No!

No!

David McPhail

picture book


How much can you say with just one word? David McPhail’s almost-wordless picture book No! begins with a boy stamping an envelope addressed simply to “the President.”  He puts on his coat and travels down empty, war-torn streets.  Fighter jets streak overhead while tanks and soldiers appear on the road.  As the boy silently continues on his way, somber-faced people peer out of windows.  One man defaces a picture of the president, and a policeman and his wolf-like dog angrily chase him.  When the boy reaches the mailbox, there is a bigger boy (a bully) leaning against it.  The bully knocks off the boy’s hat, and the boy finally says the book’s one, powerful word, “No.”  “No?” says the bully, scratching his head.  As the bully leans aggressively toward the boy again, the boy then shouts “No!”  The bully is stunned by his word and sits on the ground while the boy mails his letter.

As he returns down the street he walked before, the boy sees the policeman smiling, and his dog licking the face of the man they were chasing.  The soldiers have wrapped presents in their hands instead of guns, and a tank pulls a farmer’s plow up a hill.  Planes release a parachute holding a bicycle, which the (former) bully and the boy untangle and ride together, finally friends.

Curriculum Connections:

Simultaneously dark and empowering, No! symbolically shows how one person can make a difference.  When the boy says “No,” and then sends his letter to the President, he affects an instant and perceptible change in the world.  Illustrated in soft, sketchy drawings in the tradition of Maurice Sendak, No! can spark discussions of ways we can change the world, and gives the message that immense problems can sometimes be changed by the simple act of standing up to things that are wrong and saying “No.”

While it is appropriate for all ages, No! may be best used with older students (grades 3+)when covering local or world conflicts that are overwhelming and discouraging.  There are many people in the world who have, in essence, said “no” to things they don’t believe in, and this book would be a good introduction to a biography unit on people who have stood up for the things in which they believe.

No! connects well with letter-writing campaigns and any movement toward social or political change.  Use it (specifically mentioning the letter to the president) to discuss of the importance of speaking up about ways to positively change the world in addition to saying no to negative actions or behaviors.

No! could also be appropriate when discussing bullying behavior and examining the ways bullying can escalate.  When the boy refuses to accept or internalize the bully’s behavior, he stops it.  While the bully exhibits negative behavior, he is still a boy, and a boy with whom friendship is still possible.  There is a parallel between the behaviors of one person and one political entity.

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The Garden of Happiness

The Garden of Happiness

By Erika Tamar

picture book

    Marisol lives on a New York City block that has an empty, garbage filled lot nearby.  One morning in April, Marisol sees members of the community clearing it out.  They tell her that they are making a garden, and Marisol decides she wants to plant something too.  The garden plots have all been taken, but outside the fence she finds a tiny patch of ground where the sidewalk has cracked.  She picks up a seed from the pigeons and plants it in her little plot.  All summer long she waits, takes care of the seed, and wonders what the plant will be, until the morning when she arrives at the fence and sees a beautiful sunflower blooming high above her.  People in the community stop and smile at the flower, commenting on the ways the flower makes them think of the places they come from, whether Poland, Mexico, or right there in New York City.

As the seasons change, Marisol grows sad as she must collect the last remaining seeds of her dying plant.  All winter, she misses the sunflower.  Then, one day, Marisol is called to come quickly to see something.  Across the street, painted by teenagers in the community, is a beautiful mural of blooming sunflowers.  Under the towering flowers, bright in her red dress, is Marisol watering her growing seed.

The Garden of Happiness blooms brightly with colors and movement-filled illustrations on every page.  Community members play a large, positive part in Marisol’s story, and the growth of her sunflower is an accomplishment celebrated by all.  The Garden of Happiness celebrates one girl’s efforts to help something live and grow, while people all around her are also helping to make the community a more beautiful place.

Curriculum Connections:

The Garden of Happiness is a great book for gardening or community beautification projects.  The story could be read before beginning a garden or mural project meant to make the community beautiful.

