4th grade and up.












One of these days I might write an entire post about how much I admire the talent and work of Jacqueline Woodson.  The conversations she invites us to have in our classrooms are profound and I am so thankful I finally discovered her book If You Come Softly.  While the story is set in high school it is not high school langue which makes it even more accessible to many students.  This book about race and love and growing up is one I won’t forget.  I also read, and loved, Behind You, the follow up novel.

I cannot imagine the painstaking work it must have been for Allan Wolf to write The Watch that Ends the Night.  This is the Titanic story like I had never experienced it before.  Middle school and up.

Can Jennifer A. Nielsen do no wrong?  She once again had me hooked from the early pages of The Scourge, what a great story of mystery, survival, and also devious means to fight back.  4th or 5th grade and up.

I am not sure I have enough words to publicly declare how much I love the brain of Dav Pilkey and his new series Dog Man.  This one book has completely transformed my daughter’s life, who is 7, but is equally loved by my 7th graders.  This is what great books are made of.

Another book I was surprised I had missed until now.  Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is her other master piece.  This book with its free verse formand heart wrenching story is everything great books are made of.  This is also GRA contender for 2017.

I don’t know how Jason Reynolds manages to crank one book out after another but I am thankful that he does.  His latest book Ghost is the beginning of a series, thank you!  It is a Global Read Aloud Contender, and it is oh so good for middle grade and up.

I finally settled into my new reading chair and fell in love with The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.  It is always such a delight when simple language brings us deep reading experiences.  This is also one of those books that I know I can hand to many kids and they can have a successful reading experience with it.  4th grade and up,  but 7th graders love it too.

I always have room for a great creepy book and Janet Fox’s new book, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, is just that.  Mysterious, creepy, and suspenseful will keep readers tuned in from 5th grade and up.

I tend to steer away from WWII books simply because I have oversaturated myself in the genre, but for The Plot to Kill Hitler by Patricia McCormick, I knew I would make an exception.  What is crazy about this story is that it is true, and also one I had not heard of before.  This was book-talked once in my classroom and I have not seen it since. Perfect for middle grades and up.

I think My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and JodI Meadows is one of those books where you either love it or hate it.  I loved it with a capital l.  This felt fresh, funny, and of course I had to read just one more page to see what would happen.  Perfect for middle school and up.

I can be very hit or miss when it comes to historical fiction, I feel that I either love it or really do not like it.  The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson  Coats is a book that I loved reading.  I loved the can-do attitude of or female protagonist and also how it provided me with a glimpse into the settler time period.  This gem comes out at the end of February and is not to be missed for middle grade and up.

Argh, cancer books.  I am terrible with you and yet I also feel myself drawn to their pages.  Love, Ish the new book by Karen Rivers is one that will take you for a ride whether you wanted it to or not.  Powerful storytelling brings us right there with Ish.  Out on my birthday, March 14th, this is a great book for middle grades and up.

There were so many other books that I loved this year but I tried to stick to a little bit of a shorter list.  To see all of the books I read and rate follow me on Instagram or on Goodreads.  Which books did I miss?

We Have Already Grown

I realized today as my students sat quietly reading that if a stranger were to walk into our classroom, it would all look so effortless.  As if the kids had always quietly settled in with their books and this hush had fallen over us.  As if the kids had always read when I asked them to.  As if they had always known just what to do and when to do so.  Yet, that is not the true story.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you; creating a space for independent reading time is not easy, nor does it just happen.  It is hard work.  It takes effort.  It takes planning, and boy, does it take a lot of patience.  It takes great books.  It takes dedication.  And it takes a community, takes trust, takes respect, and takes conversations.

We build our communities in small pieces.  We plant the seeds on the very first day when we welcome our new kids into our lives and into our classrooms.  When we say this is your room, these are your books, and we mean it.

We build it when we ask them to pick up the books.  To read a few pages.  To talk to one another and to share their truths.  We build it when we accept their truths about why reading does not matter and promise that we will try to help them change their minds.
Every day as we plan our lessons and build our communities, we give them the reading pieces to place into the puzzle of their identities and hope they will see the value.  And we do it one day at a time.  One conversation at a time.  One book at a time.

