The Light In Me…Meets The Light In You!

By Diana Cohn

Illustrated by Amy Cordova                                                                                                    Synopsis

This is an extremely unique book about a young girl, Nima Sherpa, who is growing up in modern day Nepal (a remote area near the base of Mount Everest in the Himalayas). Nima’s father is a mountain guide and is often away from home on lengthy climbing expeditions. While he is gone, Nima misses his stories of the mountains. As he prepares for such an expedition, Nima and her mother perform a typical ritual of praying and placing a khata (scarf) around his neck for good luck. Nima then sets off for school and folds her hands and bows slightly while greeting people with the familiar word “Namaste” (nah-mah-stay) which means “the light in me meets the light in you.” Throughout her journey to school she greets porters, yaks and naks (pack animals), international travelers visiting the area, a Tibetan trader, and monks. All are involved in authentic activities of the region. Nima realizes she will have a story to tell her father upon his return of all the people she met and connected with as a result of her gracious greeting. The language is simple and clear. Also, numerous illustrations will help readers grasp ideas and events. There is an Afterword by Ang Rita Sherpa of The Mountain Institute.

Themes/Grade Levels

Cultural Awareness, Interpersonal Relations, Empathy, Compassion, Family, Strength

PreK – Grade 4

Classroom Use

This is one of the few children’s books available on Nepal. With cultural awareness as an immediate concern to educators, teachers may wish to use the work not only to introduce students to this part of the world. It is also an ideal work with which to welcome Sherpa children who are becoming members of our diverse classrooms.

Activity Description Teachers may wish to introduce the remote country of Nepal and the Nepalese people to students by connecting the location of the region to Mount Everest, a familiar icon to most students. She could encourage students to predict what the book might be about based on the jacket illustration (and/or students might enjoy trying to predict the meaning of the word “Namaste” if they are unfamiliar with the language). As the teacher reads the work, students might like to list other “observations” about the culture and region based on the text together with the illustrations. They might also be asked to compare the situations, events, and encounters Nima has with their own daily activities. 

Activity Description Teachers might wish to use this work within writing instruction for either an expository  compare/contrast writing passage or as more of a friendly letter, creative piece. In the latter activity, students could write a letter to Nima explaining daily events and activities they  encounter.

About the Author Author, Diana Cohn, is an educator and was a teacher for many years. She currently works for a national foundation that supports communities involved in promoting economic and environmental justice. She has a master’s degree in education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University and is the author of other multicultural works. including  Dream Carver and Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! Janitor Strike in L.A.

Steiner Books, 2009, 32 pages
ISBN  0880106255

Step-Stomp Stride

Currently Under Consideration for A Charlotte Award


byAndrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney


This biographical work on Sojourner Truth presents the vibrant story of a powerful and driven woman who stomped on ignorance with her honest and passionate words. In so doing, she embodied freedom and equality and helped America begin to change. The work also includes a section “More about Sojourner Truth,” and a further reading section

Themes/Grade Levels

 Strength, Determination, Perseverance, Freedom, Equality, Spirit

Grades K – 3

Classroom Use

This is a wonderful work with which to present information on abolitionist movement, biography, or in a unit on influential people/African Americans/Women in history.

Activity Description Teachers may wish to read the work in an introductory unit on the Abolitionist movement. Using a KWL chart, teachers could record what students know, want to know, and what they’ve learned about abolitionism before, during and after  reading this work. I would recommend that the work be used with a variety of others for this purpose.

Activity Description This work could also be used within a unit studying the genre of biography or other specialized areas described above. With information presented in compelling prose-like verse, the work would engage students is a lively read aloud and perhaps comparing it to other, more traditional nonfiction biographies. This treatment could be an interesting way to expose students to varying types of non-traditional biographies that are becoming more popular. Likewise, encouraging students to perform the biography as a reader’s theater skit, could be an interesting way for students to conduct additional research to add to this wonderful book.

About the Author

Andrea Pinkney is an award-winning author of many children’s books. She graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in journalism and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.




Hyperion Book , 2009, 32 pages
ISBN 0786807679



The Can Man

Currently Under Consideration for A Charlotte Award

By Laura E. Williams

Illustrated by Craig Orback


Tim wants a new skateboard for his birthday yet realizes money is too tight for his family to purchase one for him. After watching a homeless man, referred to in the neighborhood as “The Can Man”collect cans from corner garbage cans, Tim decides he will collect cans and use the money to purchase a skateboard.  At the redemption center, Tim sees The Can Man and considers another option for his earnings — he gives everything he has collected to The Can Man.

