Enthusiastic by nature, I became a school principal because of my steadfast belief that high quality instruction drives student success. I am a product of the school system I went through in Vancouver, British Columbia. My children are successful products of the school system in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. However personal experience and research through organizations such as the OECD, or a long list of individuals such as John Hattie, Michael Fullan, Peter DeWitt, Andy Hargreaves, Angela Duckworth, Carole Dweck, Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert, Jenni Donohoo, et al., we know we can do better. When I think of the old African saying “We know better, so we do better”, I also ways hear the voice of Rosa Fazio, my friend and mentor from my days as a vice-principal at Norma Rose Point Elementary and Middle School. It is one of her favourite sayings and represents why British Columbia is a leader in implementing educational change. It represents an ability to consider the options and pivot. COVID-19 has necessitated that responsiveness to the needs of our school communities. The research during school shut-downs and natural disasters speaks to the significance of specific and deliberate instruction in social emotional learning. The challenge is to create a sense of belonging for students not attending face to face programs, not crossing cohort groups, not participating the whole school activities that we’ve always incorporated into school life to build community.
As a lover of books, my go to place is to turn to reading. Books have provided vicarious experiences, new learning, escape, a reflection of myself and new ways of thinking of the world or very specific situations. They have also provided another way to connect with my friends and colleagues. They created warm family memories and provoked conversations with my children that never emerge with the question “How was school today?” The read alouds of the Harry Potter series alone stimulated some of our best family conversations about belonging, friendship, loyalty, sadness, fears, death, bravery, and risk. It was natural response to turn to how we could use books to nurture a sense of belonging with the students in Livingstone Elementary School.
At the outset of the year, in my continued role as President of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the Literacy Association – BCLCILA- a literacy group that you join for the duration of your career in education, I floated the idea of asking members to contribute titles to a Social-Emotional booklist. It seemed fairly easy-peasy and something that would naturally evolve. Julie Pearce, another friend and mentor, notes that I always make a point, then go off in a wide circle, before bringing it all back to the point. This past year has felt like the big circle as I’ve tried to define the best selection of books for a SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING CHILDREN’S LITERATURE BOOKLIST. The fact that I got relatively few contributions submitted online, I believe this represents something larger than me overthinking almost everything.
A few weeks ago, by chance more than planning, I ended up assuming the role of librarian for a few days in my school. After the lesson in humility, as I tried to navigate the new library system, I had a chance to talk to kids about their book selections through my mask and plexi-glass barrier. I also had a chance to peruse the recent purchases by the actual librarian, Marvin Muress, also a BCLCILA member. I chose many titles to read for my YouTube channel, Ms. Froese Reads, another attempt to build community by bringing our students together for online story time, provoke discussions, and highlights great Children’s literature selections for home libraries. I chose many more titles to add the BCLCILA list.
I added the selections to the list and went back to consider some of my other titles and how they fit. My Reading Challenge on my Goodreads account was helpful to access the book titles. It took me back to a conversation with Anna, a Grade 7 student at Livingstone Elementary School when I came to the school as principal in 2019. She challenged me to take the time to consider why kids liked graphic novels and put together a list of must reads. Most of these books were about identity, coping with adversity, and retellings of historical events. They belonged on the list. After adding many of these titles, I realized my categories for sorting the books didn’t quite fit. More circles of possibility to pursue.
Yesterday, I started to write this blog post and ended up writing about race. In the process, I picked up Tessa McWatt’s (2019) book, Shame on Me – An Anatomy of Race and Belonging. The author helped me pinpoint what I really want to accomplish. I do not want to create a booklist of didactic texts that provide instruction of how to identify feelings and self-regulate during COVID-19. I want to create a safe haven where all students feel a sense of belonging to their school community. I have come up with the following categories to provide titles to help explore issues of identity and belonging. I want to avoid the trap of creating a sense of “other”. If we shelve books as multi-cultural or Indigenous, aren’t we in fact assuming they are outside of our school community. I want to include books that make us laugh, use our imaginations, and explore ways of coping with and myriad of feelings and adversity.
I decided on the following categories:
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness
Challenge and Resilience
Wisdom from Ancestors
They are laden with what my notions of the things we need to develop in order to cope. They provide many ways of belonging. I’m curious about how they will work. I would love to hear your thoughts.
