Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016

Picture book 10 for 10 is here! Not many days can rival the picture book love shared on this day!

This celebration of picture books is hosted by Cathy from Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy from Enjoy and Embrace Learning. Thanks to both of them for the work they do to promote this wonderful day of picture book sharing!

This is my fifth year participating in this event. In 2012, I shared ten beloved titles. In 2013, I went with a theme: Connections across the generations. In 2014, I shared ten “go to” titles on various themes like generosity, courage and forgiveness. Last year I highlighted favourite historical fiction titles.

This year I chose books that may inspire philosophical discussion. BIG questions with no absolute answer. Questions about meaning. And truth. Knowledge and reality. Ethics and morals. Books that will allow readers to think critically. To reason. To argue. To listen. To take risks in understanding and meaning making. To stretch one question into deeper and more complex questions.

Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

For each title I have listed the initial questions I had after reading. Of course, in a room full of readers and thinkers, these questions would only grow!

Little Bird written by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine

Little Bird Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

Is a small thing insignificant? What state of being do we need to be in to notice small details?  How does this noticing change our reality?

You Call That Brave by Lorenz Pauli and Kathrin Schärer

You Call that Brave Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

What is courage? Is it an action or a decision? How do we determine what is bravery? Can a brave act for one be common place for another?

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

this moose belongs to me Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

What is ownership? Do we have the right to “own” something live? If yes, what responsibilities go along with this? Or is it even possible to own a living thing?

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

The Gift of Nothing Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

What is nothing? Is it something? Does it have value? Significance? How do we measure the power or weight of nothing?

There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

There Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

Is there a place that brings bigger happiness? What are we searching for? Is it someplace we have been?  Or someplace we only imagine? Can we truly be in the moment or are we always thinking ahead or looking back?

Wild by Emily Hughes

Wild Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

Can our true self be changed? What do we mean by the influence of nature or nurture? What is freedom? Can our spirit be contained? How much of our inner life is our own?

The Dog that Nino Didn’t Have written by Edward van de Vendel and illustrated by Anton Van Hertbruggen

The Dog that Nino didn't have Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

Where is the place between imagination and reality? Can what we imagine make us truly happy? Which is superior – imagination or reality? In which circumstances?

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton,

Something Extraordinary Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

What is real? What is fuelled by imagination? How does that influence our reality? Is there beauty in simplicity? In the everyday? Does it count if we don’t notice it?

 My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown 

My Teacher is A Monster (No, I am Not!) Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

What defines us? Who we are or how we are perceived? How does emotion affect perception? How does our reality change over time? How does experience alter reality?

Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies 

Grandad's Island Big questions: picture books that inspire philosophical discussion #pb10for10 2016 There's a Book for That

Is there life after death? What would it be like? Do those we love remain with us? How? Where?

Follow along on twitter using the #pb10for10 hashtag. All posts will be linked on the Google Community Site for Picture Book 10 for 10


Happy picture book reading!  

Soccer Star

My class was thrilled to be some of the first kids out there to listen to this new title by beloved author Mina Javaherbin. Last year we read her books Goal and The Secret Message.

Soccer Star written by Mina Javaherbin and illustrated by Renato Alarcão is published by Candlewick Press and will be released in April of 2014.

Soccer Star  There's a Book for That

Having a classroom full of soccer enthusiasts and children who come from many different countries, I was very curious as to what the children would notice as we read. What would stand out? What would they talk about? What would they question?

This book is set in Brazil and tells the story of young children living in poverty. Their days are full of work while their heads are full of dreams. Maybe they will be future soccer stars like Garrincha, Pelé and Ronaldo and find a way to lift their families out of poverty. The dreams give light and energy to the hardships of everyday and the evening soccer game is a treasured, shared time daily.

Renato Alarcão‘s illustrations are stunning and had the children talking right from the cover image:

“I noticed that they are playing soccer in water with bare feet. I wonder if it hurts to kick the ball?”

“The sand and ocean look so beautiful. It must be amazing to run through the waves.”

Our main character is Paulo Marcelo Feliciano (“His name is so long – he sounds like he’s famous,” one child observed). He dreams of becoming a soccer star one day and changing the future for his family. In the meantime, he looks after getting his little sister to school as his Mom heads off to work. We learn that Paulo and Maria play soccer together every night and that she teaches Paulo math from school. This page prompted lots of discussion from the students.

