It’s A BOOK! Reading to Make a Difference

We are thrilled to announce the birth of our new book, “Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action”. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating our book birthday today,  March 21st, 2019. 

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During one of our writing retreats while discussing an article Katie was working on, we found ourselves looking out of the kitchen window reflecting on the notion of books as mirrors, windows, and doors. This conversation along with our concern about events in the world around us such as white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, high profile individuals mocking people with disabilities, the killing of black males at the hands of police officers, hate crimes against the LBGTQ+, Jewish, and Muslim communities, and the treatment of refugees and speakers of other languages led us to write this book. We believe that books can become bridges to help us explore the unfamiliar, gain new perspective, deepen our appreciation of our diverse and pluralistic society, and inspire us to take action and serve as change agents. Through examining our own identity and the identities of others, we can begin to celebrate our differences and our similarities as we work toward becoming advocates for equity.

The phrase “books as mirrors, windows, and doors” has seen new interest on social media, in presentations and panels at conferences we attend, and among the many educators we work with. This concept originated from the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita from Ohio State University.  In 1990, Dr. Bishop wrote an essay entitled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”. In this essay she explains why it is necessary to use multicultural literature where all children can see themselves reflected in the text they read as well as the need for books to serve as windows to explore the unfamiliar. Books as sliding glass doors allow us to open ourselves and enter into our diverse and pluralistic world. We must open the door.  We agree with Michelle Obama who writes, “maybe then we can fear less… make fewer wrong assumptions… [and] let go of biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us” (2018).

This project is grounded in Katie’s early dissertation work and research interests in critical literacy and Lester’s passion for children’s literature and the often underestimated power of reading aloud to children. Critical literacy explores how to move from passive to active reading where the reader critically analyzes the text by: 1) questioning what is included and excluded, 2) disrupting the commonplace, 3) examining the author’s intent, and 4) exploring the role of power and positioning in text and how that serves to normalize the dominant perspective while disenfranchising others (Lewison, Flint, & VanSluys, 2002; Luke & Freebody, 1999; McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2010; Vasquez, 2004; Vasquez, 2010). In her TED Talk, “Can a Children’s Book Change the World?”, author, Linda Sue Park responds that although the book can not change the world, readers of the books can.

In Reading to Make a Difference we show how children are moved and inspired to become change agents after reading collections of text. Many examples of ways that children can take action in the world around them are included in the book along with several lists of suggested children’s literature.  

