Additional June Book Recommendations for Grades 3-6
Lives to Learn From
Armstrong, Carole. Lives and Legends of the Saints.
Simon and Schuster, 1995. (Lives to Learn From, 3-6)
Features paintings from the great art museums of the world.
Curlee, Lynn. Rushmore.
Scholastic Press, 1999. (Lives to Learn From, 5-6)
Ostensibly about Mount Rushmore, this breathtakingly beautiful book is much more about stone sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, and his most important work, Mount Rushmore. Gutzon could have been nicknamed “Gutsy” for the project he undertook between 1927 and 1941. He was charged with blasting and carving the faces of four major presidents into the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is an amazing story of vision, perseverance, and just plain chutzpah.
DePaola, Tomie. Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi.
Holiday, 1982. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
The gentle saint’s quest for holiness and a life in harmony with the will of God.
Duggleby, John. Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence.
Chronicle Books, 1998. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
A giant of contemporary American painting, Jacob Lawrence endured poverty, a fatherless home, endless childhood mobility, and a less than stimulating education at Public School 68 before finding his way as a major artist. This book profiles his family’s move from the south, life in Harlem, and his mother’s lack of confidence in her son’s abilities. The vitality and energy of his work shine through in this story of remarkable perseverance.
Fisher, Leonard Everett. Galileo.
Macmillan, 1992. (Lives to Learn From, 5)
Dramatically illustrated biography of the intellectual maverick who sought truth and paid for his intellectual courage.
Fisher, Leonard Everett. Gandhi.
Atheneum Books, 1995. (Lives to Learn From, 5-6)
Starkly illustrated, this is the dramatic story of Gandhi’s non-violent fight for India’s freedom from colonial rule. “Non-violence is a weapon for the brave.” For older students.
Fisher, Leonard Everett. Gutenberg.
Macmillan, 1993. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
It is really a wonder that printing was invented in Europe at all! This is a marvelous against-all-odds biography recounting the perseverance of this 15th-century publisher. Fisher’s stark black and white illustrations bring this incredible drama to life.
Fisher, Leonard Everett. Marie Curie.
Macmillan, 1994. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Another of Fisher’s dramatic and substantial picture book portrayals of individuals who changed the world. Curie came from an accomplished and learned Polish family. Hers was a driven life. A woman who worked often to exhaustion, she changed science, receiving Nobel prizes in both chemistry and physics. But her life and work raise the question when is “persistence” too much of a good thing?
Fisher, Leonard Everett. Prince Henry the Navigator.
Macmillan, 1990. (Lives to Learn From, 5)
Excellent biography of the Portuguese Prince whose quest for knowledge prompted him to found a school of navigation, which was in large part responsible for the Age of Exploration.
Freedman, Russell. Confucius. The Golden Rule.
Illustrated by Frederic Clement. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Against the background of warring states and self-aggrandizing princes, we meet Confucius’ who joyously and unrelentingly seeks better ways of living and superior forms of government. With his penchant for memorable detail, Freedman highlights Confucius’ insatiable appetite for learning, and eagerness to seek wisdom. Freedman chronicles the sage’s career from a not-much-sought-after-counselor-to-governors to an itinerant teacher who drew a crowd and taught the need for diligent study, respect, humility, good government, and the quest for knowledge. (The book fails only in the jacket’s tendentious and untrue assertion that “ideals of our own democratic government owe much to the innovations Confucius proposed.” Freedman does not make that case nor does anyone who knows the history of the West or the writing of Confucius.)
Fritz, Jean. Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt.
Putnam, 1991. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
An accurate and delightful chapter book portrayal of the energetic and determined man who became our 26th president. He was a crime fighter, a catalyst for change in New York city’s corrupt police department, and our first environmentalist president.
Fritz, Jean. The Double Life of Pocahontas.
Puffin, 1987. (Lives to Learn From, 2-4)
Fritz retells the story of the heroine of two worlds.
Fritz, Jean. You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?
