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What are some children's books that teach the spirit of community service?

Updated on December 8, 2008

Bringing community to life with books, and other texts

  I put together a set of books with the intention of teaching the theme of community. This includes but is not limited too getting along, making friends, finding the good in people, helping others, and other such topics. I would use these texts with all grades Pre-K-6, depending on the text (give or take a year on both sides). I would use these books at the beginning of the year, for example, to lead into how we want to treat our classmates and what makes a good friend.    Selection 1 Andreae, Giles and Guy Parker-Rees. (1999) Giraffes Can’t Dance. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.   Brief Summary: Gerald is an awkward giraffe that is too clumsy to dance with the other animals until a cricket comes along and shows him that he can dance, given the right music.  Audience: Given that the book is written in rhymed verse with illustrations, audience is meant for the elementary grades 2-3.  Genre: Fiction/Fantasy with talking animals  Themes Present: fitting in, teasing, standing up for one another, finding strengths in people where they aren’t necessarily obvious Rationale: Every group of children has a Gerald, and almost everyone can relate to being pushed out of a social circle, not being the best at something be it dancing or any other skill, being laughed at, and how to cope with those feelings.  Strategy Lesson: Interactive read-aloud modeling and sharing inner conversations to monitor comprehension: Teacher reads aloud and models thinking aloud connections as she’s reading. Particular emphasis paid to character’s actions throughout book and how characters can change their actions to make everyone feel like a valued member of the community. Teacher will model thinking aloud and monitoring comprehension by talking through important inner conversations. Depending on level of students, teacher will also leave tracks of these inner conversations on post-it notes (modeling first.) If students seem to understand, teacher can distribute post-it notes and have students leave tracks of their own thinking through a second reading.    Selection 2 Rosenthal, Amy Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld. (2008). It’s Not Fair. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.   Brief Summary: In rhymed verse, the author presents a series of situations that kids encounter that aren’t always fair but always happen. Examples include “Why’d I get the smaller half? Why’d he get the bigger laugh?” and “Why can’t I have my own box? Why now chickenpox?” Simple text structures with matching illustrations make it easy to understand and relate to.  Audience: Simple text structure (one sentence on each page), rhyming text, and smaller children on each page make this perfect for grades K-2.  Genre: Realistic fiction Themes Present: Fairness, getting along, community, sacrifices, coping mechanisms  Rationale: I don’t know about anyone else, but I get really tired of hearing the words “it’s not fair” as a teacher. I thought that this might be a good book to hit on some of the situations where this might come up over the course of the year with students and teach the concept of “life’s not fair and it’s really OK” at the beginning of the year. Children will be able to relate to illustrations and simple text and be attracted to the rhymed verse.  Strategy Lesson Interactive Read Aloud while modeling making connections and monitoring comprehension: Teacher reads aloud and models thinking aloud connections as she’s reading. For example: “I remember a time when I felt left out too.” On the second reading, the teacher will use a two-column chart to write down the passage from the text in one column and her connection to it. When students understand, they can complete a chart of their own with their personal coded connections.   Selection 3 Prelutsky, Jack. (1984) “The New Kid on the Block.” New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.   Brief Summary: In the title poem of this poetry anthology, the speaker presents the image of a new kid in school that is frightening. When the reader least expects it in the end verse, the speaker turns the new kid into something a reader would never guess. Guess you’ll just have to read the poem now!  Audience: Grades 1-5 Genre: Poetry, rhymed verse Themes Present: Bullying, getting along, new kids, dealing with a tough situation, things aren’t always as they seem Rationale: Every student has been the new student at one time or another, making this poem easily relatable and the bully easy to imagine. Also, I liked the idea that not all bullies fit a mold and not all people fit into the image that we create for them.   Strategy Lesson: Shared/Guided with initial read aloud—In a small group guided reading lesson, I would present this poem first orally. As I read, I would encourage students to make an image in their mind of the bully in the poem. I would stop after the first stanza, discuss what students are imagining, and hand out a piece of paper for them to sketch an image of their bully. I would read the second stanza, and we would continue to discuss what images arose while they sketched. After completion of the poem, we would discuss the end of the poem, asking questions such as why we were surprised at the end and what the author had in mind when writing this poem. This would lead to discussion of bullies and why they bully, what are common traits of bullies, and what we can do to make everyone feel welcome so they don’t have to bully. After the initial reading, I would have the students read and eventually memorize the poem, with the intent of improving fluency.   