Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax is a great jumping off point for educating your child about current issues concerning the environment. Narrated by a regretful character called the Once-ler, it tells the tale of his destruction of the Truffula trees. The Once-ler discovered the Truffula’s tuft could be knitted into a thneed, a sockish, sweaterish thing that despite seeming to lack any utility, starts selling like hotcakes. Motivated by greed, the Once-ler builds a thneed factory, chopping down Truffula trees left and right. Enter the Lorax, a stout mustachioed creature who acts a spokesperson for the trees. He begs the Once-ler to quit manufacturing thneeds–the pollution is endangering all the local species! But the Once-ler fails to heed the advice of the Lorax, and makes a total mess of the landscape, leaving us with an “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Zigazak! A Magical Hanukkah Night by Eric A. Kimmel is a story about two devils (who are actually pretty cute) who arrive at a town called Brisk during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah to create some mischief. They peek into the townspeople’s windows. Families are spinning dreidels, frying latkes, and lighting candles. “Zigazak” the devils cry, and suddenly the dreidels sprout arms and legs, the latkes go flying through the kitchen, and fireworks shoot out from the candles! Can Brisk’s Rabbi put a stop to their disruptive pranks? Find out in Zigazak! The book also features charming illustrations by Jon Goodell, and introduces children to the Kabbalistic concept of Tikkun olam which presupposes there are sparks of holiness in everything (even little devils)!
Owney the Mail-Pouch Pooch by Mona Kerby is based on the true story of a remarkable terrier mix who became famous in the 1890’s. He was adopted by Albany, New York postal workers, and guarded the mail, only letting the men in blue uniforms near. One day he hopped on a train carrying mail across the country. The Albany men were sad, but a few months later Owney returned. He wanted to ride the train again! This time the railway postmen attached tags to Owney’s collar to show where he’d been. Soon he had so many, he had to wear a harness instead to hold them all! Owney traveled the world, guarding the mail on a steamship headed to Asia. This book is very well researched (the author even thanks a few Maryland librarians for helping get the facts straight) and features cute illustrations by Lynne Barasch.
My Friend is Sad is an Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems (of The Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny fame). It stars elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie. Gerald looks sad, so Piggie decides to cheer him up. She disguises herself as a cowboy (Gerald loves cowboys), but he is still sad. She dresses up like a clown (a funny, funny clown), but that doesn’t work either! Piggie enters in full robot costume (a cool, cool robot mind you), but Gerald seems even more depressed than he was originally. Finally Piggie tries to reason with Gerald, but as soon as he catches sight of her he is instantly happy! He gives her a big hug and tells her all the amazing things he just saw. How could one be sad around a cowboy, clown, or robot, Piggie wonders, but Gerald lets her know all those great things mean nothing without a best friend to share them with!
John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith tells the story of what some of our founding fathers were like before the birth of our nation, taking us back to when John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Tom Jefferson were boys. John was quite bold, taking up the whole chalk board to write his name. Paul was always shouting since he suffered some hearing loss in a bell ringing club (that was “before fun was invented”). George was honest to a fault–when dad forgave him for chopping down the cherry tree, he readily confessed to leveling the whole orchard and a barn! Ben was very clever, constantly coming up with sayings, and Tom was independent (he probably refused to be included in the title). Read this as a fun way to teach your child about people who helped make our country free.
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein is a book with many layers, much like its collage art illustrations by Ed Young. On the surface it’s the story of a cat named Wabi Sabi, who is trying to discover the meaning of her name, but underneath it is influenced by Zen philosophy. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept which finds beauty in things that are simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. This explains why everyone the cat asks tells her “it’s hard to explain,” why the city she walks through is not as pretty as the woods that surround it, and why she finally understands the meaning of her name when she sees herself, plain but beautiful, in the reflection of a wooden bowl of warm tea.