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Meg's Book Recommendations

The Empty Pot

by Demi
Format: Picture Book
Ages: 3-7

Combining exceptional illustrations and simple yet powerful stories, Demi’s picture books are some of the most beautiful pieces of children’s literature created. The intricate watercolor and ink paintings are stunning, and the important lessons learned from the texts based on Asian folktales are inspiring.

In The Empty Pot, a Chinese emperor announces a competition to pick his successor by seeing who can grow the most beautiful flowers from the seeds he distributes. Ping, a young boy who has a way with plants, tends is seeds carefully but they do not grow. He is discouraged and ashamed, but his father tells him "your best is good enough to present to the Emperor," and so Ping appears before the Emperor with his empty pot while all of the other children’s plants are flourishing. In the end we learn why Ping’s failure is really a triumph, and that honesty yields great rewards.

The Empty Pot is just one of many superb books by Demi. Our other favorites include Liang and the Magic PaintbrushThe Greatest TreasureThe Donkey and the Rock, and the mesmerizing One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Tale.

The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story

retold by Joseph Bruchac, Anna Vojtech (Illustrator) 
Format: Picture Book
Ages: 3-7

"...Friendship and respect are as sweet as the taste of ripe, red berries."

This quote from The First Strawberries has been posted on our kitchen wall since we first discovered this Native American folktale 17 years ago. The simple story about conflict, resolution and forgiveness resonates with young children and adults alike. Clear, sparse text, and lovely watercolor illustrations convey the story of an angry woman running away from her husband’s gruff words and finally being halted by the Sun’s gift of bright strawberries long enough for the two to reconcile. It’s beautiful and important message sets the tone for our family as we always try to remember the power that our words and actions have on those closest to us.

Stephanie’s Ponytail

by Robert Munsch (Author), Michael Martchenko (Illustrator)
Format: Picture Book
Ages: 4-7

If you like your life lessons with a large dose of humor, you’ll love Robert Munsch. The absurdity of his stories and endings-with-a-twist will have you and your children laughing out loud.

Stephanie isn’t afraid to be herself despite discouragement from others and she boldly asserts her individuality by sporting a different outrageous hairdo each day. When everyone else in her school (and I mean everyone) decides they want to be like her, she cleverly turns the tables on them. There is a great lesson here about the dangers of trying to fit in and the power in being unique and confident in one’s own skin - and hair!

Other Munsch favorites worth owning are The Paperbag Princess (a tale of woman’s lib), and Moira’s Birthday (a lesson in restraint). These books are best for the post-toddler set due to their slightly irreverent humor; older children appreciate the absurdity and hidden lessons. Read them with plenty of exaggeration and get ready for lots of giggles!

Little Hoot

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Author), Jen Corace (Illustrator)
Format: Picture Book
Ages: 2-4

I recently spotted this adorable book at the store and was immediately enchanted by its ingenious twist on the usual child’s lament "Do I have to go to bed?"

Little Hoot is a young owl who actually wants to go to bed but is told by his parents that he must stay awake because that’s what owls do. So, he does everything he can to stay awake until he is finally allowed to go to sleep. The delightful descriptions and illustrations of Little Hoot keeping himself active are coupled with hilarious comments by his parents in response to his requests to go to bed early: "Ten more minutes of playing, Mister. And please don't ask me again."

The reverse psychology and humor at work in this little tale, make it a perfect bedtime story to read to young children.

Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko
Format: Novel
Reading Level: Ages 10-12

I just finished reading this book with my 10-year-old son, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

Choldenko writes about slightly off-beat topics, but her characters are genuine and the reader can easily empathize with them. Al Capone Does My Shirts takes place in 1935 and involves a boy named Moose whose family moves to the island of Alcatraz when his father gets a job working at the prison. Moose’s older sister is autistic and, as he alone has a special ability to help her cope, he struggles between his loyalty to her and his need for independence. The author creatively weaves interesting facts about life on Alcatraz with the plot about Moose’s parents trying desperately to finesse admission for his sister to a special school. Yes, it sounds a bit unconventional, but it all comes together so nicely in Choldenko’s hands.

One of my son’s complaints about some of the other books we’ve read together, is that the plots are often predictable and one "sees the ending coming." In Choldenko’s story, the reader can’t imagine how the protagonist’s dilemma is going to be resolved. You will be held in suspense until the very satisfying conclusion comes on the final page.

While children can enjoy this book by themselves, you may want to read it with them as it offers much material for discussion.