Selection 4 Bunting, Eve and John Sandford. (2000). Moonstick: The Seasons of the Sioux. New York, NY: Harper Trophy Books.  Brief Summary Audience: Grades 3-5 Genre: Unrhymed poetry  Themes Present: Community, native settlers, everyone has a job to do, appreciation for nature Rationale: I’ve used a lot of poetry and fiction so far, and although this is still poetry and fiction, I thought I could pave the way to talking about community in a genuine environment. The Sioux are a community of people that know that in order to survive; everyone in the community must use their strengths to pull their own weight. Everyone had a job to do for the harvest and other times, and although the children were small, each realized that he was still an important member of the community. Also, the text of the poems leads very well to a mini-lesson on visualization and creating images while reading, and is simply beautiful.     Selection 5 Child, Lauren. I am too Absolutely Small for School (featuring Charlie and Lola.) 2000. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.   Brief Summary: In true Charlie and Lola fashion, Lola is convinced that she doesn’t need to go to school and gives big brother Charlie a list of reasons why she doesn’t have to do so. Charlie has an answer for all of them, and convinces her she will do fine and even have fun. Lola ends up liking school, forgetting about her imaginary friend, and even makes a new friend on the first day.  Audience: Pre K-Grade 2 Genre: Realistic fiction Themes Present: Sibling interaction, getting along, feelings about being in a new place, helping each other out Rationale: Charlie is such a good big brother to Lola, and models what all siblings and friends should do to make their world a better place to live in. The illustrations are lively; the language of this text is livelier. I thought this would be a perfect “high-interest” book to capture the attention of many students and lead to a discussion on how we can make a better place to come to school everyday.    Selection 6 Pickerill, M and Rutter, K. (2008) Changing the World. Time for Kids, September Vol. #14 Iss. #3. Online here:,27972,1841189,00.html  Brief Summary: A group of students in New York have it rough, but realize once they involve themselves in a South African community stricken with the AIDS virus that they can do things to help others, while unconsciously helping themselves.   Audience: Grades 4-6 Genre: News article, non-fiction Themes Present: Community service, helping others, every little bit helps, gaining a worldview Rationale: I chose this article because I wanted first, a piece of nonfiction and a news article and second, a first-hand look at what kids can do to help the world. Community service starts with small actions in the classroom, namely treating each other with respect. This is the first attempt to get students to think globally, and apply what they know about helping others at school to situations in the community.   Strategy Lesson: (Guided Independent thinking, reading, and writing) There would be a fair amount of modeling done before this lesson, so this would be students’ opportunity to put their knowledge about reading strategies to use. I would begin with a before, during, and after reading three-column chart. Students would have this chart in their reading journals. Before reading, students would be asked to think about and respond to the question: “What is community service and what kinds of community service projects have you done?” in the before reading section of their charts. Students would read the article independently and use what they know about reading non-fiction to comment in the margins, make notes, or do other things that help them comprehend the article. During reading, students would be asked to continuously think about the question, “In what ways did the students in the article benefit from their trip?” Students in pairs would discuss this as they read, and complete the “during reading” section of their chart with the answer to this question based on what they discussed. After reading, students would share answers with the class and think about the similarities and differences between the American and South African students, discuss, and write in the final column of the chart. The teacher would stop and model if students appear to be struggling with the task.     Selection 7 Bunting, Eve and Ronald Himler. Train to Somewhere. (1996) New York, NY: Clarion Books.   Brief Summary: Marianne is a passenger on an orphan train that goes out west looking for parents for all children that need one. Marianne is one of the last ones to be chosen, and the reader follows her emotions as she watches the other orphans leave, find families, and come to the realization that her mother is not coming back. She eventually comes to terms with the fact that things aren’t always as they seem and may work out for the best, if she changes the way she thinks.  Audience: This book is designed for a mature audience, due to themes of abandonment and homelessness, and is ideal for grades 4-6. I would not read to a class with a student who has recently lost a family member, as it might bring up too many unwanted feelings.  Genre: Historical fiction Themes Present: homelessness, family, choosing people based on looks rather than character traits, feelings and emotions related to family and fitting in, belonging to a community Rationale: My first book in the set that is based on true events, I chose this book because it delves into the themes of homelessness and the feelings created when a child doesn’t have a home. It’s raw and emotional; the book did have me in tears by the end. I thought I could use this book to springboard into the topics of what a community is, what feelings come up when people are chosen by how they look rather than what they do and the quality of their character.  