I’m starting a new little boy book club for my son and his best friend from when he was 15 months. The issue is that his best friend is a grade older. And his second-best friend is two grades older. The moms are game to do a book club but I wanted to make sure the book selections appeal to boys in grades 1 through 3 without going into chapter book territory. I decided to delve into the world of advanced picture books which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for rich vocabulary and the ability to transport into another culture, time, or place.
What are your favorite advanced picture books? Please share! Let’s create a long list of great advanced picture books together!
Advanced Picture Books That Teach Compassion
10. The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner
I love this book about the WWII Navajo Code Talkers who are unsung heroes. We are thinking of hiding prizes that the boys will find by breaking our code and also having them make up their own code. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
9. Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
My oldest child had a book club meeting with this book and she met a Lost Boy whose story was very similar to the one in this book. The Lost Boys survived a hazardous journey only to end up in refugee camps where they were only able to eat one meal every five days. It’s a heavy topic but eye-opening in terms of understanding what war really means. [picture book, ages 9 and up]
I read this book as a child and it’s still just as charming as ever. The story is like a Norman Rockwell picture that comes alive … simpler times of a family’s day in Maine from a bygone era (without screen time!). Couple this with an outing for ice cream to make a nice book club outing! [picture book, ages 6 and up]
7. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
My oldest child’s fourth-grade teacher read this book to her class in fourth grade and all the kids talked afterward about how much they loved this book (and author). Patricia Polacco’s books are about her own life experiences and in this book, her teacher, Mr. Falker, was able to help her overcome her dyslexia, opening up a new world of reading for her. Like most teachers, he’s an unsung hero! [picture book, ages 5 and up]
A Coretta Scott King Award Winner, We Are The Ship brings the Negro Baseball League experience alive including the discrimination, hatred, low pay, and harsh conditions that the players endured doing the thing they loved best: play ball. (paraphrased from the forward). The illustrations by Kadir Nelson bring a powerful dignity to this true story. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
5. The Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu by Emily Arnold McCully
For kids who like Kung Fu Panda movies, this book is based on two women who were Kung Fu masters during the late 17th century and lived in the famous Shaolin Monastery. When a young girl, Mingyi, is forced to marry a local thug, Kung Fu master Nun Wu Mei teaches her Kung Fu so that she can escape her upcoming marriage. This book gives a message about bullying. In this case, a rigorous study in martial arts allows Mingyi to stand up and beat the bully. It worked in real life a few centuries ago, and it still works today. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
4. Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Ted Lewin
I find this book incredibly moving. A young boy delivers large canisters of butane gas via his donkey cart all day in Cairo. Today is an especially exciting day because Ahmed has learned something really important … how to write his name in Arabic. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully
We are near Lowell, MA where this book takes place and there’s a great museum about the Industrial Period that this book brings to life. The Bobbin Girls were real young women who lived in factory housing and worked in hazardous conditions until someone was brave enough to stand up for workers’ rights. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. The House that Baba Built by Ed Young
This would be a fun book for Chinese New Year’s. While not strictly about Chinese New Year, this book is a tour de force of Caldecott winning artist Ed Young. This is his own family story, growing up in Shanghai during a war, yet somehow sheltered, along with three other families, because of a special house designed and constructed by his father. It’s clear that his family’s love was strong enough to overcome the terrible conditions of war, and Ed Young’s memories are more sweet than bitter. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
1. One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway
Inspired by true events, One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many. After his father died, Kojo had to quit school to help his mother collect firewood to sell at the market. When his mother receives a loan from some village families, she gives a little money to her son. With this tiny loan, Kojo buys a hen. A year later, Kojo has built up a flock of 25 hens. With his earnings, Kojo is able to return to school. Soon Kojo’s farm grows to become the largest in the region. Kojo’s story is inspired by the life of Kwabena Darko, who as a boy started a tiny poultry farm just like Kojo’s, which later grew to be the largest in Ghana, and one of the largest in west Africa. Kwabena also started a trust that gives out small loans to people who cannot get a loan from a bank. One Hen shows what happens when a little help makes a big difference. This help comes in the form of a microloan, a lending system for people in developing countries who have no collateral and no access to conventional banking. Microloans have begun to receive more media attention in recent years. In 2006 Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist who pioneered microloan banking won the Nobel Peace Prize. The final pages of One Hen explain the microloan system and include a list of relevant organizations for children to explore. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.