Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden

Bestselling author Andrew Larsen brings a light touch and gentle humor to this picture book story about several kinds of growth — of the boys and their friendship, the flowers in the newly thriving lot, and the community that comes together around it. Award-winning artist Anne Villeneuve’s illustrations add a visual layer to the storytelling as they show the transformation from mostly gray to vibrant color, both literally, in the blossoming garden, and figuratively, in the now engaged neighborhood. This book highlights the value of connecting to nature, even in urban areas, and the sense of community that comes from civic engagement. It’s an excellent choice for character education lessons on kindness, generosity and citizenship.

Mister Doctor

November 1940. A circus parade walks through the streets of Warsaw, waving a flag and singing. They are 160 Jewish children, forced by the Nazis to leave their beloved orphanage. It’s a sad occasion, but led by Doctor Korczak, their inspirational director, the children are defiantly joyful. Their new home is in the ghetto, a prison for Jews. Day by day, more people arrive. Some are forced to live on the street and freeze to death. Others die of disease and starvation. Though they lack food, warmth, and freedom, the children’s spirits are sustained by the steadfast respect and kindness of “Mister” Doctor. But these children will never grow up: in August 1942, they board the train that will carry them away to the death camps. Offered his freedom, Doctor Korczak refuses to abandon the children and proudly joins them on their last journey.

The Crane Wife

When Osamu, a lonely sail maker, nurses an injured crane one blustery night, he never suspects that this simple act of kindness will change his life forever. Weeks later a mysterious woman arrives on his doorstep, seeking shelter from a storm. Osamu again offers his help, and soon the sail maker and the stranger fall in love and marry. But when he learns of his wife’s gift for making magic sails, ambition replaces compassion–and Osamu risks losing the great happiness he has found. With majestic paintings and lyrical prose, this classic Japanese tale speaks to readers of all ages with its timeless lessons on the nature of kindness, love, and betrayal.