I have included the Creating Belonging Through Children’s Literature list below. It is a work in progress. Please follow this link if you would like to contribute your book suggestions. I encourage you to join the International Literacy Association. I joined my first year as a teacher because my principal, Jack Corbett in SD #34 told it’s what we do here at Dormick Park Primary School. I have never regretted it and my appreciation of books as a way to move mountains has increased exponentially.
Creating Belonging Through Children’s Literature
A List Compiled by members of BCLCILA
The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association
Adderson, Caroline, Qin Leng (Illustrations (2014). Norman Speak!
This picturebook encourages us to consider how we judge intelligence and how we support those we love. Perceptions of the adopted family dog shift when they discover at the dog understands Chinese and inspires the family to sign up for Chinese lessons..
Literary Awards Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Nominee (2015)
Ho, Joanna, with Illustrations by Ho, Dung (2021). Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins Publishers.
A beautiful story that “I have eyes that kiss in the corner and glow like warm tea.” The refrain throughout the book as the little girl celebrates the eyes that she has i common with her Mom, her Amah, and her sister’s. Dung Ho was born and raised in Vietnam and studied graphic design at the Hue Arts University. Her illustrations speak as loudly as the text. A book of celebration of Asian eyes.
Kinew, Wab with illustrations by Joe Morse (2018). Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes. Tundra Books.
Written as a celebration of thirteen modern day and historic Indigenous heroes. Inspirational people for all readers to emulate. Beautiful text written as a rap song by Wab Kinew. Beautiful realistic illustrations that look like photographs at first glance.
Literary Awards USBBY Outstanding International Book list for 2019.
“We are a people who matter.” Inspired by President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, Go Show the World is a tribute to historic and modern-day Indigenous heroes, featuring important figures such as Tecumseh, Sacagawea and former NASA astronaut John Herrington.
Khan, Rukhsana (2010) Illustrator – Sophie Blackall. Big Red Lollipop. Viking.
The author, Rukhsana Khan, was born in Pakistan and immigrated to Canada as a pre-schooler. A charming story of two young girls navigating the rules of their new cultural traditions and helping their mother to understand. All this while navigating their relationship as sisters. Great story. A recent addition to the BCLCILA list of SEL books. Also selected as a read aloud on the YouTube channel featuring Ms. Froese Reads.
Literary Awards SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text (2011), Charlotte Zolotow Award (2011)
Levitan, Sonia with illustrations by Wijngaard (1996). A Piece of Home. Dial Books for Young Readers.
This picturebook shares the experience of little boy’s immigration and experience of leaving Russia to be with extended family in Santa Monica, California. The two cousins discover they are united by a special reminder of Russia.
Martinez-Neal, Juana (2018). Alma and How She Got Her Name. Candlewick Press.
Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela gains a new appreciation of her very long name, once her father explains the story behind each name. This book has been selected for Ms. Froese Reads on YouTube and the BCLCILA SEL Booklist.
Literary Awards Caldecott Medal Nominee (2019), Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Nominee for Writer (2019), Monarch Award Nominee (2020)
Parr, Todd (2016) Be Who You Are. Megan Tingley Books, Little, Brown and Company.
The bright colourful illustrations beckon the reader to live out loud and claim his/her/their own identity.
Muhammad, Ibtihaj with Ali, S.K. / Art by Aly, Hatem (2019). The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. Little, Brown and Company.
This picturebook by Olympic Medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali tells the story of two girls on the first day of school. For the older sister is 6th grade, it is a celebration of the first day of wearing hijab. The younger sister tries to me sense of identity as a Muslim and the sometimes hurtful response of others. Beautiful illustrations by Hatem Aly captures the strength of purpose represented by hijab and the darkness that comes from those intolerant of difference.
Literary Awards Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2019)
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Mantchev, Lisa (2020). The Perfectly Perfect Wish. Simon & Schuster.
This story is a new twist on common theme of what would you wish for if you had 1 wish. As the little girl dreams of her wants, and talks with her friends, the needs of her friends come shining through. This book teaches that self-awareness of everything you have to be grateful for helps you to be empathetic to others who may not be as fortunate. The girl wishes that her friends’ wishes come true and highlights that giving helps others and also enriches your own life.
McCloud, Carol, Messing, David (Illustrator) (2014 – 7th printing). Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Ferne Press.
Through simple prose and vivid illustrations, this heartwarming book encourages positive behaviour as children see how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love. Bucket filling and dipping are effective metaphors for understanding the effects of our actions and words on the well being of others and ourselves.
