The Invisible Boy

I know when I read certain picture books that I have a powerful read aloud in my hands. Actually sharing the story with a classroom full of children can sometimes be so touching and illuminating, that I realize that I have underestimated the impact the story will have on listeners. Such was the case with this title:

The Invisible Boy written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton is a story that needs to be shared and discussed. In my class, the comments, questions and insights brought tears to my eyes. Children need to talk about this book! Adults need to listen.

The invisible boy There's a Book for That

Before I even began reading this book, I asked children to predict from the cover and title. Here is what was said:

  • “Maybe people don’t treat him well so he doesn’t show himself.”
  • “Maybe people treat him like he’s invisible.”
  • “He might be ignored.”
  • “Maybe they don’t pay attention to him.”
  • “He might be lonely because people don’t be his friend.”

The story begins with Brian who isn’t noticed in a class full of big personalities that demand a lot of attention. Brian, we learn, doesn’t take up much space. He isn’t included in recess games. He isn’t invited to parties. He isn’t able to contribute to lunchtime conversation. Brian loves his art and escapes into his drawings.

At this point n our read aloud, we stopped to talk about what we had observed.

  • “He’s a really good drawer.”
  • “He looks sad when he doesn’t get to play. He’s always on his own.”
  • “Does drawing calm him down?”
  • “What if he told how he felt, would he get to play?”
  • “That teacher didn’t see him right beside her because the other kids are loud and noisy.”
  • “Maybe a new kid will come and they might have something in common?
  • “Yeah and then he could have a friend!”

Students were delighted that on the very next page, a new boy, Justin, arrives in Brian’s classroom. Some of the kids wondered should they be Justin’s friend. Was he cool enough? When kids laugh at Justin’s food in the lunchroom, Brian notices. He wonders “which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.” Brian makes Justin an encouraging note about his lunch. We stopped again to talk and share our thinking:

  • “Maybe if the new boy fits in, Brian will have to draw a friend. He’ll still be alone.”
  • “Do you think he will ask Justin to be his friend?”
  • “They only want to play with cool kids?! That’s not fair!”
  • “Will Justin fit in? Will he still be nice?”
  • “Justin and Brian do have something in common because they are both teased.”

At this point, the question was posed: “What does it mean to be cool?”

  • “In this book it seems to mean all popular and kinda mean to people. But a cool person should be nice and kind and sharing to everyone.”
  • “Why do we need to be cool to be friends? Kids who show off don’t seem cool.”
  • “Cool means people are being mean and making fun.”

When it seems like Justin is beginning to be included and Brian continued to be excluded, Justin steps up and insists Brian be part of a classroom trio to work on a project. The illustrator has begun to add colour to the drawings of Brian. Children noticed this immediately: “He has colour now because he is noticed.” Brian’s smile as he begins to be part of a friendship group lights up the final page. We asked the students the very important question suggested in the back of the book.

“How many kids did it take in this story to help Brian begin to feel less invisible?”

It was completely quiet and then little fingers went up showing one (Justin) or two (Justin & Emilio). Nobody talked as the children looked at each other. Some started to nod. Some shook their heads. One little voice spoke for all of us:

“Oh. I get it.”

Some written responses that need to be shared: 

Joeli: Why does the teacher ignore him – even when the teacher can see where he is? Why did the popular kids tease Justin? They don’t know what he is even like. When that teacher was looking for Brian, why she did not look beside her or in front of her? I think she needs glasses.

Soleen: This book is interesting because it suggested that we can help others like ____________ because she is lonely.

Andrew: There was a boy named Brian who was invisible. Justin made Brian not invisible anymore.

Grace: This book inspired me to help kids in our school that feel the same way. Me and my friends are going to play with ________. I think she feels lonely. Even the tracher doesn’t notice Brian. My teacher would never do that. I noticed that when he was invisible, he was black and white. Then when Justin came along and they became friends, he had colour.

Sara: The kids think they are cool but why don’t they think they are all cool? He was invisible but when Justin came, they played together and he wasn’t invisible anymore, Maybe this book is trying to teach us treat others how you want to be treated.

Hyo Min: Brian was sad because no one can see him in his class. Justin and Emilio made friends with Brian. Why other kids need cool friends? I felt a little sad for Brian. Brian wanted to make friends. At the end of the story, he was happy with his new friends. I love the story.

Ibtihal: I learned that kids can make you feel better. When Justin and Emilio made friends with Brian, he turned into colours. The teacher didn’t see him because kids were being loud and noisy. The kids only played with the cool kids. The kids made fun of Justin’s food so Brian made a beautiful picture of his food and wrote “Yum!”

