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The Family Room

(Back to the Front Porch)

Grab a comfy chair and join us in our Family Room. Families come in all shapes and sizes and in this room everyone is welcome. We invite you to share your experiences of family, through the wonders of children’s literature.

My rowsA wonderful book that I never tire of reading to children is My Rows and Piles of Coins, written by Tololwa Mollel, and beautifully illustrated in watercolors by E.B. Lewis.   The story is set in the 1960s in Northern Tanzania, where the author spent his childhood.   The main character in the story is Saruni, a young boy who yearns to buy a shiny, blue and red bicycle that he saw at the local market.   He decides to save all the money that his mother, Yeyo, gives him for helping her each Saturday at the market where they sell eggs, dried beans, maize, pumpkins, spinach, bananas, and firewood.

Every day after school, Saruni practices riding his father’s big bicycle, but he crashes into the coffee trees and the children from his neighborhood laugh at him.  His father, Murete, gives him several lessons and eventually Saruni is able to ride the bike on his own.  However, Saruni’s personal goal is to eventually ride his own bicycle to market while proudly carrying a load of produce on the back of his bike, so that his mother will have less to carry on her head.

For several months, Saruni earns money by helping his father on the coffee farm and by helping his mother sell their fruits and vegetables at the market.  He secretly puts all his coins in his moneybox, and from time to time, he empties the heavy box, arranges the coins in piles and the piles in rows.  Then he counts the coins and thinks about the blue and red bicycle.   One chilly day in July, Saruni goes to the market with plans to buy the bicycle with all three hundred and five coins that he has saved.

“I must be the richest boy in the world, I thought, feeling like a king.  I can buy anything.”

However, when he tells the bike vendor that he wants to buy a bike, the man simply laughs at him because Saruni has only thirty shillings and fifty cents (at that time, the cost of a bike was at least 150 shillings).   Saruni confides in his mom and tells her about his secret plan to buy a bike so that he could help her.  She places her hand on his head and tells him confidently that one day he will buy a bicycle.

The next afternoon, Saruni’s father offers to sell his bicycle to his son “For thirty shillings and fifty cents”.   Saruni is surprised and wonders how his father found out about his secret moneybox.  Saruni is ecstatic about having his very own bike and he gratefully gives Murete his moneybox.  Murete gives the box to Yeyo, who in turns gives it back…. to her son, Saruni, to thank him for all his help to them over the past months.   It’s no wonder that this moving story about determination, love and generosity has received the Alberta Writers Guild R. Ross Annett Children’s Literature Prize; the African Studies Association Children’s Africana Award, and it is a Coretta Scott King Honor book.

Celebrating Difference

By Jarrod Francis 

“We see them come, we see them go,

Some are fast, some are slow,

Some are high, and some are low

Now one of them is like the other,

Don’t ask me why go ask your mother”

-Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish

It is one of those unwritten rules among junior high students that anything that makes you different is a bad thing and will make you a target.  The last thing any adolescent wants to do is stand out from the crowd.  I believe that, because of this, it is important to begin urging students to celebrate their individuality at a young age and begin imparting on them the message that serves as the title of Todd Parr’s book “It’s Okay to Be Different.”

Parr’s book looks at many types of difference in a fun, light hearted way with amusing, clever illustrations.  Differences from the small, trivial things which make us insecure, “It’s okay to have big ears;” “It’s okay to have no hair;” to physical disabilities “It’s okay to have wheels,” are looked at.  Throughout the playful tone and sometimes comical examples the book contains a serious message, appropriate for all ages.  “It’s okay to be different” helps students realize that in their difference they are not alone.  Other people finish last some times, other people talk about their feelings, and other people have imaginary friends.  I know for me in school the worst feeling was the thought that I was the only one who struggled with certain things or who felt a certain way. 

Parr’s message of embracing difference is also apparent in his book entitled “The Family Book.”  “The Family Book” discusses and celebrates all sorts of difference in family, from families of different sizes and different colors, families live far away from each other, families with step parents and families with adopted children. While celebrating difference “The Family Book” also celebrates the things which connect all families,  “all families like to hug each other;” all families are sad when they lose someone they love;” “all families can help each other be strong.”  Much like “It’s Okay to be different” “The Family Book” uses fun light hearted examples to convey a serious message.  