The life cycle of a sunflower is depicted from seed until the plan dies and its seeds are collected by Marisol.  Read before planting flower seeds

Marisol also has a supportive community made up of people from all over the country and world.  A focus on diversity could show that even though people are from many different places, they all come together to clean up the city and they come together in their common experiences with sunflowers.

For a focus on the environment, the community works together to remove trash and make the earth healthy again.  Marisol and the rest of the gardeners take excellent care of the garden and take pride in their work and the upkeep of their community. 

Marisol shows that just one person can make a difference.  She doesn’t have a large piece of land or special seeds, but she cares for the earth  by making the effort to plant the sunflower and taking good care of it.



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Almost Zero

  Almost Zero


a Dyamonde Daniel book by Nikki Grimes

chapter book

When Dyamonde Daniel admires her classmate Tameeka’s new pink high-top sneakers, Tameeka tells her the key to getting a pair of her own. “Why don’t you tell your mom to buy you some,” she says.  “That’s what I do.  If I need something, I tell my mom to get it….She’s my mom, and it’s her job to get me whatever I need.”  Dyamonde goes home and does just that.  The next thing she knows, her mom has packed away her closet, once full of clothes, and has left her with what she really needs: the clothes on her back.  Dyamonde suffers and complains through mustard stains and washing her clothes in the sink until she hears that her classmate Isabel’s apartment has been destroyed by a fire.  Isabel’s family has lost everything, and Dyamonde comes to understand the difference between want and need as she organizes the community to help Isabel’s family by holding a clothing drive.

Curriculum Connections:

Almost Zero is the third book in this beginning chapter book series, and addresses core sustainability concepts, including community action, want vs. need, and personal initiative for making life better for all.

What does want vs. need mean?  What does Dyamonde want and what does she need?  Is it easy for people to get this mixed up? How does Isabel’s misfortune help teach Dyamonde about what people really need?

Dyamonde organizes a clothing drive to help Isabel’s family.  Have you done anything like this? What are other ways one person can act to make a difference?

Do the people in your community get most of what they need?  What could your community do to better help people get the things they need?

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Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace

Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace

By Jen Cullerton Johnson

Illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler

picture book biography

“Wangari had an idea as small as a seed but as tall as a tree that reaches for the sky.  Harabee! Let’s work together!’ she said to her fellow countrywomen…” (Johnson, page 24)

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2004, is known for her Green Belt Movement in Kenya, in which she enlisted hundreds of women to plant trees.  Together, they worked against corrupt officials and greedy businesspeople to improve the quality of life for all. Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace is the story of Maathai’s childhood as a precocious learner, her studies as a college student, her work with women and children in Kenya and, finally, her outreach throughout the world.

Curriculum Connections:

Biography units are widespread in education.  Studying Maathai’s biography would be a great connection with studies on environmentalism, social justice, and creating an effective movement.  This book also highlights the important work she did as a woman and for women’s rights.  The economic benefits for the women planting trees can be examined when looking at the sustainability of the movement itself.

Literature connections can be made with other biographies on Maathai, including picture book Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter and, for high school students and adults, Unbowed, a memoir by Wangari Maathai.

Connections can be made when doing greening up projects and tree plantings, or as a positive approach to studies on deforestation and land-use or natural resource issues.  Humans cause damage, but can also help repair it.  We can learn much by being inspired, and Maathai does inspire!

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Crunch

CrunchCrunch

Crunch

by Leslie Connor

fiction

What would you do if all the gas pumps ran dry?  For Dewey Marriss, that question suddenly becomes very important.  His parents are stuck up north on an anniversary trip and are unable to get back without fuel.  Dewey and his siblings – 18 year old artist Lil, 13 year old mechanical genius Vince, and five year old twins Angus and Eva – are stuck making it on their own.  Bicycles become the main mode of transportation in town, and as people bike up and down the deserted highway, the family’s small bike repair business suddenly booms.  Now, Dewey must figure out how to keep up with way too many bike repairs, deal with irritable customers, and figure out how to get through daily life without his parents’ help. Then, things begin to go strangely missing from the bike shop.  Can Dewey stay afloat with the business, take care of the twins, and solve the mystery of the thefts?  And when will his parents come home?

