Tag Archives | school

School-Themed Books That Build Empathy

Dur­ing one of our vis­its to our local library in late sum­mer, sev­er­al of the books on dis­play caught my eye. School was the com­mon thread, and my fam­i­ly found some good con­ver­sa­tion starters among the titles. I’ll high­light three that have mer­it as texts that help build empa­thy and/or broad­en chil­dren’s views about school and edu­ca­tion.

Hannah's WayBased on a true sto­ry, Han­nah’s Way by Lin­da Glaser is set on Minnesota’s Iron Range dur­ing the Depres­sion. Hannah’s fam­i­ly had moved from Min­neapo­lis to North­ern Min­neso­ta so her father could work at his brother’s store. Han­nah was the only Jew­ish child in her new school. When the teacher announced the school pic­nic, she was hope­ful that attend­ing the pic­nic would help her fit in and make friends. She was crest­fall­en to learn, how­ev­er, that the school pic­nic would be on a Sat­ur­day. “You know that Sat­ur­day is our day of rest. We don’t work or dri­ve on the Sab­bath,” her father remind­ed her. When she real­ized that her par­ents wouldn’t bend on this rule, she end­ed up talk­ing to her teacher about the sit­u­a­tion. She was afraid peo­ple at school sim­ply would not under­stand, but was sur­prised by her class­mates’ kind ges­ture that helped ensure she made it to the pic­nic.

Letter to My TeacherA Let­ter to My Teacher by Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son is writ­ten as a thank you note to a sec­ond grade teacher who made a last­ing impres­sion on the writer. The nar­ra­tor admits she found it hard to sit still and lis­ten when she was in sec­ond grade. She described sev­er­al spe­cif­ic events that illus­trat­ed how “ornery” and “exas­per­at­ing” she was, but also showed that this teacher, who is the recip­i­ent of the let­ter, was patient and gave her extra help and encour­age­ment as need­ed. She then dis­closed that she’s start­ing her first job now and will “try my best to be like you.” This could be an encour­ag­ing book to pass along to an impor­tant edu­ca­tor in your life.

School Days Around the WorldIn School Days Around the World by Cather­ine Cham­bers, sev­en chil­dren pro­vide an account of what it is like to go to school in their respec­tive coun­tries: Aus­tralia, Japan, India, Ghana, Eng­land, the Unit­ed States, and Peru. There is plen­ty to com­pare and con­trast in this book, which reveals impor­tant aspects of the dif­fer­ent cul­tures as it pro­vides details about each child’s before-school rou­tine, their school sched­ules, lunch time, and the activ­i­ties they do at recess. The book shows that though the schools in dif­fer­ent coun­tries have some marked dif­fer­ences, there are quite a few sim­i­lar­i­ties. For exam­ple, chil­dren all around the world play games, cel­e­brate Earth Day, and do math in school.


Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula SecretExplor­er Acad­e­my: The Neb­u­la Secret
Tru­di Truett
illus­trat­ed by Scott Plumbe (with a blend of pho­tos)
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2018
ISBN 978−1−4263−3159−6

Done with the Har­ry Pot­ter series, maybe not quite ready for the Alex Rid­er series, what do you sug­gest?

Explor­er Acad­e­my. Emphat­i­cal­ly. 

The book opens in Hawaii, where Cruz Coro­n­a­do (not quite 13) is get­ting packed and say­ing good­bye before he heads to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to attend Explor­er Acad­e­my. His moth­er worked there. His aunt Marisol is a pro­fes­sor of anthro­pol­o­gy, pale­on­tol­ogy, and cryp­tol­ogy. Cruz des­per­ate­ly wants to go. Out for a last surf before his dad dri­ves him to the air­port, some­one grabs his ankle and tries to drag him down. Cruz sens­es dan­ger and man­ages to escape.

That’s just the first few pages. Arriv­ing at the Acad­e­my, we are treat­ed to sat­is­fy­ing descrip­tions of Cruz’s fel­low stu­dents, his teach­ers, the fan­tas­tic build­ings of the Acad­e­my, and the library with its spe­cial col­lec­tions room. Cruz meets his room­mate, Emmett Lu, who is inven­tive and great best friend mate­r­i­al.