Continuing on the themes of difference and family allow me also to suggest “All Families Are Special” by Norma Simon, Illustrated by Teresa Flavin.  This book is set in a classroom where the teacher announces she is about to become a grandmother.  The students are intrigued by this and are inspired to share about the families they come from.  Throughout the students stories we hear about extended families, with grandmothers, grandfathers and cousins; small families, one boy lives just with his father after his mother passed away when he was young; separated families, a boy who’s grandparents live in Pakistan and visit every year, and families of divorce where the students have step parents and brothers and sisters and, in some cases, have two families.  The main messages of the book are that we share sad times and glad times with families, no families are the same, and, as the title states, all families are special.

For those of us who teach in the public school system in this diverse city we are privy to a wide range of difference amounts our students.  It has been a rewarding experience for me being exposed to all this difference after attending a far more monogamous school out in the suburbs.  Every student brings to us difference, difference in who they are as people, and difference in the background they come from.  We must start them in embracing this at a young age, and ourselves embrace it.  

I Love You, Stinky Face

stinkyThe word “unconditional” has been part of my vocabulary for many years.  I have loved my parents, my sisters, my nieces, nephews and family unconditionally.  And yet, until I had children of my own, I truly did not understand what it meant to love someone unconditionally.  Being a mother has brought another dimension to the words and feeling associated with loving someone unconditionally.   I love my children wholly and completely.  And there is not a day that goes by that I don’t tell my children how much I love them but I often wonder if they are able to grasp the concept. 

When I discovered the book, “I Love You, Stinky Face” written by Lisa McCourt (1997, Bridgewater Books), I thought what a perfect book to help me teach my children what it means to be loved unconditionally.     

The book begins the way I end every day with my girls, a mother tucking her child into bed and telling her child, “I love you, my wonderful child.”  And just like every other curious child, the child asks, ”But, Mama, but, Mama, what if I were a big, scary ape? Would you still love me then?”  The mother replies, “If you were a big, scary ape, I would comb your whole hairy self to make sure you didn’t have any tangles.  And I would make your birthday cake out of bananas, and I would tell you, ‘I love you, my big, scary ape.” But it doesn’t stop there.  The child goes on to ask, but what if I was a smelly skunk named Stinky Face, or an alligator with big sharp teeth, a terrible meat-eating dinosaur, or a swamp creature, maybe even a Green Alien from Mars.  And after every different scenario the mother answers, to no surprise, that no matter what he looks like, no matter what he smells like, and no matter what he acts like, her love for him is limitless.  A true example of unconditional love.

Along with the wonderful imagination of the child in the story, the illustrations in this book are bright and cheerful despite the scary monsters.   Normally when I read a story, my children are trying to turn the pages of the book before I have finished reading the text and yet with this story my children love to stare at the pictures and are often eager to turn back the pages to take a second or third look at the friendly monsters.

 After reading this book I discovered that this book is part of a series.  One other book in the series is called “I Miss You Stinky Face” also written by Lisa McCourt. (2009, Scholastic).  This book continues to demonstrate the unconditional love between parent and child.  This time the mother is away from the home for work and phones home to talk to her child.  Again the child’s imagination runs wild asking his mother, “Mama, do you miss me so much that you’re coming right home to me, NO MATTER WHAT?”   And to demonstrate that nothing will stop her from getting home to her child, the mother whispers into the ear of a magic dragon, races a cheetah and crew of unhappy pirates and braves hungry sharks to get home to her son.

One of the things that made these books so real for me, was the mother’s constant reply that she would love her child despite the fact that he might not be ‘perfect’ in the eyes of society.  She would be there for him, to cheer him on, to bake him birthday cakes, to comb his hair and love him- forever.  When I want my children to understand the concept of selfless love, I turn to the pages of these books.  The author does a wonderful job of reiterating that love is all encompassing, non discriminating and noble.  She does this in a manner that both children and parents can appreciate and understand and her primary theme of unconditional love shines through brilliantly.   With its’ colorful illustrations and animated words, the author is able to appeal to all audiences.   My primary focus as a mother is to ensure the safety and well-being of my children.  To provide a loving home where they can feel secure and cherished- for who they are and for what they do to make our family complete.  I love my children profoundly, passionately and unconditionally.  As a parent, the love I have for my own children helps me to understand the love my parents have for me and it has helped our relationship flourish and mature. The message in both these stories is very clear and powerful, a parent’s love for their child is never ending and endearing, NO MATTER WHAT! 

breadwinnerThe Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Imagine being an eleven year old girl who has to disguise herself as a boy in order to become the breadwinner to help her family survive.  If you’re looking for a contemporary children’s story about a family who faces hardship and oppression with determination and perseverance, Canadian author Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner provides an engrossing read.  Parvana is the second youngest daughter in an educated family who find themselves trapped in modern day Afghanistan under the Taliban rule, forced to wear burqas when they leave the house.