Pheonix: Brian, the invisible boy was gray at first. Then a different boy touched him and he got colour and he was not invisible anymore.

Brian: Justin had something in common with Brian because kids were teasing both of them. When Emilio started being their friends, Brian started to not be lonely anymore.

Heman: I noticed that Brian was feeling lonely. I noticed that Brian and Justin were both being teased at. The kids in Brian’s class only wants to be friends with cool people. Brian felt sad because he was left out. Justin made Brian feel better. Brian was a good drawer. Brian, Justin and Emilio made a story based on a picture and Brian drew the pictures.

Because there are children that don’t seem to take up space but actually have much to offer . . .

Because each child is important . . .

Because no one should feel alone in the middle of a classroom community . . .

Because each of us can make things different for someone else . . .

Share this book with your students.

Bear in Love

Bear in Love written by Daniel Pinkwater and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand was our BLG book this week. Thank you to Deborah for sharing such a sweet, gentle story – an ideal story to hear as our school participates in The Great Kindness Challenge 🙂

bear in love


This really is such a comforting little tale about kindness and being generous. A bear finds a carrot on a flat rock and decides to taste it even though he has no idea what it is. When he loves the crunchy flavour, he devours the whole thing and sets off on a walk through the woods singing a little tune about this delicious treat. The next day, there are two of these delicious orange things on the rock outside of his cave! This inspires more eating and another little song! Every morning there are more treats left for him and he begins to feel that someone must like him. A delightful feeling!

Gracie had a great question after the bear had made a few discoveries: “But how does he know that those are left for him?” We decided that they were left for the bear because somebody had left the treats on the flat rock outside of his little cave. Eventually, the bear decides that he will also leave gifts for this generous creature who has left him so many treats. He tries to stay up and keep watch to discover who it is but always falls asleep. Some of the gifts are so lovely – a carefully stacked tower of blueberries, a chocolate bar with just two bites missing . . .

Finally bear and bunny meet, convinced they have each found the perfect friend. For bear it is a cute little bear and bunny thinks he was found a lovely big strong bunny. Confusion aside, the two friends sit together and chat and sing as the sun goes down. A feel good book that made us all smile!

Student reviewers respond:

Ethan: He was doing an act of kindness! The bunny started to give some carrots. I liked the book because it was happy.

Shereese: I like when Bear was falling asleep. I love the part when he left the blueberries. And when he was wondering who was leaving the gifts.

Kevin: My favourite part was when the Bear was hungry and then I felt hungry too. What’s the bunny’s name? He looks so cute. Where does he live?

Heman: I liked when the bear put the chocolate bar on the flat rock. My favourite part is when the bear put blueberries on the rock. The bear saw carrots on the rock and the bunny left a flower there.

Ashley: The bear was falling asleep. The bear was nice to the rabbit. I like the title because it has the word love. I like it because I love Ms. G.

Vicky: My favourite part was when the bunny thought the bear was a bunny and the bear thought the bunny was a bear. It was funny. I was thinking about my birthday when they were giving gifts. Whey did the bunny leave treats for the bear and the bear started to give treats?

Kelvin: Bear saw some carrots and he eats the carrots. then he saw two carrots and then three carrots and he eats them. Bear had some honey. He wanted to eat it all but he wanted to give some for a gift to somebody that gave the carrots to him.

Andrew: Where did the bunny get all those stuff? The bunny did an act of kindness. The bear was finding his friend. His friend was the bunny. I like the part when the bear found his friend.

Kassidy: I like when the bunny thought that the bear was the bunny. The bear put some honey near the rock and chocolate on the rock.

Arianne: I liked it when the bear found the carrot. He took a little bite of the carrot. He found three carrots. The bear found honey. The bear found a friend.

Grace: My favourite part is when he keeps falling asleep. It’s funny. Does he like the gifts? I also like it when he sings about how nice the bunny is. Why is the title Bear in Love? What’s he in love with? The bunny? The gifts? But I like this story!


Monday July 16th 2012

This is the first time I am officially participating in Kellee and Jen‘s meme It’s Monday What are you Reading? blog link up! Such a wonderful way to share books read over the past week and plans for future reading.

Three favourite picture books I read:

The Friend by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. I loved this book immediately because David Small is just so good. These pictures are gorgeous and depict the nuances and emotions that the book conveys. What a beautiful story about little Belle and Beatrice Smith, the housecleaner who adores her. Took me back to my own childhood of long summer days that start out with daily chores only I was lucky enough to be working side by side with my Mom.

the friend

Lola and Fred by Christoph Heuer.  A delightful wordless book (How I love wordless books!) about a tortoise and a frog who want to fly. Just how will they make this happen? Imagine this would be a wonderfully loud “share aloud” with a primary class.