“Why can’t he do math?”

“Doesn’t he go to school?”

“Maybe the family only has enough money to send one child to school?”

“Hold on, what? You have to pay to go to school?”

“Maybe you don’t have to pay money. Maybe he needs to work for money.”

“But doesn’t his Mom work?”

We explored the idea through more discussion. Could it be that Paulo was not able to go to school because he had to help the family earn enough money to survive? The children were saddened by this idea. Some just couldn’t believe it.

The walk to school for Paulo and Maria is special. They dribble a soccer ball the whole way and talk about Paulo’s team. When we find out that she can’t be on the team because of the rule “No girls” there is again much discussion. One of our keen soccer players, Brian, brought up a very good point:

“They said the rule is no girls allowed. But it says that Maria can do a bicycle kick and they are very hard. She should be on the team because she is very talented.”

Brian stood up to demonstrate the concept of a bicycle kick and the comments continued.

“Whoa! does her brother even know how to do that?”

“Just because she is a girl doesn’t mean she can’t play.”

The next few pages of this story are brilliantly done. Each depicts different boys at work, always with their heads full of soccer. The children wrestled with this whole idea of children working. Could they really be working? Or was it that they were just goofing around waiting until game time? By the final boy, it had sunk in. This work was necessary for these boys and their families.

“None of them are in school.”

“Some even have to take care of their little sisters and they aren’t at school either.”

“That’s a lot of work for an older brother.”

“I don’t see any girls working here. I wonder what they would have to do?”

By the time we meet Pedro climbing coconut trees, the children don’t think this is play time.

“He’s getting the coconuts to eat!”

“To share!”

“To sell!”

Paulo heads out to the fishing boats with Senhor da Silva. The children wondered what they talked about on the ocean. Did he think about soccer or did he have to concentrate on his tasks? Some worried about the small boat on the water with the dark clouds all around.

When the boat is finished for the day, all of the team helps pull it to shore and it is time for the soccer game!  All the students smiled at the energy of the boys who had been working all day, all together now on the beach.

“All day they have been at work thinking and dreaming and now they get the fun of playing soccer!”

“They are running on the beach thinking they are soccer super stars like Ronaldo!”

“They look so free!”

“And excited.”


When one of Paulo’s teammates is hurt, the students immediately began to shout that Maria should get to play. The outcome of this decision and the game is worth much celebration.

The day at the beach ends and the page is lit up with lights from all of the homes lining the hills next to the shore. I asked the children what they were thinking.

“This is my favourite page. It is so peaceful and beautiful.”

“I like that there was change. Kind of like a riddle – the change was to make no silly rules about girls and boys. Just everyone together.”

“This is a book about believing in yourself.”

“Follow your dreams.”

“Listen to your heart. Follow where it is going.”

My favourite comment might have been this one that came a few minutes later.

“Remember before when we were talking about the colours of skin in books. This is a book that does it. It shows lots of different and mixed skin colours. It seems real.”

Joyous. Uplifting. Rich material for discussion. Highly recommended.

Monday December 23rd, 2013

It’s Monday! What are you reading?IMWAYR

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read. One of the very best ways to discover what to read next!

A favourite comment I received last week was from Elisabeth Ellington who after reading that I had had a week full of 2/5 and 3/5 books, wrote:

Enjoy your week! Hope it’s filled with 5/5 books!

Such a lovely wish and I am happy to report that it certainly was a week full of wonderful books! And so, please pardon the large number I will be sharing here – I narrowed it to my ten favourite picture books of the week!

I had a lot of book celebration this week. Earlier in the week I met my Chapter Book Challenge goal and finished my 95th novel of the year! (Now I am going to try to reach 100 by the 31st! Thankful for the #bookaday challenge!) And this morning I completed my Goodreads goal of 625 books read this year! Now I have just one more reading challenge – to read the last 2 titles on my list of My Must Read Novels of 2013. These two titles are on my shelf as I type ready to be devoured by December 31st! Much to celebrate 🙂

I feel grateful for the wonderful #IMWAYR community that makes celebrating reading such a priority. Such a honour to be part of this passionate community of readers.