Cultivating a Love of Reading

The month of February surrounds us with reminders of love. Red roses, heart-shaped cards for our loved ones, and sweet candy heart conversations. Hopefully we think about love all of the time. Love is what drives us and gets us through difficult times. Love surrounds us when we celebrate triumphs and joy in our lives. Love connects us and warms our hearts. In this post, we celebrate the love of reading and ways to cultivate a love of reading in the classroom to inspire readers of all ages.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.11.28 AMHow can we fall in love if we never meet? Access to the just right book can make all of the difference. We must fill our classroom libraries with books featuring diverse topics, genres, characters, and lived experiences. It’s also helpful to organize the books in some type of systematic way to help readers find and select a potential mate. Bins of books organized around favorite topics and authors rather than levels removes any shame associated with reading levels and matches what real readers do when shopping for books. Showcase favorite books through book talks and book shares and by propping them on display.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.15 AMSpeed dating with books (or book tastings for younger students) is a fun way to expose children to different books in a short amount of time. Have children sit down at a table featuring a selection of books. Give them approximately one minute to browse the front and back cover, read the inside jacket, and skim and scan the text and illustrations. Encourage them to consider which book they’d like to take on a second date. During the second date, they sit down and begin reading the text, getting to know it better.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.23 AMFinding ‘just right books’ is more than matching readers with a level. Compatibility is more than a score or a percentile ranking. Consider your true love. What attracted you? What kept you engaged? Learning what you find appealing can build a lifetime relationship with reading.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.28 AMIt’s ok to abandon books. If you begin reading a book and you are just “not feeling it” be honest, consider and reflect about why this is not working.  That will help you recognize what you don’t like and will help you find a better mate in the future.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.34 AMBooks can evoke feelings, changes in our thinking and behavior, and spark us to take action in some way.  When you fall in love at first sight, take a moment to reflect on why. Come to know yourself as a reader and learn to manage your selections for future reads.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 11.46.40 AMKatie tends to read fiction, historical fiction, memoir and nonfiction. Other than when Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series was popular, rarely did she read fantasy or dystopian novels. As she shares about the books she loves reading, she realized she rarely recommended fantasy or science fiction books. This is most likely because she personally doesn’t read those genres as often. We must be cautious when selecting books for our class libraries that we don’t fall into the trap of only including books that we love. We must also guard against “showing favoritism” for certain genres as we book talk new titles and promote new options for our students.  Consider your students’ interests and build your classroom libraries so that a wide variety of genres are represented. Consider conducting an inventory of your library. How many books do you have that fall under different genres? Graphic novels, biography, fantasy, memoir, poetry, science fiction, etc.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.26 PMFalling in love with an author or illustrator or topic is one of the joys of being a reader.  Help your students find their match with a spotlight on an author or an author study. Assembling a text set to explore topics of interest is an effective way to introduce a variety of authors, text formats, and genres connected to a topic of interest.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.33 PMAs a young reader Lester loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. The beloved Boxcar Children series held an element of mystery that drew him in.  He later read every Agatha Christie novel he could find in either the school library or the public library.  Not every reader will be wooed by a good mystery, but for those who are lead them to series such as, Encyclopedia Brown, Nate The Great, and The Magic Treehouse.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.38 PMSometimes we meet characters in books that stay with us. We can’t shake them.  Lily from Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse.  India Opal from Because of Winn-Dixie.  Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.  Henry, Jesse, Violet, and Benny from The Boxcar Children.  Salva Dut from A Long Walk to Water. Ivan from The One and Only Ivan. Auggie from Wonder.  Falling for a character gives us various ways for viewing challenges and obstacles in life.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.11 PMNonfiction offers readers the opportunity to delve into a topic and weigh information in a search for truth.  As students become more facile as critical thinkers and readers they learn to question the texts they read and to search out various perspectives on an issue.  As you collect titles for your classroom library consider offering a range of perspectives on the topics in your curriculum.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.03 PMReading aloud is an essential part of our reading instruction.  As you plan for read aloud experiences do so with intention. Make your selections with the same care your give to choosing manipulative for a math lesson and the perfect Valentine’s card for a loved one.  Think through the purpose of each read aloud experience and match the selection to the intention.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.16 PMCommunication is critical in relationships. While reading may seem like an isolated experience at least during the reading process, reading should be a social act. When we talk about what we are reading with others, we deepen our understanding, develop new perspectives, and form connections.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 12.02.21 PMGood books leave us wanting more. They move us. We laugh, we cry, we turn pages in suspense. We are changed by our time with them. Good books spark the love for reading and inspires us as lifelong readers.

Students from Anna Doyle’s class (@DoylesDivers) in Greenville, SC challenge us to share the love of reading using the hashtag #ForTheLoveOfReading. 

Some of Our Favorite Professional Resources to Cultivate the Love of Reading:

Book Love by Penny Kittle

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The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

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The Ultimate Read Aloud Resource by Lester Laminack

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Conversations by Regie Routman

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Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

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No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers by Barbara A. Marinak and Linda Gambrell

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Pernille Ripp’s Blog

Nerdy Book Club Blog

Ringing in the New Year with Reading Resolutions and Recommendations

Each year around this time it seems that we all begin to examine ourselves, revisiting our lives over the past year,  and pondering what’s possible in the new year. We reflect, make great plans, and proclaim our resolutions for the coming year.  We are looking forward to the new year, 365 days of fresh pages. In this blog post, we revisit favorite books from the past year and focus our attention on books we plan to read (or reread) to enrich both our professional and personal lives.  We aim to make 2019 a year of growth with a return to some of the texts that shaped our thinking and devote time to new texts that have captured our attention. 

