A Crocodile’s Gift

How lively can Cinderella get? Discover Judy Sierra’s superb picture book The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story, and you’ll find a tale that will engage even the most restless young listeners.  Gift of the Crocodile retold by Judy Sierra and illus by Reynold Ruffins

Damura lives in the Spice Islands of Indonesia with her stepmother, stepsister and father. She must do all the chores and sleep on the floor midst the ashes of the fireplace. One day, while washing clothes in the river, she encounters a crocodile and refers to her respectfully as grandmother. When Damura loses her sarong in the river, the crocodile fetches it. In return, Damura tends the crocodile’s stinky little baby and sings it a sweet lullaby. When Grandmother Crocodile reaches the shore, she rewards Damura with a fine silver sarong rather than the worn-out one swept away by the river.

Upon returning home, the stepsister notices Damura’s exquisite sarong and seethes with jealousy. She sets out to find the old crocodile so that she, too, can get a fancy new sarong. The selfish stepsister, unlike Damura, treats the crocodile and her baby with disdain and disrespect. When she sings to the crocodile, she says it smells like garbage! (You can bet children will cackle when you sing this line to the tune of “Brahm’s Lullaby.”) In a humorous touch of poetic justice, the lovely-looking sarong the crocodile brings the stepsister turns to garbage the moment the girl touches it — and it sticks to her for a year.

In time, the prince announces he will give a grand party, and Damura envisions wearing her silver sarong to it. Instead, her stepsister grabs it, leaving Damura in her rags. Grandmother Crocodile, however, delivers Damura a splendid gown of gold, with matching slippers. She tells the girl she must leave the party when the first rooster crows and return the garb to the crocodile. Inevitably, the prince falls in love with Damura and wants to marry her. But when the cock crows, she escapes, losing one slipper.

She returns the remaining items to the crocodile, apologizing for the lost shoe. Don’t worry, the crocodile assures her, the slipper will help her to become a princess. And then, we see that the slipper will fit only the kind and lovely Damura.

Headed for the palace, Damura sets off down the river in the company of her stepmother and stepsister, but they push her overboard, and a crocodile gulps her down. The calculating stepsister hopes she will become his bride instead, but the prince refuses this heartless trade. Instead, he goes to the river and calls upon Grandmother Crocodile, telling her the story of Damura’s cruel treatment. In an instant, the grandmother gathers the other crocs and forces the chubby culprit to spit up Damura. Then she lovingly licks the girl’s face and brings her back to life. She commands the other crocodiles to leave Damura alone but to eat the stepsister and her mother if they ever encounter them.

Overhearing the crocodile, the two flee, never to return. Then Damura and her prince go on to live in harmony, raising their children in the shade of the clove and nutmeg trees.

Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins with vivid hues, humorous touches, and plenty of movement, Gift of the Crocodile is a crowd-pleasing Cinderella tale that should enchant any young audience.

See also …

Glass Slipper Gold Sandal A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul FleischmanRough-Face Girl by Rafe MartinElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


Bears and their Stories

“It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy.
But first, Bear had a story to tell … .”
So begins Phillip Stead’s charming Bear Has a Story to Tell, about a gentle giant who knows about patience and about friendship. Bear approaches Mouse, then Duck, then Frog, in hopes for sharing his story, but each animal is too busy to listen. Soon, Bear, too, succumbs to winter’s spell, and curls up for the season.

Bear awakes with the same desire to tell his story, but first, he goes about sharing thoughtful little gifts: an acorn for Mouse, a mud puddle for Duck, and some sunshine for Frog. At last, all are ready to hear Bear’s story — but he’s forgotten it! His friends, however, offer ideas to help him create a new one, and so the story comes full circle: “It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy.”

This sensitive, hopeful story serves to show young ones the value of patience — sometimes, we must wait … for the season to change … for someone to listen … for someone to get still. This picture book reassures children that they, too, have a voice, and they will indeed “get their turn.”  Yet another outstanding work by the talented husband-and-wife team who created the Caldecott winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee.  Share this irresistible story with ages 4 to 7.

Another remarkable pair has created the endearing picture book The Bear in the BookKate Banks again shows her skill in describing events from a child’s perspective, an approach beautifully revealed by Georg Hallensleben’s big, bright images of the furry bear, the child cuddling with his mom, and the fat snowflakes that “began to fall across the pages of the book. The snow sat snugly in the boughs of the trees. The boy could almost feel it.”