Bright and determined, the female protagonist, Parvana, has become frustrated at not being able to go outdoors or no longer attending school because she is a girl. The situation becomes desperate when Parvana’s father is abducted and jailed, forcing his wife and daughters to fend for themselves.  Because their brother has been killed by a land mine during an earlier conflict in their home country, there is no other male in the family to provide for them. Living with the uncertainty of their father’s whereabouts, Parvana’s mother and siblings, Nooria and Maryam, must make do as best they can living in a crowded one room apartment.  It is then that Parvana agrees to disguise herself as a boy to go out to get supplies and to become the breadwinner of the family at the marketplace in town. 

As with most families living in close proximity Parvana and her older sister, Nooria, succumb to the typical bickering and rivalry of sisters.  Because Nooria is older and more physically developed than her younger sister she cannot pass as a boy.  So it is Parvana, the middle daughter, who takes on the responsibility of providing for her family out of both a sense of duty and adventure.  As Mrs. Weera, a visiting family friend who has been left alone herself says, “These are unusual times. They call for ordinary people to do unusual things, just to get by.” At the marketplace Parvana and her friend Shauzia use their ingenuity to read letters, sell trinkets and eventually dig up bones to make money for their families. 

Well worth a read, Parvana’s story is one of universal perseverance and hope and personal maturity. Although the father is eventually freed, the novel ends with a cliffhanger, leaving readers wanting more.  In fact, Deborah Ellis has written a trilogy continuing Parvana’s story with Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.

What is family worth?

the tableFamily is something we often take for granted. Children are especially good at expecting to have certain luxuries (video games, toys, expensive outings) and at times forget that the adults in their family have worked hard to provide these things. Children seem to be becoming more demanding and less grateful every year. They tend to thank their families by being unappreciative. Often the more children have the more they want and the less they appreciate what they have.

A favourite book of mine, The Table Where Rich People Sit does a great job of addressing the issues of money and family. It explores the idea of having a rich life without having a lot of money. The book accomplishes all of this without being negative or preachy. The main character is a young girl who worries that her family doesn’t have enough money. She thinks her parents need to get better jobs and start providing their children with more expensive material possessions. She is embarrassed about some of the things her family has (including their kitchen table) and worries about what other people must think. Her parents walk her through all of the “riches” that their family has and she begins to realize that she has taken some things for granted. By the end of the book, she decides that she would not trade any of her families “riches” for more actual money. She understands that they are blessed with many great things and that the money doesn’t matter as much as she originally thought. This is a great book for starting a discussion about the idea that money can’t make you happy. Children often think if the money tree in the backyard began to grow they would be happy. They don’t realize that there are always more things to want and it is important to take time to enjoy what we have.

giftsAnother book that touches on this subject is Gifts by: Jo Ellen Bogart. This is a sweet story of a grandmother who travels all over the world. Every time she is leaving to visit a new place she asks her granddaughter what she would like her to bring back. The granddaughter is not greedy and usually asks her for things that cost nothing or very little. Most of the things she wants her grandmother to give her are in the form of memories, stories and time spent together. This book is a great way to lead into a discussion about special times with family being more important than presents in pretty bags with ribbons. The most important thing family can share is love and that is not something you can buy at any store.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

ann_of_green_gablesNot many of my books are as cherished from my childhood as my faded copy of the Canadian classic, Anne of Green Gables, by native Prince Edward Island author, L. M. Montgomery.  It is with fond memories that I gingerly flip the pages every decade or so and delight in its poignancy and charm.  Anne Shirley, siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert comprise an unconventional family of an adopted, redheaded, orphan waif, an old bachelor and a spinster. Not a traditional family, theirs is a family of necessity and duty, but ultimately love.  Due to a communication mix-up, a little girl is sent to fulfil the request for an orphan boy from Nova Scotia to help out on the farm of aging siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Although unwanted and expected, their affection for the young girl gets the better of them, and both Matthew and Marilla welcome the young girl into their home and lives to create a caring family. Although clichéd, heart warming would be the term I would use to describe this historical novel set in turn of the century rural Avonlea, P.E.I.

Each chapter title provides a charming hint at the whimsical episode awaiting the reader.  From the first chapter when “Mrs. Rachel Lynde Is Surprised” to “Marilla Makes Up Her Mind” to “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” to “Mrs. Rachel Lynde Is Properly Horrified,” Anne bewitches us with her quirky imagination and idealistic dreams.  Witness her penchant for dramatic verbosity when she explains to Matthew the reason for her sorrow —

“Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who had red hair.  I don’t mind the other things so much – the freckles, green eyes and the skinniness.  I can imagine them away.  But I cannot imagine that red hair away…It will be my lifelong sorrow.”

