Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Integrity

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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The following picture books about integrity feature characters with a strong moral code, those who find a way to stay true to themselves and the things they believe in.

The Stamp Collector, by Jennifer Lanthier, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, introduces the concept of freedom of speech and imprisoned writers around the world. Two points of view are eloquently portrayed in this story. A city boy finds a stamp, igniting a lifelong love of stamps. A country boy reads voraciously and ends up bursting with stories. The first boy loves stories, too, but he must take a job as a prison guard to make a living. The country boy writes stories that expose the harsh conditions of his people, landing him in prison. Letters of support come from around the world and the guard wrestles with his desire to share them with the writer. A heavy tale, with an afterword outlining the role of PEN International. Grade 2+

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In A Handful of Seeds, by Monica Hughes, illustrated by Luis Garay, Concepcion stays true to her grandmother’s advice: “remember to save enough seed for the next planting.” Her conviction serves her well when Grandma dies and Concepcion must fend for herself in the city. Determined to sell her corn, beans and chilies, she encounters homeless children in slums, who are stealing to stay alive. Concepcion sticks to her plan and helps her group of new friends reap the benefits of Grandma’s wisdom. K+

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The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert W. Service, illustrated by Ted Harrison, features Sam McGee, a trapper in the Far North, who hates the cold. He has one last request…to be cremated. And thanks to the narrator’s integrity, that wish is granted. Harrison’s magnificent colour-laden pictures and Service’s classic rhyming poem create a humourous northern folktale. An abandoned barge stuck in the ice becomes Sam’s crematorium and when the narrator takes a peak, he sees Sam, surrounded by flames in red longjohns, warm at last. Grade 2+

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Swan, by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Canadian Julie Morstad, is based on the true story of Anna Pavlova, a Russian turn-of-the century ballerina. The afterword tells us Pavlova was not the typical acrobatic dancer of her time. She was thin and frail, with arched feet that made pointe work difficult. Her gift to the world was her steadfast belief that ballet was not just for rich audiences; she toured and shared her art form with everyone. Morstad’s beautiful pictures chronicle the time and Pavlova’s difficulties. The dancer’s triumph and her death are told delicately, with compassion. This is a lesson in how life can be devoted to one’s passion. Grade 1+

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The values imparted in The Man with the Violin, by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic, espouse taking the time to stop and listen. It's based on the true story of well-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, who, as part of an experiment in 2007, played for 43 minutes in a Washington subway station. Over 1000 people walked past but only seven stopped for more than a minute. Brilliantly illustrated by Petricic, the subway performer’s music comes to life for Dylan, but not for his ever-rushing mom. The tune stays with him all day, and later comes over the radio in his kitchen, uniting him and his mom in a dance. The book includes a brief illustrated timeline of Bell’s career, when, at the age of four, he began plucking rubber bands on dresser drawer handles. K+

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How can saying no be doing the right thing? In Noni Says No, by Heather Hartt-Sussman, illustrated by Genevieve Cote, Noni is constantly being coerced into doing things she doesn’t want to do. Courage to stand up for what you want, having the integrity to be yourself, particularly around those who are meant to be friends, are all themes of this story. Noni gets pushed to her limit and when she finally says no, the result is surprisingly okay. K+

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Conviction is also seen in Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. Princess Pinecone considers herself a warrior and she wants a strong horse for her birthday to reflect her true self (instead of the cozy warm sweaters she usually gets). But the world sees her as a cute cuddly spitballer and gives her a roly-poly gaseous pony instead. How can she head into battle like that? She finds the moral fortitude to stay the course, and ends up being chosen Most Valuable Warrior (and finds a use for all those sweaters). K+

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

May 18, 2017
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