Picture Books that celebrate courage

To celebrate Picture Book Month I have been sharing a variety of picture books and the conversations I am having about them with my students, my children and others. This post is a kind of conversation with my self. I am reading the novel Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt to my own children and it often comes up that Doug, the main character, has to be brave in so many ways.

How do picture books depict bravery? Courage? Conviction? Strength?

In, oh, so many ways . . .

Each of these titles features a character who comes face to face with fear, who takes a risk, who stands up or stands out. Each book is full of inspiration.

Ten of my favourites:

Picture Books that celebrate courage Twenty titles There's a Book for That

And ten more:

Picture Books that celebrate courage Twenty titles There's a Book for That

Twenty Picture Books that celebrate courage:

Those Shoes written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

Ruby’s Wish written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Willow Finds a Way written by Lana Button illustrated by Tania Howells

Bird Child written by Nan Forler and illustrated by François Thisdale

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman

Sheila Rae, the Brave written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes

Spuds written by Karen Hesse and illustrated by Wendy Watson

Soccer Star written by Mina Javaherbin and illustrated by Renato Alarcão 

Across the Alley written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

The Lion & The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Creepy Carrots written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown

The Dark written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Hello, my Name is Ruby by Phillip C Stead 

Desmond and the Very Mean Word written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams and illustrated by A.G. Ford

Suki’s Kimono written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue

Singing Away the Dark written by Caroline Woodward and illustrated by Julie Morstad

What picture book titles on this theme would you share? I would love to hear your favourites!

Happy Picture Book Month!

pb month logo

Monday, September 9th 2013

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult reads!


Happy Back to School everyone!

This week was about sharing a lot of favourite titles with my new class. I am thrilled to announce that I have a multiage class of students – Grade 2/3/4. Sixteen of these children were with me last year. We have launched right into the celebration of books in a wonderful way. Wordless titles. Nonfiction books. Lots of picture books! Our first chapter book read aloud is Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner.

Finally this weekend, I found the time to read some “new to me” picture books I pulled from my public library and school library. My favourites of the week:

Desmond and the Very Mean Word written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams and illustrated by A.G. Ford

Gorgeously illustrated by A.G. Ford, this title handles forgiveness and its power in a totally accessible and meaningful way for children. An engaging story of negative interactions between boys where the negative tension is finally soothed through gestures of apology and forgiveness. A wise adult helps Desmond navigate feelings of vengeance, anger and upset. Set in South Africa and based on a true story in Desmond Tutu’s own childhood.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Rabbityness written and illustrated by Jo Empson

Visually – wow. So much to this story. It is a celebration of self and creativity and joy. It is about inspiration. It is about loss and grief and moving on. A story told equally through text and illustrations.

Rabbityness #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Read me a Story, Stella written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay 

I am a big fan of Gay’s Stella and Sam – I love the connections to nature, the endless questions, Stella’s brave persona and Sam’s style of hanging back until he is sure. This book has all of the magic of the other Stella and Sam books and there is a love of literacy and books thrown in the mix. What could be better?

Read me a Story, Stella #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter This story is based on true events surrounding the invasion of Iraq in 2003. An incredibly brave and determined librarian worked quickly and creatively to protect the books in Basra’s Central Library from the destruction caused by the bombing. A story of heroism and hope in the midst of the ugliness of war. This book could be shared with older primary students and would be relevant right into high school.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter Another incredible story of courage based on true events. I think stories of violations of children’s right to attend school are stories that must be shared. This book tells the story of a little girl living in fear in the middle of Taliban rule. School offers her much more than education. My own children leaped up after I read this story to them, yelling in outrage about the injustices revealed in this book. They immediately made connections to The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis that we read a few years ago.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

In novels,

I finished Cinder written by Marissa Meyer Honestly, I was surprised by how addictive this story was for me. I thought it would be a light read but I was drawn in to the drama and intrigue despite suspecting some of the secrets unveiled late in the novel quite early on. I will definitely continue with this series. Futuristic, fantasy/sci-fi with fairy tale elements and high drama. Can see this being a huge hit for (older) middle school/high school readers.

Cinder #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Next up? I have just started Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein and also want to get to Jinx by Sage Blackwood.

Happy Reading everyone!

Monday November 5th, 2012

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? On Halloween night there was torrential rain in Vancouver that prevented a lovely tick or treat scene like this one below (from Muth‘s Zen Ghosts). Still it was a cozy week for lots of seasonal reads!