The perfect child literary hero, Anne Shirley is bewitching, irascible and unstoppable. As well, secondary characters, Diana Barry, Gilbert Blythe, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, Mrs. Rachel Lynde and Ruby Gillis are so well defined by the author that you feel as if you know them too. Furthermore, the setting is almost another character as Montgomery paints such vivid settings for her story.  As a child I envisioned the Lake of Shining Waters, Avonlea, Lovers’ Lane, Dryad’s Bubble and Willowmere and thought them to be cosy corners and nooks of the world, reminding me of visits to my grandmother’s farm.  

Yes, it is with fondness and a sense of innocence that I recollect Anne’s dire scrapes like her fancy tea party fiasco where she serves best friend, Diana, homemade currant wine instead of raspberry cordial, thereby getting her drunk, the “red carrots” pigtail incident involving Gilbert at school and the fateful sinking of the lily maid flat during a production of the King Arthur’s Camelot story on the river.  And of course, I wept during the most poignant and sad part of the story involving Matthew.  

Interestingly enough, when reading L. M. Montgomery’s autobiography (Volume I) many years later, I was saddened to learn that the author’s own life was not as charmed or as carefree as Anne’s.  Raised by a strict grandmother, Montgomery’s imagination seemed to only flourish on the written page as she lived a quiet life of personal disappointments and suffering despite her fame as a writer.  While the Anne Shirley character shares some autobiographical qualities of the author and led a productive and happy life, the author’s journey was at times bleak and difficult, by her own admission.

To conclude, I must admit that I considered Anne a “kindred spirit” when I was caught up in her “scrumptious” world from grades 5-6.  Luckily, as with any good book you never want to end, the Anne series has several volumes to satisfy your endless fascination with this red-headed waif.  Never at a loss for words, Anne continues to engage young readers around the world with her boundless imaginative escapades.  

and tango makes three By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell Illustrated by Henry Cole

and-tango-makes-three-300It is rare to find a good book with a sweet story that deals with diverse family structures. “And tango makes three” is the perfect example of a book to introduce diverse family structures to young children. It tells the story of two male penguins that fall in love. They do everything that the other penguin couples do but they quickly realize that they cannot have an egg. They long for a family and anxiously try many different things to make that happen. The kind and caring zoo keeper notices that they are upset so he finds them an egg and before long tango hatches to complete their small family. There are many animal families in the zoo but there are no other families that have two dads.

The zoo keeper is a great character to remind children that people can be happy in many different family structures but that sometimes they might need a little help making their family happen.

This book has won several awards including the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award. At the same time it has been extremely controversial. The American Library association reported that it was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008 (see link)

 One of my classmates was presenting a project about homophobia and I mentioned my frustration with trying to teach children acceptance without good children’s books that portray diverse families. She recommended this book and as soon as I read it I couldn’t wait to share it with other people. The fact that it is based on a true story and that the penguins are still in the Central Park Zoo makes the story even more touching. Why would anyone ever want to split up two cute penguins that chose each other?   love is a family

A book that I would recommend reading first is “Love is a Family” by: Roma Downey. This book reminds us that a family is about people that love each other. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the family or who they are as long as there is love involved. The love is what makes a true family. For young children it is important to be warmed up to the idea of diverse family structures before dealing with the more controversial issues in “and tango makes three”.

JUST ME AND MY FAMILY, BY Mercer Mayer  – A Look At Unconditional Love In The Family

“Just Me And My Family,” by Mercer Mayer is a collection of books that showcase the unconditional love that I believe, resides in all families.  I grew up in a family of five, and like so many other families, we were far from perfect.  We had our quirks, our tiffs and our occasional catastrophes but through it all we always knew that no matter what, we loved each other and would always be there to support one another.  The six stories that make up The Mercer Mayer Family Collection are charming tales about Little Critter and his outings with each individual family member.   Reading these books with children is a wonderful way to illustrate the message that even through our many blunders, we are above all else… still lovable.  

just me and my familyWe, as children and adults alike, can sometimes get bogged down with their mistakes and faults that we start to believe we are not good enough.   We can also become overwhelmed with frustration when things do not go the way that we had planned.  The childlike texts of these stories, paired with the delightful illustrations help children learn that there will always be another chance to try again or to try something new. 

 “I built a sandcastle just for Grandma, but a big wave came.  Grandma said that’s what happens to sandcastles, and we will build a new one next time.”

