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Books of Hope and Healing

18 Dec

Ed. note: I’m excited to welcome back Lois Rubin Gross to the Staff Picks blog for this informative post on an important topic for our children. -kw

Hello, Hoboken. I’m making a guest appearance on the blog from chronically sunny Florida. I’ve missed so many of you and your children. I wish you all happy holidays, whichever ones you celebrate. This is a season of light and acceptance for all people, although your children are getting very different messages from the television and, perhaps, from classmates, this year.

The reason I asked the wonderful editor of this blog, Kerry Weinstein, for permission to visit with you is that messages that are inundating us. I’ve heard from one mother whose child is packing her bags in case the army comes to the door to take them away. Another mother told me, on Facebook, that her child is five years old and sensitive to the scorn of classmates who may not understand differences but can certainly parrot bad adult messages. One child checks the locks, each night, for safety. Another child cries because she is afraid she will be deported to a country she has never visited.

There are, literally, hundreds of titles to teach children acceptance of cultural, religious, ethnic, and differences in abilities. I’ve selected a really small group of these titles to present to you. Most are mild, focusing on being new in a class of strangers who don’t speak your language or look like you. Two graphic novels are appropriate for older children young teens with more serious content and explorations of self-identity. If these books don’t meet your needs, the Children’s Department Staff will be happy to help you find alternatives. You may also respond to this column and I will do my best to find you other books specific to your child’s needs and comprehension levels.

I’ve always thought that the old saw about the United States being a melting pot was wrong. I see our country as more of a salad bowl, where different ingredients maintain their identifiable shape and taste, but contribute to a fine dish. By the way, if you are interested in clarifying your own thoughts on the events of the day, I’d like to suggest a book that came out, post 9/11.  Its title is The Faith Club, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner. In the dark days following the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, these three women–Muslim, Jewish, and Christian–formed a group to learn about each other’s religions and cultures. Through many meetings, they exchanged often diverse and angry messages, but also learned to appreciate the great similarities among the Mosaic faiths and the goals they had for their families. This is an excellent book club selection.

Remember that you can control the message in your own home, even if you can’t protect your child from every screen or every significant encounter with adults who have different opinions or classmates who have been influenced by the adults in their lives. You are also the best judge of the appropriateness of the media your child consumes and the best judge of how the news of the day is impacting your child.

The universal message of peace on earth seems to be lost, this year, and we must work to making it a clearer goal in the coming year. Meanwhile,  I sincerely wish that you are all happy, fed, clothed, and surrounded by love. Please give your kids an extra hug from me. You are all in my heart.

 Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki.


The author and his family were interred in a camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.  Mochizuki’s parents lost their home and possessions because of their Japanese ancestry. Ken and his friends need a distraction and turn to the great American pastime of baseball to help them deal with racism in this important book about a dark chapter of American history. (Ages 6 to 12)

Beautiful Yetta, by Daniel Pinkwater.


This is one of my favorite multicultural books by one of my very favorite authors. Yetta, the chicken, is on her way to the butcher’s shop with all her poultry friends. The truck she is riding in has an accident and Yetta, a clever bird, manages to escape in Brooklyn. At first, she wanders the streets, meeting only threatening rats and unfriendly pigeons. Soon she stumbles on a flock of parrots who live in Prospect Park (it’s true!). When Yetta saves them from a cat, the parrots adopt her into the flock making them birds of an unusual feather. The book is written in Yiddish, transliterated English, English, and Spanish. It is the best possible example of unlikely alliances that form unusual friendships. (Ages 4 to 9)

The Composition, by Antonio Skarmeta and Alfonso Ruano.


Pedro loves to play soccer. It’s his passion. However, when his teammate’s father is imprisoned by the government, Pedro learns an important lesson about courage and standing up for one’s beliefs. Pedro writes an important school composition about living in a dictatorship called, What My Family Does at Night. A story of friendship and courage. (ages 5 to 10)

Chicken Sunday, Patricia Polacco.


Image via Amazon

An African American family befriends a young Jewish girl from Russia. She and her new “brothers” are mischievous but are wrongly accused of egging a shop owned by an observant Jewish man. The three work together to try prove their innocence in the face of the unfair accusation. (Age 5 to 10)

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson.


Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya, because she has old-fashioned toys and hand-me-down clothes. When Maya stops coming to school, Chloe and her friends learn an objective lesson in both inclusion and kindness. Chloe becomes the change she wants to see in the world. (Ages 4 to 9)

El Deafo, by Cece Bell.


This is a superhero book with a decided difference. Cece’s old school only taught children with hearing impairments. Her new school is immersive and Cece finds it hard to fit in with hearing people. Equipped with a Phonic Ear, Cece discovers that she has a “superpower” in that she can hear whatever her teacher is saying, anywhere the teacher is. This new ability helps Cece make friends but she soon figures out that she is being used to spy on the teacher. This experience teaches Cece the real meaning of friendship and how her special power can be used for good. An acclaimed graphic novel for older children and young teens.  (Ages 10 to 14)

Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say.


This is a beautifully illustrated Caldecott winning book that tells the real life story of the author’s grandfather who loved his native country, Japan, but also loved his new home in California. This is a poignant story about longing for a lost land while striving for acceptance in a new place. (Ages 4 to 10)

Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier.