Join Kellee and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with their weekly meme that highlights what everyone has been reading from picture books to young adult novels. It is a fantastic way to learn about new books and share favourites with others.

In my reading world . . . 

New classroom picture books:

Night Song written by Ari Berk and illustrated by Loren Long. Long’s illustrations make this an absolutely stunning book about a little bat’s first solo journey. Guided by his “good sense” little Chiro is able to both explore the world and then find his way home. While this book does not use the word echolocation, this is clearly the good sense being referred to and there is lots of text that helps the reader to talk about the concept. I found children wanted to study the pictures individually after the story was read aloud because it was just so gorgeous with the black as pitch pages.

Chester the Brave written by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson. This is another story in the Kissing Hand series that explores being brave and demonstrating courage. Sweet but I find I like the illustrations more than the story with these books.

Dog in Charge written by K.L. Going and illustrated by Dan Santat. I ordered this through Scholastic when I saw Santat‘s signature illustrations. It is a very funny little story about a dog left in charge of a bunch of cats that get into everything! When it all just seems like too much, Dog compulsively devours a bag of cat treats and takes a nap. The cats, who love Dog, decide to clean up their messes and the family are none the wiser when they return from their outing. So . . . I’m wondering where does one find housekeeper cats? Those are some pets I could have a lot of!

New to me Halloween Stories read to my class or my own children (often both): 

The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell I am a huge fan of Patrick McDonnell and found this story to be absolutely delightful. This was our BLG book of the week and you can read more on the blog here. The best part of this book is the quirky little wanna be monsters with some of the best character names I have seen in a while: Grouch, Grump and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom. The final scene on the beach is all about the little moments of happy we all need to savour. Highly recommended.

Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth For those who know Muth’s  Zen . . . stories, this is another that will quickly become a favourite. I love that it is a story within a story. After everyone goes trick or treating, Stillwater the Panda tells the children a story based on a koan from The Gateless Gate that forces the reader/listener to question what is real and not real. And then just to sit and be fine with not really being sure. So much to explore within this book makes it a story that children of many ages can investigate. The illustrations, as in all Muth books, are exquisite.

Creepy Carrots written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. I was very excited to get my hands on this book because I am such a Peter Brown fan. His illustrations are fantastic and accompany a story told by Reynolds that is actually quite sophisticated. This book on the surface is about a little rabbit being terrorized by some menacing carrots even thought nobody will believe him. What looks like a creepy carrot in the shadows of the night is often revealed to be something else entirely when a parent arrives and turns on a light. But are the creepy carrots really just a figment of Jasper, the rabbit’s overactive imagination? To be safe, Jasper builds a huge fence around the carrot patch to contain these orange vegetables that haunt him. In the end, the source of his fear is revealed. Do those creepy carrots really exist? Read this story that explores fear that just can’t be reasoned away in a totally clever and humorous manner. Loved this book!

The Perfect Pumpkin Pie by Denys Cazet This book has been in our library for a few years but I had yet to read it or share it with a class. Wow, had I been missing out!! This book is certainly a perfect spooky Halloween read featuring a ghost that rises out of the pumpkin patch threatening to haunt the residents of the nearby house if they don’t provide him with the perfect pumpkin pie. Yet while it seems like it might even be too scary for a primary read aloud, it is actually more full of humour, rhyme and pumpkin pie spices than anything else. And a very spunky Grandma who I adored. The illustrations are completely bizarre and unique to make this one of my new Halloween favourites.

Novels read:

Between Shades of Gray written by Ruta Sepetys This is a harrowing read. The images are disturbing and the violations against all basic human rights and human spirit are intense. In Lithuania, in June of 1941, fifteen year old Lina is forced from her home along with her Mother and younger brother by the Soviet Secret Police. They travel by train to a work camp in Siberia and eventually farther north to  the Arctic Circle. Survival is based on luck and perseverance that does not seem possible. Many, many die.  Lina is compelled to share her experiences through her art and her drawings recount terrible experiences suffered by her family and those of the other Lithuanian people around her. This story gives us a sense of the horror that happened to so many under Stalin’s rule. Many details were new to me. Ruta Sepetys brings voice to many who were completely silenced by death or extreme fear. A very important young adult read.