It may be almost December, we have so much time still left, and yet I cannot help but marvel at how far so many have come.  How many actually will read, not because I ask them to but because it is their habit.  How many of them will casually abandon a book because they know they can find a better one.  How many of them will recommend a book because they want to,  because they need to share it, because someone else deserves to have the same experience with this book that they just had.

This is work.  This is love.  This is what we do.  And we do it in such small steps that sometimes we forget to look back at just how far we have come.  So as I sit tonight, exhausted, thinking back to all of the moments we shared today, I also realize that while we are not all there yet, we have come a long way.  We have already grown.  We have become better readers, even if if for a second I may have forgotten that.


I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


Great Picture Books to Teach Plot

While I continue to update the other lists I have compiled of amazing picture books, a teacher asked me if I have any suggestions for teaching plot.  Well, of course I do.  I am so thankful once again to the amazing authors and illustrators that give us these incredible books to teach pretty much everything we need to in our literacy classes.

The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield is a book I use for plot and for theme.

Plot description:

One day, a bear cub finds something strange and wonderful in the forest. When he touches the keys, they make a horrible noise. Yet he is drawn back again and again. Eventually, he learns to play beautiful sounds, delighting his woodland friends.

     Then the bear is invited to share his sounds with new friends in the city. He longs to explore the world beyond his home, and to play bigger and better than before. But he knows that if he leaves, the other bears will be very sad . . .
Across the Alley by Richard Michelson and E.B. Lewis is ten years old but still very relevant.  This is also a great book to add to your social justice curriculum.
Plot description:
Abe and Willie live across the alley from each other. Willie is black and Abe is Jewish, and during the day, they don’t talk. But at night they open their windows and are best friends. Willie shows Abe how to throw a real big-league slider, and Abe gives Willie his violin to try out. Then one night, Abe’s grandfather catches them—will Abe and Willie have the courage to cross the alley and reveal their friendship during the day?
A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall is also on my Mock Caldecott watching list.
Plot description:
In the year and a half since the flight of the first manned balloon in 1783, an Italian has flown, a Scot has flown, a woman has flown, even a sheep has flown. But no one has flown from one country to another. John Jeffries, an Englishman, and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, want to be the first. On January 7, 1785, they set out to cross the English Channel to France in a balloon. All seemed to be going fine, until Jeffries decides the balloon looks too fat and adjusts the air valve―how hard could it be? Too bad he drops the wrench over the side of the aerial car. With no way to adjust the valve, the balloon begins to sink. Jeffries and Blanchard throw as much as they can overboard―until there is nothing left, not even their clothes. Luckily, they come up with a clever (and surprising) solution that saves the day.
Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead is beautiful for many reasons.
Plot description:
One sunny day Samson, a large and friendly woolly mammoth, encounters a little red bird who is looking for yellow flowers for her mouse friend (whose favorite color is yellow). As she flies off with the flowers, Samson wonders what it must be like to have a friend. He wonders this for so long, in fact, that he falls asleep and wakes up to a world covered in snow. In the midst of a blizzard, Samson finds and shelters the little red bird and flower-loving mouse in a tender tale of kindness and unexpected friendship.
Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis is also great for inferring.
Plot description:
Du iz tak? What is that? As a tiny shoot unfurls, two damselflies peer at it in wonder. When the plant grows taller and sprouts leaves, some young beetles arrive to gander, and soon—with the help of a pill bug named Icky—they wrangle a ladder and build a tree fort. But this is the wild world, after all, and something horrible is waiting to swoop down—booby voobeck!—only to be carried off in turn. Su! With exquisitely detailed illustrations and tragicomic flair, Carson Ellis invites readers to imagine the dramatic possibilities to be found in even the humblest backyard. Su!
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones is fantastic for theme as well.
Plot description:
Ruben feels like he is the only kid without a bike. His friend Sergio reminds him that his birthday is coming, but Ruben knows that the kinds of birthday gifts he and Sergio receive are not the same. After all, when Ruben’s mom sends him to Sonny’s corner store for groceries, sometimes she doesn’t have enough money for everything on the list. So when Ruben sees a dollar bill fall out of someone’s purse, he picks it up and puts it in his pocket. But when he gets home, he discovers it’s not one dollar or even five or ten—it’s a hundred-dollar bill, more than enough for a new bike just like Sergio’s! But what about the crossed-off groceries? And what about the woman who lost her money?
White Water by Michael S. Bandy, Eric Stein, and Shadra Strickland is another great book to discuss social justice.
Plot description:
It’s a scorching hot day, and going into town with Grandma is one of Michael’s favorite things. When the bus pulls up, they climb in and pay their fare, get out, walk to the back door, and climb in again. By the time they arrive in town, Michael’s throat is as dry as a bone, so he runs to the water fountain. But after a few sips, the warm, rusty water tastes bad. Why is the kid at the “Whites Only” fountain still drinking? Is his water clear and refreshingly cool? No matter how much trouble Michael might get into, he’s determined to find out for himself.
Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies is one of the most perfect picture books for plots, this is the whole purpose of the book!
Plot description:
It begins with an octopus who plays the ukulele. Since this is a story, the octopus has to want something—maybe to travel to faraway galaxies in a totally awesome purple spaceship. Then the octopus sets out to build a spaceship out of soda cans, glue, umbrellas, glitter, and waffles. OK, maybe the octopus needs some help, like from an adorable bunny friend, and maybe that bunny turns out to be . . . a rocket scientist? (Probably not.) But could something even more amazing come to pass?
My Friend Maggie by Hannah Harrison is just a must-add in general, this picture book is great for theme, plot and just kindness overall.
Plot description:
Paula and Maggie have been friends forever. Paula thinks Maggie is the best—until mean girl Veronica says otherwise. Suddenly, Paula starts to notice that Maggie is big and clumsy, and her clothes are sort of snuggish. Rather than sticking up for Maggie, Paula ignores her old friend and plays with Veronica instead. Luckily, when Veronica turns on Paula, Maggie’s true colors shine through.

