"Build a Better World" with Chapter Books

Chapter Book Chat columnist Abby Johnson recommends three recent titles (along with lesson plan and activity ideas) that fit perfectly with the "Build A Better World" summer reading theme.
How are your students/patrons building a better world this summer? Many public libraries are using the Collaborative Summer Library Program “Build a Better World” theme this year, which offers opportunities to emphasize the many ways that children can make a difference in their world—be it on the local or global level. The following books are about kids building character and/or working to make their communities stronger. Each one is paired with lesson plan tie-ins, ideas for educators, and empowering activities that kids can do this summer and fall. Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami (Groundwood, 2016). Yasmin loves to borrow books from “Book Uncle,” the man who sets up a little free library stall on the corner in front of her apartment building. But when Book Uncle must close his stall because the mayor starts imposing fees on street vendors, Yasmin’s book connection is gone. To help Book Uncle and to bring free books back to her neighborhood, Yasmin and her friends decide to campaign for a new mayor who promises to make better laws. Yasmin demonstrates civic engagement and learns about the process of elections and campaigning.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

This book would work nicely with any unit about government or elections. Scholastic provides a handful of election-related lesson plans that teach how campaigns are run and what the electoral process is like in the United States. Invite a member of your local government to visit and talk to your class or after-school group. The Colorado Municipal League has put together a helpful guide to hosting a local leader.

How to Get Students Involved:

Build a Little Free Library for your school or neighborhood. Visit https://littlefreelibrary.org/ to find information about creating a  Little Free Library and about starting an Action Book Club, with suggestions of books and activities that improve your community. Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (Scholastic, 2016). Ravi has just moved to the United States from India and he’s new at Albert Einstein Elementary. In India, he was a star student and everyone in his class liked him. In America, where he’s the only Indian kid in his class besides Dillon Samreen, who was born in the States. His peers assume he doesn’t speak English and they can’t understand his accent. Joe has always gone to Albert Einstein Elementary and he has something called Auditory Processing Disorder. Because he doesn’t talk much and he goes to the resource room for some extra help, kids assume he’s stupid, which is not the case. Some of the kids pick on Joe and the worst offender is Dillon Samreen. Ravi and Joe have nothing in common except a common enemy, but that just might be enough to bring them together as friends. This is a great book to promote themes of acceptance and friendship and is a natural recommendation to kids who enjoyed R.J. Palaccio’s Wonder.

Activities or Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Sarah Weeks has many resources for Save Me a Seat on her website, including an author interview, discussion questions, and classroom activity ideas. Explore resources to prevent bullying in your classroom. The National Education Association has an extensive collection of lesson plans on preventing bullying.


Designate a Buddy Bench at your school so that anyone who doesn’t have someone to sit with or play with can find a willing friend. A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (HarperCollins/Walden Pond, 2017). Bat (Bixby Alexander Tam) is good at lots of things: he knows more than anyone in his class about animals and he excels at math. But Bat is not great at making friends. When his mom, a veterinarian, brings home a newborn skunk kit, Bat is immediately smitten. Bat knows that he can be the best skunk caretaker that there ever was and he begs his mom to be able to keep the kit for good. But skunks are wild animals and his mom thinks it's best if they care for the kit for a little while and then turn it over to the nature center until it's able to be released in the wild. Bat knows he can care for the skunk better than anyone else, but how can he convince his mom to let him keep it? This is a sweet story featuring a neurodiverse character and it will appeal to young animal lovers.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

The National Wildlife Federation provides hundreds of lesson plans on their website about ecology, habitats, and wildlife. Invite a speaker from your local animal shelter to speak to students about rescuing wildlife and how to choose a good pet.


Make your world a better place for animals to live. Volunteer to pick up trash around your neighborhood or at a local park.

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