Putnam, 1995. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
With characteristic humor and charm, Jean Fritz recreates the life and times of Elizabeth Cady Stanton who was undaunted when her father—admiring her many gifts—told her he wished she’d been a boy. She didn’t let that get her down. A woman of intellect and enterprise, Lizzie was determined to make the right to vote a womanly right as well.
Giblin, James Cross. George Washington: A Picture Book Biography.
Illustrated by Michael Dooling. Scholastic Inc, 1992. (Lives to Learn From, 3-6)
Rich illustrations in this substantive picture book biography of the nation’s first president. The biography traces Washington from his boyhood earnestness (copying over 100 rules of deportment) through his military and political careers. A volume that truly explains why Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Giblin, James Cross. Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography.
Illustrated by Michael DoolingScholastic Inc, 1994. (Lives to Learn From, 3-6)
Rich illustrations in this substantive picture book biography of the soft-spoken Virginian who penned the Declaration of Independence, served America in France, was witness to revolution there, and then as president doubled the size of this nation with a single stroke of his quill.
Gollub, Matthew. Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa.
Illustrated by Kazuko G. Stone. Lee and Low Books, 1998. (Lives to Learn From, 2-5)
Brother Issa, the renowned Japanese master of Haiku (1763-1827), delighted from an early age in the cries of insects and the songs of farmers as they worked. In this beautifully illustrated volume the poet comes to life through his haiku and his wide-open wonder at the world around him. Particularly good for use with Japan unit in 2nd grade or Feudal Japan in 5th grade.
Harness, Cheryl. Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837.
National Geographic Society, 1996. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Lyrical prose and vivid illustrations bring young Abe to life. Harness provides an engaging retelling of Lincoln’s Midwestern boyhood, the hardships of frontier life, and the pain of much personal loss (mother dying at nine; sister at 18). Born with no social advantages, Lincoln shines for his love of learning, drive to improve himself, and extraordinary perseverance. Could be used in conjunction with the Civil War unit in 5th grade.
Harness, Cheryl. Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington, 1837-1865.
National Geographic Society, 1997. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
The continuation and conclusion of Lincoln’s story, as he begins to nurse political ambitions, denounces slavery, seeks the presidency, and is determined to save the Union through the Civil War. The reader cannot fail to be impressed by Lincoln’s profound strength and charity throughout this most difficult of times. He leads the country through the deadly war, endures the death of his youngest son, and dares to hope “for a just and lasting peace.” Could be used in conjunction with the Civil War unit in 5th grade.
Harness, Cheryl. Young Teddy Roosevelt.
National Geographic Society, 1998. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Curiosity, courage in adversity, determination, and love of country shine in this colorful biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Harness chronicles TR’s life from his youth (early adventures as a naturalist, and struggles with his health) to his manhood (police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy) to his inauguration as president. Born into social privilege, Roosevelt nonetheless endured great loss and hardship, with the death of his father, mother and wife. In each case he emerged stronger from his sufferings, learning to ride the range, shoot, and hunt. His many interests and his inclination to still “seize the day” are revealed here.
Kroll, Steven. Robert Fulton: From Submarine to Steamboat.
Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Holiday House, 1999. (Lives to Learn From, 2-4)
Ingenuity, restlessness, and perseverance all combine in the life of one of America’s consummate inventors. Famous for his invention of the steamboat, Fulton’s early life shows radical openness to the many paths before him and a keen desire to find the best use of his own gifts. He made his home in the United States, Europe, and America again. Among the many avenues he pursued were painting, jewelry making, canal design, submarine design (which he imagined would end warfare), and finally steamboat design. He suffered derision and scoffing (his steamboat was nick- named “Fulton’s Folly”), but lived to see the success of his work. He died helping a friend. Because of the relative complexity of the chronicle, 4th grade is probably a better placement than 2nd, but Fulton is featured in both grades.
Lantier, Patricia and James Bentley. Albert Schweitzer.
