Children’s Literature and Guided Questions

“Hope and Despair”               

Picture Book for K-3

14 Cows for America—Carmen Agra Deedy  and Thomas Gonzalez (Illustrator), Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (Contributor)  (Peachtree Books, 2009)


Following the events of September 11th, a Maasai tribe in Western Kenya give a gift of hope to an American diplomat.  


1.        Have you heard of 9/11? What happened on that day?  How do you think that made people in the US and most of the world feel?

2.       What does the word “despair” mean?  Have you met anyone who felt this before?  How did you know?  What could you do for them to help them?

3.       Why do you think the gift was so important to the diplomat—especially since they couldn’t go the USA?

4.       Would you give a gift to someone you don’t know?  Why would you do this? Why do you think the Maasai people did this?

5.       If you were very sad, what gift that didn’t cost money, could you get that would give you hope and make you feel happier? How do you think the gift the diplomat received made him feel?

For Grades 4-7

Pink and Say—Patricia Polacco (Philomel Books, 1994)


The story of two young boys, soldiers in the Civil War, one Black (Pinkus), one white (Sheldon aka Say), are behind enemy lines with Confederate troops approaching.   Told by the author, a descendent of Shelden, Polacco recounts the events that the two boys encountered in desperate times.  This is a book of how memory commemorates the hopes of these two boys.


1.       How is this book about hope and despair?  How do Pink and Sheldon feel both of these?

2.       What stories do you know of your ancestors?  

3.       Why do you think these two boys became friends?  

4.       Does racism still exist?    Do you think people would go to war over slavery or any other topic today?

5.       How do think the story would have been different if Pink had lived?  What do you know about what happened to African-Americans since the end of slavery? 

Other Worthy Books

Grades 4-6   Baaa-David Macauley (Houghton Mifflin Books, 1985)  Sheep now rule the world but not well.  A parable of what humans might do to one another.

Grades K-6  I am Jazz  by Jessica Herthel (Author), Jazz Jennings (Author), Shelagh McNicholas (Illustrator) (Dial Books, 2014)  Jazz Jennings’ story as a trans kid.

Grades 3-6 The Tale of Despereaux—Kate DeCamillo (Candlewick, 2003)  A mouse on an epic journey through despair and hope.

Grades 4-6  One Today—Richard Blanco and illustrated by Dav Pilkey (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015) The inaugural poem for President Barack Obama.

Grades 1-5  Cry, Heart But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi (Enchanted Lion Books, 2016)  A young girl on the loss of her grandmother.

 Grades K-3 The Little Engine That Could (any version of the famous tale)  When the odds are hard, think you can.

Grades K-4 Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author), Jerome Lagarrigue Lagarrigue (Illustrator) (Puffin, 2007)  The history of African-Americans protesting unequal conditions in the 1960s south

 Grades K-5 Wump World by Bill Peet Jesus by Demi (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2005)  (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1981) A planet is invaded by the Pollutians and leave the planet worse off when they leave.

Grade K-5  Pride:  The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders and Steve Salerno (Random House, 2018)   A story of how despair turned into pride.

Grades 1-5 Smoky Night—Eve Bunting and David Diaz (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1999  Recounting a time of  riots, two cats give people hope that they can get along.

Grades 2-6  When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2002)  A brilliant singer overcomes racism and sings in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 and brings change to the USA.

Grades 5-9  The Dark Light—Mette Newth (Sunburst Books, 2004)  A younger girl’s life when exiled to a leper colony.