Another fantastic picture book to discuss problems and anxiety is Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.  I love the illustrations of how Jack’s worry follows him around and how he ends up solving it.  Many children would benefit from this book in their classrooms.

Plot description:
Jack loves playing the trumpet, and for weeks he’s been looking forward to taking part in his first concert. But on the morning of the big day, Jack finds he has a Worry. And his Worry starts to grow. Even when Jack’s mother calls him for a special breakfast, even when he hides under the bed or runs around the yard, his Worry follows him. Suddenly, when it’s almost time to leave for the concert, Jack finds it’s all too much. For anyone who’s ever been afraid of failing at something new, this book offers just what’s needed to shrink a Worry down to size.

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case.  being yourself can be hard when you society will judge you but this book is a must add for any classroom.

Plot description:

Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants?

To see a list of all of our favorite books for many different things, please go here.

Audience Needed – Silly Poetry Videos

Tomorrow my amazing 7th graders will start practicing their speaking skills through silly poetry performances.  In 7th grade we take speaking pretty seriously, after all, being able to  communicate well and with intent is something you will need to be successful in life.

While I give my students feedback, while they perform in front of each other, while they rate themselves, it just doesn’t add a lot of punch to their performances.  This is where you maybe come in.  Would your class or kids  like to be our audience and leave us some feedback?

It is really quite simple; sign up below by filling in the form and wait for an email from me next week.  You will be given a link to a class’ video and also a survey.  We will ask you to tell us how we did, how our eye contact was and whether we have things to work on.  That’s it.  The feedback you give will help my students grow as public speakers.

A Quiet Moment


Life is full right now.  Full of so many wonderful things.  Full of so many privileges, but also challenges, things that will make me grow as a person, as a teacher, as a human being trying to be a better human being.  One of my privileges is to get to teach a class with some pretty incredible kids in it.  They are bouncy, creative, loud at times.  Sometimes they need reeling in that can take more than few minutes and yet every day as they walk out, although I am a little bit tired, I cannot wait for them to come back.

Today, the day after Halloween, I did not know what to expect.  After all, one child had declared to me the day before that really all school should just be cancelled the week of Halloween.  As a mother witnessing my own children’s lethargy this morning, I had to wonder what the day would bring.  Would these boys even be ready for anything?  Would it be a day of wasted time?  As the day grew on and the kids seemed to wake up from their tiredness, I started to ponder just how loud the end of the day would be?  Where would the crescendo hit?

