Last week I listed a few of my favorite books for cold weather reading and gifting. This week, allow me to tell you about a few of my favorite read-aloud picture books for kids. These are all books I loved to read to my students when I was teaching, and I feel safe in saying they’re modern classics. So-in no particular order, here goes.
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
The story of a baby bat separated from her mother who takes refuge in a bird’s nest. Learning to pass for “normal” among her adopted avian family means sleeping upright, eating nasty bugs instead of sweet fruit, and flying all day because she’s too embarrassed that anyone discover she can’t land on her feet. Never fear, her mother finds her, and she discovers the tribe where she truly belongs. But the greater lesson isn’t lost: she is still loved by her adoptive siblings and she loves them. We all have strengths and weaknesses; even when we have differences, we can still be friends.
Readers get a brief biology lesson here too. At the end of the book there is a short tutorial on bats, the only mammals able to fly on their own power.
Owen and Mzee: the True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr.Paula Kahumbu with photos by Peter Greste
The story of the remarkable friendship between a baby hippo named Owen and a 130 year old tortoise named Mzee. It begins when Owen is somehow separated from his family by a devasting tsunami off the coast of Kenya. He was discovered stranded alone on a coral reef. The book tells the tale of concerned citizens capturing the 600-pound baby, hoisting him onto a truck and taking him to an animal sanctuary near Mombasa. Owen was placed in a large enclosed part of the park where he sought refuge with the ancient tortoise Mzee, the oldest resident there. Mzee was a loner, and didn’t welcome the youngster’s attention at first. But Owen could easily keep up with a tortoise, and he was not to be deterred. Eventually they developed a lasting bond–eating, sleeping, and swimming together. It’s a very touching story.
This book offers great opportunities for enrichment. In my classroom we used it as a jumping off point to discuss the differences between mammals like Owen and reptiles like Mzee, the geography and culture of Kenya, even a unit on weather as we considered tsunamis. But at the heart, it is another wonderful story about friendship despite differences.
My Life With the Wave based on the story by Octavio Paz, translated and adapted for children by Catherine Cowan, illustrated by Mark Buehner
The story of a boy who convinces his parents to allow him to bring home a small wave from the seashore to live as his pet in the family home. The wave is a joyful creature, and proves to be a lot of fun at first. But she can also be a moody companion, vulnerable to stormy blues, and the boy finally realizes that nature can’t always be tamed. The illustrations here are stunning, just a beautiful book.
Santa Cows by Cooper Edens, illustrated by Daniel Lane
Of course I’ve got to include something with a holiday theme! The author uses A Visit from Santa Nicholas (you know, “T’was the Night Before Christmas”) as her model, and creates a rhymed verse describing the rather dull Christmas Eve of a suburban family gathered around the TV set. When what should appear? Well, it’s not Santa Claus, but a group of cows in red Santa hats, who somehow manage to squeeze down their chimney, sing them Christmas carols, and give them surprising gifts. Trust me, it’s a very fun read.
Sometimes I’d use this book as inspiration for the kids to write their own stories: what animal could they imagine showing up on Christmas Eve? How would they arrive and what gifts might they bring?
Children Just Like Me: Celebrations! by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley in association with the United Nations Children’s Fund (aka UNICEF)
Children Just Like Me is a series of books highlighting the lives of children all over the world, from multiple countries, income levels, religions, and ethnicities. The original book was published in 1995, then updated in 2016. My favorite in the series–Celebrations!—shows children from around the world celebrating just about any holiday you can think of, and many you may not have heard of. All the books are filled with beautiful, bright, engaging photographs, celebrating the amazing diversity of this planet we share. Highly recommended.
Books make great gifts any time, but especially this year. Buy two copies of these books, and read them together with your favorite little person on Zoom. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable.
Wishing your families health, happiness, and better days ahead!
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash