The Girl who Never Made Mistakes

Our morning read aloud was an important one. We shared The Girl who Never Made Mistakes written by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein and illustrated by Mark Pett. We have some extra doses of anxious feelings in our classroom. Just who we are. So I thought this would be an ideal book to help us talk about making mistakes and how it is absolutely okay. Even good.

Initial reactions to the cover of this book were a little awe inspired. “Wow! Is she perfect?” And then one student aptly pointed out, “I think that at the end she might make a mistake because people who make books – well that’s what they do. That’s how books happen.” (I love when students share their knowledge of how books and authors work like this!)

This book is about a little girl named Beatrice Bottomwell, who, as the cover clearly states, never makes mistakes. Never. Not ever. So impressively perfect that she actually has fans waiting for her outside her door every morning who regularly quiz her about her error free habits. Her little brother, Carl, ironically is nothing like his big sister. He makes lots of mistakes and delights in this fact. Funny little guy (our class named him “Backwards boy”) does things like play the piano with his toes and draw with green beans while eating his crayons!

One day, Beatrice almost made a mistake. She slipped in cooking class and four eggs went flying into the air! “Oh my!” I exclaimed as I read. “I can’t breathe. I wonder what will happen?” One of the little boys at my feet reached up with his teddy (we have class stuffies that listen along with us – helps with secure feelings. Remember we are an anxious bunch!) “Here Ms. Gelson. You can hug my teddy.” Cute. And then some.

We turned the page and all was okay. Beatrice had managed to land on the floor and catch each egg using a very creative two hands, one foot, one mouth retrieval system. But her “almost mistake” plagued her. Students noticed that she was feeling lots of pressure. While her little brother balanced his plate on his head and held his spoon with his toes, she barely touched her dinner. Beatrice had a talent contest that evening and she was anxious she would mess up.”Not you, ” her Dad assured.

Beatrice prepared for her juggling routine by grabbing her hamster, a salt shaker and a water balloon. She went up on stage to cries of “That’s her! The girl who never makes mistakes!” She started to juggle. She always performed this routing flawlessly. Then Beatrice noticed that the flecks coming out of the salt shaker were not white . . . Uh. Oh. We caught on pretty quickly! “It’s pepper!” “The hamster will sneeze!” “She is about to make a mistake!” The sneeze is humongous! “Just how hard can a hamster sneeze?” asked one student. And, if you are thinking about this little scene, you can imagine what happens. The haster sneezes, his claws scratch the balloon and KABLOOIE (we practiced saying this a bunch of times. It is pretty fun!) Beatrice is drenched and a hamster is perched precariously atop her head. Everything and everyone was still. Students observed that she must be feeling sad that she had made a mistake. Some also noted that it really isn’t possible to be perfect.

But then . . . Beatrice began to giggle. Eventually she was laugh out loud laughing and it was contagious. The audience laughed along with her. That night, Beatrice had her best sleep ever. The next day she began to do things without perfection in mind. Skating and slipping. Messy lunches. Lots of laughter. And not so many worries.

What was our response?

At first she made no mistakes. Now, she likes making mistakes. People aren’t mad at her. It can be funny when you make mistakes and everyone can laugh together.”

If you think you have to be perfect, it is hard to make friends because everyone else seems normal and you can’t be happy.”

An important read for our class. An important read for any class. Mistakes are how we grow. They make us human. They give us the freedom to relax and try new things. This little book is a great reminder of all of that!

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?

Emily’s Art

What a powerful book to read to children! I first read Emily’s Art written and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto with my daughter and she burst into tears part way through. We talked for a long time about the story events and how different characters acted and felt. I knew this was an important book to share in the classroom and the resulting discussion confirmed this and then some.

This book begins with a sneak peak into Emily’s classroom. Ms. Fair is explaining to the students about an upcoming art contest where a judge will decide the winner. Catalanotto does a fantastic job of portraying the open, honest and sometimes impulsive comments made by students in a class discussion. Students ask questions about the judge, winning and losing and how exactly things are decided. From Emily: “Does the judge know which is better?”