Shooting Kabul written by N.H. Senzai. This book has been on my “to read” pile for  over a year and I found that once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in just over twenty-four hours. This book begins in Afghanistan in 2001 with a family fleeing across the border to Pakistan to then travel on to America. During the dramatic escape, six year old Mariam is left behind and her family is all tortured by their guilt and their extreme sadness at not being able to locate her from their new home in the U.S. Fadi, Mariam’s older brother hears about a photography contest that comes with a winner’s prize of a plane ticket to India. He becomes convinced that he can win and get back to Pakistan to rescue his younger sister. Meanwhile, the events of 9/11 happen and the family has to deal with racism, prejudice and attacks on their neighbours while they continue to grieve for their missing daughter. A book that speaks to the strength of family and of the faith of the Afghan people in a peace yet to come. Highly recommended.

Tonight I begin the novel Beneath my Mother’s Feet written by Amjed Qamer.  

Picture Books on a Theme

Teachers often search for picture books on a particular topic and it is wonderful to be able to come to a blog and “nonstop shop” so to speak. In other words, find more than a few books on the same theme in one place.

Now that this blog is almost 18 months old, there are a few themes that reoccur – enough to make up a list of sorts (through a tag search) or an actual list exists under the Book Recommendations page. Favourite picture books make more than one list. Often I have included responses from my students if I have shared the books in class.

Books about Kindness – For a list, read here

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones was one of our favoutite books that explored this theme.

Books about Courage – For a list, read here

A favourite book on this theme was Sheila Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes

Books about Death and Bereavement – For a list, read here.

One of the most powerful books on this theme is The Scar written by Charlotte Moundlic and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

Picture Books that Tackle the Big Issues – For a list,  read here Books on this list have been hugely powerful in my primary classroom – many of them can also be found under Social Responsibility Books (here) with themes on the bully/bullied/bystander dynamic, friendship, sibling relationships, self-esteem,  etc

Emily’s Art by Peter Catalanotto provoked huge discussion in my class last year. Themes of self esteem, judgement and the negative power of words.

Pete & Pickles

Picture Book Love #1

Some picture books knock me off my feet. 32 little pages of big power. So this is book number 1 on this blog in the category of Picture Book Love. A new way to honour and celebrate picture books that are just too good not to gush over.

Pete & Pickles: Picture Book Love

This book created by Berkeley Breathed has many themes I like to address through picture books: courage, friendship, and diversity. But it is also about love. It celebrates love in the happiest and most joyful of ways. But it doesn’t scrimp on the realities of love: loss, pain, frustration, forgiveness, sacrifice. Love is all of it and this book delivers. It takes you on a journey sailing through a myriad of emotions and delivers you on the other side, changed. Better. Brighter. Exhausted. I have read this book now multiple times and it is as lovely shared as it is in a solo reading. It insists on repeated readings. It is a book I had to instantly own so I could revisit it anytime I wanted. I LOVE this book. Let me tell you why . . .

Pete & Pickles: Picture Book LovePete meets Pickles in the strangest of ways. It is a stormy night and Pete is in the middle of a nightmare about drowning when a sudden sound wakes him. Pete has an odd feeling that something is not quite right. And it isn’t. There is an elephant hiding under his lampshade. A soggy, wet elephant (Pickles) who suddenly grabs Pete with her trunk, looks at him with eyes filled with fear and a request:  “Help me.” Things happen very quickly and within moments Pete has given Pickles up to a clown who arrives at the door looking for an escaped elephant. In the morning, Pete realizes that Pickles left behind a gift of dandelions. He deems them ridiculous but he has been touched and before he knows it, he meets Pickles again – this time chained up in a circus tent.

What follows is a beautiful and often wonderfully silly story of break out escapes, changes to Pete’s simple and solo world and struggles between embracing this new colourful, dramatic life with Pickles in it or longing for the quiet simplicity of life before . . .

When Pete’s sensible nature overrules, he sends Pickles packing. But a sudden plumbing disaster changes everything. Both characters need to find safety and it seems there might not be enough safety to go around. How this book turns out must be experienced to be believed. Your heart will be in your throat as you turn the last few pages. Danger and potential of real disaster. Of the heartbreaking kind. But . . . suffice it to say one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced in a picture book awaits and in the end you will be smiling in the happiest of ways. Ahhh, what we do for love!

