Love Letter to America

Dear America,

Love can save us.  Trust me, I know.

My childhood was not a lovely one.  I was the youngest, and therefore the most helpless, child of a very broken family.  Alcoholism, domestic violence, and several types of abuse were some of the secrets we kept (or thought we kept) hidden within our household. When life was not a place of fear and terror, it was a place of shame and doubt.  Love saved me. One of the first times that I confronted love was in the book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  I know it seems silly that a book about a donkey and a little red marble could show me what love looks like.  It was Sylvester’s parents who got through to me. They grieved when their adored son, Sylvester, couldn’t be found.  I realized that love could look like grieving.  My next encounter with love was the Frances books by Russell Hoban.  Frances was lovable, though she was sometimes stubborn, selfish, and childish. Frances had wise caring people in her life who helped her grow and change. I learned that love is not abrasive and that love can transform.

I watched my dad encounter love in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the Big Book) as he read accounts of other recovering alcoholics sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Yes, I ended up reading the whole book cover-to-cover, too.  I was watching it transform my father, so I just had to read it.  I knew there was good stuff in there!

Book by book, chapter by chapter, page by page, I have been transformed as I have encountered love in books.  I have realized that I am not alone. I have realized that my shortcomings don’t have to be permanent.  I have learned that people are resilient, and I can be too.   I learned that there is hope.  Since then, I have tried to share this love with others.  I like helping my students and friends find the right book. The book that will speak to their hearts.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon Donalyn Miller’s words that put voice to what I was trying to do with books.  On page 9 of The Book Whisperer, Donalyn explains how she and her husband have use books to express themselves and their hearts to each other with “Books are our love letter (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”

For over a week, I have been beyond words. I know that to heal, to move forward, I need to use my voice, but there is too much to articulate.  I also know that I need to love. Fearlessly.  So, America, I want to express my love for you.  Here is my love letter to you in the form of books.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson


Even when it seems that the world (or in Melinda’s case, the entire high school) is against you, and you are hurting alone, find your safe place, your safe person, and speak.

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher


Sometimes the best way to help a friend is to listen to what she is not saying.


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes


When a friend encourages you to be yourself, your toughest critic might finally accept you as you are, even if your toughest critic is your own father.


Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins


Wait, do you really expect me to tell you a tiny little thing about each book on this list?  Just read this one!  Trust me!

One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullay Hunt


Even those of us who feel we are undeserving of love, are indeed loved.


Love the Baby by Steven Layne


Jealousy can cause hatred, but seeing another’s vulnerability and humanity can sometimes be what we need to help us love.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson


“If you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow and grow and grow.”


Ghost by Jason Reynolds


Sometimes love looks like a bald, chipped-tooth, taxi-driving coach who pushes you to be better.


Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling


Love, especially sacrificial love, trumps everything no matter how terrifying, dark, and powerful a certain force may appear to be.


A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


Find someone you trust and share your dreams.

My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto by Frank Dabba Smith, with photographs by Mendel Grossman


Even in the worst of times, connecting with others, laughter, and love helps us persevere.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson


Pay attention to how you treat others, and remember that even small amounts of kindness can ripple outward and change the world.


America, this is a teeny tiny list, and there are countless books that will remind you who you are to the world, and who the world should be to you.  These are just a few that I have on my coffee table right now, reminding me that there is hope. Start with one of these, or choose another book, but read, love, transform, and be transformed.

Julie Hoffman





A Few More Words

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by Mary Ann Hoberman

This book of “very short stories to read together”, illustrated by Michael Emberley, is really a book of poems.  They are color-coded to show which parts I read, which parts you read, and which parts we read together.  “I Hate My Hat” is one of my favorites!



A Pocketful of Poems by Nikki Grimes

This poetry book alternates  between free-verse and haiku.  Each new topic is illustrated and has one of each type of poem.  The illustrations by Javaka Steptoe combine paper cut-outs and three-dimensional objects.



Science Verse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Scieszka and Smith explore (exploit?) various poems through scientific parodies.  They cover the digestive system, evolution, black holes, food chains, matter and more.  You will recognize the framework from many of the poems!  Read “‘Twas the Night Before Anything” for their interpretation of the Big Bang theory and “Astronaut Stopping By a Planet on a Snowy Evening.”  Fun stuff!


A Couple of Caldecotts

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  by Mo Willems

Ages 3 through adult

This book is simple, and hilarious!  Willems did an excellent job with the consistent drawings, limited colors, and easy to read text.  In spite of its simplicity, the book expresses a range of emotions through tiny color changes, and expressions from the pigeon, as he builds himself up to a tantrum.  Enjoy the book, and enjoy the pigeon’s humorous attempts to convince you to fold, but whatever you do…  “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!”

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens

Ages 5 to 10

This book is engineered in a unique way!  To go along with the theme of tops and bottoms, Stevens crafted the book so that it has to be rotated to read it.  In other words, the left and right pages, are really the top and bottom, respectively.   The story is about a lazy bear, and a hardworking, sly rabbit who keeping making deals regarding harvest time.

My Rating:  4 Stars

The Ugly Duckling by Jerry Pinkney

Ages 4 to adult

The story is adapted from Hans Christian Anderson tale, and the beautiful watercolor is all Pinkney’s.  Come for the award-winning artwork, and stay for the classic tale.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the Love of Picture Books

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really, Angry by Molly Bang

Ages 3 to 8

Sophie gets angry when her sister snatches her toys.  At first, she starts to explode, but then she runs and runs and finds something beautiful to help her calm down.

My Rating:  3 Stars

Vera Rides a Bike by Vera Rosenberry

Ages 3 to 7

When Vera’s bright red tricycle disappears, she get Elaine’s hand-me-down bike.  The riding it part isn;t that difficult, but stopping causes some problems for Vera.

My Rating:  2 Stars

George Shrinks by William Joyce

Ages 3 to 7

While his parents are away, George experiences the day as a teeny-tiny boy.  He accomplishes everything that his parents asked him to do, just from a different perspective.  The fun illustrations add so much to this story.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Ages 4 to 10

Sylvester, who has collection of pebbles, comes across a very special pebble.  It has the power to makes Sylvester’s wishes come true.  Unfortunately, Sylvester makes a wish that seems like the right thing for the moment, but its effects are long-lasting.

My Rating:  5 Stars

Picture (Books) Worth a Thousand Words

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Ages 5 through 105

Grace is an amazing girl, who can do all kinds of things.  She decides that she want s to be Peter Pan in the school play.  Someone tells her that she can’t because Peter is a boy.  Someone else tells her that Peter is not black.  Fortunately, Grace has an amazing Nana who knows just what to do!

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

Ages 2 to 6

Repetitive patterns and familiar animals make this book a fun way to read, learn about colors, and play with words.

My Rating: 3 Stars

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Ages 2 through 8

This artistically crafted book tells the tale of a hungry caterpillar who eats his way through many things.  Children have fun counting, and finding out what happens after he ate enough to cause a stomachache.

My Rating:  4 Stars

 No, David! by David Shannon

Ages 2 through 6

Funny pictures fill the pages as David gets in trouble and is told “No.” This book was based on a book that the author wrote when he was young, but he has added a nice ending.

My Rating:  3 Stars

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

Ages 4 through 8

Based on an old Yiddish folk song, this book tells the tale of Joseph’s overcoat, and what Joseph does when it wears out.

My Rating:  3 Stars


Ages 5 to 105

Beautiful illustrations tell the beautiful tale of a boys love for America (California in particular) and Japan.  The love for both countries was inspired by his grandfather’s travels.

My Rating:  4 Stars