“I wanted to take my dad for a ride in the canoe, but I launched it too hard.” (The illustration shows the canoe sinking in the water and Little Critter’s dad with angry furrowed brows.) 

Children of all ages can relate to these books and without even realizing it, they are learning the valuable lesson of unconditional love.  True, Little Critter makes mistakes and his family does get angry from time to time, but in the end, all is forgiven and the knowledge of that they will love him no matter what is all that matters.

25 comments

  1. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is a well written book that depicts the trial and tribulations that families are go through, during a time of war and a country’s social injustices. It allows children to grasp an understanding of what some other children their own age are going through during this time of war in Afghanistan.

    This book would work well as a read aloud and enable students to discuss what Parvana and her family has to go through in order to survive. Even though this novel is fiction, the type of events that take place are real and students can learn and begin to understand some of the harsh realities that are taking place in other parts of the world.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing all these wonderful books and stories about love and family. It seems that so often we are inundated with and overwhelmed by the news and the horrors of our everyday lives. It is so wonderful to be able to read these stories to our children and remind them that despite all the chaos…they are loved.

    I especially want to thank the person who shared “I Love You Stinky Face.” I too have always heard the phrase “unconditional love” and I want to be able to let my own baby know just how much I love them. I have already been online and ordered myself a copy of both the books that you mentioned.

    Reading and spending time with our little ones is such a special gift. It is wonderful to find new books to share…keep them coming.


  3. I think that the books in the ‘Family Room’ are all great choices. I especially like that someone included the Little Critter book, “Just me and my family”. I have such fond memories of reading all of the Little Critter books even after I was considered by some to be too old for them (if there ever can really be such a thing as too old for any book, which I don’t think there can). I remember the whole series vividly, each book although highly entertaining, would have a great realistic message to share that could easily apply to almost anyone. Another book in this collection comes to mind as a good choice for the ‘Family Room’. I remember reading a book called “The new baby” where the main character goes through the transition of getting a new baby sister. Overall, a great collection of books in both the Little Critter series and in the ‘Family Room’!


  4. “I Love You Stinky Face” reminds me of a childhood favourite of mine “The Runaway Bunny,” by Margaret Wise Brown. This story is about a mother and child bunny. The child bunny announces one day to his mother “I am running away.” The mother responds that if he runs away she will find him. The boy bunny then proposes a number of different scenarios in which he may run away in disguise; “I’ll become a fish in a trout stream;” “I’ll become a mountain climber;” “I’ll become a bird and fly away.” With each scenario the boy presents the mother has a response; “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you;” I will become a mountain climber and climb to where you are.” “I will become a tree that you come home to.” Finally the child gives up and decides to stay with him mother. I received this book when I was in grade two from my Godmother and still have the copy that she gave me. It is now getting quite tattered after many joyful readings. I find I enjoy it as much now, maybe more, than I did when I was young.


  5. After reading about the books, The Table Where Rich People Sit, and Just Me and My Family, I was reminded of a book titled, Tight Times, written by Barbara Shook Hazen. It’s written from the perspective of a little boy who wants to own a dog, but his daddy tells him he can’t have one “Because of tight times.” The dad explains that “tight times are when everything keeps going up…tight times are why we don’t have roast beef on Sunday.” Shortly thereafter, the father comes home from work early and tells his son that he lost his job. While the parents are talking privately, the boy goes outside and he discovers a scrawny cat in a nearby trashcan. He’s too little to reach the cat, so a young woman helps him, and tells him that he can keep the cat. The boy tiptoes into his home and tries to get some milk from the fridge, but he knocks over the carton and it falls to the floor. The parents come running into the kitchen; they see the cat and the father asks, “What’s that!” The boy innocently tells him that it’s a cat, and that a nice lady told him he could keep it. “Then something sort of scary happened. Daddy started to cry. So did Mommy. I didn’t know daddies cried. I didn’t know what to do. Then they both made a sandwich hug with me in the middle.” I guarantee this story will make you feel good inside, just like a sandwich hug.


