I was not sure what to call this list. Essentially it is about being poor, or at least, poorer than some people. And yet, it is also about thrifting or using second hand things. And yet still it is about being happy with what you have which is not easy, given so many of us live in a culture that celebrates the ownership of stuff. So, on that note let me start with my favourite picture book author of all time:
Look What I’ve Got! by Anthony Browne
Jeremy is keen to show off to Sam. A new bike, a new football, an enormous bag of lollipops and even a gorilla suit leave Sam unimpressed.
Each time Jeremy shows off his latest acquisition a terrible fate awaits him: he falls off the bike; he brings forth the wrath of the Park Keeper when his new football smashes a window; the lollipops make him feel sick; and the gorilla suit only attracts the keen interest of an old lady’s dog.
Throughout the bragging, Sam keeps his cool and even rescues Jeremy when he falls into a pond. Jeremy doesn’t seem able to learn his lesson and up to the end is still hoping for Sam’s envy with the news he is going to the zoo with his Dad. But Sam is not listening and we, the reader, follow his gaze into a wood filled with imaginative possibilities no money could buy. A really engaging book that will get the whole class talking about ‘show offs’, new toys, money and helping those who seemingly get just what they deserve.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
CJ is met from school by his Nana who fills their journey to Market Street with observations that money cannot buy.
“Nana, how come we don’t got a car?”
“Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr.Dennis, who always has a trick for you.”
CJ longs for an iPod but a man on the bus starts to play his guitar and together they ‘feel the magic of music’.
Nana is wise and full of love for the people in her neighbourhood. When the bus stops they alight into ‘crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows and boarded-up stores’. CJ asks Nana why it is always so dirty and Nana replies that dirt allows them to be a better witness for what’s beautiful. Nana and CJ help out at a soup kitchen serving food to familiar faces.
Of course, there is no beauty in poverty but Nana’s kindness and value of her fellow human beings is a shining beacon of hope in this very humbling, award winning book.
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B.Williams
After their house is destroyed by a fire, a little girl, her mother and grandmother, rely on the kindness of neighbours, friends and family to refurnish their new home.
They are given a kitchen table and chairs, curtains, pots and pans and a rug but one thing is missing: a soft, comfortable chair for Mama who returns home each evening tired and longing to put up her feet after a day of waitressing.
The little girl starts to save the money she makes working at the diner refilling the salt and pepper pots. All the spare coins and tips go into a large jar. When full, they take the coins to the bank and exchange them for notes and then the fun starts. Trying out all the chairs they find just the one they were dreaming of. Aunt Ida and Uncle Sandy arrive in the pickup truck and together they take it home.
I love the kindness and love in this picture book. Take time to calm any fears about house fires and talk up the importance of giving help to others especially donating toys, books and furniture to those in need.
Clown by Quentin Blake
This wordless book is superb. I can read it time and time again and take so much joy from a little toy clown who finds himself a home after being tossed out with the rubbish.
Children seem ready to love and accept him but adults don’t want an old toy. Clown finds himself tossed out of windows, chased by a dog and even mistaken for a child in fancy dress.
Finally he finds a little girl who is staying home to watch her baby brother. With mum at work she must clean the house and Clown is the perfect help.
When all the beds are made and the washing is done, the little girl, her brother and Clown make their way back to the rubbish bin to rescue the other discarded toys. Mum returns home to a clean house, happy children and a bed full of lovable, cuddly toys.
Watch Quentin Blake talk about the creation of Clown. It is definitely a must-have book.
Big Brown Bear’s Cave by Yuval Zommer
Kindergarten and I had a good time reading this book together. We had a little quiz at the beginning to see:
- Who made their bed that morning?
- Who tidies their room?
- Who has so many toys that they cannot always find the one they want to play with?
One day, Big Brown Bear found a cave. He decided it was dark enough and big enough for it to become his new home. So he moved in straight away. The problem was that it just didn’t feel like home.
Taking a tip from humans, he decided if his cave was to feel like home then it needed to be filled with stuff.
He had a great time taking just what he wanted … and decided that his cave shall have the most stuff ever!
But having too much stuff can leave one feeling a little stuck…
Fortunately, Big Brown Bear had some very good friends and they pulled him free from the cave. Together, they emptied the cave leaving it big enough for all of them to stretch out and enjoy the space together.
Kindergarten quickly understood the moral of the story and all agreed having friends were more important than stuff but having stuff was still nice…
We had a good discussion about ‘stuff’ and the meaning of ‘stuff’ and then, with much excitement, they choose even more books to take home…