The bell rang, the kids arrived and we settled in as we so often do around our table, ready to do something together.  I pulled out my Demonstration Notebook (thank you Kate and Maggie Roberts for this idea).  I had the lesson ready on how to stretch out theme, for the kids to try so we did what we do so many times in a week.  We read a picture book.

Yet this time, when I chose it I knew I needed a powerful punch.  I knew that if I were to counteract the craziness of the day after Halloween then it would have to be an extraordinary book, so I read aloud the picture book Ida, Always.  This book with its happy polar bears on the cover is one of the best I have read this year.  It also happens to have an easily identifiable theme.  As I read the book, my emotions got the better of me.  You see, my middle daughter’s name is Ida as well.  She is four.  She is not a polar bear, nor is she sick, and yet, every time I read this picture book, I cry.  And not just misty-eyed  maybe there are tears in there but still turning pages, no, tears down my cheeks, having to stop the read aloud.  I thought I could make it today, after all, how often do you cry in front of your student.  I thought wrong.  At first, the boys clearly did not know what to think of their otherwise happy teacher sitting there with tears.  And yet as they starred in silence, I started to see their own eyes and the tears that were forming there.

These kids.  These wonderfully rambunctious kids.  These kids that sometimes make me feel like I am not doing enough and will never be enough.  They cried too.  Not all, but some.  They sat there in solidarity with me.  They asked why this book was so emotional for me.  And as I explained they all nodded, they got it.  One kid took the book from me and continued to read aloud.

As the book ended, we discussed why sad books are okay at times.  No one laughed.  No one pointed a finger.  No one called each other a name.  Instead we just shared the moment, shared this vulnerable moment and then went on with our lesson.

At times, we only see the loudest parts of the children we teach.  We only see the parts that they work so hard to show.  We forget that what we see is not the full story and it never will be.

In our moment today I was reminded not just of the power of picture books, but of the power of vulnerability in our classrooms.  How for students to dare to share who they are as human beings, we must also show ourselves.  Even if that means stopping our read aloud because we cannot form the words.

I don’t know if we will ever cry together again over the fate of a polar bear, but it doesn’t really matter, because today we did, and today we grew.  Not further apart but closer together.  Sometimes those moments come right at the very right time.  Sometimes they come when we least expect them.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

More Picture Books to Spark Empathy

Last year I published a post on 10 picture books that spark empathy.  It turns there are many more than the original 10 highlighted.  With the world we live in, we all need a little more empathy in our lives and in our classrooms.  Picture books offer us a way to start the conversations and to plant the seeds.  So today I offer you an updated list, the original 10 can still be found toward the bottom.  Remember; picture books are for all ages and the power of these cannot be disputed.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith follows a little penguin that just wants to be understood.  He doesn’t want to follow the crowd of the other penguins and in fact, constantly complains, until someone puts things into perspective for him.

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson is a great stry of what happens when a new boy moves into the neighborhood and doesn’t quite understand the boy who shares his name.

Everyone Loves Cupcake by Kelly DiPucchio and Eric Wight is the story of Cupcake who just wants to be perfect.  Yet being perfect is exhausting.  Will her friends accept her for who she is?

Little Bot and Sparrow by Jape Parker follows Robot in his quest forfriendship after being discarded as old.  What a great tale of how we do not have to be the same to be friends.

The Mouse and the Moon by Gabriel Alborozo follows Mouse who is very lonely.  One day he starts to speak to the Moon and makes a surprise friend in the process.


Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead follows a woolly mammoth after his chance encounter with a little bird.  Even though they are so different, Samson cannot stop worrying about the bird when a snowstorm hits and he sets out to find him.

For all the kids who identify as being extremely shy, Shy by Deborah Freedman is a beautiful tale of finding a friend and finding courage.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead is a tale that speaks of loneliness, of taking a chance, and of finding your place.  How many of us cannot relate to the feeling of being lonely?

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson is all about a school and how nervous it is before the kids show up.  What a great way to discuss how we can make newcomers feel welcome.

Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe who feels just a little bit different.  So is being different a good thing or a bad thing?

The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer and Chris Sheban talks about loneliness as well.  When a new book no longer is new, who will read it any more?  Great way to use metaphors to get kids to talk about being lonely.

