Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o; The Crown by Derrick Barnes; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds; and You Matter by Christian Robinson

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students for these six picture books.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published August 27th, 2001 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary: Molly Lou Melon is short, clumsy, has buck teeth, and a voice that sounds like a bull-frog being squeezed by a boa constrictor… But she doesn’t mind.

Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that to heart.

But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book can be used to set a president within the classroom to advise at the beginning of the year that bullying is not okay.
  • Teach about how having a positive attitude can affect the world around you
    • Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude towards us. – John Mitchell
  • Have the students go into a small group to talk about what happens when another student is being bullied.
    • Writing-in-role: Each student can discuss what they would do in Molly’s shoes with each encounter with the bully.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you feel if you were in Molly’s situation?
  • What advice has a family member given you that has gotten you through a tough time?
  • What are some things that you like about yourself?
  • How do you think Molly was able to keep a positive attitude?
  • How did the illustrations make you feel?
  • What did you like about the story?
  • What are some things you would have done if you heard Ronald making fun of Molly?
  • If Molly had a negative attitude toward Ronald, how would have had the story turned out differently?
  • How can you use this story in our classroom?
  • If Molly had not received advice from her grandmother do you think she would have had such a positive attitude?

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Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published October 15th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: T

  • Good as a read-aloud and book club book.
  • A good book to introduce a discussion about skin color.
  • Beginning BLM topic.
  • Encourages children to be comfortable in their own skin.
  • Encourages children to love themselves.
  • Modern-day text.
  • May be used during social studies instruction. Prompts discussion about skin color and different cultures. Introduces self and encourages students to reflect on their own family and community.
  • After reading activity: Students may respond to the text by drawing a self-portrait of themselves. After drawing a self-portrait of themselves, they can share it with their peers and reflect on their own similarities and differences. The activity encourages students to recognize the importance of each member of their community.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What ideas do you think will be present in this text?
  • How did the author use the title of this book in the text?
  • How do you think the story will end?
  • How do you think Sulwe feels regarding how her classmates are treating her? How do you feel about this treatment?
  • What use of imagery sparked your imagination?
  • What could happen to make this character feel a different way?
  • What type of emotions do you feel during the daytime versus the nighttime? Explain why?
  • How does the word choice contribute to the tension throughout the story and ultimately the theme at the end?
  • What do you think the author wanted you to feel after reading this book?
  • How do Sulwe’s feelings change from the beginning to the middle, to the end of the story?
  • What evidence of organization do you see throughout the story?

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The Crown
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
Published October 10th, 2017 by Agate Bolden

Summary: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a celebration of the way boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Notes about when the book would be useful in the classroom:

  • To show feelings towards a certain moment in life.
  • This can be used for language arts practice (events, plot, meaning).
  • Asking students about a time where they felt a personal experience with something that they do often.
  • Reflect on how they feel after receiving a haircut.
  • Reflect on something that excites you, like the haircut in the story.

This book is best done as a read aloud and a book club book. The reason for this, is that Crown integrates great opportunities because it helps students to understand a character’s feelings written into text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The boy in the story talks about his passion of having a haircut. When has there been a time where you felt passionate about something?
  • How does the author in the story convey emotion through colors?
  • What did you think the story might have been about?
  • What do you think that the boy in the story is feeling when he enters the barber shop?
  • If you could write a sequel to this book, what would it be about and why?
  • What have you might have changed in this story?
  • Has there been a time where you think you have gotten a nice haircut? Why or why not?
  • Describe the boy’s feelings about getting a haircut? Why do you think this?
  • The boy in the story felt confident and positive after getting a haircut. When was there a time where you felt confident and positive about something?

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The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Rafael López
Published August 28th, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: After reading this book it would be best if students use this as a community building opportunity to celebrate their differences and learn about their peers. This book opens up a discussion about the lives that others live and how although they have a different background we should treat everyone with respect and encourage others to be true to themselves. After reading this book the classroom can do a reading analysis of the book to help establish classroom norms and expectations. This book would be best as a read aloud preferably towards the beginning of the school year. Afterwards this book may go to the classroom library. This book is interdisciplinary as it can be used in social studies to help explore different cultural backgrounds. The students can be given the opportunity to explore the different customs and regions brought up in the book to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the symbolism behind rulers being present in the illustrations of the book?
  • What differences did you notice in each of the characters?
  • Why do you think it is important for us to celebrate our differences?
  • What differences do you notice within your classmates or others around you?
  • How did the students’ perceptions of each other change over time?
  • Describe something that makes you unique compared to your classmates
  • What is one way to support a classmate that feels isolated because of their differences?
  • Why do you think Angelina felt less nervous towards the end of the book?
  • What is the overall message of the story?
  • Why do we notice the differences of our peers?
  • Why are we different from those around us?
  • Pick two different interactions in the story and write about you would change the characters behavior to be more respectful of their peers

Recommended For: 

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Word Collector
Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Published January 30th, 2018 by Orchard Books

Summary: Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
And Jerome?
Jerome collected words . . .

In this extraordinary new tale from Peter H. Reynolds, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him—short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multisyllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.