The story then skips ahead to the days leading up to the contest. Everyday students get painting time. We watch Emily painting and fielding questions about her pictures. Looking at her picture of her family having breakfast (where we see a mother cooking, eating, packing lunches and changing a lightbulb), Stephen asks, “Why do you have four mothers?” Emily explains that there is only one, “She’s just very busy.” Everyday Emily paints a different picture. Her best friend Kelly paints a butterfly day after day.

The night before the contest, Emily cannot settle. She has questions for her mother about which is best and all night she worries about what might be better. Winter or summer? Pink or purple? The sun or the moon? My students were reminded of other stories with characters being unable to sleep because of worries. “That’s like Wemberly Worried!” “Howard B. Wigglebottom!” “Seymour Slug Starts School!” We sure connect to those sleepless worrying nights!

At the contest, the judge is overwhelmed by Emily’s art: “What a gorgeous painting. What a beautiful rabbit!” When Ms. Fair explains that the picture is actually of a dog, everything changes. “A DOG??!!” screeched the Judge.”I was attacked by a dog once! I hate dogs.” She turns and awards the blue ribbon to Kelly’s butterfly.

“I love butterflies,” she announced.

Emily’s heart twisted. My class was irate! And deeply impacted.

Jena: “That judge is judging her painting by what she thinks about dogs.”

Alyson: “Maybe she shouldn’t be a judge! What does she know?”

Emily took her painting down and vowed to never paint again. Miami, now in Grade 3 shared a memory from kindergarten: “At my old school, my teacher was mean to me. She said “What is that?” when she looked at my picture. “You can draw better than that. I know you can.” I always felt sad when I was at home.”

Emily ends up going to the nurse’s room, needing to mend her broken heart. She falls asleep and when she wakes, Kelly is on the cot beside her.

I ask the students why Kelly might be there?

Scott: “She is so sad for Emily.”

Alyson: “She feels sad that Emily didn’t win. She would have won if the teacher hadn’t said it was a dog.”

Hajhare: “Kelly’s heart feels sad because she thinks that Emily must hate her.”

“Wow” Kelly whispered. “You’re a good artist.”

The girls begin talking and Kelly shares that she doesn’t know how to draw anything but butterflies. Because she won, everyone expects more of her. Can Emily show her how to draw a dinosaur? The girls feel better and head back to the classroom where they are having an art party to celebrate all of the wonderful work!

Kevin: “It’s a happy ending. But the middle was the sad part.”

Miami: “I’m connecting. Lots of movies have sad middles but then, happy endings.” The class agreed.

More reactions:

  • “She should know her own opinion of her drawing so she won’t be sad. Like positive thinking.” (Lisa)
  • “Don’t always agree with other opinions.” (Annie)
  • “It is emotional, because if you think of a time like that – like getting rejected, you connect to the sadness of it.” (Alyson)

We talked about how strong words can be.

  • “What the judge said was mean.” (Kevin)
  • “People should think before they speak” (Alyson)
  • “Words can be really strong- something mean said can make you feel like a punch in the stomach.” (Jena)
  • “Punches can hurt outside, but words hurt inside.” (Kevin)
  • “That’s clever Kevin.” (Hajhare)

For more ideas of how this book might be used in the classroom, check out these questions from Philosophy for Children. I just discovered this website and will certainly be revisiting it!

What’s it like to be sister number three?

We seemed to be all about girl power this weekend at the library – maybe because it was just my daughter and I, but our big stack of books seemed to include a lot of books about very cool girls – some books new to us and some old favourites.

Two books to talk about featured the youngest sister in a family of three girls. Not fairy tale stories where everything comes in threes including sisters – but books from the here and now that explored themes of identity, self-esteem, and acceptance.

Award winning, Suki’s Kimono is a family favourite at our house. We love how Suki possesses a joyful inner spirit and how she lives in the moment not worrying about what the world might think.  Suki adores her blue cotton kimono – for the memories that it holds and the way it makes her feel. She vows to wear it on her first day of school despite the disapproval of her older sisters and manages to maintain the magical happy feeling of wearing this special kimono throughout her day even when questioned and taunted by classmates.  Written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch.

