Book Recommendations From NIFL Family Literacy Listserv

Literacy Level

Beginning Level

Low-Intermediate Level

High-Intermediate Level

Advanced Level


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The proficiency levels reflect the amount of text per page, overall complexity of language and vocabulary, and level of the story's concreteness (vs. abstractness). These levels are meant to guide teachers, not limit them; therefore, teachers are encouraged to try any of these books with any group of students, editing, simplifying, or amplifying as needed.

The Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California (ACL) has a website that includes storytime ideas and a "BayViews" section with news, annotated book lists, and articles concerning children's services and programming. Articles and storytime suggestions are added on a monthly basis.

Literacy Level

Hoban, T. (1987). 26 letters and 99 cents. New York: Greenwillow Books. This book is useful for basic literacy focusing on numbers and money, letters, and pictures. Its large, clear pictures suggest many teaching applications. See also other basic concept books by the author (e.g., I Read Signs, 1983).

Hoban, T. (1997). Construction zone. New York: Greenwillow Books. This book is simple and clear. There is a picture of one piece of construction machinery and one word per two-page spread. More vocabulary for construction workers is provided at the back of the book.

Pomeroy, D. (1996). One potato. A counting book of potato prints. New York: Harcourt Brace. Each number (1-10, 20, 30, etc.) is associated with attractive food, and each two-page spread is illustrated by an appetizing potato print.

Siddals, M. K. (1997). Tell me a season. Illustrated by P. Mathers. The vocabulary of seasons, colors, and nouns from nature comprises the minimal text in this simple book. This book can also be used to introduce adjectives.

Beginning Level

Linden, A.M. (1992). One smiling grandma. A Caribbean counting book. Illustrated by L. Russell. New York: Dial. This is an intergenerational story that would suit a family literacy class.

Low, W. (1997). Chinatown. New York: Henry Holt. Simple sentences and descriptive illustrations capture daily life in New York's Chinatown. Celebration of Chinese New Year is highlighted. The author/artist is from Chinatown.

Miranda, A. (1997). To market, to market. Illustrated by J. Stevens. New York: Harcourt Brace. This adult spoof on the classic children's nursery rhyme has a repeated refrain, rhyming words, and food and animal vocabulary.

Morris, A. (1992). Houses and homes. Photographs by K. Heyman. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Stunning, color photographs and limited text present homes around the world. See also Bread, bread, bread (1989), by the same author, photographer, and publisher, done with the same mature style and multicultural approach.

Low-Intermediate Level

Cox, J. (1998). Now we can have a wedding. Illustrated by D. DiSalvo-Ryan. New York: Holiday House. An inter-ethnic wedding is planned, and friends and fellow tenants in their apartment building prepare food from around the world for the celebration.

Garland, S. (1993). The lotus seed. Illustrated by T. Kiuchi. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. A single lotus seed provides continuity for a Vietnamese family. The granddaughter tells her grandmother's emotional and traumatic story in one to two sentences per page in a semi-poetic format. Some challenging language and vocabulary is included.

Garza. C.L. (1996). In my family/En mi familia. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press. These authentic vignettes of family life in south Texas, by the author and illustrator, a famous Mexican-American artist, are simply written, with one topic per page. This is the sequel to Family pictures (1989), by the same author and publisher.

Sakai, K. (1990). Sachiko means happiness. Illustrated by T. Arai. Emeryville, CA: Children's Book Press. In this Japanese family, roles change, as the grandmother begins to lose her memory and her granddaughter learns to accept her as she now is.

Say, A. (1993). Grandfather's journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. This story is about the author's grandfather, who journeyed between his two cultures--Japanese and American. The sparse text has some challenging vocabulary and syntax.

Spenser, E. (1993). A flag for our country. New York: Steck-Vaughn. This simply told story of Betsy Ross and the making of the American flag has some difficult grammatical patterns. It is good for citizenship and American history classes.

High-Intermediate Level

Bartone, E. (1996). American too. Illustrated by T. Lewin. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. An Italian-American adolescent girl bridges two cultures. New York City in the early 20th century comes alive with Lewin's artistry. See also Peppe the lamplighter (1993), by the same author and publisher, about an Italian-American boy who proudly works in a menial job to help his family.

Bresnick-Perry, R. (1992). Leaving for America. Illustrated by M. Reisberg. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press. Based on a true story, this Russian-Jewish immigration saga highlights the trauma of leaving home. The inter-generational story has a detailed story line and some complex sentence patterns.

Bunting, E. (1991). Fly away home. Illustrated by R. Himler. New York: Clarion Books. This story about homelessness has some grammatical complexity. See also The wall (1990), by the same author, illustrator, and publisher, about the Vietnam memorial.

Kurtz, J., & Kurtz, C. (1997). Only a pigeon. New York: Simon & Schuster. This journey into the urban life of modern Addis Ababa is told through the eyes of an Ethiopian adolescent boy who works, goes to school, and proudly raises pigeons. The prose is enhanced by realistic, soft watercolor paintings.

Lewin, T. (1997). Fair! New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Lewin's large, colorful and detailed illustrations accompany text about an American cultural experience, the county fair. This book introduces a lot of vocabulary in a number of verb tenses.

Maestro, B. (1996). Coming to America. The story of immigration. Illustrated by S. Ryan. New York: Scholastic. This illustrated history of immigration is historically accurate, yet simplified for a picture book format. It provides additional information at the end of the book (e.g., a table of dates).

Orr, K. (1990). My grandpa and the sea. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books. The wisdom of a simple fisherman is honored in this story, set on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. The intergenerational conflict lends itself to class discussion.

Advanced Level

Ashabranner, B. (1993). Still a nation of immigrants. Photographs by J. Ashabranner. New York: Cobblehill/Dutton. This 125-page book explores the issues of immigration today. It is divided into chapters and also smaller subsections, so a teacher can easily select a 3-5-page passage for classroom use. It highlights successful immigrants from a range of cultures. Black and white photographs enhance the text.

Nye, N. S. (1996). The same sky. A collection of poems from around the world. New York: Alladin. This selection of short, original poems was written by children and adults from all over the world. It is organized into topics (e.g., families, dreams, and dreamers). Marketed as a children's book, the poetry has appeal for all ages.


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If you have any additions or corrections for this link, please contact May Panganiban: MAYP@ci.hayward.ca.us