So . . . back to the books! My top ten picture books of the week:

These first 6 titles are all about finding joy, honouring acceptance and celebrating calm. It is an understatement when I say the last few weeks in my classroom have been challenging. These books all found me at just the right time.

Red Sled by Lita Judge

A little red sled brings an evening of adventure for some adorable forest creatures. Basically wordless except for the delicious sound effects

Scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch

Gadung Gadung Gadung Gadung


My children and I Ioved the illustration of the porcupine clutching on to the antlers. Delightful!

Red Sled #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Homer by Elisha Cooper

I don’t have a dog. But this book is not just a dog lover’s book. It is also a book about family. About spending happy time. About waiting for everyone to return and about knowing someone is waiting. Love, love, love Cooper’s soothing illustrations.

Homer #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes

A funny little bird who learns to appreciate his “invisibility” as an asset rather than a deficit. Unique. Definite book I want to share with a group of children to see what is discussed.

 A funny little bird #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner

Stunning bold black lines on the gorgeous Augustus. This tiger discovers in his smile, the simple hidden happiness we carry with us always as long as we let it in. An important message about how we all navigate the world.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

All in a Day written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Nikki McClure

Truly a book that highlights the importance of being mindful – of understanding that each day is a gift of multiple small and meaningful moments. Would be wonderful to share with All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee.

 All in a Day #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis

A quirky little title I have never heard of – a true find at my public library. Some fairly hefty themes here of facing what weighs us down, of rethinking obstacles and finding ways to cope with what is heavy in our lives. Much to ponder. I am still thinking about how I might share this with a class.

whimsy's heavy things #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Other titles I loved:

Toot & Puddle – Let it Snow by Holly Hobbie

I am always a sucker for Toot and Puddle. The comforts and coziness of home are always depicted in the most soothing of ways by Hobbie. Thinking about Christmas gifts. Quiet time. A beautiful winter ski through freshly fallen snow. A beautiful holiday book!

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Spuds written by Karen Hesse and illustrated by Wendy Watson

A serious title in many ways. A family who has little has each other and big plans. Maybelle leads her two younger siblings into the night and into Kenney’s potato field. The children dig up potatoes and drag them home. When they arrive and stack their loot on the kitchen floor, they have quite a surprise.

Spuds #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Sophie’s Fish written by A.E. Cannon and illustrated by Lee White

This is a hilarious story that grows more and more funny and finishes with a bang. Jake has huge worries about looking after Sophie’s fish Yo-Yo. Why, oh why, did he agree to take care of him in the first place? Do fish need stories read aloud? Do you need to play games with them? What if they cry? My, oh, my the things to wonder about. The last page of this book makes it absolutely awesome! Such fun.

Sophie's fish #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

The Long, Long Line by Tomoko Ohmura

What a wonderful book for the younger set – a great way to learn animal names. Amusing. Interesting. Lots to look at on every page. What is this line up for? An amusement ride you certainly were not expecting! And one younger readers will want to visit again and again!

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Novels I finished:

The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens

I finished this sequel to The Emerald Atlas with my children as a read aloud. Hugely suspenseful. Full of adventure, mystery, intense drama and intrigue. The perfect family read aloud. We are eagerly anticipating the third book in this trilogy which now finally has a release date!

The Fire Chronicle #IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

Crossed by Ally Condie

I don’t often get to read a trilogy one title after another but that is exactly what I am doing with this set of YA dystopian titles by Ally Condie. And it’s kind of great! Matched hooked me with the characters and philosophical questions. Crossed is full of much more adventure, drama and survival – a perfect set up for the third novel which I am just about to start. 

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That!

What’s next? My children and I are reading Rump by Liesl Shurtliff  I have launched into the final book in the Matched trilogy, Reached by Ally Condie. I then plan to read the last two titles on my Must Read for 2013 list: The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom by Christopher Healy and The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

Happy reading and Happy holidays to all!

Fly Free

We love making art in our classroom. It seems always to be more powerful when it is a response to a book we have read. I don’t think it is hard to figure out why – books inspire us to think and feel and reflect and respond. Art is all about responding creatively to what we are thinking about. So the picture book/art connection is a powerful one.