Literary Awards Literary Awards
Nautilus Book Award for Children’s/Young Adults Non-Fiction (Silver Medal) (2008), London Book Festival Nominee for Children’s Book (Honorable Mention) (2007), DIY Book Festival for Best Children’s Picture Book (2007), Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Competition for Best Children’s Picture Book (2007), Purple Dragonfly Book Awards for Educational/Instructional (1st Place) (2011)
The Great Southwest Book Festival for Children’s Books (2016)
Mora, Oge (2019). Saturday. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
A great story of disappointment, self regulation, resilience, and the love between a mother and daughter. Included on the SEL list being collated by the British Columbia Literacy Council of the ILA. Also a selection for the Ms. Froese Reads YouTube channel.
Woodson, Jacqueline (2018). The Day You Begin. Nancy Paulsen Books.
When you begin anything new and no none knows who you are, it can be difficult. This books highlights the internal struggle that often occurs when someone enters a situation for the first time and searches for belonging. Sometimes all it takes is someone to make a connection with you that helps normalize being different. This book is an excellent resource for representing all children whether it be looks or feelings and to know that they are not alone. (Note: This book is strong in both the belonging theme and the representation theme and is suitable for primary and 4-5).)
Zietlow Miller, Pat, Hill, Jen (Illustrator). (2018). Be Kind. Roaring Book Press.
When Tanisha spilled her grape juice all over her dress at school, her friend considers what kindness looks like and the impact it has. A good book to faciliate this conversation with pre-school and primary aged children.
Literary Awards Monarch Award Nominee (2021)
Challenge and Resilience:
Beckwith, Kathy with illustrations by Lyon, Lea (2005). Playing War. Tilbury House Publishers.
Sameer opts out of playing war with his new neighbourhood friends. They start to understand when he explains his experiences with war. The child appropriate illustration of why playing war not a game.
Forchuk Skrypuch, Marsha with Tuan Ho with art by Brian Deines (2016). Adrift at Sea. Pajama Press.
This picturebook is set in 1981 when then 6 year old Tuan, his mother, and two of his siblings set out to escape civil unrest in Vietnam to make the dangerous journey to reunite with his father and older sister in Canada. Tuan, now a father with a wife and two children of his own, is a practicing physiotherapist with a clinic of his own. The art by Brian Deines captures the vivid colour of Southeast Asia, and the blurred lines of memory.
OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award,
Red Cedar Information Book Award Nominee
Lindstrom, Carole, Goade, Michaela (Illustrator). We Are Water Protectors. Roaring Books Press.
The first Caldecott medal winner of an Indigenous author. A beautiful call to action to protect our water from harm and corruption. Amazing, bold, illustrations by Michaela Goade.
Literary Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner
Ruurs, Margriet with art by Nizar Ali Badr (2016). Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. Orca Book Publishers.
A great book about the journey of a family’s journey as refugees from the Middle East. Amazing artwork done photographs of made artwork of stones by Syrian artist, Nizar Ali Badr. Text in English and Arabic. Most recent addition to the BC Literacy Council of ILA Booklist.
Literacy Awards: Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Nominee (2017)
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Bouchard, David with paintings by Zhong-Yang Huang (1997). The Great Race.
A little girl, her grandmother, and twelve animal cut-outs recreate the origins of the Chinese zodiac in this picturebook. Beautiful paintings by Canadian-Chinese artist, Zhong-Yang Huang. A favourite book of mine to revisit during Lunar New Year.
Richie, Scot (2015). P’eska and the First Salmon Ceremony. Groundwood Books.
Scot Richie sets the story one thousand years ago and bases it on archeological evidence. The glossary, letter from Chief William Charlie, and added information about the Sts’ailes People bring depth to the text. HIstory unfolds around the Harrison River in British Columbia.
Vickers, Roy Henry with Budd, Robert with illustrations by Vickers, Roy Henry (2014). Cloudwalker. Harbour Publishing.
On British Columbia’s northwest coast lies the Sacred Headwaters–the source of three of British Columbia’s largest salmon-bearing rivers. This ancient legend and the art of Roy Henry Vickers bring the Indigenous teaching about the need to care for our sources of water to life. Beautiful.
Literary Awards Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award Nominee (2015)
Alexander, Kwame with art by Sweet, Melissa (2019). How To Read A Book. Harper Collins Publishers.
Melissa Sweet’s bright and enticing artwork draw you into this picturebook. Kwame Alexander poetry bring the sensory aspect of reading to light. For some, reading is a firm part of identity. For some an opportunity for new adventures. For others a comfort. For many of us, all of the above. This book teases out and delights in the possibilities.
