Children’s Literature

Browse the books below, or use these quick links for award winners. Winners are indicated in the list below by teal colored text.

Note: A lot of the books in the 3-5 or 6-8 category could really be in either category depending on the reading level and maturity of your students. Remember that these suggestions are by no means set in stone!

QUICK LINKS:

GRADE LEVELS:

More information on the awards at the bottom of this page.

Preschool to Grade 2 Selections:

Amelia Bloomer Project Award Winner 2012:Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map

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Macy, S. (2011). Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map.

About: This book is about the first inter-collegiate women’s basketball game between Stanford and UC Berkley. Agnes Morley, the main woman in the book, defied the ideals of the day and made history in April 1896. This book is a great resource for talking about feminist history and can show that there are many different forms of activism. It could also be used for a discussion regarding gender norms — the book talks about how although Agnes could play some great basketball, she could also act the part of a contemporary lady of the time. Amazing lifelike illustrations by Matt Collins definitely add to this story.

Caldecott Honor 2001: Click, Clack, Moo

 

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Cronin, D. (2001). Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. New York, NY: Simon & Shuster.

About: Click, Clack, Moo is a story about farm animals discovering how to band together for better working and living conditions. They use an old typewriter to write the farmer a letter asking for electric blankets to stay warm at night. When their demands are not met they go on strike. This book has received much praise and has been transformed in to a play as well. It teaches students about collective bargaining, workers’ rights, negotiation, peaceful protest, and communication.

Horton Hears a Who

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Seuss, D. (1954). Horton Hears a Who. New York, NY: Randomhouse.

About: This is one of my favorite books from my own childhood (I love it so much I made a podcast of it last year!). Horton the elephant discovers there is a whole tiny village living on top of a flower. He goes endures ridicule, bullying, and searches long and hard to help preserve these peoples’ home. He tries to help others to hear these “invisible” peoples’ voice. This is a great introduction to conversations about sticking up for others and invisibility.

Dolly Grey Award 2006: Keeping Up With Roo

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Glenn, S. (2004). Keeping up With Roo. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile.

About: This book is about a girl, Gracie, and her aunt, Roo. Roo has a cognitive disability and acts like a child most of the time — which is great for Gracie! Until Gracie starts growing up. When Gracie goes off to school, she becomes embarrassed by the way Auntie Roo acts and talks. Will Gracie leave Auntie Roo behind? Or will she introduce Auntie Roo to her new friends?

¡Sí, Se Puede! / Yes We Can!: Janitor strike in L.A.

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Cohn, D. (2004). ¡Sí, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.

About: This book tells the story of the Los Angeles janitor strike in 2000 that ended up spurring a nationwide campaign for better pay and work environment for janitorial workers. It is a historical fiction piece, following young Carlito, whose mother is a part of the strike. He goes to stay with his abuelita while his mother is on strike so he will be taken care of, but he wants to help her. He goes to his teacher, Miss Lopez, who suggests that the class participate in the walk as well and make a sign for his mother. This book is somewhat unique on this list in its coverage of modern-day activism and in its young characters.

Grades 3-5

Corretta Scott King Author Award: Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America

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Pinkney, A. D. (2012). Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. New York, NY: Jump at the Sun Books

About: Hand in Hand is a collection of vibrantly-written biographical essays about ten of the most influential Black men in American history. Andrea Davis Pinkney writes with energy and in a voice that will resonate with young people. Each part begins with a poem describing the man’s life. Her husband, Brian Pinkney, has provided beautiful illustrations for the essays. The pieces are all very informational about the details and events of the men’s lives, but also paint a picture of their humanity. In reflecting on this book, I and others might wonder, will I and how will I be remembered?

Lives of extraordinary women: Rulers, Rebels (And what the neighbors thought)

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Krull, K. (2013). Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (And What the Neighbors Thought). New York, NY: Sandpiper Books.

About: What about the women who changed the world, too? This book was just re-released in 2013 and it gives biographical information about twenty influential women who pushed the boundaries of history. I think that in addition to being critical of today’s issues, students also need to see models throughout history who have stuck up for what they believed in. This book, similar to Hand in Hand, was written as a series of essays that can be read individually or as a collection. You could even split up the chapters within your class for group studies on revolutionary women for Women’s History Month.

Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist

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Pearce, Q.L. (2011). Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist.

About: “I lost my spirit that day. I could not know that it would rise stronger and wiser for having suffered.” These were Zitkala Ša’s words about the day the Indian School cut her strong, flowing hair. She was born Gertrude and as a child, she was gathered up with the other young Sioux girls in her area and sent to White’s Manual Labor Institute. The story follows her as she studies music and begins to speak out about her experience living in two worlds.

There’s an excellent book trailer here for this book!

Grades 6-8

Newbery honor 2010: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

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Hoose, P. (2009). Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice. New York, NT: Macmillan

About: This book tells the story about Claudette Colvin, the fifteen-year-old girl who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama nearly a year before Rosa Parks. You can hear Phillip Hoose and Claudette Colvin talk about her life leading up to that fateful day on March 2, 1955 here (I strongly suggest a listen). She says “I think the youth should know this story. I think that when you have a gut feeling that something is not right and is unfair, that you should speak out. And then speak to someone else and say, ‘Do you agree or disagree with what I feel and how I feel about it?’ But if you feel strongly enough, stand up alone.” This is exactly the type of conversation and courage I am searching for with this portfolio.

National Book Award Young Reader’s Finalist 2011: Flesh and Blood So Cheap

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Marrin, A. (2011) Flesh and Blood So Cheap.  New York, NY: Alfred A. Kopf.

