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At its simplest, the playground is where kids can kick at the clouds from the swings, but at its most complicated, it’s a microcosm of the real world, with similar stresses and question marks. Children learn to conduct transactions and navigate relationships with others as they process insights into their own personalities. It can be fun, but it can be scary, sad, and frustrating, too. Surrounded by laughing and chattering playmates, kids may also feel lonely as these new aspects of life loom large. What are caregivers to do? Sharing similar childhood experiences helps, but when young eyes roll at the sound of “Well, when I was your age…,” the voices of peers, as represented in the titles listed here, can make an even greater impact.
These selections are a natural fit for a variety of Common Core State Standards, calling on readers and listeners to contemplate the central message, make connections between images and text, and participate in group discussions of the text. While these “technical” skills are important academically, they can prove personally useful as kids glean information that’s meaningful outside (pun intended) of the books. They’ll see themselves in the photographs, artwork, quotes, and stories. They’ll find solid suggestions for handling anger and bullies, making friends, and learning patience. They’ll learn about celebrating themselves; the rewards of cooperation, sharing, and kindness; the need for following rules; and the value of honesty. Life on the playground means not only the occasional skinned knee but bruised feelings, too. The following resources can soothe emotional wounds and help kids get back to the joy of kicking at those clouds.
BECKER, Bonny. A Bedtime for Bear. illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763641016.
PreS-K–Bear is ready for sleep, but Mouse won’t settle down. After Bear’s annoyance reaches a noisy crescendo, the little guest finishes his bedtime routine, and all is quiet—for a bit. Charming artwork makes this unlikely pair all the more endearing, and the humorous tale illustrates that true friendship takes patience and gives love in return.
JOOSSE, Barbara. Friends (Mostly). illus. by Tomaso Milian. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780060882211.
PreS-Gr 2–With fun details and silly words like “gruffly” and “zurly,” Joosse chronicles the ups and downs of friendship, demonstrating that being pals is not always smooth sailing. Joyful artwork fills the pages with energy and color, adding to a cheerful and honest look at the very next relationships after family that kids will learn to navigate.
KELLY, Mij. Friendly Day. illus. by Charles Fuge. Barron’s. 2013. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781438003450.
PreS-Gr 2–Mouse tells Cat that today is Friendly Day, so the feline cannot eat him. Cat spreads the news, and animals everywhere commit hilariously random acts of kindness. Bear reveals it was a ploy by Mouse, but suggests Friendly Day can still happen. Kids will laugh at the delightful rhymes and artwork and may be inspired to start their own Friendly Day.
PACE, Anne Marie. Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover. illus. by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion/Disney. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781423175704.
K-Gr 2 –Tucked in amid the fun of a sleepover is a nice message about friendship and reassuring a buddy who is feeling uncertain about things, which, in this case, involves eating tentacle soup and playing with a mummy. The delightfully creepy context and comically detailed illustrations drive home the idea of enjoying all kinds of friends.
WILLEMS, Mo. Leonardo, the Terrible Monster. illus. by author. Hyperion/Disney. 2005. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780786852949.
PreS-Gr 2–To prove that he really is a terrible—as in scary, not inept—monster, Leonardo finds a victim in pitiful little Sam. Leonardo takes credit for Sam’s tears, but when the boy unloads his issues, the monster realizes he has a higher purpose. With his trademark minimalist humor in words and art, Willems delivers a satisfying message about friendship. Audio and video versions available from Weston Woods.
BURSTEIN, John. Can We Get Along?: Dealing with Differences. (Slim Goodbody’s Life Skills 101 Series). Crabtree. 2009. lib. ed. $26.60. ISBN 9780778747888; pap. $8.95. ISBN 9780778748045.
Gr 2-5–Before recommending strategies to resolve conflict, the author highlights interesting examples of the very differences (religious, cultural, physical, etc.) that may cause it. Nearly every spread contains a reflective feature challenging kids to more closely examine their viewpoints. A positive, useful tool illustrated with color photos and drawings.