Gareth Stevens Children’s Books, 1991. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
This is a lengthier and more substantive biography (than Carol Greene’s) of the extraordinary German physician from a privileged background who left Europe for a practice in Africa. Lantier and Bentley capture the strivings and struggles of a devout, brilliant man who was deeply touched by human suffering, and who devoted himself to eradicating it. This sixty-page biography can be read over two or three days.
Lasky, Kathryn. A Brilliant Streak: The Making of Mark Twain.
Illustrated by Barry Moser. Harcourt Brace, 1998. (Lives to Learn From, 5-6)
With grace and wit, Lasky recounts the youth and young adulthood of one who may not be considered a “moral exemplar” by all. He didn’t care much for organized religion and he admitted to being a “truth-stretcher” and at times "remembering” things that might not have happened. But Twain’s disdain for religion was generally directed at its practitioners who lost sight of deeper moral realities (the wrongness of slavery, for example) and his truth-stretching was generally in the interest of telling a good tale. “I was born excited,” he wrote and this rich account traces the events that made him a great storyteller with a huge heart. Excellent tie-in to Twain study in 5th grade.
Lasky, Kathryn. The Librarian Who Measured the Earth.
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Little, 1994. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Excellent older reader picture book biography of Eratosthenes whose intellectual curiosity prompted unrelenting (and successful) efforts to measure the earth. Works well with 6th grade review of Greece.
Lasky, Kathryn. The Man Who Made Time Travel.
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. (Lives to Learn From, 5-6)
This is a challenging but rewarding science biography for fifth and sixth graders. It is a story of perseverance and extraordinary intellectual virtue. We learn of the life-long efforts of English clockmaker John Harrison, to solve the problem of measuring longitude at sea with a clock that would not lose time. (The relationship of time to longitude is the challenging scientific concept in this book.) Harrison developed the first accurate chronometer, which became an invaluable guide for modern navigators. But the process was painstaking. Responding to a competition and prize offered by England’s Board of Longitude in the early 1700s, Harrison spent his life developing a series of clocks that would ensure maritime safety. He faced his own inner determination to constantly improve the device’s precision and accuracy and he faced great professional skepticism about the clearly proven results of his work. A quest that began when he was a young man dominated his life. In June 1773, after five trials, numerous improvements, and changes in concept, 79 year old Harrison was awarded the prize money, but never the actual prize! This is a model of scientific virtue in action.
Quackenbush, Robert. Benjamin Franklin and his Friends.
Pippin Press, 1991. (Lives to Learn From, 3-5)
Franklin’s resourcefulness, diligence, and intellectual courage come to life in Quackenbush’s light but accurate biography.
Quackenbush, Robert. Once Upon a Time: A Story of the Brothers Grimm.
Simon and Schuster, 1985. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Devotion to country, love of learning, and strong brotherly cooperation are all themes in this light and accurate biography of the Brothers Grimm, whose early 19th-century career was spent collecting folk and fairy tales. As Napoleon overran Prussia and Germany fell to French domination, the Brothers Grimm worked to preserve their cultural heritage.
Raimondo, Lois. The Little Lama of Tibet.
Scholastic, 1994. (Lives to Learn From, 2-5)
A great introduction to one of the spiritual leaders of Tibetan Buddhism: six year old Ling Rinpoche, the little lama. This book showcases universal human values: discipline, study, respect, kindness. Through photos and simple text children learn of the spiritual training, dress, and daily activity of the lama. They are also treated to his words of advice to American children: “Number one: Everyone should study very hard. Number two: you should respect your teachers and take action according to the teachers’ advices. Number three: children should always obey their mother and father and listen to what they say.” Don’t miss his advice for big people: “mother and father, when you have your child, you must be very very kind to the child . . . and thus we create great kindness in the world.” Use with 2nd grade unit on Buddhism.
Rockwell, Anne. They Called Her Molly Pitcher.
Illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler. Knopf, 2002. (Lives to Learn From, 3-5)
The only female sergeant in the American Revolutionary army? Probably. This is a vivid recounting of the story of Molly Pitcher, feisty wife of a revolutionary soldier. She accompanied her husband to Valley Forge and helped troops endure the winter there. Molly stayed with them through the blistering summer on the battlefield where she brought water to the wounded (they called “Molly – pitcher!” and she came), and secured her own place in history when she manned the cannon of her wounded husband. Von Buhler’s illustrations are clean and strong, evoking images of American primitivism. The book is a triumph and fills a big gap. (The Core Knowledge Sequence has featured this heroine since 1991, but few books tell her story well.)
Ross, Stewart. Shakespeare and Macbeth: The Story Behind the Play.
Illustrated by Tony Karpinski. Viking, 1994. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
This is a rich and substantial book, more a biography than a chronicling of Macbeth. In it we see Shakespeare’s many faceted life, his resourcefulness (figuring out which plays would have broad appeal, how he could continue to support his troupe), and his imagination. A fascinating biography. Use with 5rd grade unit on Elizabethan England.
Ryan, Pam Munoz. When Marian Sang.
Illustrated by Brian Selznick. Scholastic Press, 2002. (Lives to Learn From, 2-5)
This is a splendid picture book biography of Marian Anderson, the early twentieth century African-American singer whose “range of notes caused all the commotion. With one breath she sounded like rain, sprinkling high notes in the morning sun. And with the next she was thunder resounding deep in a dark sky.” This is the story of her gifts and her quest to sing professionally in the face of prejudice in 1920s America. She went overseas, where she became a sensation. Returning to the United States in 1939, her performance was blocked (ironically) at Constitution Hall, which had a “white performers only” policy. Eleanor Roosevelt intervened, and Marian Anderson sang “My Country ‘tis of Thee” to 75,000 people at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial instead. This is a story of triumph and ultimately happy endings. In the lyrics of her songs, reprinted throughout, the themes of faith and courage are never far from the surface.
Stanley, Diane. Michelangelo.
Harper Collins, 2000. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Well researched and beautifully illustrated, Stanley has once again distilled a great deal and produced “essence.” Her moving biography of the mercurial and impatient sculptor (turned painter, architect, and poet), shows how a man who may not be perfect, but was still “excellent,” the root meaning of “virtue.” Michelangelo’s devotion to his craft, his painstaking effort to understand and to create are a powerful testimony to his gifts and the human spirit.
Stanley, Diane and Peter Vennema. Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations. Illustrated by Diane Stanley. Morrow, 1993. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
A richly illustrated biography for older readers, it begins with Dickens’s impoverished youth and early work experience in a blacking factory. Years later his stories drew attention to the social plight of industrial England—orphans, debtor’s prisons, workhouses, and degrading conditions of factory life—all culminating for children in A Christmas Carol.
Stanley, Diane and Peter Vennema. Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth I of England. Illustrated by Diane Stanley. Four Winds, 1990. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Another of Stanley’s superb biographies of famous rulers. Well educated, thoughtful, and resolute, Elizabeth provided strong and steady leadership for England at an uncertain time. Admired for her wisdom, her love of her people, and patronage of the arts, she also knew her politics, brought about the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and made England a power to be feared. A powerful biography engagingly told.
Stanley, Diane. Peter the Great.
Macmillan, 1986. (Lives to Learn From, 4-6)
Little Peter, future Czar of all Russia, began life as a spoiled child, who was given anything he desired. But the young boy’s boundless curiosity, zest for innovation, and intuitive sense that honor should be earned, made him more than just another spoiled monarch. Peter the Great thrived on learning. Traveling through Western Europe, disguised as a common soldier or laborer, he drank in improvements and new techniques. He would drag Russia kicking and screaming into the 18th century.
Tallchief, Maria and Rosemary Wells. Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina.