  6. I read a story this morning that reminded me of I Love You Stinky Face, by Lisa McCourt. It was entitled, Mars Needs Moms! written by Berkeley Breathed. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it wanting so badly to have that connection with my second son. To have him know I will love him to the ends of the universe. The story…a little boy who doesn’t see anything special about his mom and finds her a “giant,summer-stealing, child-working, perfumy garden goblin, bellowing broccoli bully, carrot-cuddling cuckoo, thundering, humorless tyrant, slave-driving, trash-mashing, rubbish odor ogre” comes to realize what is so special about his mother. The story’s artwork shares the negative and unappealing things about a mother from Milo’s perspective! He can’t seem to find anything special about mothers. After Milo falls asleep, his imagination takes over in his dreams. The martians from Mars are coming to get a treasure. A treasure that could not be found on Mars. “A treasure called… Moms!” When the martians grabbed Milo’s mother to take her back to Mars, Milo chased after the spaceship not knowing why he would want to stop the Martians from taking his mother. He realized why the martians would want mothers. They didn’t have anyone to drive them to soccer, to play dates, out for pizza, make their lunches, cook, clean and all the other stuff mothers do for their kids! Of course that’s why they want a mother. That’s all mothers do! But after Milo has a terrible fall, his space helmet cracks and he can’t breath air, his mother risks her life for him. Milo realizes just what his mother has done for him. And he saves her right back. What a fascinating story of love and realization! A mother’s unconditional love stretches far beyond day to day situations. A mother would risk her life for her child’s. The artwork is so captivating and imaginative. Both these picture books share the love that a mother has for their child. It is Milo’s realization and epiphany that makes this story, Mars Needs Moms! so touching and emotional. A great book! I read it to my kids in hopes they too would have the same realization… “I’ll love you to the ends of the universe.”
    Here is the website of the picture book if you want to find out more. (http://www.berkeleybreathed.com/pages/mars_needs_moms.asp)


  7. In this “livingroom section” there are wonderful selections of books to choose from. The “breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis is a delicious read for students. I have read the series to my students every year. The sequence books are Parvana’s Journey and Mudcity. These three books help children not only empathize with the characters but also lets children peek into life in another country along with beliefs and customs. A must read for expanding students “self to world.” Joni Dubeau


    • I completely agree with Joan about The Breadwinner. It is an amazing book and the children really enjoy it; in fact they loved the trilogy. I really focus on human rights and social consciousness in my room, so this ties in quite nicely. I’ve read it to my students every year, with the exception of the years I taught Grades 3 and 4. I had the pleasure of hearing Deborah Eliis speak a number of years ago (Anne from Tattletales organized the session) at Empire Theatres in Dartmouth. She really was inspiring. After hearing her and reading her books, I continue to be a fan. I have added several of her books to my collection over the years.


      • I agree with the above comments on The Breadwinner. A few years ago I spent a few days substituting in a grade 6 class and they were reading The Breadwinner together. I thought the book was truely amazing and really helped the students connect with the world and social consciousness. They had so many questions! We spent much longer discussing the book than was in the teachers lesson plan but they students were so interested and had so many questions I just couldn’t stop the conversations! They were bringing in articles from the newspaper that they made connections to with the book and they were not even assigned to do that! The teacher came back before we finished the novel and I immediately borrowed the book from the library to see how it ended – and how it began!! I should look into other books by Deborah Ellis as I am sure I would enjoy them. Any suggestions?


    • I agree about The Breadwinner – many of my students chose this book and really get into it. As you said, it is so important for students to to learn to empathize with characters in books they read. This book provides many opportunites for empathy. This book brings them to another place, and gives them some experience with real world issues, like that of women’s struggle in developing countries while enjoying a great piece of literature that is engaging for many readers.


  8. I absolutely adore the ‘Family Room’! The connections that students can make with children’s books about this topic are priceless. There are so many great books about families of all kinds that can be used in a variety of ways to teach valuable lessons in the classroom.

    I believe it is very important that teachers create safe and inclusive classrooms where the lives of all the children are reflected in the environment in which they spend most of their day. Children need to feel like they belong or ‘exist’ in the learning community.

    “A community grows closer when all of its members’ stories are acknowledged and celebrated.” (Cohen, Cindy (2008). The True Colors of the New Jim Toomey: Transformation, Integrity, Trust in Educating Teachers About Oppression. Beyond Heroes and Holidays. Washington, D.C., p.59.)

    We no longer can define family in the traditional sense, but must make an effort to recognise how diverse families have become. It is paramount that teachers take the time to learn about their students’ families and represent those family compositions in their classrooms. What a better way to do than through children’s books!

    I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of children’s literature out there that deals with the topic of the nontraditional family.

    “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is one of many books that deals with homosexual relationships. Other children’s books on this topic include “King & King” by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, “Molly’s Family” by Nancy Garden, “Daddy, Papa, and Me” and “Mommy, Mama, and Me” by Leslea Newman, “Mom and Mum Are Getting Married” by Ken Setterington etc.

    I think it is so important that our classroom libraries contain books that speak to all the students in our class. Our libraries should be a place for students’ stories be acknowledged and celebrated to foster their sense of belonging and acceptance in the classroom community.


