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.
Publishing: Greenwillow Books, New York, 1990
Awards: 1991 Honor Book
Description: Three stories of parents and their small children (Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird). Each parent notices how perfect their child is, and does something to show it, to which the child says, “More, more more!” Illustrations are common to Williams’ style: bright, with a border around each. The characters are a variety of skin tones and races, but possibly a little stereotypical.
Programming: Have students share what kinds of things their parents do with them for fun: spin them around? Give them piggy back rides? etc. Because this is so parent-centered I’m not sure I would use it for programming, but more as a suggestion for parents. It could be done around Mother/Father’s Day though.
Publishing: Roaring Brook, New York, 2011
Description: a great-granchild tells the story of his Grandpa Green, from his birth, catching chicken pox, stealing kisses, and experience in the war to the grandpa he is now. At the end he says that he can’t remember everything now, but the garden remembers it for him, thus the topiaries. This is such a heartwarming story that I almost burst into tears. Illustrations are mostly white and green, but are still enigmatic and help tell the story.
Programming: Time and age are difficult concepts for children. I would start by asking them to talk about their relatives-grandparents, aunts and uncles, even parents, anyone older-and see if they know anything about what their relatives were like when they were little. This story illustrates that all of these people had lives before the children came into existence, and that every person has a story to tell. If this is a class, it would be wonderful to have them ask a relative to tell them a story about their childhood or bring in a picture of a relative when they were young.
Publishing: Disney/Hyperion, New York, 2011
Awards: Caldecott Honor
Description: A city-wide blackout brings a family closer to their neighbors and to each other, as they suddenly discover they’re not quite as busy as they thought. Illustrations are full-color when the lights are on, and shades of black, white, grey, and blue when the lights have gone out.
Programming: Have students start about by talking about whether or not they have ever lost power at their houses. What did they do? What did they use to see? How long did it last? You could discuss what people did before electricity was even invented and how they entertained themselves. Finally, you could play some kind of game in the dark or maybe project constellations on a darkened ceiling.
Publishing: Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, 2010
Description: Two cousins, one on a farm in Mexico and the other in a city in the US. The cousins tell about their lives simultaneously so that the reader can see the parallels. Though their environments are very different, they both go to school and play with friends, going to get food and other necessities with their families on the weekends.
Programming: This opens up a world of possibilities for discussing Mexican culture. There are spanish vocabulary words within the text, as well as some cultural references such as El Dia de los Muertos and futbol. Students might point out on a map where Mexico is, stage their own festival or futbol game, and/or sing some Spanish songs that reinforce the vocabulary. Because the boys lives’ are similar, have the class draw up a list of similarities, or have them draw pictures of the boys doing something similar at the same time, as in the book.
Publishing: Viking, New York, 1968 (originally 1940)
Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner
Description: Lawson tells the stories of each of his grandparents and his parents. He says that is proud of his heritage and in the foreword says that these stories are not just his stories, but stories of people that contributed to the country’s making. His father’s story includes slaves and does not dismiss them as being a bad thing, so this should be explained to students as part of the historical context. Illustrations are black and white full-page panels with borders, and each person’s story has a head and shoulders portrait of the person. Text is more minimal than some other books of the time and always appears on the verso while the illustrations appear on the recto.
Programming: The author is very concerned with heritage. Younger students might simply draw pictures of their families, while older students might draw their family trees. Discussions might center around how America is the great melting pot and what Ellis Island was like, etc.
Publishing: Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994
Description: Patricia and her brother, Richard, are always competing. It seems like Richard wins at everything, and can always brag that he is four years older and will always win at that too. When Patricia sees a falling star she wishes that she could do something better than her brother. The next day at the fair she does: she rides the merry-go-round longer than Richard. Only, when she gets off she immediately passes out and Richard is the one who carries her home and fetches the doctor. Patricia realizes that she is lucky to have a brother like Richard after all.
Programming: This book is very relatable for students who have siblings. They might talk or write about a time when they got into a fight with either a sibling or a friend.
Polacco lists some suggestions for discussion questions and activities on her own site. My favorite includes having each student make a list of things they love about their sibling. (Only children could talk about friends or other relatives)