Crunch shows us a scenario in which people must adapt to living in a world with minimal fuel.  It deals with a modern situation with an old-fashioned feel, being both a mystery and a family story.  Dewey has a tight-knit family and community, and his newfound independence and responsibility show the ways in which this experience changes him.

Curriculum Connections:

How can we best deal with the challenges that come our way?  Dewey finds that bicycles are a great way to get around when gas runs low.  He discovers that even though the world changes, there are ways that communities can help each other and adapt to get what they need.  How would his experience have been different if he’d lived in a city?  The rural countryside?  How would your community come together to help people get along?

What challenges might we face in the future?  What are ways we can use our knowledge to overcome them, and how can we plan ahead to make our communities more sustainable? 

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Nibbles: a green tale

Nibbles: a green tale by Charlotte Middleton

Nibbles: a green tale

 

by Charlotte Middleton

picture book

There is only one thing Nibbles the guinea pig loves more than soccer:  dandelion leaves!  Everyone in the town of Dandeville loves dandelion leaves just as much as Nibbles.  So what is a guinea pig to do when the population of dandelion leaves dwindles down to almost nothing?  Pay lots of money for just a few leaves?  Eat cabbage instead?  Cabbage-and-broccoli quiche just doesn’t have the same delicious ring to it…

The day Nibbles discovers one last dandelion leaf outside his window, he must make a very important decision.  Should he eat it all by himself?  Or should he think a little harder?  Nibbles goes to the library and finds information about dandelions.  He shields the dandelion, waters it, and picks off bad bugs.  He is so patient that even when his dandelion is perfectly blooming, he doesn’t eat it.  Instead, when the dandelion goes to seed, he climbs the highest hill and blows the seeds out across Dandeville.  Soon, fresh leaves begin to sprout and the sound of eating again fills the town.  But does Nibbles go back to life as normal, or does he try something new?

Curriculum Connections:

Nibbles deals with sustainability through brief looks at economics (the price of dandelions goes through the roof  when the number dwindles), social justice (Nibbles finds a solution that works to provide food to all guinea pigs), and the environment (Nibbles protects the plant so it can go to seed and grow again).

Students can look at resources in their local community and environment, and think about ways to protect those resources for others in the future. For younger students, taking care of trees or gardens, growing food for others, and exploring the role of farmers would help bring the idea from book to practice.  Nibbles is one “person” who makes a big difference by doing the responsible thing.

Older students can expand upon the intersections between environment, economy, and social justice, and explore those relationships further by looking at fuel consumption, mining, and practices that utilize our natural resources.  How does the cost of dandelions change when supplies dwindle?  How can we make sure to plan our resources for future use?  What happens if the cost of heating homes sky-rockets and not everyone can afford it?

So – how can we best take care of our last remaining “dandelions?”  This book gives a few answers, but an even bigger opportunity for conversations.

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Read for Sustainability

Welcome to the Read for Sustainability book blog!

What is this blog all about?

This blog exists to share children’s books that focus on the big ideas of sustainability –  for students, teachers, parents, and experts in the field.

Books are amazing objects that transcend their physical beings of paper and board.  They build empathy, expand knowledge and deepen understanding.  They are inspiring, thought provoking, and (most of all) fun to escape into.

Who writes the blog?

This site is written and maintained by Susanna Paterson, the librarian at the Sustainability Academy which is a K-5 magnet school in Burlington, VT.   At the Sustainability Academy,  our mission is to teach all students through the lens of sustainability.  We work with partners, such as the Sustainable Schools Project through Shelburne Farms, to further this goal.

This includes using a wide variety of resources to teach literacy, science, history, and other subject matters that connect with our specific curriculum and location.  While our school works with K-5 students, the books posted here will be meant for a variety of ages and maturity levels.

Please reply to blog posts with your own suggestions and thoughts about the books, keeping in mind that this site is part of our school community, and that we believe respectful discussion is of the highest importance.

It will be updated periodically with new books, and every attempt will be made to tag and categorize books in the most helpful way.

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