Picture This Picture Books For Young Adults A Curriculum-Related Annotated Bibliography

Literature for Children and Young Adults


by Alita Zurav Letwin
This annotated bibliography is designed to tap the rich resource of children’s literature to stimulate discussion of violence and of alternative, peaceful ways to resolve conflict. Its focus is on books appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students, though a number of books can be used in the early elementary grades as well.

These books are chosen with a number of criteria in mind. The most important is that issues of violent and nonviolent conflict resolution are clearly presented so that students can examine the following general questions:

  • What is conflict?
  • What is violence?
  • What are some causes of violence?
  • What are some consequences of violence?
  • What alternatives to violence can be used when conflicts need to be settled?
  • How can we prevent violence?
Literature is particularly helpful in discussing such issues, not only by describing conflicts, but also by indicating why the conflict occurred and what followed in its aftermath.  A novel or short story might show the anger that led to violence, and the fear, unhappiness, hurt, and despair that violence can leave in its wake. Because literature is often dramatic, it can strike an emotional chord that holds student interest while it broadens perspective and heightens awareness of one’s own and other’s feelings and beliefs.

Using literature for this purpose can, in turn, awaken an interest in literature itself.  Therefore the second criterion used in choosing these books is that they model the qualities of “good” literature: the author should use language beautifully, develop sensitive, believable characterizations and use involving, well-crafted plots.  There are many books that are written for young people that raise the issues of this bibliography; there are few that have literary value as well.  Not all the books included here achieve the same literary heights, but none are mediocre.

Another criterion for selection was that, the bibliography should reflect diverse cultural experiences. All readers could then be enlightened by, and sensitized to, cultural perspectives on causes of conflict and ways it can be handled to avoid escalation. With violence erupting worldwide, often caused by ethnic, religious, and racial animosity this criterion takes on new urgency. The bibliography also includes depictions of females and males in a variety of situations and roles, in order to counteract sex-role stereotypes that can lead to less understanding and concern about violence against women: in their homes, on our streets, or as a conscious act of war.

The bibliography reflects the wide variety of situations in which conflict resolution and/or violence becomes an issue. It includes themes of interpersonal, family, school, community, national, and international relations in both contemporary and historic settings. It also allows students to examine high profile issues, such as gangs, war, substance abuse, and ways of creating social change.

Classroom Use

The criteria listed above may be exhausting, but the bibliography is not exhaustive.  It is meant to presentexamplesof what is available and how,  with appropriate teacher guidance, literature can be used to shed light on these topics.  For this reason the selections include someexamplesof discussion questions or topics. These kinds of questions, adapted to meet the needs of your classroom, could be used to link a particular book to the six general questions listed in this introduction.

Involving classroom activities are essential in helping students learn the analytic, policy making, evaluative, and participatory skills young people need to help solve this and other societal problems. In some few instances suggestions for such activities are included but in the main they are left to the discretion of the teacher.

The books are not given a particular grade assignment. Picture books, usually seen as primary grade material, are suggested for use at all grade levels. Teachers have often indicated that they use select picture books through all grade levels because they are often sophisticated in concept, poetic in language and beautifully illustrated. They are also brief, allowing for a quick yet involving, introduction to the subject.

The other books listed, unless otherwise noted, also can be used across the upper elementary and middle school grades. They have high interest subject matter and are sophisticated enough for teachers or students to chose among them based on individual reading skills or the length of time available for a reading assignment. While these books were gathered to help examine a difficult issue, they are also meant to be enjoyed by you as well as your students. We hope you receive as much pleasure from them as we believe your students will.

Note: Many of these books were suggested by colleagues and friends involved in civic and law-related education around the country. Some were culled from general lists of books recommended for use in the social studies; others from books representing outstanding literature. Vida Rose Scully and the other staff members of Children’s Book World in West Los Angeles were exceptionally generous with their help and suggestions.

We are sure that some of your favorite books have been left off this list. Please do send us their titles for a future up-date.

