Culturally Nourishing Stories: Centering Food Like Love

By guest blogger Nawal Qarooni Casiano

In my family, love looks like an intricately cooked meal. Love looks like stew left to simmer on low, all day, so the turmeric and onions caramelize into a rich sauce. Love looks like bowl after bowl served atop long-grain basmati rice, with crispy tahdig from the bottom of the pot. 

We overfeed. Like Bilal in Aisha Saeed’s gorgeous picture book about a little boy introducing his friends to daal, we must have patience to cook our Persian stews. 

Noushe-jan, my mother says. 

Noushe-jan, my Ameh says. 

Noushe-jan, I tell my children. 

The aroma of fesenjan in the house means we’ve ground walnuts to a pulp and combined it with pomegranate molasses so it’s the perfect melange of sweet and sour. Persian stews are like fine wines; the longer they sit and simmer, the more delicious they become. 

As educators, one way to share of ourselves and our students’ unique identities is by bringing alive stories of food: nourishing, layered, textured. Food is commensurate with love, in many cultures, but more than that, identity stories often rely on memories of food. When teachers and students  storytell about food rituals in school spaces,  we more readily build community, connectedness and understanding. We are able to cultivate empathy and compassion for all cultures and people. 

As educators, every decision to include a story is an omission elsewhere. Writer Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s scholarship names the need for students to see themselves in texts (mirrors) while also learning about others (windows). When we consider both of these ideas, it becomes clear how critical text selection truly is. 

The framework in Reading to Make a Difference provides lenses through which educators can select texts, ensure students make connections, reflect deeply, take action and co-construct next steps for future behaviors and understandings. 

Below are several picture books that center culturally nourishing stories – ones that celebrate inclusivity and depict familial love. I included picture books, poetry, songs and video – purposefully multimodal – so students can interact with culturally nourishing stories in a variety of ways. 

In Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, by Kat Zhang, a little girl learns to love her bao-making skills. They’re not easy to make and they’re initially imperfect, but they’re delicious in any iteration, and readers quickly notice the familial closeness and special, comforting connections that arise as a result of crafting bao together. You can share the video for making bao with students too. 

In the classroom, teachers might try using the following questions from Reading to Make a Difference to support student connections to text. 

When students have an opportunity to explore landscapes, neighborhoods, and dwellings unlike their own, how can I help them make connections to their own environment? 

When students meet characters that have experiences or family structures different from their own, how can I draw connections so that these don’t seem so different? 

When students read about new cultural ways of being and lifestyles, how will I connect these to what is familiar to them? 

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is about a little boy who shares with his friends the long process of making lentil stew, from selecting the ingredients to patiently playing outside while the flavors merge together. He worries briefly about his friends not liking it but those worries quickly give way to the final touches, adding naan, fresh ginger and cilantro to serve. This is a beautiful book about friendship, community, and celebrating new experiences. 

Questions to support connection from Reading to Make a Difference:

When students meet characters that face challenges and obstacles different from their own, how will I help them build on what they already know?

When students are exposed to language and speech patterns that differ from their own, how will I help them find value in all language? 

I fell in love with Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz because of its enchanting descriptions of life in colors, smells and textures (“I see the color of lentils, bright and orange; pomegranates, juicy and rosy; cucumber skin, dark and green; and threads of saffron, gold and copper.”) The protagonist is Pakistani and her journey to know herself is deeply connected to the cultural wisdom of her grandmother. She uses all of her senses to absorb her family so powerfully, it feels like readers are witnessing the weaving of a gorgeous tapestry. 

Teachers and students can enjoy these stories across many days, stacking layering texts to facilitate conversation about varied cultures and nourishing traditions.

From Reading to Make a Difference, classroom teachers might specifically think about the question ‘How will students make connections across texts to build their understanding of the issue?’ 

Each of these picture books include recipes in the back, and often, nonfiction facts about the cultural background it came from. Teachers might ask students to write their own family food traditions, or create their own Flipgrid videos naming the steps of a special recipe. Students might draw pictures of their food stories or even record their family in the kitchen step-by-step. Happy food-related reading! 

For a more comprehensive resource list of food stories click here.

