Book Talk! Titles to Inspire All Ages

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Every January I have the privilege of leading a West Hollywood Children’s Roundtable BOOK TALK! For over 20 years, the City of West Hollywood has hosted a gathering of people from schools, organizations, and government agencies who actively support children/teens and families. These monthly get-togethers, September to May, are ripe with information and ideas, including this annual book talk. With the City staff, we select key relevant topics, and I am given a budget to purchase titles that will be timely and significant for these groups. Then, this year on Thursday, January 16, 2020, I had the pleasure and honor for engaging the attendees in a dive into wonderful literature (fiction and nonfiction) that inform, inspire, and ignite youth and adults to think and to act. All the books are given away — what a joy!!

This year with The City of West Hollywood staff Corey Roskin and Leslie Isenberg, we determined several critical topics. Environment — easy to guess why. Voting and Democracy — essential topics wherever we are in the world. A Better World – these books touch open varied themes that matter to us everyday to life in harmony with others and in ways that are uplifting; we can all use more of this mindset and books are a way to enter and discuss how we are with each other. These books can also open conversations about our institutions and how they need to be changed (note the two Greta books listed) to be more just and equitable for all. Please check out the other blogs on book lists like the list from 2019 and the list from 2018. Shout out to Corey for his countless years of sharing his love of books and the Children’s Roundtable!


Coral Reefs: Cities of Our Ocean (Science Comics) by Maris Wicks. “We need to protect biodiversity to maintain food sources, symbioses, habitat, and so on.” Fortunately, this graphic comic book is filled with colorful fun images and amazing information (did you know coral is an animal?). Learn about biodiversity, all kinds of underwater creatures, and (Chapter 5) the CHALLENGES facing our home: Earth! Grades 4 and up

Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Phillipe Cousteau. More than a “how to,” Going Blue is an adventure guide into the world of water. Travel from the Mekong River to Lake Superior to the Great Barrier Reef to learn how we are interconnected by water. And find out how teens around the world are diving in to protect our most valuable resource – and what you can do! Grades 6-12

Make a Splash: A Kid’s Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Phillipe Cousteau. Water, water, everywhere! At every age we can become water stewards to care for our greatest resource. Learn about the benefits of clean water for a healthy planet, and find out about trash, climate change, animals in danger, and kids taking action. Grades K-5

Our House in On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s   Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter. Can one voice start a movement? Greta’s has. This young courageous girl stepped forth from what she saw as necessity to interrupt negligence for our planet. A direct and compelling description of the challenges we face and a call to action. Picture book

The Wartville Wizard by Don Madden. The town of Wartville is buried in litter — until one frustrated fellow realizes Mother Nature has given him the power over trash and the results are hilarious and cause the town to consider their messy behaviors. A picture book for everyone

We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World by Valentina Giannella, illustrated by Manuela Marazzi. A young girl wakes up a generation with a shocking message about the planet. Basically, we can’t wait for politicians to move slowly. Our future depends on actions taken now. In short chapters, the author explains the science, the politics and the action being generated and needed to protect and preserve our planet and wellbeing. Grades 4-8

What a Waste: Trash, recycling, and protecting by Jess French. The author writes: “Humans are now producing more waste then ever before and our planet is suffering.” This visually appealing and informative book is filled with more facts than you can imagine. Consider that: 92% of the world’s population are breathing polluted air; 15 billion trees are cut down every year; around 20,000 plastic bottles are bought per second and less than half are recycled. Filled with what YOU can do! All ages

Voting and Democracy

Granddaddy’s Turn – a Journey to the Ballot Box by Michael Bandy and Eric Stein illustrated by James E. Ransome. Based on one family’s struggle for voting rights in the civil rights–era South, this tale shines an emotional spotlight on the challenges in the past so we can link with challenges that remain today. When Michael walks to town with his grandfather to cast his first vote, he struggles with patience when it seems justice cannot come fast enough. Picture book

Lilian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane E. Evans. This visual history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 traces an elderly African American woman en route to vote. While making the “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees her family history – the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, her great-grandfather voting for the first time, her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in protest from Selma to Montgomery. A must-read to learn about civil rights and never to take voting for granted. All ages

One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters are Treated Equally by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden. This young adult version of the author’s bestselling book provides an extensive review of rollbacks to African American participation in voting since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Anderson explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. She explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation readies for the 2020 presidential election season. Includes ideas to getting involved. Grades 7-12

One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu. The Cat in the Hat takes young learners through a rhyming journey about voting and many terms. It’s a starting place. Be sure to correct oversimplification, for example, there is more to registering than name, address, and birth date. Includes some voting trivia, e.g., the voting date was chosen to be at the end of harvesting season. When using this book, also use other titles like Granddaddy’s Turn or Lillian’s Right to Vote to provide historical context and that voting is not easy for everyone.