In simple, lyrical language, Banks draws humorous and affectionate comparisons between the sleepy black bear and the boy. This lovable little story will engage those ages 3 to 6. And do look for others by this pair, notably Fox and Close Your Eyes, a NYT Best Illustrated Award winner.

Fairy tale lovers will be charmed by Rose Red and the Bear Prince , adeptly retold and illustrated by Dan Andreasen. Based on a Grimm’s folktale that has echoes of the beloved “Beauty and the Beast,” this version features a confident maiden named Rose Red. An only child, she bravely admits a bear that comes knocking at the cottage door one wintry evening. The two become friends, but the bear leaves to seek the wicked dwarf who stole his three treasures. Soon, Rose Red happens to meet the dwarf and even offers to help him; in return, she demands one of the stolen treasures each time. She even manages to break the spell that had turned a handsome prince into the bear, thus bringing about the tale’s happy ending.

With its touches of gilt and its repeated swirls — from Rose Red’s locks to the dramatic tree branches, from ripples of water to the dwarf’s tangled mane — this is an elegant and pleasing edition for ages 7 to 9.

Educated by Kindness

McCully, Emily Arnold.
Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse. Holt, 2010.

A horse is a horse, but sometimes it takes a special person to recognize its real worth. Bill “Doc” Key was born a slave, but became a veterinarian and a successful entrepreneur in post-Civil War Tennessee. Doc decided to see how much he could teach Jim, his seemingly bright little foal. With kindness and patience, he taught the horse to count, to distinguish colors and letters of the alphabet, and to add and subtract.

Doc took his prodigy on the road, and for a while, the two met with applause and amazement at fairs, theaters, and arenas. Then a newspaper reporter asked, “How could a little old black man with no education teach a dumb animal to do those things?” Doc didn’t give up, though; he invited some professors at Harvard to examine Jim Key to determine if the horse was, in fact, educated. After they confirmed  it, the newspapers set the record straight: “JIM KEY EDUCATED BY KINDNESS.”

McCully, whose sprightly watercolors add charm to this fact-based story, continues to live up to the high standard she has set in her career of writing and illustrating beloved picture books. Those yearning for more details on this amazing man and his horse can find them in the author’s note and bibliography.

Recommended Read-alouds That Call for Kindness to Animals
Note: Please leave a comment with your favorites!

Elliot, David. In the Wild. Illus. by Holly Meade. Candlewick, 2010. Fresh language and stunning woodblock and watercolor illustrations distinguish this engaging collection of poems about wild animals, ranging from the lion to the polar bear.

Saint Francis and the Wolf make a plan for peace

Image via Wikipedia

Kimmel, Eric. Brother Wolf Sister Sparrow: Stories About Saints and Animals. Holiday House, 2003. See the masterfully retold Italian legend “St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio,” in which St. Francis approaches a wolf that’s been terrorizing the town.

Levitin, Sonia. All the Cats in the World. Harcourt, 1984. Powerful story of friendship and kindness. No one can care for all the cats in the world, but everyone can perform acts of kindness, as an elderly woman shows a lonely, bitter old lighthouse keeper.

Meddaugh, Susan. Martha Walks the Dog. Houghton, 1998. Clever Martha uses praise to tame a hostile dog.

Pericoli, Matteo. The True Story of Stellina. Knopf, 2006.   Pericoli and his wife, Holly, rescued and raised a finch, Stellina, that had fallen from her nest onto a busy street in New York City. They nurtured the bird in their Manhattan apartment, where she leaned to eat, fly, and sing.

Spencer, Ann. And Round Me Rings: Bell Tales and Folklore. Tundra, 2003. See “Bell of Justice Rings,” a retelling of an Italian folktale, in which a horse calls attention to its mistreatment.

The bullies, the victims, and the silent bystanders

“Another thing I think about names is that they DO hurt. They hurt because we believe them. We think they are telling us something true about ourselves, something other people can see even if we don’t.”      — James Howe in The Misfits


Estes, Eleanor. The Hundred Dresses. Ages 7-10. This timeless little novel remains one of the most powerful explorations of bullying in children’s literature. First published in 1944, Estes sets her  story in a cliquish, Waspy little town. Wanda Petronski is from a family of Polish immigrants. She has a strange name. She wears the same clean but faded blue dress to school every day. After Wanda confides to popular Peggy that she has 100 dresses, she gets taunted daily. Then one day, she’s gone. Her father informs the school they’re moving to the big city, where plenty of people have “funny” names. Yet another surprise comes when Wanda’s lovely drawings of 100 dresses win the school art contest. The girls, even queen bee Peggy, regret their behavior, but it is too late to make amends. Especially moving is the response of Maddie, the bystander too afraid to intervene. Maddie reaches the decision that she will never again remain silent while someone gets bullied in her presence. Since research indicates that most children tend to be bystanders, it is important to teach them to stand up for what’s right, even (or especially) when it means contradicting the “in” crowd.