 About: The triangle fire of 1911 was a catalyst for worker’s rights movements of the early 20th century.  This historical non-fiction work is moving and tragic.  It brings many issues of the era to the forefront: worker’s rights, immigration, and class.  It follows one textile worker on an otherwise beautiful day — until disaster strikes.  Excellent detail by Albert Marrin sets the tone of the work conditions of the era, the tragedy of the fire, and the heroic activism that followed.

American Library Association Stonewall Book Awards Honor Book 2010: Gay America: Struggle for Equality

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Alsenas, L. (2008). Gay America: Struggle for equality. New York: Amulet Books

About:  This is the first-ever non-fiction book about LGBTQ civil rights history aimed for teens.  The stories of millions of people are bound between its covers and tell a story that spans over the past 125 years.  There are first-person accounts and photographs strewn throughout the book that help intrigue the reader as well as help the reader to relate to the book on a more emotional level.  Chapter-by-chapter, important eras are discussed in a balanced way that strives to show how people within the LGBTQ community have lived, worked, and played throughout history to fight for equality.  No doubt there are countless conversations and individual or group projects that this book could inspire.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor 2006: Hitler Youth

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Bartoletti, S. C. (2005). Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow. New York, NY: Scholastic Nonfiction.

About: From the Foreward: “This is not a book about Hitler. This is a book about the children and teenagers who followed the National Socialist (Nazi) party during the years 1933-1945.” Over the next 175 pages, Bartoletti tells the story of a dozen young people who were members or resisters of the Hitler Youth. Her writing is backed up by her extensive research — she said at the WWU Children’s Literature Conference in 2013 that a non-fiction writer must never invent and that everything must be provable by primary source documents. But Bartoletti takes the primary sources and weaves them together to tell an intricate and complicated story that challenges young people to think about what they would do. Would you remain silent? Or would you speak out, even if it meant giving your life?

Michael L. Printz Honor 2005: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

lizziebright Schmidt, D. G. (2004). Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Boston, MA: Clarion.

About: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is a piece of historical fiction that takes place in 1912 Maine. Turner Buckminster is new in town and neither his family nor his community approve when he befriends Lizzie, a poor, black girl from Malaga Island. When developers try to force Lizzie and her family off the island, Turner tries to speak out, but nobody will listen. Lizzie and her family, along with the other evicted residents, are sent to an insane asylum. Lizzie soon passes on and Turner rededicates himself to fighting the racism he sees in his community. This book is useful in that it doesn’t over-glorify Turner’s activism. He, in fact, does not win out and I think that the reality of that is important to talk about with older students. Would students continue to speak out even if it seemed like it was getting them nowhere?

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

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Jiang, J. L. (2008). Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

About: The year is 1966. The setting is China. This memoir follows Ji-Li Jiang and her family’s experience of the Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong. Because her father was once a land owner, they are subjected to many atrocities as Mao tries to ride China of the Four Olds: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Ji-Li is a young teenager coming of age in a confusing time. She grows from a young girl in to a strongly questioning young woman throughout the course of this book.

Pura Belpré Author Honor 2013: The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

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Manzano, S. (2012) The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

About: This book is a coming-of-age story (note that the evolution in revolution is a different color in the title) about a fourteen year old Puerto Rican American girl named Evelyn. It is set in the 1960’s and Sonia Manzano has done an excellent job integrating historical fact in to this piece by using newspaper articles from the era. She speaks from her own personal experience growing up in Spanish Harlem. In the book, Evelyn must learn her own way amidst the chaos surrounding her — the Young Lords (a Puerto Rican nationalist group with many similarities to the Black Panther Party), her revolutionary activist grandmother, and her conservative mother. In the end, she comes to appreciate her Latino heritage and witnesses her own corner the El Movimiento. This book is unique to the others I have reviewed in that it presents the main character as unsure of it she agrees with the activist movements she is witnessing or not. I think that this is an important voice to hear.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

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Montgomery, S. (2012). Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.

About: This book starts out with a foreword written by Temple Grandin herself — advocate for animal rights and autism. Temple Grandin’s life story is told with the help of photographs from Temple’s own collection. Although the story is written in third person, Sy Montgomery does a wonderful job of giving us a peek inside Temple’s head — from the sensory overload in elementary school to her anxiety over animals’ mistreatment later in life to her beginning her career. This is possible because of Sy’s amazing research process for this book: She went to meet with Temple multiple times, went to Temple’s schools, and explored some of Temple’s secret passageways. Temple’s story touches on advocating for people with disability, advocating for animal rights, and advocating for yourself.

Orbis Pictus Honor 2012: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March

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Levinson, C. (2012) We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.

About: In this book, Cynthia Levinson tells the story of multiple young people involved with the chidren’s marches in 1963 in Birmingham, AL. From the book’s sleeve: “At a time when the civil rights movement was struggling, Birmingham’s black youth answered Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to ‘fill the jails’ of their city. In doing so, they drew national attention to the cause. . . ” From personal interviews, photographs, newspaper clippings and more, Levinson brings these young peoples’ stories to life. At the end of the book, it also revisits where these young activists are now and what they have done since. This book really burns with the questions “What can you do in your community?” and “What are your communities issues?”

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)

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Macy, S. (2011). Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). Margate, FL: National Geographic Society

About: You didn’t think I could make this whole list without finding a book about feminism and bikes, did you? In this book, Sue Macy (wonderful non-fiction author for books about strong females and sports) discusses how women’s rights and the history and evolution of the bicycle fed each other. The pages are very aesthetically pleasing and are filled with vintage advertisements and photographs that document what she is writing. The book includes many features of high-quality non-fiction including a timeline, additional resources, and index in the back of the book. There are a number of names to know in this book as well (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, etc.) , which could link in to personal research projects.

Resources:

More information on each of these awards can be found on their websites:

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