When Small Gestures Become Great Gifts

Sidewalk Flowers was conceived by Jon Arno Lawson and beautifully illustrated by Sydney Smith. This picture book is a wordless wonder. A young girl dressed in a red is walking along the busy sidewalks with her distracted father.

The young girl is curious. While those around her are focused on where they are going, she notices the smallest of details. She suddenly she discovers two small yellow dandelions growing in between the cracks of the sidewalk and so she picks them. As they continue walking together she picks many different types of weeds and wildflowers, creating a beautiful bouquet in her hands. On their way through the park, the father and daughter pass a dead bird. She is compelled to leave some flowers to honor the small creature. Then slowly, she gives away the rest of the flowers. From a man sleeping on a bench to a neighborhood dog.

Sydney Smith’s pen and ink illustrations are composed primarily of white, black and grays. At first the girl’s jacket and the flowers are simple splashes of color, but each time she gives her flowers away, more color is added to the world around her. The story is told using a series of panels with varied perspectives.

Sidewalk Flowers is a stunning book that invites the reader on a journey along with a humble and empathetic protagonist. We are encouraged to slow down and notice our surroundings. We are inspired to be intentional in our actions and kind to others.

This picture book is perfect readers ages 3-10. Younger readers will enjoy looking at the beautiful illustrations and talking about what is happening in the story. Older readers can explore the more complex social issues that arise across the pages as well as the author and illustrator’s craft moves. What I love about wordless books like Sidewalk Flowers is that they are accessible to all learners.

 

 

A Picture Book About the Kindness of Strangers

Oskar and the Eight Blessings is a wonderful story about the kindness of strangers during the darkest of times. On the 7th day of Hanukkah, which also coincided with Christmas Eve, Oskar arrives in New York City. He is a refugee who escaped the horrors of Nazi Europe. Oskar carries with him an address and an outdated photo of his Aunt Esther. He makes his way from lower Manhattan to the north of the city encountering many acts of kindness and generosity from strangers along the way.

The illustrations, by Mark Siegel, are beautiful, organized into panels reminiscent of a comic book. They contribute to the pace of the story and bring the action to life.

His journey reminds him of his father’s words, “People can be good.” Just then he sees his Aunt Esther. They share a touching reunion filled with sadness and grief, but also a glimmer of hope.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings is a touching story that takes place during a horrendous time in history.  It teaches the reader that even in the darkest times people can help lift one another up. This book is perfect for kids ages 4-8.

Click here to purchase a copy of Oskar and the Eight Blessings (affiliate link).

Good Morning New York!

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As a teacher my colleagues and I are already at school and getting ready for the day by the time most people are hitting their snooze buttons a first time. The train cars are filled with other teachers, people who work in construction, and childcare providers. We occupy the public transportation system well before rush hour. For most of the year, the walk to the train and even to school is in complete darkness. My familiarity with “The City that Never Sleeps” waking up, makes me love Good Morning, City by Pat Kiernan all that much more.

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This is a fantastic book that features all the activities happening before the sun even rises. Set in New York, it features the sights and sounds of a big city as its occupants get ready for the day. Each page features a beautiful illustration by Pascal Campion accompanied by three short lines of text. As you flip through the pages, the sun rises slightly higher and the city comes more and more to life. The book ends in a home with a family eating breakfast and watching a familiar looking anchorman on the news.

Good Morning, City is a celebration of living in a big city. It’s perfect for children from pre-k to second grade.

Click here to purchase a copy of Good Morning, City (affiliate link).

“Sometimes Different Isn’t So Bad”

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Marcel is a very stylish French Bulldog living the good life in New York City with his human. They live together in Downtown Manhattan and spend their days eating delicious New York City bagels, he gets pampered at the doggy spa and then they listen to live music in Washington Square Park. In a very real-to-life way, Marcel snubs uptown Manhattan.

According to this pooch, the only thing worthwhile uptown is the American Museum of Natural History, and that’s because of all of the bones in the dinosaur exhibit. Marcel dreams of one day visiting the museum. He’s only ever passed by on his way to Central Park.

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Marcel notices that his human has been spending more uptown and they keep running into a human man. Suddenly, he finds himself spending more and more time uptown with this man and everything is changing and FAST. His life is definitely different, but is different bad?

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In addition to being an ode to New York, Marcel is a powerful story about adjusting to change. It is the perfect picture book to introduce the idea of a parent dating someone new, which can be very difficult for young ones to understand. This picture book features simple text and lovely, graphic illustrations.

Click here to purchase a copy of Marcel (affiliate link).

Books to Commemorate 9/11

Teaching in a New York City public school, it’s so important to commemorate September 11. This is not only part of our nation’s history, but something that has directly touched the lives of so many families in New York. Even though my students, being in 4th and 5th grades, were not yet born in 2001, 9/11 is a date that they too will never forget.

There are some phenomenal developmentally appropriate picture books to explore 9/11 with young learners.

For very young students (Kindergarten-2nd grade): The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein celebrates the two World Trade Center towers, which dominated the New York City skyline. It is the story of a French aerialist named Philippe Petit who tightrope walked between the two towers in 1974.

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My colleague recommended 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy for use in my 4th grade class.

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This story takes place in a small village in western Kenya in 2002. The main character Kemeli, returns to his home village and shares with his people, the Maasai the story of September and New York. Touched by the story of human suffering, the Maasai decide to bestow the gift of 14 cows to the Americans.

When I introduced the story to my students they asked, “Why cows? What does this have to do with September 11?” After reading the story, I asked the class, “So, why cows?” They were able to understand that the cow represented life for the Maasai people. The gift of 14 cows was a symbol of their empathy for the Americans.

A third book to commemorate 9/11 is Fireboat by Maira Kalman. This book explains the events of September 11 in as kid-friendly a way as possible.

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The story begins by describing the John J. Harvey a fireboat that served New York City from 1930-1990s, when it was retired. It includes the building of the Empire State Building and the completion of the George Washington Bridge. On the tragic day in September, the John J. Harvey is called out of retirement to serve the City once again. This is a story of community and coming together during an unimaginable time in our history.