Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Crash Course: Recent picture books on community, caring, inclusivity, and connections

I currently work in an elementary school library. I’ve bounced around over the years: bookseller at a children’s indie during graduate school at Simmons; children’s librarian; a few years in a high school library; a stint at a large public library doing teen programming and reference stuff. This year when not at the elementary library, I’ve kept busy with lots of other projects. I presented on Social Justice and Activism at Teen Lit Con, did a giant project for School Library Journal on nonfiction series for grades K to 12, served on School Library Journal’s Best Books committee, wrote reviews for SLJ, wrote a billion posts for TLT on YA literature and advocacy, and worked on my own novels. I believe in being busy and in variety. All that’s to say that if you know me through TLT you may not know I spend my days with little kids, and if you know me from my work with little kids, you may not know that it’s just one of the hats I wear. I like my skill set to be like a Swiss Army knife of knowledge—I can bust out a book recommendation for any age and any situation. I don’t have many talents, but I do have that going for me.

TLT may be focused on teens, but I like to include books and information for other ages, especially because so many of us work with various age levels or have kids of all ages in our lives. Also, many books can hold appeal for ages well beyond their “recommended” age range.

Whether you’re looking to just keep current, or read TLT a lot but actually work with younger kids, or need some ideas for gifts for people in your life, this short Crash Course series I’m going to do over my next few posts will give you lots of info. The topics I’m very broadly looking at here—community, caring, inclusivity, and connections—are ones teachers at my school are always looking for and are ideas that my coworker and I in the library are always looking to promote.

Have other suggestions to add to this list? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Be sure to check back for the four more posts coming in this series this month!

One of my favorite recent books!

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018)

A young dino is super excited to go to school, but learns her new classmates are children… which are delicious. Themes of friendship and getting along.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (2018)

The things are the other side of the wall are perceived as threats, but the little knight character learns his side is not what he thinks and that the other side may be safe and welcoming.

All of Us by Carin Berger (2018)

Themes of friendship and community show that we are stronger together.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison (Illustrator) (2018)

Elevates children’s voices and shows them as important activists. Themes of civil rights, segregation, activism, and change.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, Suzanne Kaufman (Illustrator) (2018)

Yay for diversity and inclusion! Everyone is welcome at school! A look at how we learn, grow, and share our traditions.

Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung (2018)

Colors move to separate spaces but then eventually two get together to create a baby/new color. Themes of prejudice, segregation, tolerance, and acceptance.

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller (2018)

Seriously. Don’t do this. Don’t touch ANYONE’s hair.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, Zeke Pena (Illustrator) (2019)

Excellent father-daughter relationship and look at community.

Try a Little Kindness: A Guide to Being Better by Henry Cole (2018)

Kindness is always a big theme at school. Animals show kindness here in various ways, like sharing, helping, and being polite. Themes of friendship and helping.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018)

Instead of offering solutions or suggesting how the character should feel or react, the rabbit just listens and provides comfort through that simple but important act. Themes of emotions, loss, and processing feelings.

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh (2018)

A young Iranian Muslilm girl is excited to be going to Coney Island but misses the ice cream from back home. Compares life in Iran versus life now in Brooklyn. Themes of friendship, connection, immigrants, and cultures.

I Like, I Don’t Like by Anna Baccelliere, Ale + Ale (Illustrator) (2017)

Looks a privilege and poverty through the Right to Play.

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, Laura Borras (Illustrator) (2018)

The journey of one young immigrant boy filled with uncertainty and hope. Themes of immigrants, refugees, courage, and home.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex (2017)

Poor Orange is left out of all the rhyming fruit fun. Themes of loneliness and friendship.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, Jen Hill (Illustrator) (2018)

Explores just what it means to be kind and shows that small acts can be meaningful. Themes of bullying, kindness, helping, friendship, values, and feelings.

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (2018)

At a new school in a new country, the main character’s fear dominates everything until she makes new connections and realizes everyone has fears. Themes of emotions, friendship, and worries.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator) (2018)

Understanding universal feelings like hope, hurt, happiness, and sadness. Themes of compassion and empathy.

When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller, Eliza Wheeler (Illustrator) (2019)

Facing new things can be scary. Themes of courage, fears, and overcoming obstacles.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, Jared Andrew Schorr (Illustrator) (2018)

Teaching young students to RESIST! Themes of politics, activism, and peaceful protest.

First Laugh–Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe, Nancy Bo Flood, Jonathan Nelson (2018)

About Navajo families and the First Laugh ceremony.

I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta, Luis Amavisca, Gusti (Illustrator) (2019)

A young boy loves to paint his nails, and has a supportive family, but is teased at school. Eventually, his peers come around. Themes of gender expression, gender noncomformity, bullying, and friendship.