Pete & Pickles: Picture Book Love

Breathed explains that a sketch (above) his five year old daughter had made on a restaurant napkin inspired this book. He asked his daughter Sophie about her sketch of an elephant holding a pig and putting flowers on its head. Why was the elephant doing that? She answered “The pig’s sad. Because he’s lonely.” Then she leaned in and whispered, “. . . But he doesn’t know it.”

Pete & Pickles reminds us that relationships are the antidote to loneliness. And sometimes they arrive in your life in the strangest of ways.

Splish, Splash, Splat!

Maria, our BLG reader this week, brought in a new Splat book by beloved author/illustrator Rob Scotton. As soon as she revealed the cover there was a collective cry, “Splat!” We were excited! Splish, Splash, Splat! did not disappoint.

Do you have a fear of water? Does swimming seem more horrible than fun filled? Remember learning to swim and the fear around it? Well then this is a book for you! Many of us shared connections as Maria read the story.

Scotton explores the fear of learning to swim and makes it completely normal, all the while making us giggle as Splat gets up to his usual silly escapades. I found the picture of Splat perched gingerly above a full tub of bath water particularly amusing. That has happened in my house!

When Splat finally leaps into the water after the equally scared Spike, we celebrate the two water phobic cats facing their fears and discovering that water is not horrible and wet but that it tickles and is full of fun. And wow, those are some pretty cool swimshorts Splat acquires on the last page! 🙂

Our student reviewers report:

Khai: This was a funny book. Splat was so scared of water!

Truman: Splat and Spike were both scared of water and hid behind each other. I liked the book.

The Lunch Thief

Our latest book on the theme of kindness is The Lunch Thief, written by Anne C Bromley and illustrated by Robert Casilla.

Rafael loves to eat. It is his second favourite thing next to pitching for his school baseball team. So why is he lying about forgetting his lunch? Because someone stole it. And he knows who. It was Kevin Kopeck, the new boy at school. Rafael had seen him do it. He could report him, but he decides not to. What if Kevin picked a fight? Rafael follows his Mama’s wisdom: fighting is for cowards.

We stop and examine the picture of Kevin hunched over eating the stolen lunch, sitting by himself by the stone wall. Why did he take Rafael’s lunch? We had a wide range of suggestions: “He is hungry and doesn’t have a lunch.” “He’s just a thief.” “He steals because he has no friends.” “His family is poor so he doesn’t get food.” “He is new and trying to prove himself.” We continued reading to find out more.

Over the next few days, Rafael witnesses Kevin stealing other lunches. He again heeds his Mama’s advice: “Use your mouth before your fists.” He decides to talk to Kevin, asking him where he is from. Rafael learns that Kevin is from Jacinto Valley, an area burned down by wildfires. Rafael notices Kevin’s reluctance to talk about the fires and how quiet he gets when he asks more questions. Students have some more suggestions for Kevin’s stealing. “The sadness turned him mean, ” suggests Shae-Lynn. Catriona builds on this idea: “His house was burned down and he is hiding his sadness by being mean.”

While out in the car with his Mom, Rafael notices Kevin next to the Budget Motel. His Mama explains that if Kevin’s family lost their home, Kevin may be living at this motel for some time. Rafael begins to think about his daily lunch, lovingly packed by his Mama. He makes the decision that maybe he doesn’t need two burritos each day. In our class, hands shoot in the air. We know what is coming!

He’s going to share.”

“Giving is the key!” shouts Sergio.

“It’s all about the Golden Rule.”

On the final page of the book, we see Rafael inviting Kevin to join him and Alfredo to hang out at lunch. He passes him a brown paper bag. “Do you like burritos?”

“He noticed that Kevin needed the food,” someone observed. We decided that this book had taught us some more things about kindness. Yes, kindness is about awareness and yes, it is a choice. But now we have learned that to be kind, sometimes you have to really listen. Some of us also pointed out that you have to be calm, you can’t just react to something – like getting mad that Kevin took the lunches. You have to be calm enough to realize that maybe he needed them. As Sergio says, “Giving is the key!”

The Lion & The Mouse

The Lion & The Mouse by Caldecott medal winner Jerry Pinkney is another book we have shared together as we continue to explore a theme of kindness through picture books.

Pinkney’s story is an adaptation of the Aesop fable of the lion and the mouse who exchange an important gift – that of setting one another free. This gorgeously illustrated book is basically wordless, the only text are a few sound effects. Each page is so detailed, we found ourselves studying each image closely for clues as to what was happening in the story. We see a humongous lion being disturbed in sleep by the tiny mouse. Despite his irritation, he lets the tiny mouse go free. The mouse races back to her nest and her young. When the lion is trapped in ropes set by poachers, the tiny little mouse repays the kindness offered to her by the lion and gnaws through the ropes, setting the  king of beasts free.