SHANNON, George. Turkey Tot. illus. by Jennifer K. Mann. Holiday House. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9780823423798.
PreS-K–Turkey Tot is a resourceful, hopeful fellow who refuses to let farmyard naysayers get him down. When he conceives an out-of-the-box idea for gathering plump berries, Hen’s observation that Turkey Tot “has been different since the day he was hatched” morphs from criticism to compliment. Watercolor, pencil, and digital collage illustrations pop against ample white space.
SPINELLI, Eileen. When No One Is Watching. illus. by David A. Johnson. Eerdmans. 2013. Tr $16. ISBN 9780802853035.
PreS-Gr 2–An introverted little girl bubbles over with spirit and imagination, but she keeps her joyful bursts of energy to herself and her best friend for now. Spinelli’s endearing protagonist encourages shy children to celebrate who and where they are right now in life. Johnson’s illustrations, rendered in earthy shades, fill the pages with likable faces and activity.
YERKES, Jennifer. A Funny Little Bird. illus. by author. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 97814022 80139.
PreS-Gr 1–An invisible bird, tired of being ignored, takes measures that get him noticed but by the wrong kind of critter: a fox. When the bird is himself, however, he can hide his small friends from predators, and he realizes he should be proud of this quality. The minimal, jewel-toned artwork against abundant white space packs a wonderful punch.
Dealing with Bullies
LUDWIG, Trudy. Confessions of a Former Bully. illus. by Beth Adams. Tricycle. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781582463094; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780307931139.
Gr 3-5–In trouble for bullying, Katie must make amends for the pain she has caused. She decides to turn her journal into a book to educate others about bullying. Written in a tween’s voice and illustrated with cartoon drawings, Katie’s musings about both sides of the problem will engage and educate the target audience.
MULLARKEY, Lisa. TJ Zaps the Smackdown: Stopping a Physical Bully. illus. by Gary LaCoste. (TJ Trapper, Bully Zapper Series: Bk. 6). ABDO/Magic Wagon. 2013. lib. ed. $27.07. ISBN 9781616419103.
Gr 2-4 –Kids will find themselves—and good information—in this honest, accurate take on the multiple impacts of bullying. TJ helps Ethan contend with Niko, a cruel boy on their basketball team. The story addresses verbal and physical bullying, as well as the solutions to stop it, but the message is never preachy or heavy-handed.
O’NEILL, Alexis. The Recess Queen. illus. by Laura Huliska-Beith. Scholastic. 2002. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780439206372.
K-Gr 2–Playground bully Mean Jean meets her match in Katie Sue, the spunky new kid. First unaware of and then undeterred by the Recess Queen’s tyrannical rule, Katie Sue uses joy, confidence, and grace to change recess for the better. Readers will soak up O’Neill’s fun writing, Huliska-Beith’s rollicking, bold artwork, and the great message about courage and second chances.
WISHINSKY, Frieda. A Noodle Up Your Nose. illus. by Louise-Andrée Laliberté. (Orca Echoes Series). Orca. 2004. pap. $6.95. ISBN 9781551432946.
Gr 1-3–Kate must invite her entire class to her birthday party, including Violet, who tries to ruin the festivities after a misunderstanding. A truce appears possible, but Violet resorts to her bullying ways, and Kate is certain her party is doomed. Simple but expressive pencil sketches dot the text, and kids will identify with the characters.
Learning to Share
BERGER, Samantha. Martha Doesn’t Share! illus. by Bruce Whatley. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316073677; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316186735.
PreS-K–Martha, an expressive little otter, refuses to share anything with her younger brother, but in time, she realizes toys and treats don’t mean much if there’s no one with whom to enjoy them. Berger reveals the rewards of savoring the good stuff with family and friends in this sweet, simple story complemented by Whatley’s soft watercolor palette.
GRAVES, Sue. Not Fair, Won’t Share. illus. by Desideria Guicciardini. (Our Emotions and Behavior Series). Free Spirit. 2011. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781575423753.