Polacco, Patricia. The Junkyard Wonders. Philomel, 2010. Drawing on her own experiences as a dyslexic child, Polacco tells how young Tricia landed in the “junkyard” class for kids who had learning differences. The children were taunted and ridiculed and felt like cast-offs, but their wise and nurturing teacher, Mrs. Peterson, saw their gifts and helped them realize their potential. The story, while lengthier than most picture books, has plenty of conflict and action and can easily be read in two sessions. Allow time to discuss the need to value each person and to resist judging on the basis of appearances. Then share Polacco’s concluding note, in which she reveals the stellar achievements of her “junkyard” classmates.

More picture books that explore bullying:

  • Anholt, Laurence. Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent van Gogh. Barron’s, 1994. Ages 6-8.  A boy and his family befriend the lonely painter who has a unique perspective.
  • Bateman, Teresa. The Bully Blockers Club. Ages 5-7. Lottie is tired of being bullied, so she starts a club where everyone is welcome.
  • dePaola, Tomie. Trouble in the Barkers’ Class. Ages 5-7. When the new girl acts like a bully, the students try talking to her and ignoring her until she finally figures out a better way to treat others. Also, see dePaola’s Oliver Button Is Not a Sissy.
  • DiSalvo, Dyanne. Spaghetti Park. Ages 7-9. A community unites to fix up their park and manages to persuade the bullies to join them.
  • Fierstein, Harvey. The Sissy Duckling. Ages 5-8. Elmer’s interests are different from the other male ducks. His father doesn’t sympathize, and after getting bullied at school, Elmer decides to run away from home. After Elmer saves his father’s life and looks after him until he’s well again, the father realizes he should be proud of his brave son.
  • Fleischman, Paul. Weslandia. Ages 7-10. The neighborhood kids torture Wesley for being different, but in time they learn to appreciate his ingenuity, as he creates his own wild and wondrous civilization.
  • Howe, James. Pinky and Rex and the Bully. Ages 6-8. Short chapter book, easily read in two sessions. Pinky got his nickname because his favorite color is pink. When boys at school tease him because of that, he initially tries to change his ways. But a kind, elderly neighbor helps him realize how important it is to be true to yourself. This engaging story presents great opportunities to discuss bullying and gender-based stereotypes.
  • Howe, James. Horace and Morris But Mostly Dolores. Atheneum, 1999. Ages 6-8.  Three mice friends learn it’s more fun to include others than to exclude them.
  • Kellogg, Steven. Island of the Skog. Puffin, 1993. This is a must-read picture book that can be appreciated and discussed on many levels. A group of mice, tired of living in fear, sail off to find a peaceful home. They land on an island inhabited by one skog. That’s when fear and conflict creep in again. Discuss how the mice approached the creature and how they could have made better choices.
  • Lester, Helen. Hooway for Wodney Wat. Ages 5-8. The other kids tease Rodney, but his way of speaking is what helps defeat the classroom bully.
  • Michelson, Richard. Busing Brewster. Random House, 2010. Ages 7-10. This is an unusual, sensitive picture book set in Boston during the contentious 1974 court-ordered busing. Brewster and his brother experience taunts by children and adults when they start at the white school. Fortunately, Brewster finds caring, helpful Miss O’Grady, the librarian, who encourages Brewster in his goal to become president some day.
  • Moss, Peggy. Say Something. Tilbury, 2004. A child who doesn’t speak up when other children are bullied finds herself in that position one day.
  • O’Neill, Alexis. The Recess Queen. Scholastic, 2002. Ages 5-8. Mean Jean was the playground bully nobody contradicted until the new kid, sweet, sassy little Katie Sue broke the rules and even invited Jean to become her friend.
  • Swope, Sam. The Araboolies of Liberty Street. Random, 1995. Ages 6-8. Horrors! The Araboolies don’t conform to General Pinch’s standards! They must go! No, decide the neighbors, that intolerance must give way to freedom, respect, and individuality.