From the creator of The Dot and Happy Dreamer comes a celebration of finding your own words—and the impact you can have when you share them with the world.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book would be useful during a read aloud when teaching about vocabulary. You can use the book as a good jump start into vocabulary. Seeing another child interested in learning words will catch the students attention and make them more interactive while learning vocab.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some words that you would like to share?
  • Is there anything you wished for your class to learn like the main character did?
  • Did you learn any new words?
  • Why does Jerome like to collect words?
  • Where do you find new words not counting in a book?
  • Which types of words were the most powerful for Jerome?
  • What do you like to collect for yourself and why?
  • Why do you think Jerome threw his words across town?
  • What do you do to make yourself happy?
  • What was your favorite part about the book?

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You Matter
Author & Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Published June 2nd, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: They All Saw a Cat meets The Important Book in this sensitive and impactful picture book about seeing the world from different points of view by Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honoree Christian Robinson.

In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The response best for after reading this text would be a group discussion of their thoughts on the book, a compare and contrast of everyone’s differences that “matter,” reflect on things that students think matters to them, and think they want to not matter. And the the book is interdisciplinary due to its multiple subject related ideas, because it addresses science related topics like planets and plants, and even geography.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is there something that one of your siblings does that you don’t like? Why? Does that mean that they don’t matter?
  • What is something that you think matters?
  • What is something that you think makes you different?
  • Why does that make you special?
  • Why are differences important?
  • Why do you think the last picture was of the whole city?
  • Who is the astronaut thinking about when she is looking down on earth?
  • On the cover, what do you notice about all the children playing, what happens if there is only one kid playing with the parachute?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Why do you matter?

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Pigeon & Cat by Edward Hemingway

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Pigeon & Cat
Author & Illustrator: Edward Hemingway
Published June 21st, 2022 from Christy Ottaviano Books

Summary: Pigeon and Cat form a lasting bond in this poignant picture book about compassion and friendship.

In an abandoned city lot, Cat lives alone in a cardboard box. He leaves only to find food. One day, Cat discovers an unbroken egg too beautiful to eat. Soon, out pecks Pigeon, and they become fast friends. Cat is happy to share his box with Pigeon. But when Pigeon flies far away from where they live, Cat must brave the city in order to rescue his friend. This journey will forever transform his understanding of home.

This heartwarming story explores unlikely friendships, the creative spark within us, and how to give comfort and kindness in small, impactful gestures. It is also a celebration of urban community.

About the Author: Edward Hemingway is the acclaimed creator of many popular books: Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story, Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus, and Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. His writing and artwork have been published in the New York Times and GQ Magazine, among others. The youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, he lives in Bozeman, Montana. He invites you to visit him at edwardhemingway.com, on Twitter @EdwardHemingway, and  Instagram: @edwardhemingway.

Review: This book is special both in message and in art.

First, I loved that the book not only showed that one act of kindness can change a lot and that a friendship can change people, but it also showed that there are people out there that it is worth not giving up hope on. Cat, at the beginning, is hard to like and it seems he would be okay with that. Then he saves Pigeon and changes. Although, it is HIS act of kindness that changes the trajectory of the story, it is Pigeon that helps him see that that kindness isn’t a fluke; that Cat can be more than he’s been.

Second, Hemingway’s art is just so beautifully done. It is hard for me to explain, but just looking at the style of his painting, I find myself being sucked into the story. It is just a fantastic addition to the story and brings it all to life in a way that is so perfect. I can definitely see Hemingway’s love in the art (see below for what he said about the art).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Edward Hemingway created a video sharing his inspiration behind the book (https://vimeo.com/626765984) which would be a wonderful start of a discussion about kindness and friendship and how it can change someone’s life and even the world. Students could also write their own stories with an act of kindness changing a character just like Cat changed.

Also, I received the book with an amazing letter from the author which is a call for action. I want to share it with you because it has so much to talk about as well as a perfect After Reading activity in the classroom:

Dear Reader,

I am very proud to be sending you my latest work, Pigeon & Cat. This book is so special to me. At its heart it is a story about kindness and compassion, and also about the gifts that art provides.

I hand painted all the artwork for the book during the height of the pandemic, so I was either isolating in my studio or at home with my fiancé. In a way, the book became one of my friends, and I looked forward to seeing it and working on it every day. I’m so happy to be sharing it with you now, and I hope that reading it touches you in some small way.

Pigeon & Cat begins with one small act of kindness. When Cat finds Pigeon’s abandoned egg on the ground, he cares for it instead of eating it. I firmly believe that such small acts of kindness can shine a bright light in dark times and open the pathway to a more positive future.

In the spirit of envisioning such a future, I have a small favor to ask of you. Pigeon opens Cat’s eyes to the beauty in the world around him, and when Pigeon goes missing, Cat creates beautiful messages in chalk that dot the city streets, walls, and avenues in an effort to reach his friend. He leaves these messages for all to see… Won’t you leave some beautiful messages on a wall or street or chalk board for your friends and community just like Cat? It would be wonderful to see the beautiful things you create.