The Butter Battle Book. Dr. Seuss
Random House (1984). ISBN 0-394-86580-4.  Picture book, 42 pp.The Yooks and the Zooks live in neighboring communities divided by a wall and by a custom.  The Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up and the Zooks eat their bread with the butter side down! This difference causes dislike, distrust, and finally hatred.  The Yooks and the Zooks find themselves engaged in an arms race with ever increasing sophisticated weaponry.  With classic simplicity and wonderfully creative language, characters, and illustrations, Dr. Seuss explains how small differences can grow into larger disagreements that, in turn, can escalate into potential destruction.  (Students might be encouraged to write an ending to the story so that such destruction is avoided.)  This book makes its point clearly for all ages, and all ages will respond to its message and its cleverness.
  • Why are some people frightened of others who do some things differently?
  • What are some situations in your own lives, in your school, in your community,in our nation and in the world that raise the same issues as this book?
  • What are some ways to avoid violence and resolve the conflict in these situations?
Smokey Night.Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz
Harcourt Brace and Company (1994) A Caldecott Medal winner.
ISBN 0-15-269954-6.  Picture book, 30 pp.This is a very sensitive story of how people of different backgrounds, who have felt hostility towards each other, can be brought together through common misfortune.  It is set against the fires and looting, the anger and excitement, the danger and the fright of the Los Angeles riots in 1992. The final message is one of tentative hope for bridging the gap - if enough effort is made.  In a few words, the book seems to take a strong position against destructive and illegal behavior without ignoring the reasons for the anger that lies beneath it.  The illustrations are true works of art, powerful, yet not overwhelming.  This is a moving story, made less intimidating by concern for two missing cats.  In follow-up discussion and activities students could be asked to answer the questions that follow and perhaps to write a story that shows what should happen in the days following the events in the story.
  • How would you describe the "message" of the story?
  • What other examples of riotous behavior in history can you identify?
  • What might be some reasons that groups of people riot?
  • What do you think are the effects of such behavior on individuals and on the whole community, including the characters in the story?
  • What might be some ways to solve the problems resulting from the riots?
  • What are some ways to avoid such violence in the future?
The Big Book for Peace.Durell and Sachs, editors
Dutton Children’s Books (1990).  ISBN O-525-44605-2. 116 pp.A compilation of short stories, (fictitious and true), pictures, poems and songs by over 30 well-known children’s book authors and illustrators.  The book addresses the many kinds of peace needed in today’s world, as described on its dust jacket: "Peace among people living in different lands"but also among next-door neighbors.  Harmony among people of different races - and among sisters and brothers.  Understanding among those separated by their beliefs - and those separated by generations." The book stresses the give and take of friendship, the avoidance of misunderstandings between individuals and groups, and peaceful avenues to bring about social change.  It has a pacifist, nonviolent-resistance bent.  Its short format and great variety allows for discussion of many of the issues mentioned in the introduction to this bibliography, as well as some more difficult ones, including the following:
  • How does our country or community handle conflicts in society?
  • What are ways that countries can solve disputes without resorting to violence?
  • How can individuals or nations defend themselves from aggression?
  • Is the use of violence ever justified?
The Gold Coin.Alma Flor Ada
Atheneum (1991). ISBN-689-31633-X.  Picture book, 28 pp.This story of human transformation is set in rural Central America.  Juan, a thief of many years, spends a fateful week tracking down the owner of a gold coin he covets. The coin owner goes from farm to farm healing the sick.  At first Juan is destructive in his anger and concerned only with his goal of theft.  But he is forced to help others when he tries to get them to lead him to the healer. By the end of his quest he has become a changed, caring person.  The link between “caring” and avoidance of violent means for achieving one’s aims could be explored through the following questions:
  • What do you think the message of this book is?
  • Does violence include damage to property?
  • Do you think that Juan would be as violent at the end of the story as he was at the beginning?
  • Why might he have changed?
  • What meaning does this story have for us in our school or in our community?
Mrs. Moscowitz’s Last Stand. Arthur A. Levine
Tambourine Books (1993).  ISBN 0-688-10753-2.  Picture book, 30 pp.Mrs. Moscowitz has seen many changes in her neighborhood.  They all required learning about new cultures and establishing new friendships. These friendships blossomed under the ginko tree in front of her house. Now the tree is threatened by a city order to cut it down.  First Mrs. Moscowitz and her friends use their wiles to foil the city’s plans.  But when all else fails, she resorts to civil disobedience by chaining herself to the tree.  The resultant publicity works. The tree is saved and the neighborhood celebrates.  This deceptively simple story is as rich as its multicultural setting.
  • What conflict needs to be resolved in this story?
  • Explain the reasons for saving the tree.  Explain the reasons for cutting the tree down. Which position do you support? Why?
  • What are some other ways to resolve the conflict?
  • Would these ways work with problems in your community? Give an example.
Pink and Say.Patricia Polacco
Philomel Books (1994). ISBN 0-399-22671-0. Advanced picture book, 52 pp."Mother, this war has to be won or this sickness that has taken this land will never stop." The "sickness" was slavery and two 15 year-olds, one black, one white, were caught in the middle of a war to end it.  Both are Union soldiers, separated from their units, running from the Confederate army. This powerful "picture book" is for older children, those who can begin to understand the cruelty of this civil war as well as the strong bonds that were forged amid the horror. It raises the question of conflict between states around a policy that created a great moral dilemma.  Yet it does so in the context of the lives of three people who become "family" through their common dedication and human concern.
  • What examples of violence are found in this story?
  • What options were open to the characters? Explain why they may have behaved the way they did?
  • What might you have done in their places?
  • How might this conflict have been avoided?
  • What are some similar situations in the world today? What are some ways of resolving the conflict(s) without resorting to violence?
The Coming of Surfman.Peter Collington