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet (2018)

Wordless. All it takes is one brave and kind child to show others how to behave and include someone who has been bullied.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (2018)

Wondering why she has so many names, Alma learns about her ancestors.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (2019)

Looks at the ways we can be kind and help and shows people in our community at work. Themes of volunteering, helping, and building community.

Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds (2019)

You can make a difference! Themes of action, injustice, multiculturalism, and speaking up.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, Noah Grigni (Illustrator) (2019)

A wonderfully inclusive and important look at gender identity. I love this book.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, Aaliya Jaleel (Illustrator) (2019)

A little girl observes the different way women wear their hijab and their hair.

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Ledyard, Chris Sasaki (Illustrator) (2019)

A great story about family, home, and dealing with change.

The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo, Mike Deas (Illustrator) (2019)

A class builds a buddy bench where classmates can wait to be invited to play. Themes of inclusivity, friendship, and loneliness.

Does your school have a buddy bench? Mine does!

Booktalk This! You’re Never Too Old for Picture Books, in honor of Dr. Seuss

March is a big month for picture books, as many elementary schools celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with Cat in the Hat costumes, green food-coloring and Read Across America.  

Why not remind your teens of the fun of picture books by recommending some they might have missed? This is the perfect time to display those somewhat edgy titles that you may skip for storytimes, but will delight your teens!


Do you have a teen that enjoys twists and unexpected endings? Jon Klassen’s picture books, I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat, starring a determined bear and a possibly doomed fish (respectively), are just a little bit twisted and completely entertaining. Remember Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, which shocked the library world a few years ago with its ending page? Our teen library council still requests the book trailer at parties (they love shouting out the ending line). And love stories don’t get more tragic than that of the tadpole and the caterpillar in Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross.

Have fans of the TV show Community among your teens? Why not hand them some similarly self-aware picture books? Picture book rockstar author/illustrator, Mo Willems, has several delightful characters, but it’s We Are in a Book, one in his Elephant & Piggie series, that is the most interactive. Read this one aloud, and watch the grins spread. In both Chloe and the Lion, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex, and An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler, illustrated Whitney Martin, the illustrators’ inability or unwillingness to keep up with the story is both fun anda great example of playing with storytelling. Another great example of turning storytelling on its head is Chris VanAllsburg’s Bad Day at Riverbend, in which townsfolk wonder what the unsettling, jagged colors in the sky might mean…

What about the budding artists among your teens? From Caldecott Award winners and honors to the un-nominated, show them a variety of formats, like colored pencil drawings in Emily Graves’ Blue Chameleon or torn paper illustrations in Ed Young’s Seven Blind Mice. After taking them through Eric Rohmann’s precise and boldly-outlined relief drawings in My Friend Rabbit (I’d frame so many of these pages if I could bear taking the book apart!), Catherine Rayner’s loose lines and layered blocks of watercolors in The Bear Who Shared, and Chris Haughton’s pencil and digital media drawings (plus an unusual color combination) in Oh No, George, your artistic teens will find something to inspire their own creations.
Picture books are a great way to remind teens to have fun with what they read – and that picture book reading doesn’t need to end once you’ve started chapter books! Share your favorites, encourage them to reread books from their childhood, and who knows: maybe one of those teens will create picture books of their own someday!

Teaching Empathy: The Clever Stick by John Lechner, a tool for discussing Autism

The Clever Stick is a quiet fable about a stick, who has always been clever and been able to think many wonderful thoughts. But the stick has one problem – he can’t speak. So he cannot share his thoughts with any of the forest creatures he meets.

Regular readers know, I care about Autism.  Three of my nephews are on the spectrum, severely low functioning, non verbal.  But one of my nephews does the most amazing thing using those little wooden
blocks with letters on them we all played with as kids: he can write words.  And he can draw.  And these two simple little tools allow him to communicate in ways that are different than the norm.  But they let us know that he is more than what it seems.  In fact, each of my nephews have their own ways of communicating.

The Clever Stick is a short, simple fable about a stick.  The stick is smart, but nobody in the forest knows it because he can’t speak.  Until one day the stick looks down and realizes he is leaving lines in the dirt.  These lines become pictures, a way of sharing what is going on inside.

We often talk about using picture books with tweens and teens, and I can’t recommend this one highly enough.  It is a great tool for helping tweens and teens develop some empathy for those who are different, like those on the Autism spectrum.

For more about The Clever Stick, and a teaching guide, visit author John Lechner’s page.  For more about Autism and libraries, please visit the Autism & Libraries section here at TLT.