Two Bears and Joe by Penelope Lively and illustrated by Jan Ormond. This book celebrates imagination, play and pretend. Love Ormond’s illustrations as always.

I also read a number of Early Chapter, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels this past week.

Early Chapter:

Heidi Heckelbeck and the Cookie Contest by Wanda Coven

Piper Reed Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt I bought the first four titles in this series and plan to introduce it to some of my new students who are ready for a chapter book that is just a little bit longer. Love the school themes and the true to life family dynamics in the Reed family.

Middle Grade:

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead. The children’s librarian at the Vancouver Public Library branch we frequent has started a Middle Grade ARC club allowing readers to “borrow” the ARCs, bring them home to read, write comments in if they so choose and share reviews. My nine year olds and I were vey excited and joined. I did a little leap when I saw this title on the shelf.  Fantastic!

Young Adult:

Paper Towns by John Green. 

Pearl by Jo Knowles The characters in this story nestle up beside you as you read this book and when you are done, they are not gone. I adored Pearl (Bean) and Henry.

Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

** I am also really enjoying Journey to the River Sea, the novel I’m reading aloud to my children.

Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine

Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine, written by Allison Wortche and illustrated by Patrice Barton was our read aloud wonder of the day! Students were completely engaged with the story and had lots to talk about as we read.

I could talk on and on about why this book is a fantastic book to share in the classroom but today, the book love comes from the students. I asked them why a teacher should share this book in the classroom and here is the list we came up with.

* “It teaches lots about gardening.” Isa

* “It shows you that it doesn’t matter if you are the best.” Manny

* “It is an example of forgiveness.” Truman

* “It reminds you that everyone is good at something.” Jacky

* “It has a theme of kindness.” Carmen

* “It also has a theme of courage.” Truman

* “There is a lot about caring – caring for the plant, caring for someone. . .” Catriona

A gem of a book. Set in a classroom, it does explore many important themes relevant in a primary classroom: envy, friendship, forgiveness, competition, desicion making, etc. And perfect to supplement a unit on growing seeds. We made lots of connections to the plants we are growing in our windowsill gardens!

Picture Books on a Theme

Teachers often search for picture books on a particular topic and it is wonderful to be able to come to a blog and “nonstop shop” so to speak. In other words, find more than a few books on the same theme in one place.

Now that this blog is almost 18 months old, there are a few themes that reoccur – enough to make up a list of sorts (through a tag search) or an actual list exists under the Book Recommendations page. Favourite picture books make more than one list. Often I have included responses from my students if I have shared the books in class.

Books about Kindness – For a list, read here

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones was one of our favoutite books that explored this theme.

Books about Courage – For a list, read here

A favourite book on this theme was Sheila Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes

Books about Death and Bereavement – For a list, read here.

One of the most powerful books on this theme is The Scar written by Charlotte Moundlic and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

Picture Books that Tackle the Big Issues – For a list,  read here Books on this list have been hugely powerful in my primary classroom – many of them can also be found under Social Responsibility Books (here) with themes on the bully/bullied/bystander dynamic, friendship, sibling relationships, self-esteem,  etc

Emily’s Art by Peter Catalanotto provoked huge discussion in my class last year. Themes of self esteem, judgement and the negative power of words.

Sophie’s Masterpiece

Sophie’s Masterpiece is one of the most beautiful picture books I know to illustrate the concepts of kindness and generosity. Written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Jane Dyer.

Poor Sophie the spider has a horrible time when she tries to find a place of her own in a boarding house. The tenants screech, swat at her and hide out on the windowsill to escape her. She moves from room to room, unwanted despite the thoughtful spinning she does for the various people she encounters: a web of curtains, a bright blue suit or a a pair of new slippers. Finally, when she must make the long and tiring ascent to the third floor in search of a place to be safe, Sophie is much older and very weary. She finds herself sharing a room with a young woman who does not despise her but smiles at her. When the woman has a baby, Sophie gifts the child with a blanket with strands of moonlight, starlight, wisps of night and old lullabies woven into it. So beautiful, a gift of love. Sophie weaves her heart into the farthest corner and is no more. Her last weaving, her masterpiece is such a beautiful act of kindness.

Look how she was to people,” remarked Shae-Lynn. “After all of that hitting and screeching, she gave her own heart to be kind.”

Some new aspect of kindness for us to consider. Kindness can continue to be given even when so little seems to be received in return. The act of giving brings its own rewards.