Each of us has our own ways of finding new reads.  Like many of you we return to favorite authors, look for new titles in a favorite genre, do the one-click purchase of a book just reviewed on NPR, or find ourselves standing at the checkout counter with books in hand just because we decided to step inside an independent bookstore–you know, just for a look around.  Then there are friends we’ve come to trust about books and when they give a book a thumbs-up we find ourselves adding it to the lists we keep on GoodReads or in the back of our notebooks. We’ve come to trust recommendations by Penny Kittle, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesene, Mr. Schu, Laura Robb, Kylene Beers, Mary Howard, Pernille Ripp, and Brian Kissel. Here are some of our favorites from 2018:

Lester’s 2018 favorites:

Jesmyn Ward Sing, Unburied, Sing (because Penny Kittle made me believe I’d be missing out if I didn’t.  She was right.  I could not stop reading.)


James Baldwin Go Tell it on the Mountain (because we need to revisit his voice and contributions.)


S.E. Hinton The Outsiders (because my work is more focused on picture books this is one that I never read and needed to. I was moved to tears.)


Parker J. Palmer On the Brink of Everything (because I admire his contemplative life and writing.  If you are of a “certain age” you will find this book filled with sage insights that will give you pause.)


Phillip Hoose The Boys Who Challenged Hitler (Penny Kittle mentioned this book in several groups and each time I made note of it. I found the history behind this book fascinating and was compelled to read it. On a long flight I did the one-click thing and it appeared on my i-Pad.  I read the flight away.)


Harriet Ann Jacobs Incidents of a Slave Girl Written by Herself (I heard so much about this book from so many sources that I had to read it.  Now I hope you will.)

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Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Disrupting Thinking (because they are wicked smart and articulate.  I read everything they write and I am never disappointed.)


Lori Duron Raising My Rainbow (because I think we need to hear more from the parents of LGBTQ children.)


Elizabeth Acevedo The Poet X  (because it was on the tongue of everyone at NCTE 2018 and it was in the stack of books submitted for an awards committee I am serving on.  It is a powerful story with some stunning lines.)

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Marcella Pixley Ready to Fall (because Marcella is an amazing MG ELA teacher, a most talented writer and weaver of story, and a dear friend.)


Barbara O’Connor Wonderland (just because Barbara wrote it. Period.  And I read Wish earlier in 2018.  You’ll want to read it also.)


Nikki Grimes One Last Word (I’m on a mission to read everything she has written.)

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Nikki Grimes Between the Lines


Nikki Grimes Garvey’s Choice


Nikki Grimes Words with Wings


Wiley Cash The Last Ballad (Southern fiction is one of my favorite genres and this one is rife with the history of organizing the unions at the textile mills of NC and SC. This is a true story of one white woman who lost her life in the effort to integrate the union.)

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Amy Hollingsworth The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers (because Fred Rogers is my hero. This is written in segments that make it easy to read it small moments.  When you reach the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of the man, his faith, and the love and ministry behind his show.)

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Katie’s 2018 favorites:

Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy (This book was recommended by Penny Kittle when she spoke at Furman. This book opened my eyes to the broken justice system. In 2018, the author’s organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama as a reminder of America’s history of racial inequality. I hope to be able to visit the memorial and museum in 2019.)


Christina Baker Kline Orphan Train (I found this fascinating novel about an orphaned Irish immigrant child sent by train to live in the midwest while browsing in an airport. I loved the story so much I finished it by the time I arrived to my destination.)

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Mariana Souto-Manning, Carmen Lugo Llerena, Jessica Martell, Abigail Salas-Maguire, Alicia Arce-Boardman No More Culturally Irrelevant Teaching  (This short and easy to read book packs a powerful message for all educators. And Lester agrees.) 

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Tara Westover Educated (because it was on Obama’s reading list so I knew it would be good!  I was not disappointed.)

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Trevor Noah Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (This eye-opening and touching story of Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa brought me to tears and made me laugh.)

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Sara Ahmed Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension (because the topic of this book is connected to the theme of our new book also published by Heinemann and I love to learn from other educators. I later attended a packed session at NCTE led by Sara and her colleagues and left inspired and renewed to continue this important work focused on social justice and anti-bias teaching.)