Nawal Qarooni Casiano is an award-winning journalist and educator with experience in New York City and Chicago schools. Nawal was a classroom teacher, curriculum developer and literacy coach before launching NQC Literacy in 2014. She and her team design professional learning experiences in dozens of schools and education spaces. She is the proud daughter of Iranian immigrants and the mother of four young multiethnic, multilingual kids, which very much shapes the way she understands learning. You can find her at the park with her four kids in Chicago’s Logan Square, at or on Twitter @NQCLiteracy

Teaching Civil Disobedience in the Midst of Nationwide Insurrection

Guest blog post by Tatiana Oliveira, 4th grade virtual teacher in Greenville, SC

On January 6th, 2021, America and the rest of the world watched in horror as white supremacists stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to protest the results of the 2020 election. Almost immediately, the question arose for educators across the country: How do we approach this with students?

In my virtual fourth grade classroom, we held a candid and honest conversation about the events of the previous day. One student asked why Black Lives Matter protestors were treated so differently from these protestors. Other students shared their observations about how people with black or brown skin are treated in the United States. 

Students recognized that the violence was wrong, and that it has no place in our democracy. But the question remained: How do we reconcile these protestors with peaceful protestors such as those during the Civil Rights Movement or the Women’s Liberation Movement? 

To illustrate this distinction, we engaged in several activities over the next few days, including:

  • Read alouds of books that depicted examples of peaceful protests, such as Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, and Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue. 
  • Responding to and asking questions about the violence we had just witnessed. For example, one student wrote a letter to President Biden asking for him to initiate police reform and hold police officers accountable, while another student recorded a Flipgrid video explaining his mixed feelings about the Inauguration. 
  • When learning about the Constitution the following week, we read I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer to better understand our right to peacefully protest under the First Amendment.

It is important to show students the power of nonviolent resistance beyond standalone read alouds during Black History Month or Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Capitol Hill riot cannot be the reference point for students when they think about protesting for meaningful change. As educators, we must teach them the fundamentality of peaceful protests to our democracy, and the role they have played in cultivating reform in American history. 

There is a significant contrast between the events of January 6th and protests of the past in the manner of, and the reasons for, protesting. As educators we must teach this intentionally and explicitly. Books are one of the most powerful platforms for having these difficult conversations at all grade levels.

Texts about Peaceful Protests


The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson

This biography tells the story of nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks, who was enraged at the segregation laws in 1960s Alabama. The youngest known person to be arrested for protesting in the Civil Rights Movement, Audrey helps lead the cause of “filling the jails,” and makes her mark as a young pioneer of desegregation.

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

A common misconception is that Rosa Parks’s peaceful protest was a spur of the moment, impulsive decision, because she was tired from work and did not want to get up from her bus seat. This text takes the reader through the background of that protest, and to the greater Montgomery Bus Boycott that took place as a result. Through its powerful illustrations and in-depth look at Parks’s life in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, readers will understand just how significant a role she played in the fight for racial justice.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

It is difficult to imagine a world in which children are forced to work rather than go to school, and are even employed over their parents. But that’s just what happened with Clara Lemlich, an immigrant from Ukraine in the early 1900s, who worked in a shirtwaist factory as a young child. Tired of not being fairly compensated or treated justly, Clara helps organize a massive walkout with her fellow female employees, resulting in changes to their salaries, working conditions, and treatment.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Winner of the Jane Addams Award and Pura Belpré Award, this picture book tells the often overlooked story of Sylvia Mendez who, despite being an American citizen, was prohibited from enrolling in her local elementary school in the early 1940s and was instead forced to enroll in the nearby Mexican school. Her family, confused and frustrated by the laws of segregation, launches a full petition and lawsuit to desegregate California schools. As one of the major court rulings leading up to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, the Mendez family’s fight helped integrate California schools and showed the power of a community rallying around a common cause.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Based on a remarkable true story, a gorilla named Ivan lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with his friends, an elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob. Ivan longs for a day when he can be free among his family. When a baby elephant named Ruby joins their group, Ivan realizes he must fight to help get her out of captivity. He does this the best way he knows how: through his art. The signs he makes, along with his drawings, draw attention to the mistreatment of the animals at the mall, and help free Ruby and Ivan.

Middle & Secondary

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee

Shay is a twelve-year-old girl who avoids trouble at all costs. But as a junior high schooler now, Shay has started to notice some new dynamics – with her family and with her friends. Her older sister, Hana, is active in Black Lives Matter, but many of Shay’s classmates don’t understand that movement. Shay is caught between wanting to fight for people who look like her, and wanting to just fit in at school and stay out of trouble. As she begins to learn more about the meaning of Black Lives Matter, Shay realizes that not all trouble is bad, and sometimes you have to break a few rules to see real change.