Themes/Grade Levels

Social Awareness, Empathy, Altruism, Kindness, Compassion

Grades 3 – 5

Classroom Use

This book presents a good introduction to social issues, especially sensitive subjects like homelessness, job loss, financial challenges, and other social struggles that are not well represented in children’s literature. The manner in which the author discusses the timely social concern is with honesty and respect.

Activity Description   Teachers may wish to read this work aloud and encourage students to share their ideas, feelings, and attitudes about the characters (The Can Man and Tim) and also about Tim’s actions. Students will have varying degrees of experience with social concerns, such as homelessness, and may benefit from age-appropriate explanations and guidance into these sensitive topics. Encouraging students to connect to the story in some manner (that will undoubtedly be unique to each student) might be an ideal way to launch discussions on social concerns, compassion, and some of the other themes that appear in this work.   

About the Author

Laura Williams has written many award-winning picture books and middle grade novels covering an expansive range of topics and themes. Born in Sourth Korea, Laura was adopted by an American family and lived all over the world. She plans to have teacher guides available on many of her works on her Web site.

Visit <>.

Lee & Low Books, 2010, 40 pages
ISBN 1600602665

Clever Jack Takes the Cake

Adorable Tale of Adoration ….

Currently Under Consideration for A Charlotte Award
by Candace Fleming


This tale is as clever as Jack (…and perhaps even a bit more)!  Candace Fleming has created a playful tale about a boy named Jack who is invited to the Princess’ party. Very poor, he cannot afford to buy a gift (let alone one worthy of the Princess) so he bakes a cake as a gift. Yet, while traveling to the party, he encounters great obstacles — troll at bridge, scary and dark forest, and gypsy with dancing bear — and must sacrifice his cake, piece-by-piece, in order for safe passage. Finally, arriving at the Castle with only a single strawberry remaining, Jack learns that the Princess is allergic. Ugh! He has nothing to give her…except the adventurous story of his journey. She delights in the story, preferring it over rubies and the like, and shares her own fabulous cake with him. There’s nothing like a happy ending!

Themes/ Grade Levels

Sincerity, Simplicity, Perseverance, Bravery, Kindness, Cleverness

Grades K – 3

Classroom Use

Teachers may wish to use this tale within writing classes  as well as withing reading.

Activity Description: Teachers might wish to demonstrate the craft of “voice,” which remains a very difficult task for student writers. Clearly, the playfulness of the story is captured through a variety of literary techniques. Likewise, the work features wonderful sound words, onomatopoeia, and interjections. Skillfully using these techniques is also difficult to demonstrate to students. Oompa-Oompa!, Shuffle-shuffle-kick, G-U-U-U-L-P!, and more  dance upon the pages from start to finish. Students will be begging to try the techniques in their own writing (such as a fun-loving tale with a similar plot).

About the Author

Candace Fleming is the author of over twenty books for children. In addition to writing picture books, she also favors biographies and historical picture books. Visit her website for teacher guides and other materials at

Schwartz & Wade, 2010, 40 pages
ISBN 0375849793


Because there are two sides to every story…

Mirror Mirror

Currently Under Consideration for A Charlotte Award

      By Marilyn Singer

Illustrated By Josee Massee


This is a fun collection of two-sided stories told through poems which are cleverly composed in reverse. In addition to frolicking through the words, the lines, and the stanzas of these crafty poems, students will also recognize familar characters and themes such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and others. The collection is the perfect blending of outrageously new and comfortingly familiar. The work is also beautifully illustrated. Overall, this is a masterpiece!  

Themes/Grade Levels

Balance, Open-mindedness, creativity, literary adventure, Opposites

Grades 3 – 6

Classroom Use

This playful work begs to be used in classrooms for poetry instruction or even during lessons on fairy tales.

Activity Description Teachers might wish to read this work aloud as a model for a very creative and unique form of poetry. Students could be asked to explore the organization and then compose their own poems in the style of Marilyn Singer. 

Activity Description Students might enjoy reading this work within a unit on fairy tales. They could compare and contrast older versions of the tales with this creative approach (and the second version of the tale). Likewise, teachers might wish to encourage students to create their own illustrations that blend the old with the new.

About the Author

Award winning author, Marilyn Singer, has written over eighty children’s books. In addition to writing poetry, she writes picture books and novels (both fiction and nonfiction) for children and young adults.  She was inspired to write this as a result of her love of fairy tales. Mirror  Mirror is currently under consideration for a Charlotte Award, sponsored by the New York  State Reading Association. Visit their blog for an interview with Ms. Singer at


Dutton Juvenile, 2010, 32 pages
ISBN 0525479015

Joshua the Giant Frog – A Tale From the Erie Canal!