Knopf (1993). ISBN 0-679-87421-9.  Advanced picture book, 31 pp.Set in England, this story is about a man who tries to bridge the chasm between two teenage gangs. Dubbed the "Surfman," he builds a huge wave machine in an old factory and the gangs declare a truce so that they can take turns using it.  The wave machine changes everyone’s life while it is operable. But once it breaks down, so does the truce, and the neighborhood again lives with hostility and violence. Things could have been different and the author indicates what might have helped create a different ending.
  • What do you think the author’s ideas are about the cause of conflict in this community? Do you agree with him?
  • Who do you think was responsible for the recurrence of the violence?
  • What could have been done to avoid it? What could be done once it happened?
  • What are some similar situations in our community?  What could be done to avoid violence here?
Luka’s Quilt.Georia Guback
Greenwillow (1994). ISBN 0-688-12154-3.  Picture book, 30 pp."Today is Lei Day.... Let’s declare a truce and see what’s going on at the park." Luka and her grandmother need a truce because of their deep disagreement over what Luka’s traditional Hawaiian quilt should look like.  The warm relationship they shared is disrupted by their disappointment in each other’s reactions to differences of opinion.  But the truce helps them work it out.  They come to appreciate their different perspectives and value each other’s vision.  A short, warm story that emphasizes the need for tolerance.
  • Describe how Luka and her "tutu" felt in the story. Why did they feel that way?
  • How did they solve their conflict?
  • Describe a similar situation in your own life, or in your community?
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.Verna Aardema
Dial Books (1975). A Caldecott Medal winner. ISBN 0-8037-6088-4.  Picture book, 27 pp.A "little lie" becomes a rumor that leads to panic, which results in accidental death and has shattering consequences for the whole earth.  The animals in this jungle parable are called to a meeting, where each has a turn to explain his or her actions.  By the end, it becomes clear that no one meant harm, and further violence is averted because the animals have the opportunity to hear different perspectives. But the mosquito who began the whole chain of events, hides from the meeting and never presents his case. His guilty conscience leads to his own punishment.
  • Was there violence in this story?
  • What was its cause?
  • How did the situation get resolved?
  • Why did the mosquito stay away from the meeting?
  • What are some situations where rumor leads to conflict?
  • Would a meeting like the one in the story help avoid violence?
I Have a Dream, Writings and Speeches That Changed the World.Martin Luther King, Jr.
Harper Collins (1992). ISBN 0-06-250552-1. 203 pp.For each of the selections that make up this book, James M. Washington, the editor of this collection, describes what was happening in the civil rights movement, and what issues Reverend King was trying to address. The readings that are particularly useful for a discussion of violence and its alternatives are those that examine the concept of nonviolent resistance.  The relatively short selections clearly present both the theory of nonviolence and its practical application in real life.  They don’t gloss over the problems, but they strongly support the strengths of this approach.
  • What are the major ideas about nonviolence that Dr. King presented in these readings?
  • What examples did he provide for how nonviolence was used in the past or could be used in the present?
  • What arguments did people who disagreed with Dr. King’s approach present?
  • What do you think about this theory?
Cesar Chavez, Hope for the People.David Goodman
Fawcett Columbine (1991). ISBN 0-449-90626-4. Bilingual Edition in English and Spanish. 235 pp."I am convinced that the truest act of courage...is to struggle for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice." These words of Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers, stemmed from the same philosophy of Gandhi as those of Martin Luther King, Jr., his contemporary.  How he used this approach in his lifelong struggle for the rights of migrant farm workers is told in this account of a movement to bring change. The book does not take a simple, laudatory approach. It discusses the conflicts within the movement and criticisms of Chavez while presenting the complexity and difficulty of organizing people.  The left pages are written in Spanish, the right, in English.
  • How did Cesar Chavez use the theory of nonviolent struggle?
  • How well did it work?
  • Would it work now in our society or in worldwide conflict? Why or why not?
Rosa Parks, My Story.Rosa Parks
Dial Books (1992). ISBN 0-8037-0673-1. 188 pp.This book is a good match with those on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez discussed above.  In this account of her life before and after her famous refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, Ms. Parks discusses how she came to her courageous act, and the ideas that influenced her decision.
  • What does this story have to do with conflict?
  • How did Rosa Park’s actions reflect her beliefs?
  • If you were writing a letter to Ms. Parks, what would you tell her?
The Picture Book of Rosa Parks.David Adler
Holiday House (1993). ISBN 08234-1177-X.  Advanced picture book, 30 pp.Pair this book with Rosa Parks, My Story, described above.  It gives a simple, yet gripping, account of Rosa Parks’s early life in the South and describes what was happening in the growing drive for civil rights just prior to the bus boycott in Montgomery.
  • What kind of experiences did Rosa Parks have growing up that might have influenced her actions?
  • How do you think different people in the community felt about what she did?
Scorpions. Walter Dean Myers
Harper Collins (1988). A Newbery Honor book.  ISBN 0-06-447066-0. 216 pp.Jamal is a twelve-year-old in New York City, caught in a web of loyalties: first to his family, including a hard-working mother, a brother in jail for drug dealing and a younger sister; then to his brother’s gang, the Scorpions, who thrust leadership upon him; to his best friend Tito who pleads with him not to get involved; and finally to his own artistic talent and intelligence.  Then there is the subtle pull of the power of a gun.  This is a very well-written story is filled with dialogue that rings true. It manages to sensitize the reader to the pressures of urban, poor existence while showing choices that an individual has the responsibility to make.  This book is an excellent match with the one that follows.
  • What were some of the choices that Jamal had to make?
  • Which of these choices could lead to conflict or violence?
  • Do you think Jamal made the right decisions? Why?
  • What would you have done in Jamal’s place?
  • What were some things other people could have done to help Jamal?
The Outsiders. S. E. Hinton
Laurel-Leaf Books (1967). ISBN 0-440-96769-4. 156 pp.Ponyboy is fourteen, tough-acting yet interested in reading and movies.  Since his parents’ death, he has lived with his two brothers and lived for his gang.  While not the roughest group in town, the members of the gang pride themselves on being tough, fighting, long-haired boys from the “wrong side of the tracks.” When a rival gang member is killed by Ponyboy’s best friend, the violence escalates, to engulf him as well.  As inScorpionsdescribed above, violence leads to death, to despair, to choices, and to a glimmer of hope through growing self-awareness

