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 February 24th, 2014

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 novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read. One of the very best ways to discover what to read next!

This week in my blogging world, I . . .

  • shared my ten favourite nonfiction picture book biographies featuring inspiring women for the #nf10for10 event. My post was called The Wonder of Women.  Check out all of the lists featured here.
  • celebrated my rich reading life for The Celebration Link Up hosted by Ruth Ayres

It is report card writing season so . . . I always feel like I don’t get the reading in that I want to 😦 But this week, I managed to read some wonderful picture books. Here are my favourites:

My Name is Blessing written by Eric Walters and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

This was quite the story – based on the author’s actual visit to Kenya in 2007 where he met the little boy this book is based upon. This little boy is raised by a Grandmother raising many of her grandchildren who are now orphans. They have little food and lack adequate shelter and sleeping space. Muthini (Grandmother) must make the best decision for her grandchild. This is the story of what this means for a special little boy eventually called Blessing.

My Name is Blessing #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

What’s Your Favourite Animal? by Eric Carle and Friends

I was on the lookout for this title and when my Teacher Librarian and I went book shopping on Friday, it didn’t take much (she was as enchanted as I was!) to convince her we needed this title for our collection. In fact, I think every library must have this title! It celebrates art and illustration, story telling and the unique tastes and favourites of beloved picture book illustrators. Automatically, one is tempted to answer two questions. What’s my favourite animal? and Which favourite do I like best from this book? I am sure that my answers will change often but in this moment I am going with: The owl as my favourite (wise, secretive and majestic) and my favourite here? I’m with Jon Klassen, ducks.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

The Snow Leopard by Jackie Morris

How to describe this title? It is lyrical and full of myth, magic and enchantment. A story of a Guardian spirit who must pass into another world (the star filled sky) and so teaches a new Guardian to lead and watch – this one a child who takes the form of the beautiful and elusive snow leopard.

The Snow Leopard #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Bird Child written by Nan Forler and illustrated by Francois Thisdale

This isn’t a new read for me but I it feels fresh anytime I read it with a new group of children and it has been much on mind this week after sharing it with this current group. So I am sharing it here. This is one of the best books to illustrate the power of the bystander to stand up and not stand by. My students were so sympathetic to the character of Lainey who had been bullied.

“Maybe those bullies buried her smile when they buried her hat in the snow.”

“Those bullies undug the sadness in her.”

When Eliza stands up to the children who are bullying Lainey and others follow her lead, it is so powerful.

“One girl did it!”

“She is a leader and others are doing the right thing now too!”

Bird Child #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

The Quayside Cat written by Toby Forward and illustrated by Ruth Brown

This was our BLG book this week. I shared student reviews on my class blog. We loved getting lost in the illustrations that made us feel as if we were rolling about on the high seas. One cat with “sea legs” so to speak, leads another cat on an ocean adventure.

The Quayside Cat #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

Nobody depicts getting lost in a book quite like Jason Chin. But lost in a book means lost in a completely different world – in this case the magical world of coral reefs. Simply gorgeous. Worth reading and rereading to examine all of the clever details from beginning to end when our little reef explorer passes this book onto new readers and stands to watch – drip, drip, drip . . . My son was fascinated with locating the underwater creatures he had seen while snorkeling this past summer.

Coral Reefs #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter

Both Margie Myers-Culver and Linda Baie have raved about this book and for very good reason! Another title I would love to own and keep in my picture book biography collection. This book focuses on the time in Matisse’s life when he was too ill to paint and draw and discovered a new way of making art through paper cut outs. Beautifully told.

Henri's Scissors #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

I also finished one novel – Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur

This was a #Mustreadin2014 title for me. My daughter is a huge fan of LaFleur and I was lucky enough to win a copy of this title in a Goodreads giveaway – Suzanne signed the book to my daughter and I gave it to her at Christmas. She carried it with her on every holiday visit to show people and then finally sat down to read it. I “borrowed” it from its special place on her bookshelf. This is an ideal MG title – perfect for readers 10 and up who are beginning to be more independent in the social world but still remain very connected to family and home. There is plenty of introspection and soul searching in this book as we get to know Siena. But there is a whole lot more: ghosts, spirits, visions and mystery. Yet everything is very grounded in the story of a young girl growing up and searching for answers for herself and her family – from the typical questions of this age (Do people think I am strange?) to more complicated questions like why does three year old Lucca refuse to speak? I read this mostly in one early morning read and it was wonderful to be carried away to Maine beaches, old houses and the warmth of family connection.

Listening for Lucca  #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Up next? I’m going to continue on with the theme of ghosts and channeling spirits and have begun Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy. My children and I are reading two nonfiction picture books and started The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen earlier in the week. How impatiently we had been waiting for this title!

Reading Goal updates:

2014 Chapter Book Challenge: 12/100 novels complete

Goodeads Challenge: 108/650 books read

#MustReadin2014: 7/30 complete

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 36/65 complete

What are you reading? Wishing everyone some time to get lost in a book!

Celebrating students, celebrating books

Having time off from the day to day of teaching gives us space to reflect back on all that we treasure. Highlights of the last calendar year for me and picture books that exemplified these important themes:

1. Lots of laughter.

This was one of the favourite non-fiction read alouds I read with a class.

Poop – A Natural History of the Unmentionable written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton. This was the discussion. Theories of why some animal poop seems to have hair on it and why do we fart anyway. Hard to keep a straight face.

