Written by Michele Maria Surat, Illustrated by Vo-Dihn Mai

It can be really difficult to adjust to a new country and a new school.

Little Hoa knows this well.  Her family had to leave Vietnam and did not have enough money to pay for their mother’s passage to America.  The family is resettling in America and busy raising money so their mom can join them.  But the new life not been easy for Hoa who is also called called Ut at home, a loving term for he youngest daughter.   Her new school is completely different, the language is difficult and some kids are downright mean to her and her sisters.

However, when Ut gets into a fight with a boy in class who is taunting her, something exciting happens.  During their “time-out” the boy learns about Ut’s life and how her family is missing their mother.  In the sharing of their stories, the boy who had bullied her actually becomes an advocate and a friend.  He even plays a key role in helping Ut’s family be reunited in this short but moving story.

This beautiful book is fictional but based on real life teaching experiences of the author and is beautifully illustrated by Vietnamese artist, Vo-Dihn Mai. Can a new country and a new home become a beautiful place to live?   Ut’s story answers this question with a resounding yes!

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Written by Yoshiko Uchida

Years ago I stumbled across several volumes of books for young readers by Japanese American writer, Yoshiko Uchida.  I fell in love with her ability to tell a compelling story from the eyes of a young person and this is one of my favorite volumes by her – the Rooster Who Understood Japanese.

It’s about a little girl named Miyo and her neighborhood.  Although a handsome rooster lives next door and is the pride and joy of her elderly neighbors, it becomes a problem for another resident who threatens to call the police because of it’s early morning crowing. Miyo is afraid the beloved pet will have nowhere to go and will become someone’s meal.  So she takes on the mission of finding a home for this special bird – a rooster that understands Japanese.

Uchida has a gift for weaving realistic details into her stories in regard to prejudice and the difficulties faced by Japanese Americans in the USA during the 1950s – 1970’s. Her young heroines succeed by using grace, cleverness, persistence and patience and have a way of making their world a better place, despite the obstacles they are forced to overcome.

And the rooster?  There’s happy ending there, too.  But you have to read the book to find out how it all turns out.

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Written by Pooja Makhijani, Illustrated By Elena Gomez

This book is a gentle and moving story of a young girl whose family no longer lives in India.  However, her mother has a suitcase of her special and beautiful saris underneath her bed that she brings out and wears on special occasions, like the day her daughter was born.

A trip through the suitcase shares many wonderful details of family history and the girl finally convinces her mom that she is old enough to wear a beautiful sari of her own.  Which one does she pick and what special surprise does her mother have to go with the sari?  Pick up this book to experience a wonderful dress-up adventure, Indian style.

Categories : Early/Elementary, India, Moms
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Retold/Written By Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Daniel San Souci

This is a beautiful Cinderella story, retold from an Ojibwa legend and set in the woodlands of the Northern Central United States.  In this story readers meet a small girl who is the youngest daughter of a warrior whose wife has died.  While the father is away, her older sisters are cruel and force her to do all their work.  Since she does all the family’s cooking over a wood fire, they tease her and call her “Sootface”.

One day the village’s daily life is interrupted by a remarkable announcement.  A nearby young medicine man I looking for a bride.   Handsome and powerful, this young warrior can even make himself invisible.  Only the woman who can see him and can answer a riddle about his bow and arrows will prove she is pure in heart and can share his life.  The rest of the story unfolds perfectly, accompanied by lovely illustrations with an eye to authentically portraying the details of clothing, shelter and other aspects of Ojibwa life.

A wonderful tale of how remaining true to one’s self eventually becomes it’s own meaningful reward.


Written by Lizi Boyd

All over the world there are stories about stepmoms – and most of them are not too pleasant.  They are generally, wicked, mean and do all kinds of terrible things to their stepchildren. So Molly is a bit worried and upset when she’s going to visit her dad and his new wife for a summer vacation.  She’s sure the new mom will be mean and very ugly and perhaps she’ll even try to poison her!