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David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day (Looking to add some humor into my otherwise mostly serious reading stack, Brian Kissel suggested I read anything by David Sedaris and he did not disappoint.)

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Jacqueline Woodson Harbor Me (because I saw it on the shelf at M. Judson’s Bookstore in Greenville, SC and had to have it because I love everything written by this author.)

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Nic Stone Dear Martin (Recommended by the ProjectLIT Community, this seemed like a good follow up to my 2017 favorite book, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Plus I had the honor of listening to Nic Stone speak when we both presented at NerdCampGA!)

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Robin DiAngelo White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Recommended by Travis Crowder, this book helps me as I continue to seek support of others as we work through difficult conversations related to race.)

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Lester’s 2019 Book Stack:

Frank Smith Essays into Literacy (because this collection of essays helped fine tune my thinking about literacy instruction.)

Rudine Sims Bishop Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature (because Rudine’s work was the first I read on the need for diverse books and I want to return to this title now with greater insight and appreciation.)

Ralph Fletcher What a Writer Needs (first edition) (Ralph has been a mentor and has become a friend.  This is the one book on writing that I would hold onto if I could keep only one.  I want to revisit all the notes I scribbled in the margins long ago and discover how my understanding has developed over time.)

Don Holdaway The Foundations of Literacy (the influence of Holdaway upon my understandings of early literacy development and instruction was remarkable. Rereading him now would be refreshing)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americanah (I was totally inspired by her keynote at NCTE 2018 in Houston.)

Cornelius Minor We Got This (well, first off, I just adore the guy.  I’ve watched his work blossom since our first meeting at Teachers College in a summer institute years ago.  And, well, everyone is reading this.)

Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp Game Changer! (because these two know books about as well as anyone I know and they are at the point of impact.)

Anne Lamott Almost Everything (because I love her work.)

Maxwell King The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (because I so admire Mr. Rogers)

Michelle Obama Becoming (because she is an admirable human being, a great First Lady, and it was recommended by Glenis Redmond.)

Henri J. Nouwen The Way of the Heart (inspired by reading Amy Hollingsworth The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.)



Katie’s 2019 Book Stack:

Michelle Obama Becoming (because I find her incredibly inspiring and miss seeing her as our First Lady.)

Cornelius Minor We Got This. (because Cornelius Minor is as authentic as they come and a true inspiration.)

Matthew Kay Not Light, But Fire (recommended by Shawna Coppola in a Facebook Live video. Social media can be so powerful!)

Joan Williams White Working Class (This book was recommended by Brian Kissel at NCTE during one of our late night chats about everything under the sun including how to make sense about what is happening in the current political landscape.)

Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (This book has been on my to-read list for awhile. After reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, I was inspired to learn more about the role of race and the criminal justice system. It was also recommended by my dear friend, Lindsay Yearta.)

Eve L. Ewing Ghosts in the Schoolyard (recommended by Jacqueline Woodson on Twitter so duh, I must read it! Plus I watched the author’s interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah where she discusses the need to break down structural racism particularly in the context of the schools in Chicago’s south side.)

Zora Neale Hurston Barracoon: The Story of the “Last Black Cargo” (My mom gave me this book for Christmas. She thought I might like it since Michelle Obama was also reading it. A few days later, I saw Brian Kissel tweeted it as one of his top ten favorite reads of 2018.)

Sharon Draper Blended (As an educator, I like to stay current with the children’s books being published. This middle grade novel is a story of a young girl dealing with the complexities of a blended family. This book seems relatable for many children as the main character explores her racial identity and her place in the world and perhaps a way for other readers to expand their notion of identity and to empathize with others.)


Ringing in the New Year with Reading Resolutions

Now you know which books left a great impression on us in 2018 and you know which titles have captured our attention for the next year of reading.  If you’d like to share, we would love to hear your 2019 Reading Resolutions in the comments section.

2018 has been a busy and productive year for us and we are very proud to announce the forthcoming publication of our new book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action. It will be available from Heinemann in March 2019.  We hope you’ll add us to your 2019 Reading Resolutions and make plans to join us on Dr. Mary Howard’s #G2Great Twitter chat on March 21 at 8:30pm EST to chat about this work.  