Look at that cover. Aren’t you just rooting for Velma before you even know her issues or struggles? Kevin Hawkes, illustrator, helps create a wonderfully unique character in Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch & the way cool butterfly. Velma arrives in first grade in the shadow of her two older sisters known for their seemingly perfect qualities – athletic abilities, spectacular spelling and marvelous math. Velma wanted to be noticed but for what? She chooses some quite foolish ways to stand out: running the slowest, singing the loudest, muddling her math . . . None bring quite the effect she is hoping for. Slowly, Velma learns to recognize a passion – science. When her class begins to learn about butterflies she twists wonderfully new words around in her mouth – metamorphosis, conservatory, migration. Not only does Velma come into her own as a butterfly expert, but on the class field trip to the conservatory, Velma is noticed by a monarch who lands on her finger and doesn’t leave for days.

Velma releases her monarch with the others from the conservatory a few days later, waving goodbye as they begin their journey south. Velma has gained a little power of flight herself as she floats home between her sisters, happy and confident.

Isn’t it wonderful when the youngest members of a family can teach everyone a thing or two?

Books I wish I owned

Our local public library has finally reopened after being closed for months due to a flood. Hooray! So in celebration, I wandered through the stacks and selected some of my favourite books to read again – with my own children and likely they will find their way into the classroom this week. If I had a million dollars and a billion bookshelves these books would hold a special place! I might just have to justify purchasing them anyways because I keep taking them out of the library again and again! They must be meant to be mine!

Clara and Asha written and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann is a gorgeous journey into the fantasy world of Clara and her friend Asha, a gigantic fish. Asha may be a child’s imaginary friend, yet Asha feels very real!

Wolves by Emily Gravett is a delightfully eerie book. You know how a book becomes more real as you read it?

And then you start to feel so connected to a book that you literally feel as though you have fallen into it? Hmm . . . seems to have happened to our little friend rabbit. This book has two endings – one specially designed for those with more sensitive inclinations.

Have you ever been told you are too small to do something? In our house, “small is powerful” is our mantra. In this book, Up, by Jim LaMarche, Daniel (aka Mouse) is a small boy who seems to develop some pretty extraordinary powers. Or at least the power to believe . . . A magical story with absolutely stunning illustrations.

How do you show your inner beauty?

We have been talking a lot lately about qualities we respect – in our friends, in our classmates, in ourselves. Today we read a fantastic picture book written by Pat Brisson and illustrated by Suzanne Bloom. Melissa Parkington’s Beautiful, Beautiful Hair inspired us to talk about the qualities in ourselves that are really important. Who do we want to be? What do we want to be known for?


Melissa Parkington has always been recognized for her gorgeous hair. However, she begins to recognize that she doesn’t want to be recognized for something that just simply grows out of her head. What is really special about her?

This book really affected us! Some beautiful writing below helps tell the story:

Annie: Melissa Parkington had beautiful beautiful hair. Everyone around the neighbourhood noticed her hair. But Melissa wanted people to like her for what she did.

Jenny: A lot of people called Melissa’s beautiful hair gorgeous and stunning and then she thought that she doesn’t want people to just call to her – your hair is beautiful . . . she wants people to compliment her for what she does. She helped Maddy and Jake on something and someone said to her – you are nice. So she thought – I can be a nice girl.

Jena: She decided to be the kindest girl in the whole town and she helped a lot of people. At the mall, there was a beauty salon and it said share your hair. And Melissa cut her hair for children who didn’t have hair.

Gary: She decided to donate her hair to kids. So the lady washed her hair and put it on ponytails and started cutting it and put it in envelopes. Now she is known as beautiful heart.

In the end – Melissa’s father changes the way he says goodnight to her. He now says. “Goodnight Melissa of the beautiful, beautiful heart.”

What a wonderful story of generosity, kindness and recognition of true inner beauty.