Below is a list of resources for educators and librarians to enrich their students’ reading.

Please feel free to contact us at cbcdiversity@cbcbooks.org as you discover additional resources!

Book Lists and Bibliographies

  • We Publish Diverse Children’s and YA Books, More than 40 Publishers Share Their 2016 Titles: A handout which details the diverse books presented by publishers during this ALA Annual session
  • African-American Culture Reading List: Discover titles by August House’s African-American authors and illustrators.
  • Diversity & Multicultural Titles Reading List: Explore folktales from around the world, curated by August House.
  • Hispanic and Latino Culture Reading List: A roundup of books by and about Latinos and Hispanics, published by August House.
  • Women’s History Month Reading List: Books for and about strong women, written and illustrated by strong women – from August House.
  • 101 Ways to Combat Prejudice (PDF): Barnes & Noble and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) first launched the Close the Book on Hate campaign in September 2000. They compiled this free informational pamphlet (PDF) to “break the cycle of hate through reading.” 
  • “Close the Book on Hate,” Reading List (PDF): These works of fiction, non-fiction, photography, and poetry help to spark discussion surrounding diversity. 
  • I’m Your Neighbor: A recommended reading list, sorted by country and culture of origin, of titles featuring recent refugees and immigrants.
  • Multicultural Books for Adults: A comprehensive list for educators about the how race, education, and multiculturalism come together. Compiled by the Bankstreet College of Education. 
  • Multicultural Books for Younger Children: A list of picture books that promote diversity and multiculturalism compiled by the Bankstreet College of Education. 
  • Multicultural Books for Older Children: A list of middle-grade books that promote diversity and multiculturalism compiled by the Bankstreet College of Education. 
  • Top Black History Books for Youth: Every year the editors of Booklist highlight the top books of the year that “offer unique ways of presenting the African American experience, then and now.” 
  • Library Book List: An amazing array of titles for children and young adults, organized by such topics as Ethnicity & Race, Religion, Gender, Sexuality and Disability. 
  • Multicultural Children’s Literature: An annotated bibliography of children’s multicultural books maintained by Dr. Robert F. Smith, Professor Emeritus, Towson University, Towson, MD. 
  • Great Gay Teen Books: Young adult author Alex Sanchez has compiled a book list of LGBTQ books. 