Illustrated by Gary Kelley. Viking, 1999. (Lives to Learn From, 3-6)
Maria Tallchief had music in her heart and dancing in her dreams. Born and raised on the Osage Indian reservation in Oklahoma, her parents recognized her talent for music and passion for dance. They hired teachers to help realize her dreams. In this true story Tallchief recounts her family’s move to Los Angeles, her drive to dance with the best, and highlights the gift of music in our lives. The book ends with Tallchief heading for a career in New York City at age 17. Although this inspiring volume is in picture book format the length and complexity of the text require an older readership.
Weiss, Jim. “Galileo and the Stargazers.”
CD. Greathall Productions, 1999. (Lives to Learn From, 2-6)
Retold in Weiss’s golden voice are six inspiring stories of early scientists (Archimedes, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo) whose enormous speculative courage and imagination helped them understand our physical world in new ways.
Bruchac, Joseph. The Arrow Over the Door.
Illustrated by James Watling. Dial Books, 1998. (3-4)
This slender chapter book tells the moving true story of an encounter between Quakers and Native Americans in Saratoga, New York in 1777. The Abenaki Indians have been recruited by the English to fight the Americans (or “Bostoniaks”) in the Revolution. The Quaker group these Indians first encounter are people of peace, who refuse to take up arms either against the Abenaki or the British. The Abenaki warriors visit a Quaker meeting, learn what is in the hearts of these people, and refuse to raid them. What could have been a politically correct novel for “peace at any price” is actually a profoundly moving story of two peoples who seek first to understand each other, and then choose a path based on what they know. Excellent reinforcement for the 3rd grade Native American unit.
Diller, Harriett. The Waiting Day.
Illustrations by Chi Chung. Green Tiger Press, 1994. (4)
A hard-working Chinese ferryman exhausts himself transporting scholars, poets, government officials, and finally the emperor himself across the river. From an aging beggar he learns a lesson about taking time to smell the roses—to wonder at and appreciate the beauty of nature. Splendid illustrations evoke the color and beauty of ancient China under the T’ang or Sung dynasties.
Freedman, Russell. Confucius. The Golden Rule.
Illustrated by Frederic Clement. Arthur A. Levine Books, (2002) 4-6
Against the background of warring states and self-aggrandizing princes, we meet Confucius’ who joyously and unrelentingly seeks better ways of living and superior forms of government. With his penchant for memorable detail, Freedman highlights Confucius’ insatiable appetite for learning, and eagerness to seek wisdom. Freedman chronicles the sage’s career from a not-much-sought-after-counselor-to-governors to an itinerant teacher who drew a crowd and taught the need for diligent study, respect, humility, good government, and the quest for knowledge. (The book fails only in the jacket’s tendentious and untrue assertion that “ideals of our own democratic government owe much to the innovations Confucius proposed.” Freedman does not make that
case nor does anyone who knows the history of the West or the writing of Confucius.)
Goldin, Barbara Diamond. “A Journey with Elijah,” in Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Gulliver Books, 1999. (1-4)
Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi ponders the apparent unfairness in life, with the rich and evil often prospering, while the poor and good-hearted suffer. In this tale Elijah visits the Rabbi. They journey together and Rabbi Joshua can barely control his indignation that Elijah’s prayers and blessings also seem to reward and punish the wrong people. When Elijah explains the real circumstances behind the apparent injustices, the Rabbi (and we) are left to ponder the limitations of our own understanding. Each case that is apparently unjust actually serves those in question and brings about a greater good, but one not easily seen. From this tale we learn a little humility with the limits of our understanding.
Goldin, Barbara Diamond. “The Fragrance of Paradise,” in Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Harcourt Brace, 1999. (1-4)
Elijah takes poor Rabbi ben Avuha on a visit to Paradise with its exotic perfumes and sweet smells. Elijah makes the hard-pressed rabbi a difficult offer: take some of the myrtle leaves back from Paradise and sell them to buy books for study. The rabbi is tempted, but a voice warns him “a person cannot take away part of Paradise without losing something later.” The rabbi makes the right choice and comes a little closer to understanding what things truly matter.