Strategy Lesson: Modeling making inferences: Because feelings of characters are not something that is explicitly stated, I would read through this book and model using post-it notes what I thought the characters were feeling when certain events happened. For example, after reading “Nora’s still crying and looking back.” I would write, “I know that people cry when they are sad” and code BK for background knowledge. I would explain that when students infer they use what the know (background knowledge) and what is written in the text (text clues) to make their inference (what students think.) I would divide the board into three sections labeled “Background knowledge,” “Text clues,” and “Inference” and make the equation. Each time I made an inference, I would put my post-it notes in the appropriate column. I would finish reading the book, stopping to clarify meaning and infer. We would discuss the inferences before students were released to make their own. I would distribute post-it notes and read the book for a second time, repeating the process of placing the post-it notes in the appropriate column and discussing the inferences students make.     Selection 8 Bunting, Eve and Ted Lewin. One Green Apple. (2006) New York, NY: Clarion Books.  Brief Summary: Farah feels alone, even when surrounded by people. She just arrived here from another country, and her class takes a trip to an apple orchard. All through the trip, she struggles to pick up the language and social cues of her classmates until the very end, when she realizes her strength (literally) and helps push the crank that makes the apple cider. On the ride back through the orchard, she slowly begins to accept herself as an individual as her classmates open up. It all starts with a laugh.  Audience: Grades 4-6 Genre: Realistic fiction Themes Present: Community, fitting in, getting along, laughs are universal, language barriers, cultural barriers Rationale: The book shows how isolating not knowing the language can be, which is a universal theme in today’s schools. I chose the book because I liked how it described this feeling of isolation and how all involved in the situation dealt with it. I thought it would be good selection to start a discussion about how we can include all classmates despite race, gender, culture, or language. It all starts with a laugh or a smile.    Selection 9 Farris, Pamela J. and Valeri Gorbachev. Young Mouse and Elephant: An East African Folktale. 1996. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.  Brief Summary: When Young Mouse believes he’s the strongest animal in the jungle and his grandfather disputes that, Young Mouse sets out to prove his point, believing in himself all the way. The characters he meets tell him all the same thing---he is and never will be as strong as elephant. He laughs in their face and goes about his merry way, to meet this elephant character that seems so allegedly strong. When he is out done by strength, he doesn’t believe so. He keeps his head held high and attitude positive; he is never defeated.  Audience: Grades 3-5 Genre: Fiction/fantasy with talking animals; folktale from East Africa Themes Present: Anything can be achieved with a positive attitude, the power of belief in oneself goes a long way Rationale: I chose this book to go along with the “small minds, big differences” theme because the main character does just that. Young Mouse has never seen the elephant, and therefore believes he can defeat him. Young people are some of the best people in the world for thinking about solutions to global problems, simply because they have some of the most positive attitudes. They don’t know the challenges yet and haven’t seen them. The book is a good discussion starter for point of view and perspectives, starting with the differences in point of view of the Young Mouse and his grandfather.    Selection 10 Weatherford, Carole Boston and R. Gregory Christie. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. 2006. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.   Brief Summary: Written from the point of Ovella, a southern black girl in a one-room schoolhouse in the 1920s, the story follows her quest to raise money and watch a new school come up from the efforts of the community. It’s based on the story of Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears Roebuck and Co., who donated millions of dollars to build schools for African American children in the rural South. The Rosenwald fund required whites and blacks alike to work together to donate, raise money, and finally build the schools they built. Ovella’s story ends with a heart-warming letter to Mr. Rosenwald thanking him for the school she received.   Audience: Grades 4-6 Genre: Historical fiction Themes Present: Community organizing, slavery, inequalities of black and white in the times of slavery, producing change, and finding ways to make a difference in your community Rationale: Seeing how all my other choices for literature in this set revolve around making a difference in a community big or small, I thought this would be a good one to end with. It touches on themes of why we need to make a difference, and I would discuss Ovella’s overall attitude toward change and why she wanted it.      


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    • recycledartgirl profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      I thought I added the spaces in between books! I hate the formmatting codes on this site. Someone who knows them a little better: can you help me formmat this hub? Please?


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