Pinkney sets his version in the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya. Students were fascinated by all of the animals depicted in the background as much as the close up pictures of our two heroes – the lion and the mouse.

Setting the little mouse free

How does this book continue to teach us about kindness? Students are clearly understanding that kindness is a choice, articulating that each main character had to decide what to do and chose to be kind to the other. We also spoke about how such a small decision to be kind can have far reaching effects. Students pointed out that not only did the lion save the mouse by setting her free, he also saved her family who was dependent on her. Students connected this story to other stories about the “golden rule” – treat others the way you want to be treated and spoke about karma (that all good done comes back to you.) What a powerful discussion this beautiful wordless story inspired.

Scaredy Squirrel at Night

As we explore what it means to be courageous, we thought it was time again to talk about our own fears. Scaredy Squirrel was just the character to give us inspiration!

Melanie Watt gives us the cautious, worried and fearful Scaredy Squirrel. My students also thought that Scaredy Squirrel had some other important character traits: organized, creative and persistent. Important to recognize his strengths of character! Early on in this story we realized that Scaredy Squirrel is not sleeping because of worries about what he might dream about. What can happen when you don’t get enough sleep? “You die, you actually do,” insisted one student. Others included things like “Your run out of energy”, “You need to have a nap” and “You get very hurt, red eyes.” You definitely get obsessed about what worries you!

Our response to this book today was to include our own bad dream anxieties. What do we want to avoid in our sleep?

We used this page as the inspiration:

And created our own “page” – Truman decided that he was afraid of both things and creatures.


Who isn’t afraid of that closet lurking across the room?


And how about fire? This made a lot of lists.


Big fear in our class? Lice! Even though we have quite a few of these critters making their way through our tresses! We fear they might not leave!


Like Scaredy Squirrel though, we realize that a good sleep is a great cure for an overactive imagination! Feeds our energy and calms our fears. Everything looks better in the morning! Sometimes what we need to feel brave is new perspective.

Owl Moon and inspired Owl Artists

One of my favourite books to read aloud in the cold dark days leading up to winter is Owl Moon, the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr. This book fits in with our theme of Courage that we are exploring through various picture books but also allowed us to have a wonderful springboard for some gorgeous owl art.

A little girl goes owling with her father for the very first time and we, the readers, get to creep along with this pair over hard packed snow illuminated by the moon. We breathe the cold air, feel our own cheeks burn and marvel at the wonderful sound of crying out “Whoo-whoo-whowho-who-whoooo,” and then feeling the silence (heavy and full of wonder) surround us. Yolen’s text is poetic and the illustrations magical. A treat for the senses! When an owl is finally discovered, all of us gasped at the huge wing span and bright yellow eyes depicted in the pictures. A gorgeous book and one I never tire of reading with a class.

We discussed why the little girl in the picture was so courageous even though she was out on a dark night deep in the forest. Some insightful suggestions from the group:

  • She was too excited to feel fear
  • Being with her Dad made her feel safe and secure
  • Watching and listening for the owl distracted her
  • She pushed her fear away because she was doing something (going owling) that she had been waiting a long time to do

After the story, Ms. Gelson led a mini “how to draw an owl” lesson inspired by this wonderful blog post from Art Lessons for Kids.

And wow, did students get engaged with making beautiful owl scenes to fill up our room!

First we drew owls on plain paper and added details and colour. Hailey did a lovely job of filling up her whole page with an adorable looking owl and baby.


Catriona drew her owl in flight!


Some owls seemed to be waiting to jump into a picture book as the main character of an exciting story. Purity‘s owl is very dramatic.


Students then cut out their owl (s) and glued them to black paper making a scene. Khai made a whole family of owls perched on a branch.


Carefully positioning owls on the page.


Sergio was very clear that his owl was pregnant and put an awaiting nest on the branch. Many debates began whether an owl could be pregnant if it lay eggs. Some people thought an owl should be called “ready to lay eggs” and not pregnant. Sergio made it clear he liked his idea best and made a label on his picture pointing to the owl’s belly “pregnent” 🙂


Truman made lightly grey owls with beautiful ear tufts. Striking against the black background and yellow moon.