There is a bit of a story to how my Grade 2/3s happened to create these pictures:

 Fly Free! There is a Book for That

It started with the wonderful book The Secret Message that author Mina Javaherbin sent to our class after we had made a connection with her when we reviewed her book Goal! This book, based on an ancient  Persian poem by Rumi, tells the story of a wealthy  merchant and his parrot. The beautiful bird sings of longing and dreams of freedom and yet, his only reward is a larger cage. When the merchant travels to India, the parrot asks him to tell his wild parrot friends of his captivity and how he misses flying in the forest. The birds manage to send a secret message back to their parrot friend in Persia, ensuring his route to freedom. This story inspired many questions and lots of discussion. Big themes of course involved freedom and the merchant’s right to keep a wild bird captive.

The Secret message

Students were not impressed by the larger cage that the merchant bought the parrot. They felt it didn’t come close to measuring up to the beautiful forest where wild birds flew free. This got me thinking about an art project I had pinned to my art boards on Pinterest. It was from the wonderful art blog Mrs. Picasso’s Art Room. This project also looked at birds and cages and questioned captivity. Inspired by this project, I decided to have the students draw their own bird cages that they could have birds perch upon. We also incorporated the message from Mina when she signed her book for us: Fly Free!

Students began by drawing an elaborate bird cage with black crayon and oil pastel. We thought about a door to the cage and making it stand out as firmly closed. Some students began with mock up sketches to think about shape and design.

 Fly Free! There's a Book for That

Finished cages were elaborate and beautiful. We talked about how we liked the idea of these cages for decoration but not for keeping a bird inside!

 Fly Free! There's a Book for That

We then made our birds after looking at many picture books and nonfiction books that featured parrots but also other exotic and beautiful birds with interesting colouring and decorative bills. A favourite was a book that celebrated being observant about the details of different birds: Puffin Peter by Petr Horacek. Simply gorgeous! The striped beak of this little puffin made its way onto many finished birds! We loved the layered colours and the loose lines that outlined this beautiful bird.

 Fly Free! There's a Book for That

Drawings started with crayon. Some looked very puffinesque (thanks Petr!)

 Fly Free! There's a Book for That

Other birds came in different shapes.

 Fly Free! There's a Book for That

Some students were very excited to make their birds multicoloured using layers of crayon and oil pastels.

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Two colours on the beaks were very popular

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Big theme? Pride!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

And smiles!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Students then cut out their birds and the signs they had made that expressed either: Freedom of Fly Free. They positioned them on the page so it was clear that the birds were perched outside the cages and voila – beautiful art projects with a message!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

Fly Free! There's a Book for That!

The great thing about this project? As we worked on it over multiple days, our discussions continued. As students worked, they talked about blending colours, interesting birds and what it means to be free. What could be better?

Thanks to Mina Javaherbin for such an important book!


Our reading group has continued to practice strategies to handle unknown vocabulary in text. See the strategy list that we came up with earlier this month here. We spent part of a few reading classes with this great text: Wooly Mammoth by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom. (A Natural History Museum Selection)

This book reads as an information story book: rhyming text accompanies the large pictures on each two page spread while black and white drawings and information reads in a column down one side of each page. You can read this book as just a storybook, concentrate primarily on the information or focus on both. Students enjoyed the mammoth time line at the end of the book and reviewing what they had learned by quizzing each other on the glossary words.

We then read Kali’s Song by Jeanette Winter.

We started by comparing the covers of Kali’s Song with a Wooly Mammoth. All year we have been talking about the different text features of fiction and non-fiction books. It would be interesting to see what we noticed when looking at Wooly Mammoth because it has both fiction and non-fiction elements (what we like to call an information story book). Students observed that even though both covers had illustrations rather than photographs, the mammoth on the cover of Wooly Mammoth looked more realistic. We talked about fur colour and the shape of the tusks. We also discussed how one mammoth was standing in the snow and another on grass/ground next to a little boy and a dog. “How could they stand so close?” someone wondered.