2. Moments of awe

Sometimes in sharing a powerful piece of literature, the learning in the room just surrounds us. The book or the important conversations are not soon forgotten.

Nan Forler‘s Bird Child was one of the most beautiful books I have ever shared with a class.

We learned about the power in all of us to stand up for each other. Recounting our conversations in this post was important. As a group, we shared something big.

3. Experiencing vulnerability

Some books produce such strong reactions. In our responses, we are vulnerable and need discussion and support to make sense of our feelings.

This book reduced some of us to tears: The Day Leo Said I Hate you! written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Molly Bang

What happens when our feelings explode and we say something hurtful? How do we navigate our way back? We talked about this book here.

4. Honouring the power of books

We were inspired by the beautiful Book written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated byPeter Catalanotto. to talk about what reading means to us.

This post details the beautiful art and writing we did in response. Students talked about how reading transported them into the book and about how much they love to be read to.

5. Celebrating wonder

I love to use information storybooks to inspire student questions. This book The Last Polar Bear written by Jean Craighead George motivated students not only to ask questions but to explore answers.

In this post we talked about how climate change is affecting the habitat of the polar bears. We found we were left with more questions than when we started.

Looking forward to what books will bring to us in 2012!

Bird Child

Today we read Bird Child by Canadian teacher, parent and writer Nan Forler. I came across this book at the public library and was thrilled to discover that it also touched on the active role of the bystander in the bully/bullied/bystander dynamic. We have been talking about this topic a lot using  powerful literature to inspire our discussion.


Eliza is a tiny girl – skin and bones with hair as black as a raven. She was raised in a very special way – she was taught to fly. Wow! There were hands in the air instantly.”Is this true?” “Really?” When I asked the students what they thought, I got some very interesting answers:

Alyson: “It said her hair was black like a raven so maybe she got that skill from birds.”

Kevin: “Maybe she can fly because her bones are hollow.”

Hajhare: “Maybe she can turn back and forth between a bird and an animal like Eagle Boy.” (We have been reading a lot of Aboriginal literature lately with this theme)

I suggested that maybe the author was implying that she could fly in her mind. “Oh like visualizing,” said Kevin. “Yeah, she means it like an expression,” Ricky agreed. As we read further, we hear the words that Eliza’s mother always tells her, “Look down and see what is. Now, look up and see what can be.” Thoughtful words to always encourage Eliza to focus on possibility and with a positive perspective, to take an active role in changing situations to make them better.

A new girl, Lainey, starts school and rides the bus each day with Eliza. Lainey quickly becomes the target of teasing and exclusion. My students explored reasons that she might be bullied: Were others jealous of her beautiful drawings? Her hair?Are they making fun of her because she is new? Because of what she wears? Why are they so mean?

Soon the teasing escalates to stealing Lainey’s hat and burying it in the snow. A boy smushes snow into her face “wiping away what was left of the smile she’d had on her first day of school.” Silence in my classroom. Silence in the story. “Eliza said nothing. She stood like a statue her boots sinking deeper and deeper into the snow, her voice dry as a mouthful of wool. and watched it happen.” Such a heavy emotional scene. Illustrator Francois Thisdale makes the mood even more sad and somber with the smirking children laughing at Lainey, frozen Eliza in the background and Lainey with her eyes squished shut all alone in the wintery schoolyard with the barren trees and a pink skyline behind. There was a little bit more silence in my class and then the “Oh! Oh! Oh!’s and the waving hands started. We had things to say about this.

Jena: “Eliza is like a bystander and kind of like bullying her too. If she doesn’t tell, the bullying won’t stop. It’s like the Juice Box Bully.”

Alyson: “Eliza should stand up for Lainey.”

Lisa: “Eliza might be worried – that people would think she was a tattler.”

Miami: “This is like something that happened to me. My Grandma fell and people just walked by her. Nobody helped. Two men were sitting on a bench and they just kept sitting. I felt so bad.”

Children see everything we do and everything we don’t do. Sometimes it is not so much our actions but when we fail to act that haunts us. Eliza felt shame. She told her Mom everything and her Mom listened. “It sounds like Lainey needs someone to help her fly.” Eliza knew what she had to do. Alyson commented thoughtfully, “Maybe flying means helping her get through it.”

The next time Lainey is bullied, Eliza acts. She “reached down inside herself and found her wings” When she shouts at a boy to return Lainey’s hat, other children join in “Yeah give it back.” The bullies’ power bubble is popped and they walk away.

Scott: “She’s taking care of Lainey now.”

Miami: “You know what I think? I think she couldn’t stand watching her be bullied anymore so she just yelled.”

Jena: “Maybe Eliza did that thing – you know, putting herself in her shoes?”

Lisa: “It’s like the Juice Box Bully – maybe they will have a rule, that everyone needs to help others.”

Alyson: “Oh I know! It’s like a chain reaction – helping it to stop, standing up.”

Kevin: “It’s like that dance we saw on the movie at Pink Day (referring to the flash mob anti bullying video)

In the end, Eliza and Lainey play together building a snow castle to the sky. I ask: Why do you think this book was witten?

Ricky: “It’s a lesson to stand up for each other!”

Alyson: “Don’t be a bystander! Just stand up!”

Emilio: “Probably they made this book so people won’t copy other bullies and be mean.”

Bird Child: so much beautiful writing and visually, it is absolutely gorgeous. This book should have a special place on the shelf in every school library and should be read and discussed with students again and again. There are not enough picture books that so thoughtfully explore the active role of the bystander in changing the way a bully might act and the way a peer is treated.