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We Are Family, All of Us

still a family.jpg‘Tis the season when the media bombards us with images of family gatherings and holiday celebrations.  Let’s pause a moment to remember that many of our students will not see their families reflected in those messages.  While some families may celebrate with large gatherings, we recognize that some children may spend time with grandparents, foster parents, or other caregivers.

For instance, a recent article in the Huffington Post (Teachers Are Serving as First Responders to the Opioid Crisis) reported that up to 40% of students do not live with their parents in McDowell County, West Virginia where opioid-related hospitalizations are the highest in the state.  Some live with grandparents, other relatives, friends and foster parents. In fact, West Virginia has seen a surge in foster care entrance with increases across the country as well.

In addition to foster care and family guardians (grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.), diverse family structures may also include single parents (divorced or never married), adoptive parents, blended families, LGBTQ+ parents, and parents deployed with the military. There is also an increasing number of children who live with parents born outside of the U.S. and in families who have immigrated into the United States.

To create an inclusive school environment where all humans are honored, we have a responsibility to ensure that both our school and classroom libraries represent all children’s families. When children see themselves reflected in the books they read, it validates their experiences. When children do not see themselves represented in the texts, it sends a message that they are not valued or important. When children are exposed to unfamiliar stories, they begin to expand their awareness of many ways of being and become more accepting of others.

Discussion allows children to process text, consider multiple perspectives, address misconceptions, and become more accepting of others. Conversations in the classroom can lead children to better know their peers and strengthen relationships. It also gives the teacher a window into the lives of her students.  Discussion also opens the opportunities for children to embrace their own family structure and lay claim to it among their peers.

We believe literature has transformative potential to validate us, expand our thinking, and grow our insights beyond those we bring to the page. In recent years publishers have brought us a wider range of texts to validate and value families. In this post, we offer a collection of text featuring different family structures and living arrangements. We hope this collection will help to broaden the definition of family and move us toward greater inclusion of all families.

Diverse Families

Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff (diverse families bi-racial family)

Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne Lang (diverse families)

The Family Book by Todd Parr (PreK-K) (diverse families)

One Family by George Shannon (diverse families)

Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus (multicultural identity – Japanese mother, African American grandmother)

Thunder Boy Jr., by Sherman Alexie (Native American)

Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter by Mark Gonzalez (multicultural identity)


Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (homelessness, single parent)

A Shelter in Our Car by Monica Gunning  (Homelessness, single mother, deceased caregiver, immigrant caregiver)

Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis (homelessness)

Same-Sex Parents

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (same-sex)

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman (same-sex parents)

In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Polacco (same-sex parents, adoption)

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman (same-sex parents)

King and King and Family by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland (same-sex parents)

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer (same-sex parents)

Single Parent

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams (single parent, grandparent)

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (homelessness, single parent)

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis  (single parent, adoption)

A Shelter in Our Car by Monica Gunning  (Homelessness, single mother, deceased caregiver, immigrant caregiver)

Grandparents/Extended Families

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams  (single parent, grandparent)

Last Stop on Market Street  by Matt de la Peña (grandparent)

Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina (grandparent)

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola (grandparent; death)

I Love Saturdays y Domingos by Alma Flor Ada (extended family)

Adoption/Foster Care

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis (single parent, adoption)

In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Polacco (same-sex parents, adoption)

Jin Woo by Eve Bunting (adoption)

The Red Blanket  by Eliza Thomas (adoption)

Our Gracie Aunt by Jacqueline Woodson (foster care)

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (death, foster care) (5+ chapter book)

Divorce/Single Parents/Step Parents

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis (2000) (single parent, adoption)

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton (divorced parents)

Charlie Anderson by Barbara Abercrombie (divorced parents)

Blended by Sharon Draper  (5+ chapter book) (divorced parents, step parent)

The Memory String by Eve Bunting (death, step parent)

My Man Blue by Nikki Grimes (special relationship)

Because of Winn Dixieby Kate DiCamillo (single parent) (3-5 chapter book)

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (divorced parents) (3-5 chapter book)

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (divorce) (4+ chapter book)