Before we began reading Kali’s Song, I asked the students, “Even though this is clearly a fiction text, do you think we will be able to link some of our learning from Wooly Mammoth to what we read?” We were ready to look for any text to text connections. Would our sense of the story be enhanced by our newly acquired background knowledge? (schema)

Immediately students were excited to see Kali’s mother painting animals on the cave’s wall. “We learned about how they did that in the other book! In the future some people might discover those paintings to see what animals looked like!” 

We also appreciated that a work of fiction had beautiful elements of story telling and images that a non-fiction book wouldn’t have. When Kali plays the bow string, Winter writes: The stars came close to listen. Such a wonderful image that makes the story more powerful. We liked how Kali’s Song challenged our imaginations and had us think about things differently.

Kali’s music lures the mammoths to him and fascinated, all of the other hunters lay down their weapons. Kali must be a shaman they decide. Winter leaves us wondering – do the hunters not kill any of the mammoths? Or do they eventually resume their hunt? In Wooly Mammoth we had learned that the people’s survival depended on the hunt and that they used all parts of the mammoth (meat, fur, tusks, bone) for things that they needed. Our discussion was intense. Kali had the skill to lure the animals and he seemed to love them. But he loved his people. Wouldn’t his skill help the hunt? What would he do? The students decided that Winter left us thinking on purpose. We would have to come to our own decisions.

Because the mammoths seemed so majestic and wonderful we wanted to think they wouldn’t be hunted but now that our knowledge included information about how people who lived thousands of years ago depended on the hunt, we had some different ideas about the outcome. Students were able to make text to text connections and this furthered their thinking.

Kali’s Song is a beautiful book. Highly recommended.

How do you help students make text to text connections? Recognize that their background knowledge influences their thinking? 

“Stereotypes shrink your brain!”


In preparation for Pink Shirt Day, we have been having discussions about bullying, stereotypes and how cruel and ignorant people can be. These discussions have  been inspired by many picture books that have helped us understand and explore stereotypes – particularly gender stereotypes. Over the past two days we have been making pink day collages based in part on Henri Matisse‘s collages. We have also been writing banners that question stereotypes.

The overall effect posted up on our hallway bulletin board is very powerful!


Some girls really wanted to point out that generalizations about girls did NOT apply to them! Carmen explains that she doesn’t like wearing dresses or skirts!


Catriona is also very clear:


Boys also wanted people to understand that there shouldn’t be stereoptypes based on their gender. Sergio‘s words are powerful.


Isa always sees the beauty in the natural world that many of us miss. His statement is an important one!


Deandra reminds us that it is never too early to talk about our appearance and question the value we put on it. None of us have to be perfect but it is certainly sad when girls feel that pressure to look a certain way because they’re supposed to be “pretty.”


These pieces were inspired by three great stories we read and talked about today.

William’s Doll by Charolette Zolotow. Illustrated by William Pene Du Bois.

William really wants a doll. His Dad thinks he should have a basketball. The boy next door calls him a “sissy” and his brother thinks he’s a creep. But William desperately wants a doll to care for and love. When Grandma comes to visit, she understands. She buys William a doll and makes his father understand that he is thinking of the whole thing in a limited way. William wants a doll to love, but also to “play” at being a father – learning to do all of the things he will need to do one day for his own child. Such a lovely timeless story that shakes up the stereotype that dolls are just for girls!

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola

Everyone in Oliver’s life seems to struggle with the fact that he wants to dance instead of doing boy things like “. . . any kind of ball!” The boys from school are particularly cruel, writing hurtful things on the wall at school.


Oliver never gives up his passion and shows everyone, even those boys, that someone who is true to themselves is a real star!

The Only Boy in Ballet Class by Denise Gruska and illustrated by Amy Wummer is a more recently published book addressing the same theme.

Tucker loves to dance. Lives to dance. Dances through life! This should be something to celebrate but of course the boys his age tease him for being different. His Uncle Frank is convinced he should be playing football. When Tucker is approached by the boys to be on the team for the championship game because they must have one more player, his Uncle agrees for him. Tucker manages to bring the team to victory by using his dance agility and grace to avoid being tackled. What is great about this book is that it doesn’t end here. The next page shows Tucker walking to his dance studio door and finding a pile of running shoes. The football boys who teased him have realized that ballet moves are pretty awesome and have come to join his class. Ballet becomes something cool and not stereotypically just a girl’s thing!