  9. I have just purchased a copy of the book The Table Where Rich People Sit. After reading about the book on this site, I knew I would love it for its content. However, I was blown away by its beauty and detail in the illustrations. The pictures capture everything you are reading.

    I was particularly drawn in by the description of the table on the first couple of pages as I have a hundred year old harvest table in my dining room. It was not purchased in a store and many hours were spent re-finishing it. I began to think about the future and if I were to have a child would they appreciate where and how this table came to be in our home. I pictured myself, my future husband, and our child sitting down at our table reading this very book.

    I think children need to see the value in the “little things” life has to offer. Being rich doesn’t mean having the latest electronic or the most expressive shoes. This is a great lesson for children of many ages.


  10. The Family Room contains a wonderful collection of books that illustrate there are all kinds of families in the world. These books provide insight into just how unique each individual’s experiences of family is. As I read through these book summaries and responses, I thought of a title that would fit nicely here. My Mom’s Wedding by Eve Bunting is a picture book about a seven year old girl named Pinky. Pinky’s parents are divorced, and her mother is about to remarry. Pinky is very conflicted. She feels at once excited and reluctant about the upcoming wedding. She is to be the ring bearer, and she very much likes and cares for this man who is to be her stepfather and who makes her mother happy. However she feels great guilt since she views her positive feelings towards this man as somehow evidence of disloyalty to her father. As non-traditional families are becoming the norm, this story sends a encouraging message to children of divorce who are confused by their feelings and by what they are going through. I also really appreciate how the adults in the story seem to be able to navigate their dealings with one another in such a positive and amicable way, such that Pinky’s father is actually invited to and attends the wedding. Certainly not all divorce situations may be worked through so agreeably, but the more they can be, the better for all involved, especially the children. Being a child of divorce myself, I genuinely related to Pinky’s story and to her feelings of confusion. Serving as a mirror for some readers, and a window for others, My Mom’s Wedding would be a positive addition to any classroom teacher’s or elementary guidance counsellor’s book collection.


  11. “The Table Where Rich People Sit” by Byrd Baylor is a thought provoking story about a young girl who decided to call a family meeting because she wants her parents to get better jobs so they will not be poor anymore. As the story unfolds, the girl realizes that being rich does not necessarily have anything at all to do with money.
    This is a lovely book that was given to me by another teacher about five years ago. The illustrations, by Peter Parnall, are rich in detail and very much add to the overall story. I have used it in junior high PDR classes to launch rich discussions about social classes and life choices. So often, we associate riches with money in our society, but Baylor does a wonderful job of getting young people to think about life’s riches in a very different way. I would recommend this book for teachers at all grade levels, as an introduction for a unit on poverty, or social classes, seeing things from different perspectives, and for teaching reading strategies, such as making connections.
    Bridget


  12. In keeping with reflections about “The Table Where Rich People Sit” and the themes it depicts, I came across a picture book by Maribeth Boelts called “Those Shoes” which deals with similar issues. Jeremy is a young boy who has dreams of having his very own pair of “those shoes.” Those shoes that almost everyone else at school seems to be wearing: the black ones, with the white stripes. Grandma explains to Jeremy though, that “There’s no room for ‘want’ around here-just ‘need.’” She goes on to express that what he “needs” is a new pair of winter boots. When Jeremy’s own shoes fall apart, the school guidance counsellor gives him a second-hand pair of shoes. As a result, now more than ever, Jeremy is determined to get a pair of “those shoes,” to replace the second-hand pair he is so self-conscious of. Jeremy’s grandmother decides to look into getting him a pair of the shoes he wants so badly but it’s understood when they see the price that they are just too expensive. Jeremy convinces his grandmother that they may be able to find a pair of his beloved shoes at a thrift shop. He eventually finds a pair, though they are too small for him. But he just has to have them anyway. In the end, Jeremy realizes he can’t wear the shoes that are too small and hurting his feet, and he manages to find a way to help a good friend at the same time.

    So often in this day and age, being bombarded as we are with advertising featuring “must have” items, this story is a reminder of the importance of being grateful for and keeping sight of the things that really matter. Children, who have limited life experience and so much advertising directed at them, are particularly vulnerable, and possess little sense of the value of money. I really appreciate the lesson in this simple story. It will ring true for most who hear it and for that reason would make a valuable read aloud and conversation starter in any elementary classroom.