You’ve probably guessed what happens next.  Molly’s step-mom is kind and caring but both have to go through a period of adjusting to each other.  During that vacation, Molly learns new things, gets closer to her dad and comes to love her stepmom in a way that doesn’t replace her own mom, by does replace the pain she felt when her parents divorced.

Told in a funny and very real manner, this book is great for addressing the stereotypes of stepparents and speaks to the merits of giving someone new in the family a chance before judging them.  A light-hearted and heart-warming “kids-eye-view” to a tough but important subject.


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Written by Doreen Rappaport, Illustrated By Bryan Collier

What is it like to grow up feeling like a second-class citizen?

Doreen Rappaport’s book explains the climate of racism and prejudice that existed in the 1950’s when young Martin Luther King, Jr. was growing up.  She also describes his love of the Bible and hymns and how the “big words” that he found there gave him hope, comfort and a sense of peace.  His father was a minister and MLK grew up to become a minister as well, in part to share these important concepts and big words with others.

How do you return love for hatred?  How do you talk about the values of all of God’s children in the face of prejudice and intolerance?  This book tells that story in a realistic and memorable way.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the use of many great MLK quotes to illustrate the text.  These “big words” are still as powerful today as they were decades ago.  This book is well worth picking up and sharing for MLK day or any time of the year to inspire kids (or adults) of all ages.


Written by David A. Adler

Almost everyone knows about Rosa Parks and the story of the incident on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. In fact, she is sometimes called the “grandmother of civil rights” as many people mark the beginning of the struggle for civil rights by the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and had to go to jail for it.

David Adler’s book tells you the whole story of Rosa Park’s life and shares many of the difficult and painful details that surround the conditions in the American South that necessitated such a mighty struggle for fair and equal treatment.

This is a great book for sharing how additional figures played important roles in the struggle for civil rights.  It’s also a good book for discussing tough topics such as racism, prejudice and unequal treatment.


Written and Illustrated By Jeanette Winter

What would you do if your library was in danger?  And all the books in it?  This is a story based on what happened to a courageous woman named Alia Muhammad Baker who was the librarian in the town of Basra, Iraq.  The story unfolds as war comes to their town and Alia suspects that the library may be in danger.  It may be looted and burned and all the books destroyed.  How does she save the books… almost 30,000 of them?

Although the book shares images of war, the illustrations also focus on Alia dreaming of peace and the actions that bring her community together in troubled times.  Although the topic or war is a difficult one, the book remains child-appropriate and an inspiring tale of what one person can do to make a difference even in the most harrowing of times

Suggested Reading Level – 5 and Up

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Written by Joanne Oppenheim and Illustrated by Fabian Negrin

This book shares another beautiful version of the Mexican Legend of how a simple weed became a beautiful gift for the Baby Jesus, because it was given with love.   The story takes place during Las Posadas (see explanation below) when Joseph and Mary’s quest to find a place to stay in Bethlehem is reenacted.  Little Lucinda is sad because her family has fallen on heard times and she does not have a gift to bring to the alter – a custom in Mexico during the nights before Christmas.  An angelic voice tells her to gather weeds and – embarrassed – she does so.  As she walks down the long aisle to the church, the whole congregation gasps because her simple weeds have burst into bloom as beautiful poinsettias.

This book has a bit more detail then the Tomie DePaulo “Legend of the Pointsettia” and boasts lovely dream-like illustrations by Argentinian artist, Fabian Negrin. The Miracle of the First Poinsettia also shares the music to a lovely Mariachi song sung during this time of year called El Rorro (the babe) .  However, both stories share the wonder of this legend, the joy of Christmas miracles and a lovely explanation of why this beautiful flower shines so brightly in so many houses at holiday times.

Las Posadas – Originally a Spanish custom, this tradition of reenacting Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn (posada) before the birth of Jesus is celebrated in Mexico and also in the US Southwest, with slight variations.