PreS-K–Like a rock tossed in a pond, Nora’s refusal to share has a ripple effect; waves of anger wash over classmates and the teacher, bringing a fun activity to a halt. Everyone takes a time-out and eventually comes back together to apologize and move forward. Colorful cartoon drawings portray the full representation of hurting and healing.
GRIMES, Nikki. Almost Zero. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. (A Dyamonde Daniel Book Series). Putnam. 2010. Tr $10.99. ISBN 9780399251771; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101657171.
Gr 3-5–Dyamonde pushes too hard for a new pair of sneakers, so her mom shows her the difference between wants and needs by emptying her closet. When a classmate’s family loses everything in a fire, Dyamonde chooses to share much of her wardrobe and discovers that giving to others beats getting new high-tops. Bold, thick line drawings punctuate the text.
LESTER, Helen. All for Me and None for All. illus. by Lynn Munsinger. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780547688343.
K-Gr 2–Gruntly is a pig in every sense of the word. He even snips the wool and plucks the feathers off the backs of farmyard friends to fluff up his own pillows. At last, though, his greed catches up with him. Written and illustrated with delightfully wry humor, this story of learning how to share will entertain kids and adults alike.
O’CONNOR, Jane. Fancy Nancy: Too Many Tutus. illus. by Robin Preiss Glasser. (I Can Read Series). HarperCollins/Harper. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062083081; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780062083074; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9780062083098.
K-Gr 2–Nancy decides to contribute her bounty of tutus to a school swap-and-shop, but it isn’t until she lends purchase points to a classmate to help her buy a new tutu they both covet that she truly discovers that giving can be its own gift. With her trademark joie de vivre, Nancy shows just how fun sharing can be.
WILLEMS, Mo. Should I Share My Ice Cream? illus. by author. (An Elephant and Piggie Book). Hyperion/Disney. 2011. RTE $8.99. ISBN 9781423143437.
PreS-Gr 2–Elephant has a problem: to share or not to share his ice cream with Piggie. With his signature spare style that packs a comedic wallop, Willems encourages readers to laugh as they follow Elephant’s humorous, honest crisis of conscience and craving while thinking about what they would do in a similar situation.
DUNGY, Tony & Lauren Dungy. The Missing Cupcake Mystery. illus. by Vanessa Brantley Newton. (Ready-to-Read Series). S. & S./Spotlight. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442454644; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978 1442454637; ebk. $3.99. ISBN 9781 442454651.
K-Gr 2–In this cheerfully illustrated beginning reader featuring a loving family, Jade’s mom agrees to buy cupcakes on the condition that they are for after dinner. Yet when it’s time for dessert, one of the sweet treats is missing. Jade confesses to eating the cupcake and learns that while disobeying is wrong, telling the truth about it is right.
GIFF, Patricia Reilly. Big Whopper. illus. by Alasdair Bright. (Zigzag Kids Series). Random. 2010. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780385746885; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780385909266; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780553494693; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9780375896361.
Gr 2-4–Destiny and her classmates are supposed to share a discovery, and desperate to think of something, Destiny claims the first President, “Abraham Washington,” is her ancestor. It’s a humorous fib but a fib nonetheless, and it causes her great stress. Small, appealing ink images are sprinkled throughout this gentle look at the cost of telling lies.
JONES, Christianne. Hello, Goodbye, and a Very Little Lie. illus. by Christine Battuz. (Little Boost Series). Capstone/Picture Window. 2011. lib. ed. $22.65. ISBN 9781404861671; Tr $7.95. ISBN 9781404874985.
PreS-K–Larry is quite the fibber until a little girl named Lucy calls his bluff. In dire straits, he ’fesses up and gains a friend in the process. Larry’s matter-of-fact delivery of his whoppers is hilarious. The characters are charmingly drawn, and the bright, patterned backgrounds complete the appeal.
MARTINEAU, Susan. Being Honest. illus. by Hel James. (Positive Steps Series). Smart Apple Media. 2011. lib. ed. $28.50. ISBN 9781599204895.