  13. After reading all of the wonderful reviews “The Breadwinner” received, I just had to read it. What an excellent book to read and learn about Afghanistan and its history. There are very mature ideas in this book so I would caution about what grade level to share it with. I am pretty sure I will be searching out the trilogy that was mentioned in some of the comments just to read for myself.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I also read “I Love You Stinky Face” by Lisa McCourt. This book made me laugh and smile. It certainly demonstrates the meaning of unconditional love. When I become a mother, I will look forward to reading my kids this book.


  14. One of my first experiences with Mercer Mayer books was a literacy bag project while in college. I adored the Little Critter and now as a parent and teacher the Mercer Mayer collection occupies the bookshelves at both home and school. A bedtime favorite for my daughter, now a teenager and son just learning to read.
    “Just Me and My Family,” is also part of the collection that I use when doing our family theme at school. I love how each story follows Little Critter on a journey with different family members. This brings a special individuality to each part of the family unit.
    Through the demands of our fast-paced society we are often left feeling as if we can’t measure up. Yet, Mercer Mayer instills the message of the unwavering love of family. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and a family’s love is “unconditional.” A wonderful life lesson for both young and old alike.


  15. I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this blog page and had the chance to learn about the books “I love you Stinky Face” and “I miss you Stinky Face” by Lisa McCourt. What an amazing example of a mother’s unconditional love for her children! This is such a cute and funny book with such a powerful message. Every parent should have the opportunity to read these stories to their children. As soon as I heard about these books I went to Chapters and purchased them. I have already read them to my 21 month old son multiple times and they are already becoming bedtime favourites (probably, in part, due to the fabulous illustrations!) Thanks again for sharing these wonderful books!


  16. It is true that families come in all shapes and sizes but I do feel there is not a lot of books dealing with gay and lesbian families. It is still an unconventional family to think of especially when it is not accepted in a lot of places. There are a few good books that I have come across over the years that deal with same sex parents such as Daddy’s Roommate which in later years came out with a sequel, Daddy’s Wedding (which is mentioned in, The Closet Room of the blog). These two books are written by Michael Willhoite and deal well with the topic of same sex couples and what it is like for the children in the books. Another book is, Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Leslea Newman which deals with having two mommies and what it is like for the girl, Heather. I think this topic is very important to discuss because people need to talk about it more so it isn’t such a taboo thing and for people to feel proud of who they are and who their parents are and not ashamed. All people living under one roof are considered a family no matter the makeup.


  17. I really enjoyed reading your post about “And Tango Makes Three”. I agree that it is a wonderful book to introduce acceptance and diversity in a classroom. I think it would work wonderfully in any classroom not just with young children. Our students are being exposed to many different family structures and these are important conversations to have at any level. Thanks for the great recommendation.


  18. “And Tango Makes Three” is a book I was introduced to a few years after it came out. I have read this book many times, and it has always generated lots of discussion. It is great that it is based on actual penguins living this way, showing that a family is simply a group living, loving and working together. Many animals in the world, such as emperor penguins, seahorses, and a variety of birds, take on “non-traditional roles”, and they can be great examples how we all people can do their part in caring for and raising a loving family. Discussing books that carry this message of diverse families help cater understanding and empathy, giving students the opportunity to be more open-minded and tolerant. There are 2 board books by Carol Thompson (2009) portraying same-sex family units to teach young children different family types: “Mommy, Mama, and Me” and “Daddy, Papa, and Me”.


  19. There are so many Mercer Mayer books and they really bring back a lot of really good memories reading to my children and seeing their eyes light up!


  20. “and tango makes three” is revolutionary in its own right. In an increasingly diverse and multicultural society, “and tango makes three” provides an appropriate basis for discussion of family structures, particularly for young children. This picture book not only addresses a different kind of family, but also teaches acceptance and love. A student with an unconventional family structure could feel marginalized, but “and tango makes three” shows the love within a family, no matter the gender or sexual orientation of any member.

    I love the “Family Room!”


  21. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery is one of my all-time favourite books, regardless of my age. While I don’t have red hair, I did find myself getting into a few scraps and could identify with some of her escapades. The reviewer did an excellent job describing this classic. Anne reminds the reader it is ok to access our “quirky imagination” and to have” idealistic dreams.” A must read…. again.


  22. I remember reading the Mercer Mayer books as a kid. We always had some in my little bookshelf and they were fun and easy to read over and over. I read them now with the children I nanny for and will definitely read them to my little ones when they come along.

    I like the messages entwined throughout the stories. No matter the mistakes you make there is always a way to solve them with the help and support of family. Being honest and upfront even through the mistakes will help us to grow as people and learn. This is for me one of the most important lessons we can teach our children and I am glad it has been encapsulated in a book.



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