Whether your classroom looks like your dining room table or the local public school, keeping kids fueled with interesting books is always a challenge. Here are some great kidlit books that we’ve reviewed in the past. The titles may be older, but they are still excellent options.
Planet Kindergarten: 100 days in Orbit by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
What’s one of the most essential parts of a space crew? Teamwork! The characters in Planet Kindergarten come to learn this. The main character of this adorable story thinks that he can do everything on his own for the most part. He wants to be the hero of the day and save all of his friends.
But when the space center is struck with a gigantic mess that this boy creates, he has to enlist the help of the entire crew to successfully end the 100-day space mission. And, of course, with the work of all the crew members, the mission is complete, and they are ready to start day 101!
The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham
Charles and his friend Boggan know that there is a wish tree in the woods, and they go on a journey to find it, despite the disbelief of Charles’s sister and brother. He doesn’t need their blessings. His heart tells him it’s true. So Charles and Boggan journey into the snowy wood where they make new friends with the furry critters–a squirrel collecting acorns, a beaver collecting wood, and a fox collecting berries. However, the farther they go, Charles’s heart and belief start to falter. He starts to think that they will never find the wish tree. Charles then puts all of his trust in Boggan and his new woodland friends to help him find his dream.
Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham have created a delicately beautiful book that is absolutely captivating. The fabulous illustrations will pull you into the story from the very beginning and have your child asking for this book every single night, even in the middle of a sweltering summer…maybe especially then.
The Mountains of Tibet by Mordicai Gerstein
The young boy living in the mountains of Tibet lived a wonderful life of flying kites, hard work, a loving family, and peace. When he died, which is the natural progression of life, he rose into the sky where he was given the choice to move on to Heaven or choose to live another life as anything he wanted to be and anywhere in the world. Because that was his one regret in life–not seeing more of the big wide world.
The man’s journey to pick a new life starts on the largest plane–picking a galaxy. His path to a new life follows the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Start at the biggest part of life and go down to the minutest detail. And these are all hard decisions. Which galaxy? Which star? Which planet? Which country? There are so many choices! So will the Tibetan man choose to go back to his familiar home in the mountains of Tibet, or will he choose to experience new things in exciting countries far away?
Mordicai Gerstein’s book The Mountains of Tibet shows a unique way of explaining death and life to young children. It’s a beautiful, natural process filled with free will decisions. The illustrations are simple yet beautiful, helping children’s imaginations to flare to life.
Knockout by K.A. Holt
Levi is an awesome kid. He’s funny, witty, a great tree climber, and a loyal friend. He’s just got a tiny problem breathing, and that tiny problem ends up dictating his entire life. He’s kept under lock and key by his mother and brother, who have sacrificed everything for him. He treasures time with his absentee dad, though he slowly starts to understand why his brother hates him so much.
Levi’s life has always been dictated by this disease, by the inhaler that he always has to keep in his pocket—until he discovers boxing. For once in his life, he feels invincible. For once in his life, being small is an advantage. The only catch—he has to lie about it to his mom and brother because there is no way that they would ever let him box. It’s just too dangerous.
In that weird transitional time of life known as middle school, Levi is starting to discover who he is apart from his disease. Told in the form of free verse poetry and journals between Levi and his brother, Knockout by K.A. Holt is an inspiring story of overcoming, of finding the best in yourself, and seeing the world for what it truly is, and through that seeing the beauty it holds.
The Key To Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
“Just when you think you don’t have it in you to bloom anymore, you do.”
Emma Pearl Casey has always known that she’s meant for something extraordinary. It’s her destiny, or rather in her destiny dream. All the women in her family have had one, and they have gone on to do great things to help all sorts of people in so many different ways.
In the meantime, while Emma waits for her destiny dream to come to her, she is perfectly content helping to run her grandmother Blue’s Boneyard Cafe, adventure through her backyard, which is actually a graveyard, and give her daily tours.
However, no matter how much we wish for things to stay as they are, the world always has a way of making them change. When roses start falling from the sky, what the people of Blackbird Hollow call a Gypsy Rose summer, Emma’s home starts to change. She learns that her grandmother is being pressured to sell the café, aka her charming home, she’s losing her connection to her deceased mother, and an old classmate rolls back into town without the power of speech. So much is changing, and the Big Empty is growing bigger.
That’s when Emma’s destiny dream comes, and it couldn’t be more confusing. So now, with the help of her loyal friends, her caring family, and the spirits of Blackbird Hollow, she has to figure out what her destiny is, what a spectacular thing she is meant to do.
