Three picture books that will make kids laugh…and think

It’s difficult to say when children outgrow picture books. Educator and book expert Colby Sharp reads picture books daily to his fifth grade students. My fourth graders loved hearing and discussing picture books this past year. Often, picture books are aimed at older readers, but even those for younger readers can have important messages to impart and ponder. Here are three picture books which are adorable on the surface but also thoughtful and worthy of discussion.

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‘Rescue’ by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a riveting middle grade historical fiction set during the Holocaust

Rescue by
Jennifer A. Nielsen

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s middle grade historical fiction novels are wonderful examples of books that teach kids about history while sandwiching that information in thrilling, emotional stories that will hook them. “Rescue,” her newest release, is no different. In this story we meet Meg, whose father is British and her mother French. Meg grew up speaking both languages and when the Germans, before WWII, became aggressive, they began to teach her German as well.

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Picture books and beginning chapter books: Biographies about important people and events

Reading biographies about important people—those who live near and far—is crucial for young minds to learn that at heart, we are all alike, and also to learn about people whose actions can inspire the rest of us to be better and think about how our actions can affect others.

Some American heroes include Dr. Fauci, the physician and scientist who led the fight against COVID-19 during the pandemic; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress; and Hallie Morse Daggett, the first female fire guard in the US. All of these people serve as inspiration to others to fight for what they believe in as well as to help others. There are also quiet heroes, people whose names aren’t familiar in most households. Frieda Caplan was a woman who changed the way we eat, and Nicholas WInton saved the lives of children in the Holocaust. These people, and others, are featured in these children’s books which should all be considered for classroom and library shelves.

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National Geographic Kids hits a home run with summer reads kids will LOVE

Ask any teacher what they want kids to do over the summer and most will reply: read. Of course we teachers all want kids to be outside, enjoying the summer weather and swimming and playing, but we also want them reading. Learning to enjoy reading, and reading for the sake of enjoyment, is a pastime that will have lifelong benefits. A person who reads is an informed person who is better able to analyze what is fact and what is fiction.

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‘Rez Dogs’ by Joseph Bruchac is a touching, timely, terrific middle grade novel about life during COVID on the reservation

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

“Rez Dogs” by acclaimed author Joseph Bruchac is not only a timely story about life on the reservation during COVID, it’s also the story of a girl and her dog, as well as a brief overview of the history of the government’s treatment of Native people even recently. All this in Bruchac’s evocative verse, succinct yet poetic and lovely.

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‘Even and Odd’ by Sarah Beth Durst is a middle grade fantasy about family, love, and sacrifice

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst

The middle grade fantasy “Even and Odd” adds to Sarah Beth Durst’s shelves of fantasy books—from middle grade to young adult to adult. And in this magical story, sisters Emma and Olivia become the title characters, Even and Odd, because they share their magic. Each gets to have magic on alternating days, so while their nicknames are Even and Odd, it doesn’t always quite work out that way. (Some months have 31 days, as is pointed out in the story.) Even loves magic and works tirelessly to gain control of it while Odd doesn’t really want it at all. She just wants to help at the local animal shelter.

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Three feel-good picture books

One of the reasons to read picture books is to teach children about emotions and feelings. These three picture books are wonderful stories that will help start conversations about feelings and children’s feelings of self-worth. One of the books is about how pleasant it is to read with another person — or cat, as the case many be — so it’s not a solitary activity. The illustrations are very different in each book, but each interesting and well-suited for the stories.

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‘Charlie Thorne and the Lost City’ by Stuart Gibbs is a worthy sequel to the first middle grade adventure about a young genius

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by
Stuart Gibbs

The first book in this series, “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” pitted young genius Charlie against none other than Albert Einstein. In its sequel, “Charlie Thorne and the Lost City,” author Stuart Gibbs pits Charlie against Charles Darwin, and it’s not surprising that Charlie comes out as the more compassionate genius.

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‘Last Gate of the Emperor’ by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen is a creative middle grade scifi adventure

Last Gate of the Emperor

In this action-packed middle grade scifi adventure, “Last Gate of the Emperor,” by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, a young adventurous boy with a mischievous streak a mile wide ditches school to play an augmented reality game to try to win money to make his and his uncle’s life a bit easier. He and his Uncle Moti live on Addis Prime, and they have moved often and struggled to survive on the many jobs that Uncle Moti can get. Yared doesn’t know what happened to his parents, and his uncle tells him stories about civilizations under attack and trains him in sword play and battle strategies. It’s certainly a strange life, and Yared is determined to make it better by winning big in the game.

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‘Endling: The Only’ is the magnificent conclusion to a middle grade series about truth, power, and standing up

“Endling: The Only’ by Katherine Applegate

The “Endling” series by Katherine Applegate, of which “The Only” is the conclusion, is her most powerful story yet. And that’s huge. “The One and Only Ivan” is rightly beloved by almost every student in my elementary school, and by children and adults around the world. It’s a story that grabs hearts and connects readers with the characters in a manner that becomes unforgettable. The “Endling” series will also grab hearts, and readers will absolutely connect with the narrator, Byx, a Dairne, and practically the last of her species. But readers will also learn about what happens when greed is allowed to reign supreme and when power becomes more important than humanity. It’s a story that follows one young very human-like narrator in a story that’s not only a coming-of-age story but also an allegory about our world. As with “The One and Only Ivan” and all of Applegate’s novels, we are enthralled with her brilliantly drawn characters and the plot that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster.

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‘The Wild Huntsboys’ by Martin Stewart is a tale of intrepid boys, a girl, and the fairies who want to kill them

The Wild Huntsboys by Martin Stewart

In “The Wild Huntsboys,” Martin Stewart makes sure we understand that fairies are not beautiful, kind, generous magical beings who grant wishes. There is no fairy godmother that will provide a ballgown and carriage. Rather, if you make one misstep, you might be hunted down and killed in a manner almost too gruesome to consider. Those are the fairies that Luka must confront after he fails to do the one thing his sister asked of him before she was evacuated during a war.

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‘The Messengers: Greystone Secrets 3’ by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a middle grade scifi novel about bravery and what happens when people look the other way

The Messengers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret Peterson Haddix completes the “Greystone Secrets” trilogy with the conclusion, “The Messengers.” Like many of her middle grade novels, this one has a clear message for young readers. It’s a message that teachers across the country echo: Be an upstander, not a bystander. In this trilogy, we see what happens when evil grows and people just look the other way, each hoping someone else will confront those who hope to control their country through lies and fear.

In the first book, the Greystone children discover that three children, with the same names and birthdays as they, were kidnapped. Then their mother leaves on a mysterious “business trip.” They must solve the cryptic and coded clues left by their mother to find out where she’s gone. This first book ends on a cliffhanger. It’s in this book that we first see a theme that is repeated throughout all three books: that siblings Emma, Chess, and Finn are stronger together and stronger through their love for each other. In the second book, they must go back to the alternate world that their parents were from, and where their mother has been imprisoned. They must save her. While this book has a satisfying conclusion, we know that the siblings are determined to help those left in a world that holds no hope for its residents.

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