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2019)
Bates, Amy and Bates, Juniper (2018). The Big Umbrella. Simon Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books.
When the big umbrella by the door opens wide, there is room for everyone. A mother-daughter collaboration was inspired by sharing an umbrella in a rainstorm. A recent addition to the the BC Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association booklist of Social-Emotional Booklist.
Bailey, Linda with illustrations by Bill Slavin (2003). Stanley’s Party. Kids Can Press.
It all started when usually obedient Stanley craws up on the couch, something forbidden by his people. It triggers a series of events that culminates in a party that dogs are still talking about. A fun book for anyone who has ever contemplated what their dog does all day. Illustrations by Bill Slavin add to the festivity of the text.
Evans, Christine (2020). Emily’s Idea. Sounds True.
Emily folded, doodled, and snipped to create a chain of very unique paper dolls that are linked together in friendship. Her idea spreads to school and throughout the world via social media. The book includes a stencil to create a paper doll chain and the Marta Alvarez Miguens’s illustration inspire paper dolls of many abilities and ethnicities.
Intermediate / Middle School:
Craft, Jerry (2020). Class Act (New Kid #2). Quill Tree Books.
Jordan Banks is back at the very prestigious private school for Grade 8. This time the story focuses on his friend Drew, also a black student at the school and his quest to maintain his identity and have mutual acceptance of his friends.
Craft, Jerry (2019). New Kid. Harper Collins Publisher.
Jordan Banks loves to draw cartoons. His dream is to attend art school. His Mom is very much in favour of his enrolling in a very prestigious private school across town where he is one of the few black students. Jordan struggles with fittiCraft ng into his new school and keeping his neighbourhood friends as well as keeping his identity.
Newbery Medal (2020), Coretta Scott King Book Award for Author (2020), Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature (2019), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2019)
Emerson, Marcus (2012). Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja. Create Space.
This book would have great appeal for intermediate students who like graphic novels and are navigating life in upper intermediate / middle school. Funny. Nice relationship between new boy at school and his cousin.
Parker, Kate T. (2017). Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves. Workman Publishing Company.
An amazing collection of photographs of girls being girls. The photographs are accompanied with quotes explaining the perceptions and strength of the girls.
“Strong girls never lose. They only learn, and come back stronger.”
Kylie, age 12
“I have always experienced the most immediate sense of strength when claiming my own personal freedom.”
Fiona, age 18
Peirce, Lincoln (2019). Big Nate Hug It Out! Andrews McMeel Publishing.
My students insisted that the Big Nate series is a must for any graphic novel collection. Kids relate to the perspective of Nate, both the outrageous and funny. It reminds me of how I loved Dennis the Menace in the newspaper comics when I was a kid.
Sixth grade is no picnic for Nate Wright. His pal Francis won’t stop bombarding him with useless trivia. A wild pitch knocks him out of a ballgame and into the emergency room. And the only thing standing between Nate and summer school is a study session with the worst possible tutor: his too-obnoxious-for-words arch enemy, Gina. But a chance encounter on an amusement park ride could change everything. Meanwhile, the troubles are piling up in this hilarious new collection of Big Nate comics, and there may be only one thing for Nate to do: HUG IT OUT! In this brand-new collection of comics from the New York Times bestselling series Big Nate, everyone’s favorite sixth-grade prankster is back for more hilarious misadventures — and even a little romance! (less)
Telgemeier, Raina (2014) Sisters. Scholastic.
Weeks, Sara, Gita Varadarajan (2016). Save Me A Seat. Scholastic.
Grade 5 brings many changing and complex relationships to navigate. Ravi comes from India and struggles to be seen as intelligent due to his accent and cultural experience that is different from his peers in a school in the US. Joe is also misunderstood and underestimated from an auditory processing disability. This is a great story for students to develop empathy and understanding.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2018), William Allen White Children’s Book Award Nominee (2019), Bluestem Book Award Nominee (2018)
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Challenge and Resilience:
Kwame, Alexander (2014). The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin.
Kwame Alexander writes a series of poems about 12 year old twins, Josh and Jordan Bell. The poetry mirrors the game. The game is a metaphor for life. They are awesome on the court but need to navigate relationships off the basketball court too.
Newbery Medal (2015), Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (2020), Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Grades 6-8 (2016), Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee (2017), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2016)
Evergreen Teen Book Award (2017), Coretta Scott King Book Award for Author Honor (2015), Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2017), North Carolina Young Adult Book Award for Middle School (2016), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2014), NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book (2015), Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award (2017)
Alexander, Kwame , Rand Hess, Mary (2018). Swing. Blink.