For middle-school and up, consider such novels as …

  • Blume, Judy. Blubber. Ages 9-12.
  • Hiassen, Carl. Hoot. Ages 10-14.
  • Howe, James. The Misfits. Ages 10-14.
  • Spinelli, Jerry. Loser. Ages 10-14.



What’s so Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

Peace-Promoting Books Every Child Should Hear

Bang, Molly. When Sophie Gets Angry, Really Really Angry. Blue Sky/Scholastic, 1999. Simple, powerful picture book shows how a child feels out of control but calms down as she spends time with nature. Bang’s striking illustrations reflect the varied feelings Sophie experiences and enhance the reader’s appreciation of them. Use this to discuss how being outdoors can help people find inner peace.

Borton, Lady. Junk Pile. New York: Philomel, 1997. Jamie, whose father has a junk yard, knows how to fix the school bus. She also has to figure out a way to deal with a bully.

Bosca, Francesca. The Apple King. A self-centered, greedy king learns the value of sharing after worms invade his apples and tell him how the apples feel.

Bryan, Ashley. Beautiful Blackbird. Renowned author-illustrator Bryan has retold a lively folktale celebrating the many hues of beauty.

Bunting, Eve. One Green Apple. An Iraqi immigrant girl, with a little encouragement from a classmate, begins to adjust to her new home in the U.S.

da Costa, Deborah. Snow Falls in Jerusalem. A stray cat brings together a Jewish boy and an Arab boy, who discover they have much in common.

DeFelice, Cynthia. One Potato, Two Potato. A fresh take on an Asian folktale, DeFelice sets hers in Ireland and reveals the importance of sharing and of gratitude in bringing about personal happiness.

Demi. Gandhi. Simon & Schuster, 2001. Demi’s richly colored miniature paintings enhance this moving story of the hero who has inspired so many people by his effort “to root out the disease of prejudice, but never to yield to violence and never to use violence against others.”

DiSalvo-Ryan, Dyanne. Spaghetti Park. Neighbors in a diverse neighborhood decide they must work together to restore their park. Also see this author’s A Castle for Viola, about a family that gets a simple, safe home at last.

Fleischman, Paul. Weslandia. This story celebrating diversity is the author’s best picture book.

Forrest, Heather. Wisdom Tales From Around the World. Little Rock: August House, 1996. Traditional stories that reflect wisdom of many cultures and religions.

Hoose, Phillip and Hannah. Hey Little Ant. Tricycle, 1998. A great little parable where the golden rule can come alive for children.

Jaffe, Nina. The Cow of No Color: Riddle Stories and Justice Tales From Around the World. New York: Holt, 1998. Folktales feature characters who face an obstacle and must decide about what is fair or just. Also, see While Standing on One Foot: Puzzle Stories and Wisdom Tales from the Jewish Tradition.

Keats, Ezra Jack. Goggles. Boys outsmart neighborhood bullies and then enjoy the treasured goggles they found.

Kellogg, Steven. The Island of the Skog. New York: Dial, 1973. Tired of their dangerous environment, Jenny and her friends sail off to an island, only to confront fear in the form of a “skog,” the island’s lone inhabitant. The characters learn the importance of communicating in a friendly manner.

Kimmel, Eric. Brother Wolf, Sister Moon. Don’t miss the memorable legend “Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio,” in which the hero employs techniques for peacemaking to save a town terrorized by a hungry wolf.

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. Nora’s Ark. Neighbors help each other survive a flood.

Lester, Helen. Hooway for Wodney Wat. Rodney, taunted for his speech, becomes a hero after he rids the class of a bully.

Levitin, Sonia. All the Cats in the World. New York: Harcourt, 1982. An elderly woman is taunted by the lighthouse keeper when she feeds the nearby abandoned cats. After she becomes ill, he realizes he was wrong. Also see her humorous, wise Who Owns the Moon?

Martin, Rafe. The Monkey Bridge. Illus. by Fahimeh Amiri. Knopf, 1997. Based on a Buddhist jataka tale, Martin tells how monkeys teach a king to share the delicious fruits of the “Treasure Tree.”

McBrier, Page. Beatrice’s Goat. The gift of a goat enables a girl in Uganda to go to school. Based on the work of the Heifer Project.

Macdonald, Margaret. Peace Tales : World Folktales to Talk About. Collection of multicultural folktales includes “Lifting the Sky,” which illustrates the importance of working together to achieve results.

Milway, Katie Smith. One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference. Kids Can Press, 2008. Kojo, who  lives in a poor village in Ghana, borrows enough coins to buy a hen. That hen produces eggs, and Kojo sells the surplus eggs at the market. Kojo’s business grows, and he is able to help others. The bright acrylic illustrations help make this informative account lively and engaging A brief biography of the actual Kojo is included.

Mills, Lauren. The Dog Prince. A poor girl teaches an arrogant prince a lesson in humility and empathy.

Moss, Peggy. Say Something. A child who doesn’t object to others being bullied realizes the importance of saying something when she herself experiences taunts.
Muth, Jon. Stone Soup. Muth retells a beloved old French folktale and transports it to China. Instead of hungry soldiers, he features three monks who know the importance of community in making people happy. This picture book presents a feast for the eyes, heart and mind.
————– Zen Shorts. Humorous stories featuring a panda and Muth’s lighthearted watercolor paintings show the value of simplicity and gratefulness.

Nivola, Claire A. Planting the Trees of Kenya. Farrar, 2008. Beautifully written and illustrated picture-book biography of Wangari Maathai, first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Maathai, educated as a biologist in the U.S., returned to Kenya to find devastating erosion caused by commercial farming. She set about teaching the people to plant trees and take care of the land. This book gives adults a lovely way to show children how each person — and each tree — can help our world.

Partridge, Elizabeth. Kogi’s Mysterious Journey. New York: Dutton, 2003. Kogi frees a fish and finds himself transformed into a fish, experiencing a world of peace and wonder.

Preus, Margi. Peace Bell. Holt, 2008. Uncovering a little-known inspiring, true story, Peace Bell tells how a beloved old temple bell was taken from a Japanese village during WWII. The villagers, assuming it was melted down for weapons, are joyous when the citizens of Duluth, Minnesota, return the bell as a gesture of goodwill.
Rappaport, Doreen. John’s Secret Dreams. Il. by Bryan Collier. Disney, 2004. This powerful picture-book biography celebrates Lennon’s hopes for peace in the world. Rappaport’s accessible  text is enhanced by Collier’s lively, lyrical collages that unfurl Lennon’s lyrics. Enhance this story further with your own recording of Lennon’s songs.

Rappaport, Doreen. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Il. by Bryan Collier. Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2001. This writer-illustrator team again take the genre to a new level. Rappaport expertly focuses on the highlights of King’s life and his own powerful words. These words shine with Collier’s collages, which  utilize cut-paper, photographs, and watercolors.

Sasso, Sandy Eisenberg. Cain & Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2001. Two brothers become angry, and violence comes to the world.

Scanlon, Liz Garton. All the World. Beach Lane, 2009. Lovely, gentle story that instills a sense of peace and appreciation of the world.

Schwartz, Howard, retel. The Diamond Tree. Collection of Jewish folktales includes “A Palace of Bird Beaks,” where King Solomon must learn the value of listening and of humility.

Smith, Chris. One City, Two Brothers. This folktale known to both Jews and Arabs is a story of hope and brotherhood and also of the founding of Jerusalem.

Steig, William. Amos and Boris. Doubleday, 1971. Beloved story of an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a whale.

Tutu, Desmond and Douglas Carlton Abrams. God’s Dream. Candlewick, 2008. In simple, reassuring words, Tutu tells how God dreams of a world where all  children join hands in peace. A warm palette and large digitally enhanced illustrations by Leuyen Pham contribute to the loving tone of this book.

Wells, Rosemary. Yoko. The other children make fun of Yoko’s lunch because it is different. The one who tries her sushi, however, likes it and becomes her friend.

Williams, Karen Lynn and Khadra Mohammed. Four Feet, Two Sandals. Eerdmans, 2007. Two refugee children overcome their differences and become friends as they share a much-needed pair of sandals. Also see Williams’ other books, especially Galimoto, about a resourceful child who makes toys from scraps, and Circles of Hope, an ecological story set in Haiti.

Winter, Jeannette. The Librarian of Basra. Simple, moving and true story of Alia Baker, the librarian of Basra who risked her life to save the community’s books before the 2003 Iraq War destroys the public library.
—————— Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan. A caring grandmother takes Nasreen to a school hidden in the home of a brave woman who is determined to offer girls an education. 2010 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

Wood, Douglas. Old Turtle and Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. A girl talks to Old Turtle, who tells her how to mend the broken truth that can heal a cruel, violent world.

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Other Side. New York: Putnam, 2001. Two girls, one white and one African-American, get to know each other as they sit on the fence that divides their town.

Yolen, Jane. Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys. Yolen has retold folktales in which the hero uses his imagination or cleverness to resolve conflicts.

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