After our discussion we spent some time appreciating, Jane Dyer’s art. Wasn’t it clever to make Sophie the spider look part human? It helped us feel extra connected as we witnessed Sophie’s kind acts and selfless giving.  We started talking about other half and half creatures. Not part spider/part human but part spider/part bird or part elephant, part robot, etc. Our afternoon art illustrates how we explored that concept.

Shae-Lynn draws her spider/cat balanced in its web.


Markus created “Super Horse” (notice the S.H. initials) part spider/part horse with a fiery tail!


Jacky made a part eagle/part spider creature. Gorgeous!


Catriona made a part lion/part spider and explained that “really being part spider would be helpful to the lion for when it is catching its prey!”


The Lunch Thief

Our latest book on the theme of kindness is The Lunch Thief, written by Anne C Bromley and illustrated by Robert Casilla.

Rafael loves to eat. It is his second favourite thing next to pitching for his school baseball team. So why is he lying about forgetting his lunch? Because someone stole it. And he knows who. It was Kevin Kopeck, the new boy at school. Rafael had seen him do it. He could report him, but he decides not to. What if Kevin picked a fight? Rafael follows his Mama’s wisdom: fighting is for cowards.

We stop and examine the picture of Kevin hunched over eating the stolen lunch, sitting by himself by the stone wall. Why did he take Rafael’s lunch? We had a wide range of suggestions: “He is hungry and doesn’t have a lunch.” “He’s just a thief.” “He steals because he has no friends.” “His family is poor so he doesn’t get food.” “He is new and trying to prove himself.” We continued reading to find out more.

Over the next few days, Rafael witnesses Kevin stealing other lunches. He again heeds his Mama’s advice: “Use your mouth before your fists.” He decides to talk to Kevin, asking him where he is from. Rafael learns that Kevin is from Jacinto Valley, an area burned down by wildfires. Rafael notices Kevin’s reluctance to talk about the fires and how quiet he gets when he asks more questions. Students have some more suggestions for Kevin’s stealing. “The sadness turned him mean, ” suggests Shae-Lynn. Catriona builds on this idea: “His house was burned down and he is hiding his sadness by being mean.”

While out in the car with his Mom, Rafael notices Kevin next to the Budget Motel. His Mama explains that if Kevin’s family lost their home, Kevin may be living at this motel for some time. Rafael begins to think about his daily lunch, lovingly packed by his Mama. He makes the decision that maybe he doesn’t need two burritos each day. In our class, hands shoot in the air. We know what is coming!

He’s going to share.”

“Giving is the key!” shouts Sergio.

“It’s all about the Golden Rule.”

On the final page of the book, we see Rafael inviting Kevin to join him and Alfredo to hang out at lunch. He passes him a brown paper bag. “Do you like burritos?”

“He noticed that Kevin needed the food,” someone observed. We decided that this book had taught us some more things about kindness. Yes, kindness is about awareness and yes, it is a choice. But now we have learned that to be kind, sometimes you have to really listen. Some of us also pointed out that you have to be calm, you can’t just react to something – like getting mad that Kevin took the lunches. You have to be calm enough to realize that maybe he needed them. As Sergio says, “Giving is the key!”

The Lion & The Mouse

The Lion & The Mouse by Caldecott medal winner Jerry Pinkney is another book we have shared together as we continue to explore a theme of kindness through picture books.

Pinkney’s story is an adaptation of the Aesop fable of the lion and the mouse who exchange an important gift – that of setting one another free. This gorgeously illustrated book is basically wordless, the only text are a few sound effects. Each page is so detailed, we found ourselves studying each image closely for clues as to what was happening in the story. We see a humongous lion being disturbed in sleep by the tiny mouse. Despite his irritation, he lets the tiny mouse go free. The mouse races back to her nest and her young. When the lion is trapped in ropes set by poachers, the tiny little mouse repays the kindness offered to her by the lion and gnaws through the ropes, setting the  king of beasts free.

Pinkney sets his version in the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya. Students were fascinated by all of the animals depicted in the background as much as the close up pictures of our two heroes – the lion and the mouse.

Setting the little mouse free

How does this book continue to teach us about kindness? Students are clearly understanding that kindness is a choice, articulating that each main character had to decide what to do and chose to be kind to the other. We also spoke about how such a small decision to be kind can have far reaching effects. Students pointed out that not only did the lion save the mouse by setting her free, he also saved her family who was dependent on her. Students connected this story to other stories about the “golden rule” – treat others the way you want to be treated and spoke about karma (that all good done comes back to you.) What a powerful discussion this beautiful wordless story inspired.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

How to Heal a Broken Wing written and illustrated by Bob Graham is the second picture book we have read on our theme of kindness.

This book is not wordless, but words do the least work. It is the illustrations – multiple panels on some pages, a full page illustration on another that tell this lovely story of kindness, hope and compassion.

A pigeon hits a tall skyscraper and falls into the busy streets. Nobody notices until Will happens by with his Mom. Maybe he is more observant? Smaller and more focussed on the ground perhaps? But he is the only one to notice the hurt pigeon. We noticed right away how Graham paints Will in bright colours while the rest of the people walking the streets are in dull greens, browns and greys, nothing that stands out. We came back to the page where Will first notices the pigeon and decided that Will made an important decision here – to pick up the bird or to walk away.

“It’s a decision to be kind or not.”

“If you don’t want to be kind, it’s okay, but you should . . .”

Amongst a busy street scene, crowded with people, Graham shines a light on little Will picking up the bird with the broken wing.

“The light on him makes us look much more closely and think about what is important about what he is doing.”

Will takes the injured bird home and despite his parents initial reservations, they help him to begin to care for the bird. Absolute silence as students studied the panels showing Will and his parents bandaging the wing, setting up a box for the bird and settling him in for the night. We follow the picture panels that show us the bird gaining mobility, eating and drinking and looking longingly out the window at the sky.

What has Will’s family given to the bird? We listed off what we had noticed: food, water, rest, a cage to protect him, shelter, care, hope and kindness. In time, the pigeon healed and Will’s parents take Will back to the city streets to let the pigeon fly free.

Two important things we learned about kindness from this book:

  • We need to notice when kindness is needed
  • It is a choice to be kind.

So – how aware are you? What choices do you make every day? This book is a story that reminds us to look at ourselves and think about what we do and what we don’t do everyday.

Those Shoes

We have started reading and discussing picture books with a theme of kindness. Those Shoes written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones was an ideal book with which to start.

This book helped us to explore the difference between our needs and our wants and how to come to terms with the understanding that sometimes we have to give up something we really want when it just doesn’t make sense despite our strong feelings. Jeremy wants those shoes –the shoes he sees advertised on a billboard and walking around him everywhere he looks. Black high tops with two white stripes. Perfection. He wants them especially a lot when his own shoes wear out and the guidance counsellor roots around in a box to find him shoes that fit. Blue velcro shoes with a cartoon animal on the side. Nothing like those shoes he dreams about. Shoes he needs but doesn’t want.

Grandma invites Jeremy to go check out the shoes, those shoes, at the store. She has a little bit of money set aside. But at the store, she discovers the price.

When she sees it, she sits down heavy.

Silence in our class. Students had just commented how kind Grandma was being to take Jeremy shopping for the shoes he really wanted. Now what? I asked, “Can we only show kindness if we have money to buy something?” Well no, of course not but we all had to sit there and feel Jeremy’s disappointment for a while. What next? Jeremy suggests they go looking in the thrift stores for those shoes and in Lucky Store # 3, he finds them. However, squished toes and held breath tell us that these shoes are too small. Still Jeremy buys them because he wants them that much.

Jeremy’s new shoes are unbearable and unwearable. One day he notices a classmate’s shoes are taped up – worn out. Antonio seems to have smaller feet than him. The thought that he might have in his possession shoes that could fit Antonio, those shoes, eats at Jeremy.

I’m not going to do it.

He repeats this thought in his head and out loud. No way. No how. But after a sleepless night, Jeremy runs his shoes, those shoes over to Antonio’s door and leaves them there for him. Jeremy is not fully happy – when he looks down at his own blue shoes that aren’t those shoes he feels upset but Antonio’s face brings him joy.

“He gave up those shoes from the kindness of his heart,” commented Shae-Lynn.

“And he’ll get kindness back,” said Catriona.

Jeremy learned a lot in this book. Sometimes kindness wins but it isn’t completely easy. Our emotions can be mixed. Sometimes we learn that when we have what we need (new snowboots thanks to Grandma) we can appreciate other things (a new snow day). Sometimes our wants bring us unhappiness and giving them up is where we grow. Sometimes kindness is simply giving other people what they need.  So much to discuss in this gem of a picture book.

Some snippets of written responses:

Truman: Jeremy gave kindness to Antonio by giving his too small shoes to Antonio.

Khai: Jeremy saw Antonio’s shoes and they were broken. Jeremy wondered and wondered and went to Antonio’s house and left the shoes on the porch. Jeremy did it even though he got nothing back.

Markus: The Grandma was nice in the story. She tried to get shoes for her grandson.

Purity: Jeremy gave the shoes to Antonio even though he really liked them. They didn’t fit Jeremy so he gave them to Antonio because Antonio needed them.