Internment by Samira Ahmed

Set in the near-future, the American President has passed several laws restricting the rights of Muslim Americans, and forcing them to live in an internment camp. Layla, a seventeen-year-old, along with her parents, are three of the citizens forced into this camp. Determined to break out, Layla forms an alliance with others in the camp and begins a revolution against the camp’s Director and the guards. 

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Betita’s father loves telling her stories about her family’s journey to the United States from Mexico, and Betita loves using picture poems to illustrate her family’s plight. But after her father is deported back to Mexico, and Betita and her mother are taken into custody at an ICE detention center, she loses her passion for creating picture poems. She realizes, however, that her poetry is her greatest weapon in the fight against injustice, and uses it to draw attention to the inhumane treatment she receives in the detention center.

Additional Recommended Texts/Resources:

Enough! 20 Protestors Who Changed America by Emily Easton

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Elizabeth Acevedo, Mahogany L. Browne, and Olivia Gatwood

March: Books 1, 2, 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet by Valentina Camerini

Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid by Adrienne Wright

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice by Bryan Stevenson

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Tatiana Oliveira is a 4th grade virtual teacher in Greenville, SC. Follow her on Twitter @tmoliveira17.

A Text Set for Teaching about Climate Change and Climate Justice

Guest Blog Post by Ysaaca Axelrod, Denise Ives, & Rachel Weaver

Climate change is not a new issue, however, over the past decade it has gained visibility and more and more people are concerned about climate change and its impact on our planet and our lives. Youth are becoming more vocal and involved in efforts to address climate change and many are the face of climate activism. One of the challenges of talking and teaching about climate change is that it is a complex topic that sometimes feels overwhelming because of the scientific complexity and the magnitude of the effects of climate change on our planet. However, while the science behind climate change is complex and constantly changing and evolving, it continues to affect the lives of every living creature on our planet. Yet, we are not all impacted equally.

The most marginalized and least-resourced communities on the planet suffer disproportionately from the changing climate’s devastating effects, making climate change not just a scientific matter but ultimately a social justice issue. As educators we believe that in spite of the magnitude of the topic, it is imperative that we talk to children about climate change and climate justice.

Sharing carefully selected books can create opportunities for learning and discussion. Books on climate change and climate justice can be found across several genres: non-fiction, fiction, and narrative nonfiction, and together can provide children with an understanding of the concept of climate change, the ways that different living creatures and people are impacted by these changes, as well as ideas for how we can all be engaged and work towards climate action. 

Pasquet, J., & Arbona M. (Illustrator). (2017). My Wounded Island. (S.B. Watson, Trans.). Orca Book Publisher. (Original work published 2009) Narrative Fiction

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Using the metaphor of a monster, the narrator, Imarvaluk, a young girl from Sarichef, one of the islands near the Arctic Circle, describes the changes to her island due to rising sea levels. The book describes shifts in their way of life due to climate change, and how they are losing their traditions as well as being forced to move because of environmental changes. This book can help to understand the concept of ‘climate refugees,’ people who are displaced due to climate changes, as well as a look at some of the populations around the world who are most vulnerable to climate change. 

Winter, J. (2019). Our House is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet. Beach Lane Books. Narrative Nonfiction

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This book is a  biography of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, who at the age of 15 started to strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament. Inspired by her, children around the world. joined her in climate strikes. This book includes biographical information, interspersed with Greta Thunberg’s own words and calls for action. 

Paul, M. (2015). One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. Millbrook Press. Narrative Nonfiction

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This book tells the true story of an African woman, Isatou Ceesay, from The Gambia,  who started a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community. This book celebrates a creative solution to real-world problems and illustrates how one person can make a big difference. Isatou Ceesay was recently dubbed the Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia by Climate Heroes. 

Cherry, L. (2002). A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Original work published 1992) Narrative Nonfiction

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This particular book is particularly relevant to us, located in Massachusetts. It is important to read books that provide examples of how climate change impacts our local communities as well as those that are far away. In this book, the author, Lynne Cherry (who is also the author of The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest), tells the true story of the Nashua River and the efforts to clean the river and restore and protect the water through local and legislative efforts. This story shows the ways that individuals, communities and policymakers can work together to enact change.  

