The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg


Publishing: Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1985

Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner

Description: A great story about believing in the magic of Christmas. A little boy goes to bed on Christmas Eve, but wakes up to the sound of a train outside his house. He boards it, and the train goes to the North Pole, where he and other children meet Santa Claus. Santa chooses the narrator to be the first gift of Christmas and when he asks the boy what he wants, the boy replies that he wishes to have one of the silver bells from the sleigh. His request is granted, but on the way home on the train he realizes that the bell has fallen out of a hole in his pocket. Santa leaves it in a box with the other presents under the tree. Only he and his sister can hear the bell’s sound. As his friends and sister grow up, one by one they can no longer hear it, but he can because he still believes.

Programming: Obviously good for holiday programming, could be paired with the 2004 film. I have heard of classes that even come in that day in their pajamas. Students might discuss believing in magic, especially the magic of Christmas. They might share or write about their favorite Christmas traditions.

Free Fall by David Wiesner

Free Fall by David Wiesner


Publishing: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard Books, New York, 1988

Awards: 1989 Caldecott Honor

Description: A boy falls asleep with a book and, through his dreams, falls into several fantastic settings with fantastic creatures.

Programming: Have students narrate the story, or explain what happens. Have them share their weirdest or funniest dreams. Have older students explain how they know this from the pictures-which details create the story. What are the characters like? How do you know? etc. Compare this book to Wiesner’s other works.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, Ill. by Stephen Gammell

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, Ill. by Stephen Gammell


Publishing: Bradbury Press, New York, 1985

Awards: Caldecott Honor

Description: The narrator’s relatives leave their house when the grapes are almost purple enough to pick, but not quite. They pack up their car and drive many miles to visit. When they get there there is lots of hugging and laughing, and crowded sleeping arrangements. They go home again, and each part of the family is missing the other and dreaming of the next visit next summer.

Programming: Have students share experiences about family reunions or get-togethers. Do their families share a Sunday meal, how far away do their cousins live? etc.

Mei Li by Thomas Handforth

Mei Li by Thomas Handforth


Publishing: Doubleday & Company, Garden City; New York, 1938

Awards: 1939 Caldecott Winner

Description: Mei Li’s family is busy preparing for New Year’s Eve, when the Kitchen God will come visit them. Her brother, San Yu gets to the go the fair, but girls do not get to go. She sneaks out of the house and begs him to take her, and he does. They spend the first part trying to out-do each other with things that only girls or only boys can do at the fair, and then Mei Li gets into her own fun, including a fortune teller who tells her she will be a beautiful princess and have her own kingdom. Soon she meets up again with her brother, who is joined by their uncle. The three of them ride camels back home in time to see the Kitchen God, who tells Mei Li that her kingdom is the household. She says that it will do, for now. Illustrations are black and white and were done using copper plates.

Programming: Have students compare and contrast the fair seen in the book with the fairs in the US. Same thing with the traditions for New Year’s Eve. This book might be somewhat outdated, however, and I’m not sure that I would use it much in a classroom.

Timothy Turtle by Al Graham, Ill. by Tony Palazzo

Timothy Turtle by Al Graham, Ill. by Tony Palazzo


Publishing: Viking Press, New York, 1949 (originally 1946)

Awards: Caldecott Honor 1947

Description: Timothy Turtle has a pretty good life, but he is sad because no one notices him. He wants to be famous and gets advice from the pines and the frog. He decides to go out and seek his fame by climbing up took-a-look hill. Not only is the climb steep and challenging, but he gets hit with a boulder and flipped over on his back. He rocks and rocks until he rights himself, continues his journey and makes it home a hero, vowing never to venture away from home again.

whimsical, somewhat outdated language (dunderhead, lament, etc), text forming pictures, rhymes, repetition (swimmingly, swimmingly, swimmingly, swim..)

Programming: Before reading, I would ask students what they think makes someone a hero, or brave. After reading I might have them list the qualities that make Timothy a hero. Because of the sing-song text of this book, I would also probably use it to segue into poetry in some way.

Fish for Supper by M.B. Goffstein

Fish for Supper by M.B. Goffstein


Publishing: The Dial Press, New York, 1976

Awards: 1977 Caldecott Honor

Description: The narrator describes the days when his grandmother goes fishing. The text and illustrations are both simple, with lots of white space. The illustrations are black and white line drawings inside a small black line border.

Programming: The narrator lays out the sequence of events of his grandmother’s fishing days. Print out the events on cards or slips of paper and have students arrange them in the correct order to practice the sequence of events. Show students how to fish and have a fishing game for sight words or spelling.

Harlem by Walter Dean Myers, Ill. by Christopher Myers

Harlem by Walter Dean Myers, Ill. by Christopher Myers


Publishing: Scholastic Press, New York, 1997

Awards: 1998 Caldecott Honor

Description: Walter Dean Myers writes about Harlem-the sights and sounds, the people in it, and most importantly, what it represents. Christopher Myers illustrates in evocative collages with rich texture and color.

Programming: Good for Black History Month in February. Langston Huges, Countee Cullen and James Baldwin are referenced, so students might explore each of those men and their works for further understanding and compare and contrast their styles and messages. They might need help putting some of Myers’ metaphorical message in context, but a good question would be, “Why does he make references to traveling and what does he mean at the end when he says, ‘A journey on the A train that started on the banks of the Niger and has not ended’ ?”