Goldin, Barbara Diamond. “Meeting Elijah,” in Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Harcourt Brace, 1999. (1-4)
A young rabbi fasts and prays for 40 days to see the prophet Elijah. His father promises him if he does so and stands vigil alone through the fortieth night he will see the great prophet. On that wintry fortieth night, eager to be alone so that he could see the prophet, the zealous rabbi turns away a poor peddler who seeks shelter from the cold. Guess who it was?
Gregory, Valiska. Through the Mickle Woods.
Illustrated by Barry Moser. Little, Brown and Co., 1992. (5-6)
“I will not make this journey. It is not fitting for a King in mourning.” But the grieving king reluctantly follows his deceased wife’s last wish—to journey through the Mickle Woods and seek wisdom from the bear, which tells the king three stories. His moving tales help the king go on living. This is a picture book, but it is profound and powerful—offering hope in the tapestry of life. Speaks to the question of enduring suffering, and making suffering a part of life’s fabric.
Heide, Florence Parry and Judith Heide Gilliland. The House of Wisdom.
Illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Dorling Kindersley, 1999. (4-5)
“From time to time as the world turns, something different happens, something mysterious and astonishing: a kind of brightening, a quickening, a leap beyond, when ideas brush against one another and sparks fly and ignite other ideas.…A brightening like this happened a thousand years ago in Baghdad.” In elegant prose and lovely illustrations, this book tells the true story of Ishaq, a young Persian boy who grew up to be a leading translator of Aristotle. The authors take the reader back to a time when Islamic civilization sustained learning and Baghdad’s library, “the House of Wisdom,” housed a rich collection of Greek manuscripts. Ishaq’s love of learning helps him understand that we and the ancients are “like leaves of the same tree, separated by many
autumns.” Excellent connections for 4th grade Growth of Islam unit.
Mayer, Mariana. The Prince and the Pauper.
Illustrated by GaryA. Lippincott. Dial Books, 1999. (3-6)
What is it like to walk a mile in the shoes of another? In this lively retelling of Mark Twain’s classic tale, young beggar Tom Canty and Prince Edward VI discover their uncanny physical resemblance and decide to change places. Each comes away with an enriched understanding and new appreciation for their former state.
Mayer, Mariana. Turandot.
Illustrated by Winslow Pels. Harper Collins, 1995. (4-6)
A prince has the wisdom to know he cannot coerce love. Few stories so clearly capture the unique character of love—the lover’s willingness to put the beloved before his or her own desires.
Paulus, Trina. Hope for the Flowers.
Paulist Press, 1973. (4-6)
Two caterpillars realize that “getting to the top” of the caterpillar column is not as important as remembering those around them.
Russell, William. “The Gift of Athena.” in Classic Myths to Read Aloud.
See General Collections. (2, 5)
Athena shows her father what true wisdom in leadership means & is awarded the city named after her,Athens.
Russell, William. “The Sword of Damocles.” in Classic Myths to Read Aloud.
See General Collections.
Leadership is not all glory, wealth, and honor. A guest learns to be cautious about coveting power.
Thompson, Colin. The Last Alchemist.
Knopf, 1999. (3-5)
At the turn of the first millennium, Spiniflex, the king’s alchemist, rushes to do the King’s bidding - invent a machine that will turn any substance into gold. When the deadline nears and the King demands results, Spiniflex has instead made a machine that washes any room it inhabits with sunlight and a golden glow. Instead of transforming stuff into wealth, Spiniflex’s invention transforms the ordinary into the fantastical, which forces the king to reconsider the value of the material world. Fabulous illustrations.
Wiesel, Elie. King Solomon and His Magic Ring.
Greenwillow, 1999. (3-5)
A playful retelling of many of the stories of King Solomon’s wisdom drawn from the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the Midrashim. Wiesel spotlights King Solomon’s wisdom, but shows some of his mistakes and failings as well. Wiesel draws the reader in and gives him much to think about. Each page of text is paired with a fine illustration.