The stu­dents are vying for the North Star award, giv­en to the most promis­ing stu­dent at the end of their first year. That sets up some ten­sion but it’s the sim­u­lat­ed envi­ron­ment explor­ing they do, much of it to aid in con­ser­va­tion efforts, that proves to be risky and turn-the-page engross­ing.

There are sev­er­al lay­ers of sto­ry here. Cruz’s moth­er died at the Acad­e­my sev­er­al years ear­li­er but no one knows why. She left clues in code for Cruz because she’s con­fi­dent he’ll fig­ure out what’s going on. Some­one always seems to be fol­low­ing Cruz and there are sev­er­al char­ac­ters who pop up along the way who are unset­tling. All of this and his class assign­ments are dif­fi­cult but fas­ci­nat­ing. Who would­n’t want to go to this school?

The char­ac­ters will become the read­er’s friends: Sailor, Bryn­dis, and Emmett will become close friends, a team, and Dugan, Zane, Ren­shaw, and Ali round out their explor­er group. Back in Hawaii, Cruz’ best friend Lani helps him  think things through, do inter­net research, and whips up life-sav­ing mea­sures because she sens­es he needs them. There’s even a dog! 

Each of the chap­ters is chock full of cool gad­gets, cut­ting-edge sci­ence, astron­o­my, anthro­pol­o­gy, every bit of which had me look­ing things up on the com­put­er. At the end of the book, there’s a thought­ful sec­tion of real-life sci­en­tists pur­su­ing the research and inven­tions described in the book, let­ting us know what’s real and what’s near­ly real. 

As always, this Nation­al Geo­graph­ic book is so well designed that it becomes anoth­er ele­ment of the sto­ry, pulling us through. (At one point, I flipped through to see what oth­er intrigu­ing illus­tra­tions there might be.) Scott Plumbe com­bines good char­ac­ter stud­ies with cool maps and exam­ples, some of which are blend­ed with pho­tos. Alto­geth­er the look and feel of the book sup­port this fast-paced, well-writ­ten thriller of a sto­ry.

I can’t wait for book two, The Fal­con’s Feath­er, because Cruz’s moth­er chal­lenges him to a quest that will take him and the explor­ers all around the world and this read­er wants to be by their side.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.


I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in the­atre in col­lege, where I crossed the street from Augs­burg to attend Arthur Bal­let’s leg­endary his­to­ry of the­atre class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta.

Lessons learned in that class came rush­ing back as I savored Mike Wohnout­ka’s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as the­atre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observ­er of behav­ior, know­ing what will delight kids … and their par­ents. Turn­ing that first day of school on its ear, show­ing that, truth­ful­ly, par­ents are just as wor­ried as the child is, pro­vides good fun, dis­cuss­able emo­tions, and a nat­ur­al lead-in to con­ver­sa­tions.

The dad’s behav­ior is drawn in friend­ly, real­is­ti­cal­ly com­ic style with a var­ied palette of gouache paint. His reac­tions are absurd. Kids will rec­og­nize that and whoop with acknowl­edg­ment. Dad is endear­ing and so is the lit­tle boy who non­cha­lant­ly, even dis­play­ing con­fi­dence, can’t wait to expe­ri­ence his first day at school. 

Word choic­es make this a good read-aloud while the illus­tra­tions make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the ref­er­ences to three of Mike’s pre­vi­ous books in the illus­tra­tions. I found six … can you find more?

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for par­ents, grand­par­ents, care­givers, and preschool edu­ca­tors.

Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten

Books about get­ting ready for kinder­garten and the first day in that Strange New Land are plen­ti­ful, but I can’t recall one that has drawn me into the expe­ri­ence as ful­ly as Plan­et Kinder­garten does. Every aspect of this book, from word choice to sto­ry to the detailed and clever draw­ings, puts this book at the top of my sug­ges­tion list for chil­dren (and par­ents) enter­ing that phase of life.… more