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (death, step parent)  (4+ chapter book)

Military Families

Crow Call  by Lois Lowry (father returns after being away for a long time in war)

Incarcerated Parent

Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One is Incarcerated by Becky Birtha

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty (incarcerated parent)

Our Moms by Q. Futrell (incarcerated moms)

Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson (incarcerated parent/caregiver)

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong (a parent who works far away and comes home rarely)

Death of a Parent

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (immigration, divorce, incarcerated parent, death) (5+ chapter book)

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (death, foster care) (5+ chapter book)

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (death, step parent)  (4+ chapter book)

Tips and Suggestions

  • Use inclusive language such as  “parents, guardians, families, and caregivers”  and avoid using phrases such as “mom and dad”.
  • Avoid asking students to discuss their homes as some may be in transition and living in shelters. Instead consider asking students to share about more general places of importance. This could include church, school, the playground, a friend’s home, etc.
  • Instead of activities for holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as some children may feel left out, encourage students to share about someone who is important in their lives.

Additional Resources

What is a Family? K-5 Lesson from Teaching Tolerance

Vote! Your Voice Matters.

Election Day is held the first Tuesday in November. Although this day was first observed in 1845, several groups remained excluded and were not given the right to vote until many years later. It took 75 years before women were granted the right to vote and one hundred and twenty years for the Voting Rights Act to be signed into law giving African Americans the right to vote.

Tuesday November 6, 2018 is the date for midterm elections in the United States.  Voter turnout has historically been low in the midterm elections. According to areport from NPR, (On the Sidelines of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote) only six out of ten voters cast their ballots in 2016. Many believe their voices do not matter. Although many Americans remain apathetic about voting, we must not forget the obstacles others before us had to overcome for the right to vote.

We’ve selected a few books to help remind us and our students of the tremendous privilege it is to vote. In addition, these titles can introduce your students to the history of voting and concepts such as the electoral process.
We invite you to share some of your favorite books and resources about voting.  We will compile a list on the blog. Email us at  Or leave your thoughts and additions in the comments box.

Voting Rights

Photo taken at Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, NY

Vote! Your Voice Matters.

Election Day is held the first Tuesday in November. Although this day was first observed in 1845, several groups remained excluded and were not given the right to vote until many years later. It took 75 years before women were granted the right to vote and one hundred and twenty years for the Voting Rights Act to be signed into law giving African Americans the right to vote.

Tuesday November 6, 2018 is the date for midterm elections in the United States.  Voter turnout has historically been low in the midterm elections. According to areport from NPR, (On the Sidelines of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote) only six out of ten voters cast their ballots in 2016. Many believe their voices do not matter. Although many Americans remain apathetic about voting, we must not forget the obstacles others before us had to overcome for the right to vote.

We’ve selected a few books to help remind us and our students of the tremendous privilege it is to vote. In addition, these titles can introduce your students to the history of voting and concepts such as the electoral process.

We invite you to share some of your favorite books and resources about voting.  We will compile a list on the blog. Email us at  or leave your thoughts and additions in the comments box.

Duck for President

Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin

Life is hard on Farmer Brown’s farm. Duck did not like to do chores and questions why Farmer Brown is in charge. He decides to campaign to replace Farmer Brown. The animals registered to vote and cast their ballots resulting in a win for Duck. Duck soon realized that running a farm was hard work so he sets out to run for governor and won. However, he soon learned running a state was hard work. So Duck successfully ran for president. Yet, he quickly learned that being president was also hard work. He returned to the farm to write his autobiography. This text follows a predictable pattern and highlights the importance of conveying meaning in print as the animals who cannot communicate verbally beyond animal sounds rely on reading the signs to empower them to vote.

Grace for President

Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham

When Grace learns that the United States has not yet had a female president, she is inspired to become the first female president. Her teacher suggests an election at the school. Grace campaigns against Thomas, a fellow classmate. They each make compelling speeches and promises to their peers in an attempt to win votes. The election is a nail-biter and teaches the reader about the electoral college through the story. The author’s note in the back of the book provides additional helpful information about the electoral system.

Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage

Author: Claire Rudolf Murphy
Illustrator: Stacey Schuett

Bessie who is not allowed to go with her father and brothers on a hike because it is too strenuous for girls soon learns that there are many things girls are not allow to do in the late 1800’s.  Bessie’s aunt, Mary McHenry Keith, introduces her to Susan B. Anthony and invites her to attend a rally in San Francisco for women’s rights. Inspired by the rally Bessie joins her mother and aunt in a march led by Susan B. Anthony.  Though the 1896 campaign did not result in the right for women to vote Bessie and her family were undaunted and continued their efforts. The author’s note reveals this story is based on a real girl named Bessie Keith Pond. In addition there is a profile of Susan B. Anthony, a timeline of progress toward women’s right to vote from 1787 through 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The book also includes a list of further resources for young readers.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles

Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Hadley Hooper

In April 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke set off in a little yellow car to drive around America.  Their journey took them “ten thousand bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles–facing danger and adventure all alone…” Their mission was to rally for women’s rights. Their rallying cry, “Votes for women!” was heard across the country.  In September, 1916, the two women returned to New York City. They traveled through a blizzard, mud and flooded creeks, across the desert, through small towns and cities to inspire support for women’s rights. There are three pages of detailed background on the time period, the newness of the automobile and the fascination generated by the little yellow car, and the long struggle to win the right for women to vote in America.  There is also a list of resources for further reading.

The Day Gogo Went to Vote

Author: Elinor Batezat Sisulu
Illustrator: Sharon Wilson

Thembi stays with her one-hundred-year-old Gogo (grandmother) after school until her parents are able to leave work.  Although Gogo is very old and rarely leaves the house anymore she has vowed to go to the polls to vote in the April 1994 election.  Thembi asks her Gogo why it is so important and Gogo explains, “Thembi, black people in South Africa have fought for many years for the right to vote?  This is the first time we have had a chance to vote for our own leaders, and it might be my last…” Finally arrangements are made to get Gogo to the polls and she casts her ballot in the election that seated Nelson Mandela as president of the country.

Papa’s Mark

Author: Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert
Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Young Simms and his family live in Lamar County and the upcoming election will be the first one African-Americans have been allowed to vote.  Each week Papa makes his mark, an X, at the general store when he and Simms pick up their order. Simms wishes his father could sign his name rather than making his mark on documents.  Papa sits at the table by candlelight and tries to write his name, “This writing looks like chicken scratch…When I vote…I’m going to write my name to get my ballot.” Before leaving for school the next morning Simms writes his Papa’s name on a piece of paper and leaves it on the table.  Papa tries and finally asks for Simms help. Slowly Papa learns to make the letters in his name. On the morning of voting day Papa and a wagon load of men from the community ride into town and Papa proudly signed his name to receive his first ballot.

LIllian's Right to Vote
Lillian’s Right to Vote

Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans

Lillian walks uphill towards a voting booth. She recalls relatives being sold on the auction block. As she progresses in her walk, Lillian recounts how her great-grandpa was unable to vote because of a poll tax and her Uncle Levi was turned away from voting after being asked such ridiculous questions as “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”  After the 19th Amendment is passed, Lillian remembers being chased away by an angry mob after her mother attempts to vote. She details the marches, the beatings, and the tenacity of those who fought for her right to vote. She votes. She has to. It is her right, her duty, her honor as an American.

*Many of these texts including Lillian’s Right to Vote could be used through high school as a catalyst for discussion on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter ID laws, and the 13th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.

Suggested Follow-up Activities for this Collection

    • Brainstorm reasons why people should vote. Then work in groups to create posters, public service announcements, speeches, etc. to encourage registered voters to get out and vote.
    • Research the Voter ID Laws.  Are these “laws” legal? Why or why not?  Encourage students to write opinion pieces and engage in debate.
    • Why do we vote in America? Is it important? Interview up to three people (family members, community members, friends) to ask why it is important that we vote and whether or not they plan to vote in the midterm election and why.
  • Create a poster, timeline, or infographic detailing the Amendments that led up to our rights to vote.  Why is it important (or not) that we vote today? (see the Timeline tool from Read Write Think)

Additional Resources