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.

Owl Moon and inspired Owl Artists

One of my favourite books to read aloud in the cold dark days leading up to winter is Owl Moon, the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr. This book fits in with our theme of Courage that we are exploring through various picture books but also allowed us to have a wonderful springboard for some gorgeous owl art.

A little girl goes owling with her father for the very first time and we, the readers, get to creep along with this pair over hard packed snow illuminated by the moon. We breathe the cold air, feel our own cheeks burn and marvel at the wonderful sound of crying out “Whoo-whoo-whowho-who-whoooo,” and then feeling the silence (heavy and full of wonder) surround us. Yolen’s text is poetic and the illustrations magical. A treat for the senses! When an owl is finally discovered, all of us gasped at the huge wing span and bright yellow eyes depicted in the pictures. A gorgeous book and one I never tire of reading with a class.

We discussed why the little girl in the picture was so courageous even though she was out on a dark night deep in the forest. Some insightful suggestions from the group:

  • She was too excited to feel fear
  • Being with her Dad made her feel safe and secure
  • Watching and listening for the owl distracted her
  • She pushed her fear away because she was doing something (going owling) that she had been waiting a long time to do

After the story, Ms. Gelson led a mini “how to draw an owl” lesson inspired by this wonderful blog post from Art Lessons for Kids.

And wow, did students get engaged with making beautiful owl scenes to fill up our room!

First we drew owls on plain paper and added details and colour. Hailey did a lovely job of filling up her whole page with an adorable looking owl and baby.


Catriona drew her owl in flight!


Some owls seemed to be waiting to jump into a picture book as the main character of an exciting story. Purity‘s owl is very dramatic.


Students then cut out their owl (s) and glued them to black paper making a scene. Khai made a whole family of owls perched on a branch.


Carefully positioning owls on the page.


Sergio was very clear that his owl was pregnant and put an awaiting nest on the branch. Many debates began whether an owl could be pregnant if it lay eggs. Some people thought an owl should be called “ready to lay eggs” and not pregnant. Sergio made it clear he liked his idea best and made a label on his picture pointing to the owl’s belly “pregnent” 🙂


Truman made lightly grey owls with beautiful ear tufts. Striking against the black background and yellow moon.


Thunder Cake

I am a huge fan of author/illustrator Patricia Polacco. Her book Thunder Cake helped us continue our discussion about how to be courageous and how to manage our fears.

The little girl in this story is very afraid of thunderstorms – hide under the bed afraid. Grandma soothes her explaining that summer storms full of thunder and lightning are made for baking Thunder Cake. The mention of ThunderCake gets some attention and Grandma is able to explain how to count seconds when you see lightning and stop counting when you hear the thunder to help figure out how far away the storm is.

My students loved counting along and then laughing when I read out Polacco’s different versions of thunder:




It was all very exciting and almost like a storm was descending on us as we read through the pages.

This whole Thunder Cake idea seemed quite intriguing. I asked what magical ingredient it might contain that would take away fear? We had watched our little character collect eggs from the mean Peck-Hen and milk from Kick Cow and then chocolate, sugar and flour from the dry shed. What was going to be the magic fear dissolver? Well, maybe it was something else entirely going on? It didn’t take long for someone to talk out their thoughts on this:

It is really just a normal cake but because she had to go get the ingredients from things that scared her (the hen and the cow) she started to realize that she is actually brave

“Yeah,” someone else agreed. “She is trusting herself to be brave.”

“The ingredients aren’t special! It is making the cake that helps her realize that thunder is just a sound because she stops worrying about it. She wants to ice the cake!”

We had a great discussion about how once we don’t hide from our fears, we can face them and realize they don’t have power over us. Sometimes being brave isn’t doing some amazingly courageous act. Sometimes being brave is just being calm and thinking about something else.

An ideal book to let us look at something that is often very scary and remove the “fear” by watching our character have success in celebrating her ability to be brave. And saying KABOOOOOOOOM in a really loud booming voice sure is satisfying!

Louder, Lili

We have continued to read books that help us explore what it is to be brave. Louder,  Lili written by Gennifer Choldenko and illustrated by S. D. Schindler was the perfect book to help us talk about what motivates us to stand up and be brave.

Lily has a voice that is so soft, it just doesn’t ask to be heard. Lili often gets missed and often feels alone. Some students connected to her immediately. Shae-Lynn commented, “I used to be like Lily in my old school. It’s a scary feeling. I learned now that I don’t have to be shy.”

In the story, Cassidy begins selecting Lili to be her partner for everything but Cassidy’s version of sharing doesn’t seem very fair. She has Lili do the work and she takes the credit. When they share, Cassidy takes the cake and gives Lili all the carrots. My students were on to Cassidy pretty quickly!

Purity commented, “I think Cassidy is using Lili. She takes stuff and gives nothing back.”

Catriona pointed out, “Lili doesn’t say no to her.”

Shae-Lynn had a prediction. “Maybe, Cassidy might make Lili so mad that she might yell so she will realize that she can be loud.”

Jacky wondered, “Maybe Cassidy will use her and blame her.”

When Cassidy took Lois the guinea pig out of her cage and gave her a hair cut, everyone was very upset.

This story really had Shae-Lynn thinking. “I don’t think Cassidy has respect for anyone which means she doesn’t have respect for herself.”

When Cassidy suggested putting glue in Lois’ water bottle, Lili yelled. So loud that everyone stopped. In the classroom, all of us also quieted too and just let the moment of Lili’s outrage resonate.

Then all hands were up wanting to share how Lili had been courageous.

“She was courageous to take care of the guinea pig.”

“Courageous to talk so loudly finally!”

“Lily learned that she could be loud when she wanted to be.”

“Sometimes it takes love to make you courageous.”

And after that, what else needed to be said?

A little fish in the deep blue sea

I LOVE Leo Lionni‘s books. Swimmy is a perfect read aloud to share as we read and talk about what is courageous.

Swimmy is a little black fish who manages to escape when a large tuna fish swims up and devours all of his brothers and sisters. He swims off – sad, lonely and afraid. His solitary swim through the ocean takes him past many beautiful sights: a forest of seaweed, a medusa made of rainbow jelly, and sea anemones who looked like pink palm trees swaying in the wind. (Lionni’s images depicted visually and in text are just amazing)

Swimmy surrounded by all of his brothers and sisters

Swimmy eventually comes across a school of little fish just like his own hiding amongst the rocks and weeds. They are too afraid of the big fish to come out and play and explore. Swimmy could not accept that they would just hide forever. “We must think of something,” he insisted. Eventually he had a very clever idea. The fish would swim together like a big fish with Swimmy being the black eye. All together as one, they chased away the big fish and reclaimed the freedom to swim in the sea back for themselves.

What did we learn from this story? The answers were very thoughtful.

  • If you lose your friends and family, you can move on and find others.
  • To lead, you need to be courageous
  • Being brave sometimes means being a leader and teaching others
  • Helping people not only makes you brave, it makes you helpful (Indeed!)

Leo Lionni - photo courtesy of Random House

Leo Lionni was a prolific writer of beautiful children’s books. To learn more about his life and works, check out this site from Random House Children’s Books.