A French Jewish grandmother shares a hidden part of her past with her granddaughter. Grandmother reveals that, during World War II, she and her mother were hidden with the help of a Christian neighbor and a nearby farmer. The Nazis have imprisoned the child’s father, and she and her mother and child rely on the good will of strangers to keep them safe. Grandmother’s revelation or her secret leads to a confrontation with her own daughter about why she hadn’t shared her history. A moving graphic novel for older children and young teens. (Ages 10 to 14)

Looking Like Me, by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers.


This picture book done by an award-winning father and son team, teaches children about identity, self-esteem and the wonderful possibilities that exist for every child. While the child in book is African American, the book presents a strong poetic message of what qualities make every child unique.

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi.


Unchie is a new arrival in the United States. She has come to this country from Korea. When she starts school, she discovers that no one in her class can pronounce her name. She wants to be liked and accepted and so she decides to change her problematic name. She asks for suggestions from her classmates, but a jar full of commonplace American names do not suit her as well as her own Korean name. She decides to stay Unchie and teaches her friends about her culture so they can appreciate where she comes from. (Ages 4 to 8)

The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania AlAbdullah with Kelly DiPucchio.


Two girls of different backgrounds become fast friends. They meet, each day, to share their lunches until the day Salma brings humus and Lily brings PBJ. Lily says Salma’s sandwich sounds yucky and their disagreement goes schoolwide. The solution is a picnic for everyone and a delicious lesson in cultural diversity. (Ages 4 to 8)

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, by James Rumford.


Ali loves soccer, music, and dancing but, most of all, he loves the ancient art of calligraphy. When bombs start falling on his city, Ali begins to write and draw to give his life purpose. A story of purpose and survival in a war torn land. (Ages 6 to 10)

Snow in Jerusalem, by Deborah da Costa.  Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu.


Image via Amazon

Two boys in Jerusalem’s Old City, one Jewish and one Muslim, unwittingly adopt the same stray cat that wanders the streets of their city. When the cat unexpectedly crosses the street that divide them, the boys meet and become friends on an unusual day when snow falls in their divided city. (Ages 6 to 10)

All of these books are available in the BCCLS Library System. I can also make other recommendations for your child’s specific needs if you contact me through the comments at the bottom of this post.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Retired Children’s Librarian

The Ultimate Book Lovers’ List (for Kids and Parents, Too)

29 Apr

If you haven’t heard, I’m heading off into the Hudson River sunset at the end of this month. It’s been my pleasure to have worked with you and your families for the past six years as the Children’s Librarian. I’ve especially enjoyed working on this blog to help you learn about new books to share with your children, expound on my own special favorites in books and film, and perhaps help you, through bibilotherapy, to support your children as they deal with issues such as bullying, separation anxiety, adding new siblings to the family, or moving away.

Now, Kerry Weinstein, the wonderful editor of this page, has asked me to put together one last post to share with you. Rather than just recommending books as I usually do, I thought that I’d pull out quotes from some of my favorite books that are specifically about characters and authors who love reading, books, and libraries. If the book is included in this list, I recommend it. I hope that some of these books will be new discoveries for you, or remind you to revisit some joyful celebrations of the world of books:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.


“One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.


“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.


“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman.


“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein.


“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If youre a pretender com sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!”

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.


“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”
“Oh, no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
“What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle-it’s just a web.”
“Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.”

Matilda, by Roald Dahl.


“From then on, Matilda would visit the library only once a week in order to take out new books and return the old ones. Her own small bedroom now became her reading-room and there she would sit and read most afternoons, often with a mug of hot chocolate beside her. She was not quite tall enough to reach things around in the kitchen, but she kept a small box in the outhouse which she brought in and stood on in order to get whatever she wanted. Mostly it was hot chocolate she made, warming the milk in a saucepan on the stove before mixing it. Occasionally she made Bovril or Ovaltine. It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.


“I like that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing—that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around. They’re the best moments in a day of writing—when an image appears that you didn’t know would be there when you started work in the morning.”

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate Di Camillo.


“The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value, too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.”

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson.


“If someone had taken that book out of my hand said, You’re too old for this maybe I’d never have believed that someone who looked like me could be in the pages of the book that someone who looked like me had a story.”

Here Lies the Librarian, by Richard Peck.


“What, in your opinion, Miss Ridpath, makes a great librarian, “the judge wondered.”

Irene pinched off her spectacles, “I can only quote the words of Melville Dewey of the Dewey Decimal Classification.” She stood then and began to quote, “To my thinking, a great librarian must have a clear head, a strong hand, and above all, a great heart. And when I look into the future, I am inclined to think that most of the men who will achieve this greatness will be women.”

Good Books, Good Times! A Poetry Anthology, by Lee Bennett Hopkins.


I Met a Dragon Face to Face, by Jack Prelutsky

I met a dragon face to face
the year when I was ten,
I took a trip to outer space,
I braved a pirate’s den,
I wrestled with a wicked troll,
and fought a great white shark,
I trailed a rabbit down a hole,
I hunted for a snark.

I stowed aboard a submarine,
I opened magic doors,
I traveled in a time machine,
and searched for dinosaurs,
I climbed atop a giant’s head,
I found a pot of gold,
I did all this in books I read
when I was ten years old.

That’s it. Off I go. South, perhaps, where there are not eight months of snow. As Jerry Seinfeld once memorably said, “My parents are in Florida. They didn’t want to go, but they’re sixty. It’s the law.” I am hoping for some new adventures. I am hoping to have time to read books. I am hoping to learn a new language (Spanish is what I have in mind), and may be to tell some stories to surprised people who think that stories only live in books.

Be good, be happy. Maybe we’ll talk again.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

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