Another amazing poetic masterpiece by Kwame Alexander. A likeable kid navigating through adolescence. An older brother returns from war having done his patriotic duty. Clearly suffering from PTSD. Clearly having proved himself as a patriotic American. Yet it is not enough to stave off the racism that is rampant in the United States.
Alexander, Kwame (2018). Rebound. HMH Books for Young Readers.
I LOVED this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me appreciate the power of literature in helping us make sense of our lives. Kwame Alexander tells a story through poetry and makes the pain of loss palpable. Love of a supportive family and friendship helps Charlie learn to rebound on and off the basketball court.
Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee (2020), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Poetry (2018), Carnegie Medal Nominee (2019)
Colfer, Eoin, Donkin, Andrew, Rigano, Giovanni (Illustrat0r) (2018). Illegal.
This graphic novel follows the perilous journey of Ebo from Ghana, to Europe in search of a better life and reunion with his family. It challenges the notion that any human being can be illegal and explores the plight of immigrants in search of new beginnings with a more promising future.
2019 Excellence in Graphic Literature Award
Gold Medal Award 2019 by Parents’ Choice Foundation
Palacio, R.J., (2019). White Bird. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The graphic novel format allows the depth of the realities of Hitler’s Nazi Germany to be exposed via pictures and text. Auggie’s bully from Wonder is given depth through the story of his Grandmere’s experience and loss as a young Jewish girl in Vichy France during World War II. The afterword, author’s note, glossary, suggested readings and resources for further study, make it a credible source for further learning. The grandson FaceTiming with his Grandmere grounds the relevance of the story in the present.
Sydney Taylor Book Award for Middle Grade (2020)
Palacio, R.J., (2012). Wonder. Alfred A. Knopf.
August Pullman does not want his facial difference to prevent him from being treated like any other kid in Grade 5. A must read for ALL middle school kids! Great way to consider perspective of students who look different and reflect on your own reactions.
Josette Frank Award (2013), Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee (2013), West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award (WAYRBA) for Younger Readers (2013), South Carolina Book Award for Children’s Book (2014), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (2014)
Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2015), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Preis der Jugendjury (2014), New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award for Children (2014), California Young Readers Medal for Intermediate (2015), James Cook Book Award Nominee (2013), Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature (2013), Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice for Grades 3-5 (2015), NAIBA Book of the Year for Middle Readers (2012), Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for 5-12 years (2013), Washington State Sasquatch Award Nominee (2015), Bluestem Book Award (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2012), Carnegie Medal Nominee (2013), North Carolina Children’s Book Award (2014), Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas Nominee for Mejor novela extranjera independiente (2012), Rhode Island Children’s Book Award (2014), FAB Award Nominee (2014), Rebecca Caudill Y
Telgemeier, Raina (2019). Guts. Scholastic.
Raina Telgemeier is a highly recommended graphic novelist, by my upper intermediate students. We can’t keep her books on the shelf in our school library. This author has been able to tap into the integrated use of pictures and text to allow stories about mental health issues that are not often talked about, and yet experienced. In this book she shares her experience with anxiety, a therapist, and the reactions of her friends, family and teachers. The author’s note at the end provides a pathway forward and underlines the importance of talking about your feelings. Great graphic novel.
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2019)
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll (2009). Red: A Haida Manga. Douglas McIntyre.
Classic Haida visual art is morphed with the Japanese manga in the book. It tells a classic Haida legend that warns of the danger of the rage of revenge. The artwork is amazing. Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas creates his storyboard with overlying Indigenous image. The first time I read this graphic novel, I didn’t understand the genre. Coming back, I’m amazed with the Indigenous voice in a very original art form.
Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll (2017). War of the Blink. Locarno Press.
This story unfolds in the newly emerging Haida manga style based on the original Japanese manga. The imagery of the Haida culture has as much of role in telling the story as does the text. A graphic novel about war and peace. It explores the bravery required to make peace. An earlier version of the artwork was displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery a part of the groundbreaking exhibition “Raven Travelling.
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Challenge and Resilience:
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Educators and Adults
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Carrington, Judy (2019). Kids These Days. Friesen Press.
This book is more for educators working with students than it is for students. This book is about connecting with students and how Emotional Regulation works and why it’s the key to changing the world.
Challenge and Resilience:
Wisdom from Ancestors: