“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
― Malcolm Gladwell
Books are a natural “tipper.” They energize, tip us to tears or giggles or electric moments of insight. Many books inspire action-taking, and the do-gooding spreads! Look at those dandelion seeds in the image above. One gentle breeze and they are airborne—traveling, cultivating, growing new generations in new locations.
I see each picture book I read aloud or put in a child’s hands as having that kind of airborne potential. There are times we want to shake the dandelion, hoping to spread those seeds far, wide, and fast. In those moments I read bold books about people (real and imagined) taking on bigger challenges than we could imagine with an equal amount of courage and grace. However, there are also days we want to zoom in, get close up, and observe how a gentle breeze yields a similar result. When I share these types of books, we think about how right here and right now, our thoughts, reactions, and decisions can also have an impact. There’s beauty and substance in making different kinds of “everyday” decisions, too. As the school year ends, we can empower students with these kinds of stories. This last gift helps students recognize that our values and beliefs extend beyond the walls of a school. Our ideas and actions are also airborne, ready to take flight, and spread beyond the safe haven of our classrooms.
To that end, in my recent visits to schools, here are 7 “giftable” books I have shared in classrooms over the last 7 days:
7. “The little girl said, ‘Come with me.’ Because two people are stronger than one.”
Come with Me, by Holly M. McGhee
I was in my favorite New York City bookstore one day last fall, and the retro sweetness of the cover caught my eye—within seconds I was huddled in a corner of the shop, falling in love with the words and illustrations.The book came home with me that very day. Since then, it has come with me to schools in more communities than I could count! This book is appropriate for students of all ages and helps open up a discussion as big—or as little—as the room wants or need in that moment. The family in this book learn and show that the little things we do every day make a difference. A tip of a hat, a smile, an invitation, even a sidewalk mural: these actions, and those we can all take each day, make a difference.
6. “These women have all said, ‘Yes I can.’’’
Rad American Women A-Z, by Kate Schatz
I was so excited the day this book arrived. I was also, admittedly, a little embarrassed that I didn’t know much about a few of the rad women included in this book. For example, Dolores Huerta not only took action for the students she worked with, she also advocated for their families, farm workers, and women in general. My inspiration amplified with each turn of the page and I couldn’t wait to share this book with family, friends, and students. The you-can make-a-difference-too message, the list of 26 things you can do to be rad, and pages of places to go to learn more seal the deal on this being a knockout classroom addition.
5. “I know I acted like I didn’t care, but the truth was, I did. I still wanted to take a chance, but I was afraid. And I wasn’t sure if I would ever be brave enough.”
What Do You Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada
I love the first two books in this series so I confess I was sold even before I opened this third book. It didn’t disappoint: I was quickly drawn in by the honesty and frank admission of the character: it can be scary to show we care and feel really uncomfortable to do something different, try something new, or do “what needs to be done.” But, with time and reflection, the character realizes that when we muster the courage to take a chance, amazing things can happen. Readers appreciate this child’s relatable reticence because sometimes, when we read about rad women and children facing and coming out on top of unfathomable obstacles, we can wonder, What would I have done? Would I have been so brave? This book provides an opportunity for honest and frank discussion and a place to air our worries. Sometimes, simply saying our fears out loud is all we need to overcome them and be ready to take the chance to do something impactful and worthwhile.
4. “‘But you can’t just lie there,’ said Swimmy. ‘We must THINK of something.’”
Swimmy, by Leo Lionni
Once upon a time, when my son was in preschool, I read this book at bedtime every night for over a month. Although he is now a middle schooler, I love it just as much today—maybe more, because I appreciate what a timeless and socially relevant message it holds: The world is filled with joyful opportunities and when something big and scary is preventing us from being ourselves and enjoying our lives… we don't need to stop or succumb. We don't need to hide. We can think, act, and work together. When we unite, we can overcome obstacles and get the job done! Man, this book may be an “oldie,” but it sure is a “goody.” Timeless for sure!
3. “‘Be the change you wish to see in the world, Arun.’”
Be The Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
One of my favorite parts of this book is how introspective the main “character” becomes, and how he inspires us to do the same. Arun is advised to think through the reactions of all of his actions, even the ones that are seemingly small, learning that each act leads to a larger event. Reflecting on decisions we have made can be difficult. However, thinking through the chain-reaction that results from our actions and words can lead us to reconsider next steps and remember that making the world a better place can start with each of us. Little things matter in big ways.
2. “Maybe, just maybe, Brian’s not so invisible after all.”
The Invisible Boy, by Tracy Ludwig
This book drew me in because we all have a basic need to be seen. The main character in this book is not noticed, considered, or included by his classmates or teacher. And, like this character, we have all felt invisible and one time or another. Humans need to feel a sense of connectivity. This book is a wonderful springboard for a discussion about seeing, hearing, and connecting with others. It also reminds us of the beauty and spirit of inclusion and being a part of something. We all want to find our place and be welcomed into a space. Finding this for ourselves and creating the space for others to do the same seems like a perfect way to take action and spur change.
1. “Some of his simplest words were his most powerful. ‘I understand.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘You matter.’”
Word Collector, by Peter Reynolds
Granted, I have a word bias (that of full-fledged love and everlasting commitment), but to me, words are the ultimate way to provide access and empower young people. Words give us the tools we need to express our viewpoints in articulate and respectful ways. Words are the key to better understanding the perspectives of others, whether or not we agree. Words are the way we make connections, bridge gaps, and take action. Words help make it all happen. Words are action and words inspire more action. In this story, Jerome collects words and recognizes the beauty and significance words possess and shares this with others. I could read this book Every. Single. Day.
Malcolm Gladwell, whose words started this blog, also shared that when we want to bring about change (in beliefs or behaviors), we need to become a community. In this community, the new beliefs can be practiced and nurtured. As educators, we have an amazing opportunity to build the kinds of communities where beliefs can be expressed, ideas can be developed, and actions can result. We can prioritize sharing books, like the ones mentioned in this blog. Just imagine the long-lasting, far-reaching results when each story (seed) drifts out beyond schools and into our communities, showing students the positive impacts of positive action. In this way, we truly prepare students to become empathetic, respectful, action-oriented citizens of tomorrow.
What books might you read to inspire students to take action today, tomorrow, and all summer long?
Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.