President of the Jungle by André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun. In this fabulous and funny introduction to how elections work, the animals decide they are tired of their king and that it is time to vote for a president. Lion may be King of the jungle, but lately he only seems to care about himself. His subjects are fed up, so they decide to try something new—an election! Once Owl explains the rules, Snake, Sloth, and Monkey all announce they will be candidates. But oh no, Lion is going to run too! It’s a wild campaign season as the animals hold rallies, debate, and even take a selfie or two, trying to prove why they’d make the best president of the jungle. This funny, non-partisan story features lively illustrations, a helpful glossary, and colorful characters who have an infectious enthusiasm for the election process. Picture book

Who’s in Charge? Big Questions about Politics DK Publishing. Learn about political systems around the world, from the Sumerian Empire to modern governments. Who’s in Charge? is packed with information on evolving notions of citizenship, rights, power, and elections, along with the difference between democracy, monarchy, and anarchy. Learn how politics can become global when countries band together.

Winning the Vote for Women by Caryn Jenner. Winning the Vote for Women reveals the stories behind the strong-willed people from around the world who fought for the right to vote. Through photography, illustrations and narrative, meet the women, and the men, from every continent who fought both for and against the suffrage movement, and those that are continuing the fight today. From New Zealand in 1894 to Saudi Arabia in 2014, discover the global petitions, campaigns, peaceful protests and marches, as well as extreme measures taken by suffragists and suffragettes in their determination to change history.

A Better World

Any Small Goodness, a novel of the barrio by Tony Johnston. Meet Arturo Rodriguez, a middle school student from a loving family who reside in the Los Angeles barrio, where acts of generosity and goodwill improve the lives of the community. Arturo’s father reminds him “In life there is Bueno and there is malo. If you do not find enough of the good, you must yourself create it . . . any goodness is of value.” A transformative book, as Arturo searches to understand his father’s message by finding goodness in others and ultimately himself. Filled with humor and wisdom and enough Spanish that there is a glossary in the back. A curriculum for this book is available upon request from Grades 4-12 (an easy read for upper grades, but the compelling story makes it so relatable and memorable)

Douglas, You’re a Genius by Ged Adamson. A ball goes through the hole in a high fence and someone sends the ball back. But, who? Nancy wonders. Determined to find out, Nancy invents a series of plans that her dog Douglas must carry out (think water jets and trampolines) until Douglas comes up with a plan. And surprise, the dog on the other side had the same ideas as Douglas! A fun escapade with a reminder about neighbors and fences and walls. Includes a Spanish glossary. Picture book (that means it is of course for adults, too)

Hey, Little Ant by Philip and Hannah Hoose. “Hey, little ant, down in the crack; can you hear me can you talk back? See my shoe, can you see that? Well now it’s gonna squish you flat!” So begins the book and the song of Hey, Little Ant written by a father/daughter team. Will the ant get squished? Will the lyrics change the boy’s mind? A must read and sing (for all ages) to find out!

Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul, illustrated by John Parra. Have you seen the Little Free Libraries popping up in many neighborhoods? How has this happened? Meet Todd Bol, who had difficulty reading as a boy. Fortunately, his mother told him “he was gifted and had something big to offer to the world.” As an adult, after his mother died, he built a small little schoolhouse to share books in his neighborhood. His friend Rick thought this idea could spread, so they planted them like seeds in cities like Chicago and Minnesota and places in between. Now Little Free Libraries have been built in cities after hurricanes and rest near the US-Mexico border, and can be found in Uganda, Brazil, South Korea, and the South Sudan. A picture book for everyone

Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is an educator/author who loves to dance, travel, take walks, read, write, and collaborate with others all over the world.

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