March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

JLG’s On the Radar | Dare to be Different: Picture Books for Elementary Students

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you truly are,” said e. e. cummings. The following picture books highlight real-life people who had the strength to be who they truly were. Share these titles with students to encourage them to accept the differences in us all.

Papa's Mechanical FishFLEMING, Candace. Papa’s Mechanical Fish. illus. by Boris Kulikov. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson. 2013. ISBN 9780374399085. JLG Level: E : Easy Reading (Grades 1-3).

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” goes the well-known saying. Papa was an inventor, so he made a mechanical fish. It sunk. He added a fin and propeller. It almost worked, so he added a steering wheel and protected the surface with copper. Papa’s inspirations for improvement come from the fish themselves (and a little prodding from his daughter). How do fish know where they’re going? Papa adds portholes. Will his invention ever work well enough for use in war or transportation? Fleming’s inspirational tale of little-known inventor, Lodner Phillips, presents a creative mind that continued to think, whether he was immediately successful or not.

Boy Who Loved MathHEILIGMAN, Deborah. The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös. illus. by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook. 2013. ISBN 9781596433076. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Paul loved math more than anything. He counted and subtracted all day. Between his mother’s over-protectiveness and his obsession with equations, the young boy never learned to do things for himself. When he was 21, his work took him to places where he was alone. Another mathematician would take him home, wash his clothes, provide his meals, and pay his bills. Shouting “my brain is open,” Paul would announce that he was ready to do calculations early in the morning. His personal quirks were tolerated by friends and colleagues who loved him anyway. Heiligman’s picture book biography of an eccentric genius reveals a man who was good at his job and was willing to share his talents with others.

Brave GirlMARKEL, Michelle. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. illus. by Melissa Sweet. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2013. ISBN 9780061804427. JLG Level:  NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Typical examples of leaders in American history include figures like George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. Clara was a five-foot-tall, nineteen-year-old girl when she took a stand for thousands of garment industry workers to strike for the improvement of their working conditions and benefits. If a worker bled twice on her cloth, she could lose her job. If she were a few minutes late to work, she could lose half a day’s pay. Working under unbelievable conditions (two toilets and one sink for 300 hundred girls), these teenagers made women’s clothing instead of getting an education. Clara was determined to improve things, so she took a stand. Though beaten and arrested 17 times, the immigrant seamstress dared to challenge the establishment and make a difference for those around her and the workers yet to come. Sweet’s brilliant collage and watercolor illustrations weave Markel’s words into an inspirational story of fighting for equality.

Want to Be in a BandROCHE, Suzzy. Want to Be in a Band? illus. by Giselle Porter. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2013. ISBN9780375968792. JLG Level: E+ : Easy Reading (Grades 1–3).

What does it take to start a band? A little sister can ask her two older siblings. Then they can teach her everything they know. A new musician’s fingers may tire while playing the guitar, but practice is important. Performing for others may give a novice stage fright, but playing for her parents is a baby step in the right direction. After the band chooses a name, they can have a public performance. Maybe it will lead to a gig in a club, but the sisters shouldn’t worry if it’s not a big-time appearance. Based on her own experiences, folk-indie rock band The Roches, the author’s advice continues as she encourages budding musicians in the process of starting a band.

Favorite DaughterSAY, Allen. The Favorite Daughter. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2013. ISBN 9780545176620. JLG Level: CE : City Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Yuriko is upset when her Japanese name is mispronounced at school. Even her teacher calls her “Eureka.” As the teasing continues, she decides she wants an American name. Her wise and patient father goes along with her wishes and takes his “new” daughter, Michelle, to a Japanese garden in San Francisco. While looking for a souvenir with her name on it, they see a Japanese ink painting artist. After learning her real name, he paints a lily and uses traditional characters to write it out. She’s delighted with her special remembrance and decides to learn to paint it too. On their trip to the Golden Gate Bridge, father and daughter are disappointed to see it buried in fog. He encourages the youngster to use her imagination to recreate the bridge for her school project. Her father points out that she wants an ordinary name, but something different from everyone else for her artwork. Perhaps he’s given her more to think about than a school assignment. Say’s illustrations accompany the thought-provoking dialogue.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.