The Key to Extraordinary is one of the most charming books I’ve read in a while. It was witty, touching, funny, adorable, thought-provoking, and all-around fantastic. I was immediately pulled into the charming town of Blackbird Hollow, its history, and the spiritual atmosphere of the whole place. Emma is such an enjoyable narrator, with her cute turns-of-phrase, loyal heart, and belief in the miraculous. This is an absolute MUST READ for anybody, but especially you’re favorite Middle-Grade reader.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Both Salva and Nya are from Southern Sudan, but they are separated by time and enemy tribes.
Salva, a son of an important leader in the Nuir tribe, is separated from his family during the revolution of the 1980s. For months, he and others were separated from their family and their homes by the rebels travel by foot across Sudan in an attempt to reach the refugee camps in Ethiopia. But as one can assume, the road was not easy. Days or weeks without food or water, the threat of being left behind, the danger of lions and other vicious wild animals, an unforgiving river, and the biggest threat of all—days in the desert. Salva experienced loss during this journey, but he also experienced love and learned so much about life. He spent years in an Ethiopian refugee camp, but when the Ethiopian government begins to collapse, where are the refugees to go? Will Salva ever see his family again? Is a better, safer life even a possibility?
Nya is the niece of her tribe’s leader. She walks several miles twice a day to gather water for her family from the only water source around—a dirty pond. Every day she walks back and forth, an easy journey to and a difficult, heavy journey fro. One day a man and his team appear in their village claiming that they can make water come out of the ground that has been dry since the beginning of her people. Is this man magic? Does he even speak the truth? Or are Nya’s beloved people just being tricked with false hope?
The stories of these two Sudanese children are beautiful and wonderfully intertwined. The story of Salva is a true story about a man who survived Sudan and has made a wonderful life in America. However, his story and his life bring attention to a major issue in Sudan since the 1980s: water. Water is either an extremely far walk from a tribe or the water is dirty and carries the threat of disease—or both. People die every day from poor quality of water, and tribes that do not live near developed areas are sometimes too far away from the medical help that their people need.
Recently, Salva’s organization, Water for South Sudan has been drilling wells in Sudanese communities, giving fresh, healthy drinking water to these tribes, and developing their lands. To learn more about Salva’s organization and to learn how to help, please visit http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
There are many beautiful stories created in this world—stories of love or peace. The story of Sadako Sasaki is a story of love, peace, and hope. Sadako is the best runner in her class, and her greatest wish is to be the best runner in her entire school and to make the junior high team. She is a very superstitious girl who believes strongly in the power of lucky signs—a spider crawling across the floor, a cloudless sky, and paper cranes.
Sadako lives in post-World War II Hiroshima, Japan, every day experiencing the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on the city. People are mutilated, and many are now suffering through the “atom bomb disease,” also known as Leukemia. Everyone thinks, especially the children, it won’t happen to me. I’m healthy. I’m strong.
Sadako is practicing her most favorite activity in the whole world when the dizziness starts, and never gets better, until one day it is all too much to handle. Sadako is admitted to the Red Cross hospital where she is poked and prodded until it becomes routine. Her friends and family visit her every day.
One day, her best friend Chizuko brings her a beautiful treasure—a golden paper crane. She tells Sadako that if she can fold 1,000 paper cranes, she will get better and live to be an old, old woman. So Sadako sets out, and her older brother hangs the hundreds of cranes from the ceiling of her quiet hospital room, always holding onto the hope that she will recover.
Sadako’s story does not have what everyone would call a happy ending. But everyone who reads her story grasps the hope and love that this dear child felt in a bleak post-war time. Her story is simple and beautiful. I was very much moved by Coerr’s writing. I felt the love and the pain, the strength and the hope. There are always two sides to a story. There is always a consequence to every action. We live in trying times, and history is not a vision of peace and tranquility. But if we hope for peace, and show our love, we can make a difference. Sadako and the testament that she has left in Hiroshima demonstrate that.
Looking for a beautiful and unconventional diverse picture book for kids? Check out, Sissy Goes Tiny!
In Sissy Goes Tiny, eight-year-old Sissy and her parents make the bold choice to downsize their life and embark on a journey of living tiny and doing more with less. At first, Sissy struggles to get used to the idea of living in a tiny house on wheels and traveling around the U.S, but as she and her mommy and daddy learn about downsizing, repurposing, and how “stuff is just stuff,” she soon understands that a life of “living tiny” will be filled with the big adventures and learning.
“I believe that Sissy Goes Tiny is going to open so many minds for people! A tiny house is absolutely not for everyone, but we all like to dream and step into the shoes of another lifestyle in our minds. Learning about this lifestyle I think will help people be more supportive of people who do choose to live unconventionally. Sissy and her family are a great example of that.” Co-author, B.A. Norrgard
Join us in celebrating the idea of Tiny Living and BIG Adventures!