Coming On Home Soon

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Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrator: E.B. Lewis

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Date of Publication: October 7, 2004

Awards: Caldecott Medal Nominee (2005), Charlotte Zolotow Award Nominee for Honor Book (2005), California Young Readers Medal Nominee for Picture Books for Older Readers (2007)

Age Range: 5 – 8 years

Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3


Set in America during World War II, Coming On Home Soon is about a young girl named Ada who lives with her grandmother who is trying to make do as the men have all left for the war and Ada’s mother has left too to find work in Chicago. As Jacqueline Woodson unfolds her story we feel the same loneliness, sadness, and worry that Ada feels as she waits for her loved ones to come home. The illustrations are done so with muted watercolors, which expertly conveys the same feelings of loneliness and melancholy. While this is a book full of raw, often unfortunate, human emotion it does end on a hopeful note. Historical fiction is valuable because it allows its audience to step into someone’s shoes from history, to experience what they must have experienced so long ago. These experiences, albeit most likely different from your modern day life, will show how constant and universal human emotions are. Any reader who has ever lingered in the unknown, yearning for someone they miss, will read about Ada with a tightened heart.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

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Author: Ellen Levine

Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Date of Publication: January 1, 2007

Awards: Caldecott Medal Nominee (2008), Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3-6 (2010), California Young Readers Medal for Picture Books for Older Readers (2012), Comstock Read Aloud Book Award Nominee (2008)

Age Range: 5 – 11 years

Grade Level: Kindergarten – 6


This is no easy book to digest, nor should it be when considering the harsh reality of its subject matter. This book will wring your heart out as we follow Henry Brown’s story. As a child he was separated from his family, upon growing up, marrying, and forming a family of his home he finds himself once again separated from his family when they are sold to different owners. It is then he decides to escape to the north by mailing himself within a crate. Through this saga we are shown the inhumanity of slavery and the desperate methods through which humans tried to escape it. Kadir Nelson’s stunning illustrations are so detailed and expressive it will only further bring about more emotion and sympathy for our dear Henry Brown. This book is for the reader who wants to learn more about slavery and the slaves who had to survive through all the unforgivable injustices, this book does not shy away from any of those horrors. Some may find this subject matter too mature for young children, but for others it may serve as a great tool to discuss slavery and its victims.

The Arrival

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Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan

Publisher:  Hodder Children’s Books

Date of Publication: 2006

Awards: Hugo Award Nominee for Best Related Book 2008, Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Best Comic Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award 2008

Age Range: 7 – 14

Grade Level: 2 – 9th

The Arrival is a wordless graphic novel that follows an immigrant leaving his home for a new life in another country, the setting parallels the history of 1900s American immigration, but nothing is ever specified. Shaun Tan communicates wordlessly through his realistic and powerful sepia-toned illustrations. I love the symbolism that is laced throughout the book. The illustrations look like they’re straight out of sci-fi and fantasy, but that is only to convey the alien like world that must be stepping off a ship onto new land. It is one thing to read about the immigrant experience, but through his illustrations Shaun Tan masterfully expresses the lost confusion and at times scary environment of a foreign home. Through this unique method of storytelling you are able to feel these emotions in such a genuine and visceral way. This book is for the reader who wants to understand their immigrant ancestors, whether separated by one or several more generations, all of us have an immigrant history other than the Native Americans.



Peppe the Lamplighter

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Author: Elisa Bartone

Illustrator: Ted Lewin

Publisher: HarperCollins

Date of Publication: April 26th 1993

Awards: Caldecott Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book

Age Range: 6 – 10 years

Grade Level: 1 – 5


This book, according to the about the author blurb, is based on Elisa Bartone’s family histpry. The emotion and personal connection is evident in the text, while the story is often quite sad and upsetting at times it finds an uplifting voice as it progresses. The author never sugarcoats the truth of her history away, and thusly this is an important book for any child to realize the reality of the immigrant’s plight encouraging empathy amd compassion. Peppe is an immigrant in early 1900s New York City, and his family is very poor. Against his father’s wishes he begins a job as a lamplighter, which his youngest sister Asunta so sweetly remarks, chases away the darkness. Ted Levin’s expert watercolors communicate the grim yet cheerful atmosphere of the times. Elisa Bartone’s writing also flows so wonderfully alongside those illustrations, and is able to communicate such universal human emotions. That being said, even if one is not an immigrant, anyone who has ever pesevered through hardship, felt a responsibility to care and provide for a family, and has felt disappointment from their parents can relate to this book.


The Other Side

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Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrator: E.B. Lewis

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Awards: ALA Notable, SLJ Best Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice, 2001 Time of Wonder Award, IRA Teacher’s Choices 2002, 2004 Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award (Honor), California Young Reader Medal Nominee

Age Range: 4 – 8 years

Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3


Clover, a young black girl, has always wondered why her mother tells her she cannot cross over onto the other side of the fence. One day she notices a little white girl named Annie sitting atop the fence. They soon become friends. While her mother warned her the other side of the fence was dangerous, she never said anything about sitting on top of the fence! This is a heartwarming story set in the days of a segregated America. It carries a message of love and acceptance while allowing room to discuss a tough topic with your students or child. Older students may be ready to discuss segregation and the symbolism of the fence, while younger students can simply discuss what is fair and what is not fair. Jacqueline Woodson always delivers a wonderful story, and ‘s illustrations are a perfect realistic counterpart to this very important story.


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Author: Alan Gratz

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Date of Publication: July 25, 2017

Awards: 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers, 2018 National Jewish Book Award Winner for Young Adults, YALSA 2018 Best Fiction for Young Adults

Age Range: 9 – 14

Grade Level: 3 – 8


  1. Lesson plan and discussion guide designed by the publisher
  2. Empathy focused lesson plan

It is 1939, and Joseph is a Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany.

It is 1994, and Isabel is a Cuban girl whose country is plagued by civil unrest.

It is 2015, and Mahmoud is a Syrian boy living in a war-torn country.

Alan Gratz takes on three heart wrenching narratives in his novel Refugee. These are three young people who must face dangerous and terrifying situations in the pursuit of refuge, all along hanging onto faint glimmers of hope. Combining the three different narratives into one whole creates a unique experience for the reader, emphasizing how history truly does repeat itself. While this book will enthrall and tug at the heartstrings of all ages, the characters in this book are all in their early years of adolescence and readers around the same age will feel the strongest empathy putting themselves in the shoes of these young people not unlike them. Refugee is so important because it chronicles events that most grown adults might not even know about, making it even more important that our students and children not grow up ignorant of the refugee’s plight.

**Gratz does an excellent job of providing the historical basis for the stories in his author’s note. He also gives suggestions on how to help.