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Written by Jean Richardson, Illustrated By Alice Englander

Set in a medieval court, this book creates a beautiful story around the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”.  The book centers around a little page named Stephen during the time of the Feast of Stephen, the second day of Christmas (December 26th).  The young page is smaller then the others and often teased, so he wonders why he’s being called before the king.  Instead of a scolding, the King asks him to join him on a Christmas trek through the blinding snow to help one of his poorest subjects who lives deep in the woods.

As you might guess, little Stephen sets out on this journey cold, angry and resentful to miss the Christmas festivities at the castle.  However, he returns delighted, happy and transformed for having experienced the real meaning of Christmas love and charity.  A beautiful book for children and adults, especially for reading aloud!

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Written by Max Lucado  

Illustrations by Liz Bonham

Have you ever felt that something about you kept you separate from the rest of “the crowd”?  In this story, a little lamb named Joshua feels exactly the same way.  He was born with one leg that didn’t work quite right and found it hard to keep up with the rest of the sheep.  However, life brought Joshua a best friend named Abigail who happened to be a cow and Josh’s story unfolds.

Because Joshua can’t keep up with the other sheep, he needs to stay behind one snowy night in the barn with Abigail and gets to witness the miracle of the birth of Jesus.  Joshua not only witness it, but provide the warmth for the brand new baby who shivered in the cold.  The story is a wonderful retelling of the Nativity story as well as a tale of how the obstacles and conditions of one’s life often open the doors that offer the biggest blessings.

Although I cringe a bit at the use of the word “crippled”, in the title, this book is a great read, a real inspiration and joy! Also great for reading aloud.

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By Kate Waters

Everyone knows the stereotyped images of the First Thanksgiving – but what was it really like?  And what was it like from the perspective of the Native Americans who shared their bounty and knowledge with the “coat-men” who arrived and lived nearby.

This beautifully photographed book shares the hopes, dreams and daily tasks and adventures of a young boy of the Wampanoag tribe. Aside from an engaging story and photographs taken with the assistance and advice of the Wampanoag Indian Program at Plimouth Plantation, there is also a glossary of terms and additional information about the Wampanoag people, many of whose descendents still live in the area of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (United States). This is a wonderful “living history” book to share with kids of all ages.

Suggested Reading Level – Grades 2 – 5  


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Written By Laurie Krebs
Follow a traveling merchant family for a year’s journey  along the Silk Road.  Where will they go, what will they trade?  What lands will they cross and peoples will they encounter? This poetic beautifully illustrated book is a great journey for young readers and contains excellent information about cities and places of interest on the China Silk Road. The lovely book is especially interesting for it’s way of sharing the different ethnic minorities and the great diversity of people living in this area in a beautiful and engaging way!
Suggested Reading Level: Grades 1 – 3

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Written by Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrations by James E. Ransome
What might it feel like to be a slave running for your life toward freedom?  Deborah Hopkinson’s book captures all the urgency and suspense that a trip to freedom might entail as told through the eyes of a young girl.  Rich illustrations bring this historical fiction story to life and tell the tale of how quilts and other hidden signs made for meaningful markers on the Underground Railroad toward freedom.
Suggested Reading Level: Ages 4 – 8

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Written by Verna Aardema
This wonderful “Reading Rainbow” book is loosely based on a folktale from Kenya.  Ki-Pat is a herder out on the plain in Africa who knows that everyone in his village needs rain and they may not survive.  But what can he do, and how do his actions change everything?  The answer is an engaging read-aloud or read-along selection that will easily become a child’s or a classroom favorite.  It’s a beautiful folk tale turned into a classic children’s book!
 Suggested Reading level: Ages 4-8

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Crow Boy

Written by Taro Yashima
A little boy appears at a school in Japan and just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the kids.  A loving teacher helps the boy find a place and be recognized for who he is.   Complete book review here: (link to review in site)
Reading level: Ages 4-8

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