By Peggy Thomas

Illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith


Red McCarthy was amazed at the size of the pollywog he pulled from the Erie Canal. Escaping into a nearby pond, the pollywog grew…and grew…and grew until he became so large that the spray from one jump would swamp the village! Red named the frog Joshua and immediately put him to work troubleshooting problems along the Erie Canal – pulling barges, hauling lumber, and more! The only thing larger than Joshua were his gigantic adventures! Kids will love the exaggerated tall tale genre and the larger-than-life zaniness of a canal frog!

Themes/Grade Levels

Perseverance, Canal Nostalgia, Troubleshooting, Cleverness, Strength, Friendship

Grades K through 5

Classroom Use

This work aligns with the New York State social studies curriculum on local history. In addition to using the work for this purpose, all students will enjoy the tall tale genre for genre studies.

Activity Description Teachers might wish to use this work within a social studies unit on the Erie Canal. The events, language, and illustrations enable students to step back in history and get a feel for what times were like during the Erie Canal days of the 1800s. Teachers could have students create historical captions for the illustrations and share with classmates. Likewise, students might have a scavenger hunt seeking out idioms and sayings of the times and sharing views on the meanings. 

Activity Description This work could also be used in a thematic unit on the tall tale genre. Unique to this work is the reptile character who is larger-than-life. Among  the many tale tales that are a part of our heritage, this one presents a great story about the Erie Canal. 

About the Author

Peggy Thomas grew up outside of Buffalo and heard many a tale about life on the Erie Canal. The tale about Joshua was simply too irresistible to pass up!  She is the author of several science books for adults and children.

About the Illustrator

Cat Bowman Smith is a well-known illustrator who brought to life the words of over forty children’s books. She graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in illustration.

Pelican Publishing, 2005, 32 pages
ISBN 1589802675

Davy Crockett Gets Hitched

Not Comin’ Up Short…This Tall Tale’s a Keeper! 

Retold by Bobbi Miller

Illustrated by Megan Lloyd


Bobbi Miller has crafted a tale worthy of readin’ over ‘n over again! Students will find this version of the well-known tall tale as irresistible as Davy Crockett himself! In this version, Davy’s adventure-seeking curiosity caused him to  to attend a spring frolic in honor of Miss Sally Ann Thunder-Ann Whirlwind.   There,  he outdid everyone…in frolickin’…except for Sally Ann. Dancin’ till they out-danced the last fiddle player, the two were married. This fun-filled work is as loud and frolickin’ as Davy and Sally Ann. It’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser among elementary students.

Themes/Grade Levels

Pioneer Nostalgia, Competitiveness, Adventure, and Fortitude

This work is suited for K through Grade 4

Classroom Use

The language play in this work (and in most tall tales) makes it a perfect match to use for word work lessons. Also, a valuable slice of Americana, the tale could be used within a genre study as well as within a lesson on the early years of America’s growth and development.

Activity Description Teachers might wish to use the work to model the technique of onomatopoeia and the unique use of sounds within a book. Amidst the fiddlers who plink their fiddles, potatoes that plunk along the floor, and pickles that plop across the floor, students will likely get a different take on the ways in which sound can be used within storytelling. Encouraging students to listen for the sounds (through a read aloud) and to then practice inserting their own sounds within their writing is a great way to honor the oral tradition of storytelling.

Activity Description The work also represents a great way for students to capture the flavor of the early pioneer days when storytelling was a form of campfire entertainment and captured the stretched truth of the storytellers. Reading other works about Davy Crockett or other Tall Tales is a memorable and student-friendly way to share this part of American history!  

About the Author  

Bobbi Miller is “a storycollector, and storyteller, and a writer who teaches writing.She studied folklore and is an outdoor enthusiast who finds adventure and engagement in the things that surround her! She has written another children’s book and has great activities and information on her website. Be sure to visit it!  

Photo from

Holiday House , 2009, 23 pages

ISBN 0823418375

Honestly…Among the Best!

Abe’s Honest Words


By Doreen Rappaport

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson


This is a beautifully written biography about Abraham Lincoln. Unique to the work is the author’s use of brief passages from the notes, letters and speeches Lincoln wrote during various periods in his life. Each page begins with the author’s deeply moving, musical narrative, her words followed by Lincoln’s own eloquent thoughts.  The content is masterful and strengthened by the  illustrations, bold and chiseled. As a Nation, we hold Lincoln dear; he is one of our most revered and beloved presidents. This work captures why this is so!