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and Rodolfo Montalvo speaks of an unlikely friendship between two different species.  It begs the question; must we be the same to be friends?

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is about grief and locking your heart up when it is too hard to have it vulnerable.  Yet is that really the way to experience life?

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison is a favorite of mine for many reasons.  It is such a stellar book for talking about what being true friends really means and how we can stand up for the people we care about.

Grandfather Gandhi by Ann Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk takes the teachings of Gandhi and makes them kid friendly.  In this book the message is how to turn moments of darkness into light instead.

Jack’s Worry by Sam Zuppardi is a fantastic book to start discussion of anxiety and worry.  With anxiety on the rise in our classrooms, this  book is one that many kids (and adults) can relate to.

Be A Friend by Salina Yoon is the story of Dennis and how he does not find a friend who accepts him for who he is until he meet Joy.  I love the message of how being different does not mean you have to change to find a friend.

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a fantastic illustration of what happens when we bully.  This is a book that is sure to spark discussion no matter the age group.

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea is a must-add to any picture book collection.  The tale of Goat and how he thinks Unicorn is a braggart until he finally gets to know him is one that kids will love.

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and Taeeun Yoo is one that I think many kids can relate to.  With the story of a child who is excluded and how he finds his own group, we can use this to open up discussion about accepting others.

Better than You by Trudy Ludwig is the story of the friend that brags all of the time, in the process putting his neighbor Tyler down.  It explores friendship dynamics and how we can make each other feel bad or good.

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood speaks to how hard moving is, but also about finding a new friend.

The Original Ten:

I have long loved The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson for its straightforward story of two girls living on either side of a fence and yet many miles apart.  For some of my students this is territory they have not gone into yet, so the conversations about race, our history, and even what is happening now in our world abound.

I don’t remember how I came upon The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.  My guess is that someone shared it on their blog, so thank you to them.  This story so beautifully encapsulates what it means to feel invisible and every time I have used it with students it has led to deep conversations.  We read this more than once so we can pay attention to the illustrations as well.

Students  immediately fall in love with Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed for the illustrations  but then come back again and again for the story of an unlikely friendship between a pig and an elephant.  This is a must read aloud at any age.  (ANd truly they all are).

It has been established already that Peter H. Reynolds is a creative genius.  I have loved all of his books since the first time I read them.  This book, I’m Here, is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention standing next to The Creatrilogy, but it should.  It’s eloquent story about a boy who feels so all alone is one that will settle into the hearts of students.

Thea, my kindergartner, came home and told me that I had to get this book about a big red crayon.  Okay…. I thought.  But she was right, Red – A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall was one that I had to read aloud to my 7th graders.  And then we had to discuss what it meant staying true to one’s own nature as well as facing the pressures of others.  I swear this book was written for middle schoolers and not young children secretly.

It is a celebration in my life whenever the talented Ame Dyckman comes out with a new picture book and Wolfie the Bunny was definitely a cause for celebration.  This book about assumptions and what they can lead to has not only made my students laugh outloud, but more importantly, has led us to question our own assumptions about others.

I have Bluebird by Bob Staake on many favorite picture book lists, and there is a reason for that.  The shock on my students faces when we get to that page.  The questions, the discussion when I step out of the way are priceless.  This is a wordless picture book which also means that my students love interpreting the ending.

I cried when I read aloud The One and Only Ivan so it only seems fitting that I cried when I read out loud Ivan:  The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate.  My students love to ask questions after this book, they love to talk about their own animals, what they would do to save others.

I read this book out loud to all 5 of my 7th grade classrooms.  It was astounding how similar the reaction was; disbelief, outrage, questions and perhaps a tear or two shed by me.  This story Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter is one that will stay with you for a long time.  This is sure to elicit conversations and calls for action.

I always seem to cheat on these posts and never stick to just 10, so for my 10th pick I will give you several instead.  All of these are worthy of being read aloud and discussed.  We need more empathy in this world, I am so glad these authors give us a chance to do just that.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi (Having a name that no one pronounces correctly in the USA really makes me love this book even more).

One by Kathryn Otoshi 

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.

Which ones would you add to the list?