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Read-Aloud for Everyone: Notable Books for a Global Society

By Sandip Wilson and Carolyn Angus
 | Feb 12, 2018

On February 1 we celebrated World Read Aloud Day, when people all around the globe read aloud together and share stories to advocate for literacy as a right that belongs to all people. This week’s column includes books from the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group’s 2018 Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list that will inspire engaging read-aloud in classrooms and libraries during February and throughout the year. The complete 2018 NBGS list (as well as lists from previous years) is available here.

Ages 4–8

I Love My Purse. Belle DeMont. Ill. Sonja Wimmer. 2017. Annick. 

I Love My Purse 2One day Charlie decides to take the red purse his grandmother gave him to school. His father tells him he might love his purse but that doesn’t mean he should wear it, pointing out that sneakers and baseball caps are appropriate apparel for a boy (while also thinking about things he loves). At school Charlotte questions why he is wearing a purse. When Charlie says, “Because I want to,” she notes that although she loves face paint, she doesn’t wear it every day. As Charlie continues to carry his purse each day, he inspires others to embrace their own unique styles. This picture book is about the importance of being true to yourself, rejecting societal norms, and exploring new possibilities.


Stolen Words. Melanie Florence. Ill. Gabrielle Grimard. 2017. Second Story.

Stolen WordsA 7-year-old girl comes home from school one day wanting to learn the Cree language from her grandfather. However, like many first-nation children in Canada, her grandfather had been sent to a residential school where he was taught English and punished for using his native language. He has forgotten his language and, after hearing his granddaughter’s excitement, is sad that he cannot teach her beautiful Cree words, so different from sharp-sounding English words. Determined to learn Cree and to help her grandfather, she brings home the book Introduction to Cree from her school library. Based on her experiences as a child, Florence has written a lyrical story of redemption, healing, and love. 


Wishtree. Katherine Applegate. Ill. Charles Santoso. 2017. Feiwel and Friends.

WishtreeThe narrator of this story is a loquacious old northern red oak named Red. The story of why people call her “the wishtree” (which goes back to her seedling days over two centuries ago) plays a part in Red’s story about a lonely young Muslim girl named Samar. When her family moves into a tiny house nearby, Samar, who ventures out nightly to sit under the tree, shares her wish for a friend by tying a pink ribbon to one of Red’s branches. The carving of the word “LEAVE” on her trunk one night is a disturbing sign to Red that not everyone in the neighborhood welcomes Samar’s family. The way Red (and a community of talking animals who live in the branches and hollows of the tree) deal with intolerance in the neighborhood makes Wishtree a warm, humorous read-aloud story that will encourage thoughtful discussion.


Ages 911

Letters to a Prisoner. Jacques Goldskyn. 2017. OwlKids. 

Letters to a PrisonerA man and his young daughter are participating in a peaceful demonstration when he is arrested by the police, hurried to a prison, and locked in a cell, where he falls into dark despair and lonely silence. During the weeks that follow, he thinks of sunny days walking and exploring with his daughter and weeps at his loss, until a ray of light arrives in the form of a letter. Despite the prison officers’ efforts to destroy them, letters from all over the world begin flooding the prison, allowing him to escape on wings of hope. Rendered in colored ink, the apocryphal story, inspired by the ongoing Write for Rights work of Amnesty International, pays homage to the actions of individuals in the name of hope and freedom.


Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees. Mary Beth Leatherdale. Ill. Eleanor Shakespeare. 2017. Annick.  

Stormy SeasSea Stories recounts the stories of five teenage refugees who fled their homelands by boat between 1938 and 2006. Illustrated with collage, paint, and photographs, the stories, gathered through interviews, describe the conditions of war and persecution that forced them to leave, their life-threatening journeys to a better life, and life after they found new homes. The refugees must travel thousands of miles and sometimes backtrack before they can stop their journeys, only to be kept in detention camps, not knowing their fate. A timeline of boat refugees over four centuries in the front matter and a timeline of refugees from World War II to present in the back matter provide historical context. A list of resources provides information for additional exploration.


Ages 12–14

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance.  Nikki Grimes. 2017. Bloomsbury.

One Last WordIn this anthology, Nikki Grimes shares “wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance” by combining her own original work with poems from the Harlem Renaissance era. The collection is a wonderful introduction to the work of eight master poets of the period: Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, William Waring Cuney, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Clara Ann Thompson, and Jean Toomer, as well as to the Golden Shovel poetry form that Grimes uses. Expressive full-color works of art by contemporary African American illustrators such as R. Gregory Christie, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, and Brian Pinkney beautifully complement the poems. Back matter includes poet biographies (including selected works), artist biographies, sources of poems and poet portraits, and an index.


Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Kwame Alexander (with Chris Colderley & Marjory Wentworth). Ill. Ekua Holmes. 2017. Candlewick.

Out of Wonder 2The title Out of Wonder comes from Lucille Clifton’s quote, “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.” This collection of 20 original poems by Kwame Alexander and his coauthors pays tribute to a diverse group of 20 poets by “adopting their style, extending their ideas, and offering gratitude to their wisdom and inspiration.” Featured poets range from Bashō and Rumi to Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. Each poem is paired with a joyful mixed-media collage painting. Appended biographical notes support further exploration.


Ages 15+.

Dreamland Burning. Jennifer Latham. 2017. Little Brown.

Dreamland BurningWhen 17-year-old Rowan Chase discovers a skeleton in a shed behind her home, she has no idea that investigating the murder will lead to painful discoveries about the present and the past. Rowan’s story alternates with Will Tillman’s story—the white son of the owner of a music store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921. In a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will tries to do what’s right for the black community. The novel includes an account of the Tulsa race riots of 1921. At once a mystery and an historical fiction thriller, the stories of Rowan and Will converge in unexpected ways, demonstrating that history continues to influence people’s understanding of themselves and their communities.


Trell.  Dick Lehr. 2017. Candlewick.

TrellSet in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1980s, Trell, the 14-year-old daughter of a man imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, sets out to clear his conviction. When Trell discovers that legal avenues are not available unless she can discover new information and evidence, she is determined to investigate the court case. Trell enlists the help of a retired journalist to help locate the witnesses used to convince the court of her father’s guilt. Working with the journalist, she discovers a complex web of false evidence and corruption in the district attorney’s office and the police department and uncovers collusion between those officers and a gang leader. In his author’s note, Lehr provides detail about the investigation of the murder case—based on a true story—that showed gross injustice and the “eventual search for justice.”


An Uninterrupted View of the Sky. Melanie Crowder. 2017. Philomel/Penguin.

An Uninterrupted View of the SkySet in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 1999, Francisco is dedicated to working hard in school so that he can be admitted into university. But when his father, a taxi driver, is wrongfully arrested and sent to prison by a corrupt system, Francisco’s life is changed. Without resources to free his father (and an absent mother), Francisco and his sister, Pilar, live with their father in the prison, which houses thousands of inmates and their families. Each day the children leave the prison to go to school and, while their father makes pennies in the prison to support them, they scramble for money to buy food, hoping to rent a space in the prison that has a locking door and a view of the sky. In an author’s note, Crowder describes her experiences in Bolivia at the time the novel takes place.


Sandip LeeAnne Wilson serves as professor in the School of Education and the English Department of Husson University, Bangor, Maine. She served on the 2018 Notable Books for a Global Society. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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