Our discussions were fantastic today. A few more important points:

* The title of this post was inspired by Catriona who wrote, “Your brain shrinks when you do steroetypes.”

*We had a very interesting conversation about why lego would market pink lego when girls already like lego!? They’ll like pink lego more? What’s with that?

*We did talk about why each of the books we read today featured a boy character being teased for doing a so called “girl” thing. What about girls who do “boy” things? Great question and on our “to read” pile tomorrow is Princess Knight but . . . It does seem that often girls liking/doing “boy” things is more generally tolerated than boys liking/doing “girl” things.

*The great thing I noticed? Stereotypes are not ingrained in these children’s brains like they were when I was a child! “Of course boys can dance,” they would comment easily. “Boys can like dolls and girls don’t have to! It’s just who you are!” Yes, we need to explore stereotypes. Yes, we need to talk about how ignorance leads to cruelty/bullying. But we can also be grateful that these children don’t just celebrate diversity. Diversity is, for the most part, what they know and expect.  Hoorah!

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!”

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.

Three by the Sea

Our BLG reader this week was Bill. He brought us a quirky little book by author/illustrator Mini Grey called Three by the Sea.

We were intrigued by this book but it left us a little puzzled. The consensus was that it needed further exploring, maybe even another read out loud session but that we definitely like this story. But perhaps like Mouse’s fancy cheeses, this book gets better with age (or read agains!). I took this book home and shared it with my own children and same phenomenon. We read it, discussed it and then my daughter took it off to her room to read it again and examine the pictures in more detail. This book definitely needs to be given time and we are excited that it has come into our classroom! Thanks BLG!

Three friends, Cat, Mouse and Dog live in a beach hut by the sea. Happily residing together? Perhaps not.  When a stranger arrives bringing mystery and gifts from the Winds of Change Trading Company, everything begins to change. The stranger plants little seeds of doubt with each friend. He asks Mouse if he approves of Dog’s gardening style. Only planting bones? What about flowers, vegetables, herbs? He questions Cat’s dedication to cleaning and Mouse’s ability to cook with variety. Soon the animals are all miserable with each other – full of criticism, accusations, doubt . . . A desperate event pulls the friends back together and when they return home, the Stranger is gone leaving behind a note and packets of seeds. Life is changed in the beach hut by the sea. The animals continue their duties: gardening, cleaning, cooking but now they share these tasks and more happiness and a faint scent of herbs fill the air.

So did this stranger bring peace or turmoil? Was he an agent of change or were his intentions less than positive? Read this book a time or two and decide for yourself.

If you become an instant fan of Mini Grey, as I did, read more about her books here.

I also found this lovely tour of the Mini Grey Universe in The Guardian’s Children’s Books.

Scaredy Squirrel at Night

As we explore what it means to be courageous, we thought it was time again to talk about our own fears. Scaredy Squirrel was just the character to give us inspiration!

Melanie Watt gives us the cautious, worried and fearful Scaredy Squirrel. My students also thought that Scaredy Squirrel had some other important character traits: organized, creative and persistent. Important to recognize his strengths of character! Early on in this story we realized that Scaredy Squirrel is not sleeping because of worries about what he might dream about. What can happen when you don’t get enough sleep? “You die, you actually do,” insisted one student. Others included things like “Your run out of energy”, “You need to have a nap” and “You get very hurt, red eyes.” You definitely get obsessed about what worries you!

Our response to this book today was to include our own bad dream anxieties. What do we want to avoid in our sleep?

We used this page as the inspiration:

And created our own “page” – Truman decided that he was afraid of both things and creatures.


Who isn’t afraid of that closet lurking across the room?


And how about fire? This made a lot of lists.


Big fear in our class? Lice! Even though we have quite a few of these critters making their way through our tresses! We fear they might not leave!


Like Scaredy Squirrel though, we realize that a good sleep is a great cure for an overactive imagination! Feeds our energy and calms our fears. Everything looks better in the morning! Sometimes what we need to feel brave is new perspective.