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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Kindness and Caring

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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The following books explore ideas about kindness and caring, which are important traits in character-based education.

Quiet offerings feature in Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith. This wordless picture book follows a young girl walking through the city with her distracted father. He’s often on the phone as they pass shops, fruit stands, taxis, bus stop lineups, and busy pedestrians. All images are rendered in black and white, except the girl’s red hoodie and the flowers she picks from obscure places, including out of cracks in the sidewalk. Their stroll takes them through a park where she lays a bouquet on a dead bird, another near a snoozing man on a park bench, and one behind a dog’s collar. Finally, back home, she adorns her mother’s hair, and then her siblings in the backyard, before walking off into the bird-and-flower-filled endpapers. PreK+

Compassion is the basis for friendship in Abby’s Birds, by Ellen Schwartz, illustrated in paper collage by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin. When Abby moves in next door to the elderly Mrs. Naka, they quickly become pals, observing the robins in Mrs. Naka’s maple tree. The old woman helps Abby accept the cycle of life when they find a dead baby bird. She also teaches Abby origami. When Mrs. Naka has a fall and must stay in hospital to mend her brittle bones, Abby uses her knowledge of paper folding to fill the maple tree with paper birds, a surprise for Mrs. Naka’s homecoming. K+

Name Calling, by Itah Sadu, illustrated by Rasheeda Haneef, shows how unkindness can snowball out of control. Jennifer calls Cindy a name. Cindy sets out to force an apology, and along the way she meets a number of friends with solutions: call Jennifer a name back; grab her; stomp all over her tongue! They find Jennifer in the office; someone has called HER a name. In the end, the girls solve the problem together. K+

In Silly Chicken, by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Yunmee Kyong, tenderness is modelled by Rani’s older sister, Ami. Ami loves her hen, Bibi. Rani thinks it’s silly to love a chicken, to make a nest for her in the living room, to show her how to sit on her egg instead of dropping it and cracking it, like the silly chicken does. When Bibi disappears for a few days, Ami goes into a funk. Then Bibi reappears with a new a baby chick, and Rani finally loves something of her own. Set in Pakistan, this one is written in very Kindergarten-friendly language.

With a slightly larger vocabulary, The Legend of the Panda, by Linda Granfield, illustrated by Song Zan Nang, is a folk tale set in rural China for Grade 1+. Dolma walks her sheep into the mountains of Sichuan province, where she finds a playful white cub and integrates it into her flock. Beishung the bear is threatened one day by a leopard and Dolma steps in. Her goodwill leaves her dead. All the villagers smear themselves with ashes in mourning. The white bear leads the procession with other Beishung cubs, who wipe their eyes, hug themselves and hold their ears to block out the villagers’ lamentations, thus becoming permanently stained by the ashes with the panda’s distinct markings. The afterword explains the WWF’s efforts to prevent extinction of the panda.

Hope Springs, by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, is based on a true story about a Kenyan boy named Boniface, who went to collect water at the spring and was told he couldn’t because he was an orphan. When the orphanage builds a well, it’s Boniface who rallies everyone to help build a well for the very villagers who rejected him. The Afterword reveals photos of the real life characters the book is based on. The amount of text makes this a good book for grade 2+. 

Also based on a true story, The Secret of the Village Fool, by Rebecca Upjohn, illustrated by Renne Benoit, is the story of Anton Suchinski, whose caring nature became an act of bravery. Set in rural Poland, at the time of WWII, the people of Milek’s small town made fun of Anton, the vegetarian who talked to animals. Milek’s mother was one of the few that were nice to him. Then, when the Nazis came, Anton hid Milek’s whole family, saving them from persecution. “What Happened After,” appears at the end of the book, with photos of how, decades later, Milek found Anton, and was able to return his kindness. Grade 3+

*****

On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

July 20, 2017

Books mentioned in this post

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Sidewalk Flowers

by Jonarno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook
  • age: 4 to 7
  • Grade: p to 2
tagged: imagination & play, parents

Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustrated Book

A New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year

In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and re …

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Abby's Birds

by Ellen Schwartz, illustrated by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 7
  • Grade: 1 to 4
tagged: friendship, diseases, illnesses & injuries

Mrs. Naka teaches Abby how to make origami birds and Abby conjures up a surprise to comfort her.

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Name Calling

by Itah Sadu
edition: Book
tagged: prejudice & racism

Written with attention to rhythm, like traditional African and Caribbean spoken word, this is an effective and compassionate look at the power of language and how words can be used to hurt or heal.

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Hope Springs

by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 6 to 9
  • Grade: 1 to 4
tagged: orphans & foster homes, weather, africa

A drought has settled in the area around the orphanage where Boniface lives. There are long line-ups at the tiny spring where all the local people get their water, and suddenly the orphans are pushed to the back of the line, unwelcome. Boniface's houseparent, Henry, tells him that the people were mean out of fear--they feared there would not be eno …

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The Secret of the Village Fool

by Rebecca Upjohn, illustrated by Renné Benoit
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 6 to 10
  • Grade: 2 to 4
tagged: holocaust

Milek and his brother, Munio, live in a sleepy village in Poland, where nothing exciting seems to happen. They have a kind and gentle neighbour named Anton, but the people of the village laugh at Anton and call him the village fool because he talks to animals and only eats vegetables. When the war brings Nazi soldiers to town, life changes. The Naz …

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