Gr 2-4–Cartoon kids mingle with photographed kids in bright, colorful two-page layouts featuring realistic scenarios and questions that teachers and parents can use to encourage children to explore the best ways to handle honesty-related challenges—keeping secrets, making excuses, cheating, and others. Solid nuggets of advice round out the spreads.
Patience, Rules, and Cooperation
ALBERTO, Daisy. No Rules for Rex! illus. by Jerry Smath. (Social Studies Connects Series). Kane. 2005. lib. ed. $15.95. ISBN 9781417687541; pap. $5.95. ISBN 9781575651460.
Gr 1-3–Rex has had enough of rules! His parents suggest a rules-free weekend, but Rex soon realizes life as a free-for-all is not as fun as it sounds. This selection for the just-shy-of-chapter-books crowd combines colorful, funny illustrations with an enjoyable story line and a few factoids about rules in real life to highlight the benefit of boundaries.
BARTON, Bethany. This Monster Cannot Wait! illus. by Bethany Barton. Dial. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780803737792.
PreS-K–Barton takes a funny look at learning patience through the eyes of Stewart, a snaggle-toothed, green-haired monster who is very excited about an upcoming camping trip. With help from his parents, he finally understands that good things really do come to those who wait. Kids will commiserate and laugh along with Stewart in this very amusing book.
KRULIK, Nancy. I Hate Rules! illus. by John & Wendy. (Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo Series: Bk. 5). Grosset & Dunlap. 2003. lib. ed. $13.55. ISBN 9780613602969; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780448431000; ebk. $3.99. ISBN 9781101098622.
Gr 2-4 –Suzanne breaks a rule, but Katie gets punished for it. When a magic wind transforms the third-grader into the school principal, Katie dispenses with all rules, and mayhem ensues. The chaos is fun at first, but ultimately Katie must save Mr. Kane’s job. Cute artwork captures the characters throughout.
ROBBERECHT, Thierry. I Can’t Do Anything! tr. from French. illus. by Annick Masson. Magination. 2013. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781433813092; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781433813108.
PreS-Gr 1–It’s hard to let loose a wild imagination in a world full of rules, but the spunky protagonist recognizes there’s a time and a place for almost everything. This engaging story of a frustrated little girl is a great conversation starter about acceptable behavior—if the giggles brought on by the entertaining illustrations don’t distract.
STEINKRAUS, Kyla. Let’s Work Together. (Little World Social Skills Series). Rourke. 2012. lib. ed. $24.21. ISBN 9781618101358; pap. $7.95. ISBN 9781618102683.
Gr 1-2–From science lab partners to authors and illustrators, working together is the key to success. The range of examples demonstrating cooperation presented in this title is an effective statement about its importance in the lives of kids and adults. In addition, strategies for working together are offered in kid-friendly terms. Bright photos reinforce the text.
YOLEN, Jane. How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? illus. by Mark Teague. Scholastic/Blue Sky. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780545143158.
PreS-Gr 2–Giggles will grow with each successive illustration of dinosaurs throwing tantrums in this story about getting mad, which presents a delightful opportunity to talk about appropriate responses when life isn’t going your way. After the comical spreads showing mammoth meltdowns, peaceful, helpful advice is offered: take a breath, apologize, and, best of all, give a hug.
Kids for Peace. Kids for Peace, Inc. (Accessed 2/23/14).
This is a great website for inspiring and informing efforts to bring about peace through positive participation. Project ideas, a peace pledge, and instructions for starting a local chapter empower kids to become community contributors.
It’s My Life: Friends. Bullies. PBS Kids. (Accessed 2/23/14).
Gr 2-5 –Kid-friendly in tone, content, and organization, this informative website defines bullying and offers guidance for dealing with it. The main text is accompanied by a video game that is educational and fun. Peer quotes, additional resources for support, and suggested offline activities are also provided.
Taking Charge of Anger. KidsHealth. (Accessed 2/23/14).
Gr 2-5 –There’s much useful material here, including a discussion of triggers kids will recognize and a list of “Anger Busters,” all delivered in a supportive tone. Links to related topics, for example, “Talking About Your Feelings” and “Train Your Temper,”are provided for those needing additional resources.