Godsey, M., & Kellner, C. J. (Illustrator).  (2018). Not For Me, Please! I Choose to Act Green.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Narrative Nonfiction. 

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In this book, Luke, a little boy, talks about how he shifted from not caring about his actions and the environment to being aware of the consequences of his behaviors. It highlights how interconnected we all are, and how small changes on our part, can positively impact the planet and its inhabitants. The book provides concrete examples for children (and adults), how we can act green. 

These are some of the books we have used with children and teachers in classrooms to help support the teaching and learning about climate change. Our hope is that together, we can work towards climate justice to save our planet for us and generations to come. 

Additional Resources: 

Earthrise, a climate poem by Amanda Gorman

Bigelow, B., & Swinehart, T. (Eds.). (2014). A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching about the Environmental Crisis. Rethinking Schools 

Young Voices for the Planet Films

A collection of inspiring short films featuring young climate activists.

Bigelow, B. (2019). Our House is on Fire – Time to Teach Climate Justice. 

The Story of Stuff (2007)

A 20-minute online documentary video created by Annie Leonard that describes how the things we buy and use get created, distributed, and discarded. Also, available in Spanish.

Axelrod, Y., Ives, D., & Weaver, R. (2020). We are all learning about climate change: Teaching with picture books to engage teachers and students. Bank Street Occasional Papers, 36-47.

Ysaaca Axelrod is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education & Curriculum Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Email:

Denise Ives is an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Email:

Rachel Weaver is a 3rd grade teacher at the International School of Frankfurt Rhein-Main, located in Frankfurt, Germany. Email:

Striving and Thriving in Virtual Book Clubs During a Pandemic

“The power is not in the book itself, but rather in the readers who create meaning or co-construct meaning through dialogue, develop empathy and are inspired as change agents”.

-from Reading to Make a Difference by Lester Laminack & Katie Kelly, p.xxi

Connecting readers for in-person book club conversations is difficult due to the safety restrictions limiting social interaction during the pandemic. However, technology allows us to connect to engage in rich discussions and to deepen our thinking and our humanity. 

It’s been a full year since COVID began and school as we knew it completely shifted to a fluid combination of online and face-to-face learning with masks, plexiglass shields and desks in isolated islands spaced six feet apart. Many headlines across media sources suggest learning loss and children falling further behind in reading. We reject this deficit view and instead acknowledge the innovating ways educators and children have engaged in meaningful learning experiences. By partnering preservice teachers in Katie’s literacy methods class with Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders for virtual book clubs, we witnessed first hand the joy and growth that comes when readers have a space to connect and discuss their thinking. Even in the midst of one of the most difficult school years ever, there is much learning and thinking and growing happening albeit occurring in different ways and through different contexts BUT still present and strong nonetheless.

Choosing Books and Establishing Book Clubs

Because we believe that all children should have opportunities to read books that matter to them, the partnership began with Alyssa providing a list of suggested chapter books based on her students’ interests, identities, and reading histories. The preservice teachers in Katie’s class then selected a book to read and created a book trailer for the fourth graders to view and then choose the book they were interested in reading.  

Virtual Book Clubs

With book clubs established, the preservice teachers and fourth graders connected at least twice a week for four weeks using Edmodo, Flipgrid, and Jamboard to discuss the self-designated chapters. They brainstormed ‘words to live by’ or a set of norms and expectations for participating in online book clubs and developed their own reading schedules to hold themselves accountable. 

For the first post each week, Alyssa offered personalized, needs-based guiding questions to scaffold the discussions and modeled for the preservice teachers various types of open-ended questions to facilitate discussion. The first posts often pulled in supporting resources to deepen understanding of topics within the books: non-fiction articles, guest experts, parallel read alouds and video clips. The second post each week was more open-ended in nature with the fourth graders sharing their thinking and the preservice teachers responding with a ‘nurture and a nudge’. For example, when a student posted that “Nya (from the book A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park) cares about her family because she goes and gets water for them,” the preservice responded as follows:

“This is a very thoughtful observation in the text of the book of how Nya cares and takes care of her family. What questions or other thoughts do you have as to why Nya, being a child, has to do such hard work for her family?”  

Some groups created multimodal Jamboards with images and links to Google Earth to explore the settings and learn about geographical contexts for the books they read, while others conducted research to understand the cultural and historical contexts within their book. Students and preservice teachers alike were empowered to take control of their own learning directions and use their voices, openly and honestly.