Lesson Plans and Discussion Guides

  • Asian American Curriculum Projects, Inc: This website offers quality books related to the following communities: Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Hmong, Indonesian, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Samoan, Thai, and Vietnamese. 
  • Lesson Plan: Multiculturalism and Diversity: Resources to help educators bring discussions about diversity and multiculturalism to the classroom that speak to the background of each student. 
  • Teaching “Diversity”: A Place to Begin: A guide to teaching diversity to Pre–K, Early Childhood, Grades 1–2 students and their families. 
  • Lesson Plans for Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: This website provides resources for grades Pre-K through 8 wishing to study Latino and Spanish-Speaking artists and writers. 
  • Coretta Scott King Book Awards Discussion Guide 2011: Each year the ALA, the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table ( EMIERT) and the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee compile a discussion guide including activities and teaching topics for the previous year’s Coretta Scott King Book Award winners. 
  • Exploring Diversity: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s online resources for exploring diversity in children’s and young adult books.

Nonprofit Organizations with Book Resources

  • ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT): Perhaps the number one resource for librarians seeking information about LGBT books and authors. 
  • The Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table: ALA’s EMIERT has been an active force in the American Library Association (ALA) for more than 30 years. EMIERT serves as a source of information on ethnic collections, services, and programs. 
  • Asian American Writers Workshop: The preeminent literary arts organization dedicated to exceptional Asian American writing. 
  • PacificRim Voices: PRV aims to encourage and promote greater understanding of and among the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia.
  • Paper Tigers: PaperTigers.org, part of Pacific Rim Voices, celebrates literary voices from and about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. 
  • We Need Diverse Books: A grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. 
  • Lambda Literary Foundation: The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers. 

Great Articles about Multicultural Book Topics

Publications and Blogs

  • AALBC: The African American Literature Book Club is the largest and most frequently visited web site dedicated to books and film by and about people of African descent. 
  • American Indians in Children’s Literature: Established in 2006, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society. 
  • Reading in Color: A book blog that reviews YA and middle-grade books about people of color. 
  • The Brown Bookshelf: An online community devoted to promoting young adult fiction by African-American authors and illustrators. 
  • Color Online Blog: Founded in 2005, the Color Online blog focuses on female writers of color. 
  • Diversity in YA: Founded by YA authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, this blog celebrates diverse stories. 
  • The Happy Nappy Bookseller: The blog includes book reviews for middle grade, young adult, and picture books. 
  • The Latina Book Club: Spearheaded by Maria Ferrer, The Latina Book Club’s goal is to promote Latino authors and literacy by reading at least one Latino book a month. The blog features interviews, guest blogs, reviews, and other useful links. 
  • Paper Tigers Blog: News and views on multicultural children’s and YA books, and literacy issues from around the world. 
  • La Bloga: A blog dedicated to Latino and Hispanic literature for both grown-ups and not so grown-ups. 
  • I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read: Lee Wind’s blog is a forum for teens to discuss their favorite LGBT YA titles.

Awards and Prizes

  • Américas Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. The award is sponsored by the national Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP). 
  • American Indian Youth Literature Award: Established as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts. The award is sponsored by the American Indian Library Association.
  • Asian/Pacific American Literature Award (APALA): The goal of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature is to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit. 
  • Christopher Awards (Religious Affiliation): First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” Their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively. 
  • Coretta Scott King Book Awards: Given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society. 
  • ALA - EMIERT Multicultural Awards: EMIERT offers two awards to encourage and recognize multiculturalism in libraries and the library profession. 
  • Lambda Literary Award: Given every year (since 1992) to the best Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Previous winners include Jacqueline Woodson, Nancy Garden, and Kevin Jennings and David Levithan. 
  • New Voices Award: Publisher Lee & Low Books sponsors this award for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. 
  • Pura Belpré Medal: Named after the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, the Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, honors a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.
  • Stonewall Book Awards: The first and most enduring award for GLBT books, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table.

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