On Tuesday I had the chance to read Big Red Lollipop in the 1/2 class. - this book has 2 narrative levels plus scrumptious pictures. One dimension of the story is about how we can swallow our desire for revenge (on a sibling, in this case) and be an ally to someone; the second level is about immigration and the experience of entering a new community with different norms, expectations, etc. than one's family of origin.
The conversation went in a bunch of directions. We tried to guess where the characters might have moved from -- one student suggested Africa which led to an excellent conversation about continents, countries and how we might learn about someone's heritage (get to know them). The author was born in Pakistan but she does not specifically name the families ethnicity in the book. (One of the discussion questions recommended in the teacher's guide is "how do you know the family is from Pakistan -- it reflects my cultural ignorance that I can't fully answer that question - names, clothes, etc. are clues). That said, I think the book does a lovely job being about sisterhood-everywhere and about a particular experience of being new to North America (the author is Canadian) or at least feeling different than the norm - could be a good prompt for talking about generation gaps in general. The mother wears a Shalwar Kameez that caught some kids attention -worth talking more about.
The book also prompted interest in how birthdays are celebrated around the world. I haven't vetted these web sites, but here are a few that purport to share ideas about how birthday traditions have come to be : http://www.birthdaycelebrations.net/traditions.htm / an interactive children's museum exhibit about birthdays. I also ordered the book Birthdays Around the World from the library for them.
Finally, kids reflected on and some shared times that they stuck their neck out for a friend or sibling, even if it wasn't easy or in their immediate interest. I love how honest and caring 6, 7, 8 year olds are. We've all had our greedy moments, all had our generous ones. As a sister myself, and the mother of sisters, I hope to nurture the possibilities for forgiveness, redemption, and alliance between my girls that is reflected in the text.
Big Red Lollipop recently won the Charlotte Zolotow award for picture books -- there is now a copy in the 1/2 but it might be worth a spot in home libraries as well!