Themes/Grade Levels

Grades K and up

Compassion, perseverance, equity, civil liberty, virtuousness,  overcoming adversity, justness, empathy, leadership, eloquence

Classroom Use

This work can be used for a variety of unique and creative classroom activities.

Activity Description – This work could be used for oratorical activities such as speeches, recitations, and other events where students could practice interpreting, memorizing, and/or delivering the words of Abraham Lincoln.

Activity Description – This could also be used to introduce biography and research skills. The author and illustrator include notes to the reader which detail their research processes. Students will benefit by learning about the means by which professional writers and illustrators conduct real research.

Activity Description – Abe’s Honest Words could also be used as a model for students to practice their own biographical or autobiographical writing.

About the Author

Doreen Rappaport is the author of many award-winning books and specializes in multicultural history and historical fiction. She also crafts retellings of folktales and myths as well as stories of those who she claims are “not-yet-celebrated.” Visit her website at <>. 

Hyperion Books,  2008, 48 pages
ISBN 1423104080



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A Fine, Fine School

By Sharon Creech


Mr. Keene, principal of the fine, fine school, wants to have school on Saturdays! (Can you hear the kids groan!). Young Tillie gives readers great insights into all the activities she’ll miss from this, yet she doesn’t express concern to principal Keene.  Then, Mr. Keene wants school on Sundays. (louder groans!). And then on holidays! (roars!). Eventually, Tillie explains to Mr. Keene that “Not everyone is learning.” For example, her dog isn’t learning, her little brother isn’t learning, and even she isn’t learning some things that schools just don’t teach, like how to climb trees. Eventually Mr. Keene understands his  misguided intention and restores the five-day school session. A groan-out-loud book that engages kids from the get-go…and ends happily ever after!

Themes/Grade Levels     

family, relationships, balance, nature, simplicity

Grades K and up

Classroom Use

Because students are so quick to express their outrage over Principal Keene’s action, they are immediately engaged and making their own connections to activities they, like Tillie, would miss! Teachers can make good use of this engagement.

Activity Description Teachers may wish to use this as a source to introduce persuasive writing. Clearly, students would be able to devise two to three arguments against attending school on the weekend and holidays. The authenticity of their reaction makes this an excellent source in which to write a persuasive letter to Principal Keene against having school so often.

About the Author    

Well-known children’s author, Sharon Creech was inspired to write this story from her personal experience; Her husband is a schoolmaster at a day and boarding school where many school-related activities extend beyond the average school day and even into the weekends. In A Fine, Fine School, Ms. Creech takes a light-hearted look at this phenomenon.


HarperCollins, 2003, 32 pages
ISBN 0060007281

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Tangled Twist on a Time-Old Tale ….

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes

by Margie Palatini

New York State Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List!

  Click Here for Must-See Video


Award-winning author, Margie Palatini, unleashes another laugh-out-loud book that adds a bit of boost, oomph, scooch, and swing to the Aesop’s well-known fable about the Fox and the Grapes. In this comical retelling, the sly fox devises a convoluted plan to reach some grapes that hang high in a tree. Possum, Porcupine, Beaver and Bear come to his aid, yet when each tries to offer a better plan, Fox interrupts them and boosts that he is the sly, clever, and smart one…and simply knows best!  The last laugh is on Fox who is as sour as the grapes he can’t reach after learning that each of the other animals had a much, much better plan. Foiled Again!

Themes/Grade Levels

As in many fables, themes suggesting the pitfalls of pride, greed, and conceit dominate this retelling. Likewise, the benefits of self-identity and acceptance are also touted. This story would be enjoyable as a read-aloud for kids ages 6 and up (some vocabulary is advanced).

Classroom Use

This book could be used within a variety of thematic lessons and also to support instruction in skill development as follows.

Activity Description – This could be used within a lesson on fables. Comparing and contrasting this to Aesop’s well-loved tale would be fun and interesting for children. Also, comparing this modern retelling to the older version and/or to other traditional versions would also be a good exercise.

Activity Description – In addition to the genre study, teachers could also make good use of the rich and creative vocabulary that appears throughout the story. On the very first page, the words “tantalizing” and “morsels” demonstrate the author’s attention to word choice. Students can be encouraged to hunt for synonyms, practice word identification through context clues, and play with special words that repeat throughout the book including.

Activity Description – Students could also use this work as a model upon which to base their own unique retelling of another Aesop classic tale. Adding twists in a variety of ways would be an engaging way to involve students in this creative writing adventure!

Author Margie Palatini has created over 150 charming characters who dazzle her near 50 picture books and middle grade novels. She makes available numerous resources for teachers, parents, and kids through her website at:






Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009, 32 pages

ISBN 0689802463