Kiddosphere: Never Too Old for Picture Books: Books for Elementary School Students
Let’s wrap up Picture Book Month with these fabulous picture books for elementary school students.
I adore Big Red Lollipop. It’s an endearing tale of sibling rivalry in an East Asian (author Rukhsana Khan immigrated to Canada from Pakistan when she was 3) family. Older sister Rubina really doesn’t want her little sister to tag along with her to a birthday party (she knows it’s not the custom where they live), but her mother insists that she brings her. As you can imagine, little sister acts very little sister-ish at the party, and even takes Rubina’s party favor. This is a sweet story about a young girl navigating the differences between her family’s cultural expectations and the greater world.
Allen Say’s picture books are perfect for elementary school students; it’s hard to choose my favorite, but it would have to be The Favorite Daughter. Based on his daughter’s childhood experience, this is a heartfelt (and heart-tugging!) tale of a young girl wrestling with her biracial heritage, including her Japanese name (which she temporarily changes to a more “American” name) and her striking looks (blonde hair with Japanese facial features).
Gloria Whelan’s Jam and Jelly by Holly and Nellie is a departure from her historical fiction books. Nellie and her mother faithfully pick berries so that they can can them and sell them at their roadside stand. The money from their stand will go toward Nellie’s new coat, so every sale is important. Gorgeously illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankhuyzen, this is a gentle and insightful story of rural poverty set against a strong mother-daughter bond.
I’ve read Rain School to Scout groups and summer daycare groups. Based on James Rumford’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad, this story of children who build their own mud school is eye-opening and inspiring.
Patricia Polacco’s picture books are standards in elementary school classrooms; Thunder Cake is one of my top favorites. When her granddaughter expresses fear of a thunderstorm, Grandma’s ingenious way of soothing her fear is delightful and delicious!
Jacqueline Woodson’s Coming on Home Soon is breathtakingly written and illustrated (it received a Caldecott Honor in 2005). Set during World War II, this story of a young girl’s longing for her mother while she works in Chicago is poignant and powerful.
Goin’ Someplace Special, based on author Patricia McKissack’s childhood experiences in 1950s Nashville, is a magnificent read aloud. A young girl prepares to go to “Someplace Special”; before she leaves, her grandmother reminds her to hold her head up, as she knows that the little girl will see and face various signs, policies and people that tell her that she is unworthy. Her way to “Someplace Special” is indeed marked with unkindness, but also with words of encouragement and pride. Finally, she arrives at “Someplace Special” – the library, which is one of the few places in Nashville that is integrated. “All are welcome.” An author’s note expands upon Nashville during the Jim Crow era, with the library being a notable exception to other establishments.
It’s not easy being the new girl at school. Being the only Jewish student in a rural Minnesota school during the Depression only complicates things, especially when the school hosts a Saturday picnic. As Hannah’s family is Orthodox, Saturday is a day of rest, with no exceptions. When Hannah reluctantly tells her teacher and classmates about her situation, she is struck by their compassion and understanding. Hannah’s Way is a sweet and touching story about friendship.
Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story is one of the more cheerful titles on this list. Mikey’s father has been stationed overseas for the Great War; when his teacher suggests that the class join the Central Park Knitting Bee, he and the other boys are reluctant, because they think knitting is for girls! That is, until the girls decide to make it into a contest….who can knit the most, boys or girls? If you need a historical fiction picture book that’s not too sad or mature, this one is for you.
Peppe the Lamplighter received a Caldecott Honor in 1994; it’s one of my favorite Caldecott books. Peppe is proud when he announces that he’s taken a job lighting gas lamps in their (NYC) Little Italy neighborhood to help support his eight sisters and parents,; however, Peppe’s father is furious, as he wants Peppe to aspire to a better job. The extra money does help, and when Peppe is needed in order to help his sister get home safely, even his father realizes what an important job he has. This is a stirring story about hard work and sacrifice in an immigrant family.
When Minnie and her sister join a Freedom March, they are struck by the smell of roses. Need a beautifully illustrated read aloud for Martin Luther King Day or Black History Month? A Sweet Smell of Roses should be at the top of your list; its focus on the nonviolence peace movement, the community spirit, and the sisterhood between the two young girls makes it an ideal choice for young elementary school readers and listeners (there is one scene that shows people yelling at the marchers, but that is the extent of the ugliness portrayed to the participants).
I’m fascinated by the Works Progress Administration, especially with the Pack Horse Librarians program. That Book Woman is an endearing story of one family’s experience with the Pack Horse Librarians through the eyes of a young boy, who admires the librarian’s tenacity but is convinced that he is not a book reader. If you plan to read it aloud, know that it is written in dialect. If you want to know more about the Pack Horse Librarians (and you do!), read Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (adult nonfiction) also touches upon the pack horse librarians (they carried government pamphlets and manuals on maternity care, sewing, and other home economics information as well as pleasure reading material). The genius of the program was that many librarians were recruited from the same communities that they served, which was intended to cut down on barriers and condescending behavior.
If you need a Holocaust-themed picture book for elementary school students, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window is one of your best choices. Told from the perspective of the tree that overlooked the courtyard near Anne Frank’s hiding place, this is a stark, sobering, and emotionally powerful tribute to Anne Frank, as well as the tree’s legacy. Seeds and saplings from the tree (which was destroyed by a thunderstorm) have been planted at Central High School in Little Rock, the Twin Towers in New York City, and in countries around the world.
Books to Linger Over:
Hana in the Time of the Tulips is lengthy, but the Rembrant-inspired illustrations are exquisite. Set during the tulipomania craze in 17th century Holland, this sophisticated story of a young girl trying to get her father’s attention during the madness is a worthwhile read.
Finally, Miss Rumphius has been a beloved tale since its 1982 publication. This quiet story of a woman who promised to help make the world a beautiful place is a timeless treasure.
For program highlights and staff suggestions for children and young adult readers, make Kiddosphere your source for all the latest on what to read and what to do for kids!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library