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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Informational Picture Books that Rock (and help meet common core standards)

     The Common Core Standards have, for reasons I still do not understand, have taken to using the term Informational Book instead of the perfectly serviceable term Non-Fiction.   They have also increased the emphasis on such books.  At another time I promise to write a long essay about why fiction still matters -- but in the mean time, the good news is that there are a ton of new informational picture books out now that are excellent and interesting.  Here are three good ones:

Smith, David J.; Armstrong, Shelagh (2011) This Child:  Every Child:  A Book about the World's Children.  Tonawanda, NY: Citizen Kid Press

This is an excellent book.  It takes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a framework for showing the huge diversity among the 2.2 billion children in the world.  It is maybe a little text heavy, but it does a nice job of covering children's rights, including: the right to an environment where they can grow and reach their potential: the right to live with a family who cares for them; the right to food, clothing, and safety; the right to health care, safe water, and nutritious food; the right to be together in the same country as their parents; the right to be protected from kidnapping; the right to a good quality education; the right to protection from work that harms them; the right to be paid fairly; the right to protection and freedom from war; and the right to play and rest.  For each right, both the text and the illustrations demonstrate the range of different situations that children live in all over the world.

Elementary teachers will find this book incredibly useful for social studies instruction.

Sweet, Melissa  (2011) Balloons over Broadway:  The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin.

Where do I start.  The images are wonderful -- a combination of photos, carefully chosen combinations of period fonts, assemblages, and cartoonish illustration.  The story is wonderful -- about how Anthony Frederick Sarg became interested in pulleys, toys and marionettes already at age six and eventually became the genius behind the puppet-like balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The tone of the book is also wonderful -- it talks to children like they are intelligent enough to understand some pretty complex ideas and somehow manages to suggest that such innovation and imagination is not only accessible to them, but may actually be in their future.  This book is a joy to look at and a wonderful example of a fascinating narrative biography (as far from the dull condescending biographies I read as a little kid as the distance of  Sarg's journey from being a toymaker in London to the designer of the largest inflatable puppets in the world.)  Good stuff.  Buy it.  

Uchida, Yoshiko; Yardley, Joanna (1993) The Bracelet  New York: Paperstar

Okay, I admit it, this one isn't new, but it is an interesting example of how the line between informational books and fiction quickly gets blurred.  The Bracelet is technically fiction.  It tells the story of Emi, whose Japanese family is being moved to the Japanese-American Internment Camps during World War Two.  Emi's best friend Laurie gives her a bracelet just before she leaves.  Emi loses the bracelet after they arrive at the camp, but comes to understand that it is not the bracelet but the thought of the gift that really matters -- that and the memory of Laurie that Emi holds in her heart. 

Some of the illustrations are perplexing (when Laurie arrives at the door, though Yardley may have been trying to show her as sad, she looks angry and resentful.) and the story ends a bit oddly (whatever happened to the bracelet?  Whatever happened to Emi and the other children in the camp?) it is an excellent introduction to the idea of the internment camps -- and again a good choice for social studies.  Is it a true story?  Well, parts of it are factual, and it certainly captures the spirit of a family moving into the camps.  Is it an informational book?  You've got me, but I think it is certainly useful for teaching.

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