For the culminating discussion, Katie and Alyssa surprised them with a synchronous gathering using Zoom. Before heading to book club breakout groups in Zoom to discuss their post-reading reactions to their books, they blew up the chat box with their excitement to see their reading buddies in real time.

Good morning book buddy!!!!!

this is so fun

This is a fun surprise for us!!

The preservice teachers facilitated post-reading conversations using co-constructed thinking stems they brainstormed together using Jamboard. As the fourth graders met in breakout groups with their reading buddies in real time, Alyssa observed the pure joy and excitement filling her classroom. Every single child was engaged… talking, smiling, and participating fully in the book club conversations. 

Book clubs are for everyone! One student who is deaf signed her thoughts while her translator translated for her reading buddies in the Zoom breakout. Her college buddy from Katie’s class made this completely normal. When Alyssa popped into the breakout, she commented, “Hi Miss. Cameron, Right now Emma is talking and sharing her ideas.” Her entire group was glued to the screen, listening, nodding and ready to respond. Her voice mattered, just as much as everyone else’s even though we “heard” it in a different way. 

“Kids are often limited by what adults think they can do, especially in schools right now. And these book clubs proved so clearly that kids are ready to talk, ready to grow and able to have BIG conversations… reading DOES make a difference… and so will these humans – big and small!”

-Alyssa Cameron, 4th grade teacher

Read more about Alyssa Cameron’s work in chapter 5, Advocating for Change in Reading to Make a Difference.

This One is For the Birds!

Lester’s 4-year-old granddaughter is fascinated by birds, especially owls. She can identify most any owl by sight, can identify several by their call, and can host rather engaging conversations about the habitat, diet, prey, and size of several different types. Her fascination is fed by a steady diet of books read to her by her parents. She is equally interested in fiction and nonfiction and is quick to let you know whether what you are reading is something that birds do in nature or only in stories.  One book she likes caught Lester’s attention.  A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart features several birds revealing the impact of threats to their habitats.  Now the whole family is making conscious efforts to protect native birds and make them welcome.

Her interest led us to do a bit of exploration of our own. Did you know that the bird population in North America has been in significant decline?  The National Audubon Society reports that North America has lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the last fifty years. Researchers indicate that it isn’t just threatened species that are declining. Many of your favorite backyard birds are also.  

CBS news reported that while most bird species have seen a significant decline in population, the numbers of ducks and geese have actually increased. This fact may be attributed to the work of Ducks Unlimited which was formed over one hundred years ago by a group of waterfowl hunters concerned about declining population. Ducks Unlimited has worked to protect waterfowl by purchasing and protecting wetlands. The group has also effectively encouraged legislation and conservation easements on private land to protect the birds. 

While many species of wetland birds have benefitted from these efforts, other species of birds have suffered due to a loss of habitat. Specifically, there is a reported 53% decline among grassland birds, a 33% decline in birds that thrive in boreal forests, and a decline of 29% among birds found in western forests. In addition to a loss of habitat, the decline in bird populations has also been attributed to the use of “deadly pesticides…, feral cats…, collisions with buildings, cell phone towers, electricity generating windmills and powerlines; and of course, global warming.” (CBS News, Sept.19, 2019)

Is there anything we can do about this situation?  Of course!  Oftentimes, children’s spark for curiosity and inquiry are ignited by the books read to them by the adults in their lives. 

We have included a list of books that can spark an interest in birds and raise awareness of the significant decline in the bird population. This collection could be used to launch an inquiry into birds, birdwatching, conservation, reclaiming habitat, providing food and shelter for native and migrating birds and more. Perhaps you’ll share the CBS news clip to spark a bit of interest and generate initial questions to launch your inquiry. 

Image result for About Birds by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree)

About Birds by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree)

Image result for A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)

Image result for Bird Watch by Christine Matheson (Greenwillow)

Bird Watch by Christine Matheson (Greenwillow)

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Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer (Charlesbridge)


Birds by Carme Lemniscantes (Candlewick)

Bird Count

Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond (Peachtree)

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Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre (Beach Lane Books)

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Backyard Bird Watching for Kids by George H. Harrison (Willow Creek Press)

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National Audubon Society Pocket Guide Familiar Birds of North America east

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National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America 2nd ed. by Jonathan Alderfer and Noah Strycker