If you post your creations, please tag me so I can see what you do!
🤗🙂❤️🌈
Sincerely yours,
Eddie Hemingway

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did Pigeon do to change how Cat viewed the world?
  • How did this change Cat’s character traits?
  • Why was Cat the way he was at the beginning?
  • Cat thought he was happy in the beginning of the book. Do you think he was happier at the beginning or end?
  • What types of messages did Cat draw around the city for Pigeon to find?
  • How does the transformation of Cat’s shelter represent Cat’s change as a character?
  • Why do you think the creator had illustrations change from full color to black silhouetted sometimes?
  • What kindness messages would you put around your community for others?
  • What was something during the pandemic that you did to help keep yourself preoccupied?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Edward HemingwayNegative Cat by Sophie Blackall; Inside Cat by Brendan Wenzel; A Cat is Better by Linda Joy SingletonAll Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!!**

Review and Giveaway!: Pink Is Not a Color by Lindsay Ward

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Pink Is Not A Color
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: July 1, 2022 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: Pink finds happiness right where she always knew it was in this colorful companion to the popular picture book This Book Is Gray.

Pink loves her rosy world, from her pink toy dinosaur to her pet flamingo, Phil. But when she sees the Primaries and Secondaries getting ready for the Rainbow Extravaganza, she begins to wonder why she isn’t in the rainbow…and if that means she’s not really a color. Then she meets the Tints, and she’s even more confused. Luckily, a friend shows her the many ways she spreads joy—reminding Pink that she is truly one of a kind, rainbow or not.

Featuring the world of colors introduced in This Book Is Gray—and a few new color concepts—this is a tale about appreciating who you are and realizing that only you can decide what makes you happy.

“Ward’s cast of colors, pink-cheeked and wearing accessories, speak in color-coded speech bubbles; appropriately, pink hues dominate the exuberant art. A rosy take on selfhood.” ―Kirkus Reviews

Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as Between the Lines, Scooper and Dumper, Rosie: Stronger than Steel, This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio with her husband, three boys, one dog, and eight ducks. When she’s not drawing, Lindsay loves to bake. Pink-frosted cupcakes are her favorite. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.

Twitter: @lindsaymward
Instagram: lindsaymward

Check out activities and more here on Lindsay Ward’s website!

Ricki’s Review: Lindsay Ward is simply an incredible author/illustrator. She takes a concept that is deceivingly simple (the color pink) and connects it with readers through big themes of not fitting in. I have read this book to my son (whose favorite color is pink) so many times, and each time, we are able to have a discussion about his personal connections to the text. When I dropped him off to his new classroom, we talked about Pink and how she might feel in that moment, and how she was very brave. This is one of those books that will appeal to readers of all ages because it captures a complex concept (colors versus tints) that will teach readers something new, and it has so much heart that will ring loudly for all readers. I recommend it highly! (Side note: Her Dexter T. Rexter series is one of my favorites. Her books are just so fun to read aloud!)

Kellee’s Review: I want to start with the backmatter of this book. I love how it shows the research process behind Lindsay’s book and how one piece of information led to more research which led to Pink is Not a Color. It seems so much like a passion project which makes me love how that could show students the power of research and the creative process. And the research is so interesting! The science behind colors is so much more than most realize, and I love this introduction. I’d love to pair this book with Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky to look at the history AND the science of color. Pink is NOT a Color will also pair with This Book is Gray which shows how Lindsay Ward is making a canon of color books that are so much fun to read and even more fun to learn from.

Readers will love Pink’s personality and will definitely connect with her as she figures out her place in the world through the help of some friends, some discovery, and some reflection.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is one of those books that makes us really, really want to work with younger children. And yet, it is great for all ages! We would love to read this book in tandem with other identity stories like This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward and Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. Each offers an important message about ourselves but does so through color.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does the author convey the message implicitly and explicitly?
  • Is Pink happy? Where does Pink find happiness?
  • Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in? What did you do?

Flagged Spreads:

Giveaway!:

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Read This If You Loved: This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**

Hope Wins: A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers edited by Rose Brock

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Hope Wins: A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers
Editor: Rose Brock
Published: May 10, 2022 by Philomel

Summary: In a collection of personal stories and essays, award-winning and bestselling artists from Matt de la Peña and Veera Hiranandani to Max Brallier and R.L. Stine write about how hope always wins, even in the darkest of times.

Where does hope live?
In your family?
In your community?
In your school?
In your heart?


From a family restaurant to a hot-dog shaped car, from an empty road on a moonlight night to a classroom holiday celebration, this anthology of personal stories from award-winning and bestselling authors, shows that hope can live everywhere, even–or especially–during the darkest of times.

No matter what happens: Hope wins.

Contributors include: Tom Angleberger, James Bird, Max Brallier, Julie Buxbaum, Pablo Cartaya, J.C. Cervantes, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Stuart Gibbs, Adam Gidwitz, Karina Yan Glaser, Veera Hiranandani, Hena Khan, Gordon Korman, Janae Marks, Sarah Mlynowski, Rex Ogle, James Ponti, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Ronald L.Smith, Christina Soontornvat, and R.L. Stine.

Ricki’s and Kellee’s Review: We love that Rose Brock decided to take the idea of Hope Nation and create a version for younger readers because all ages need to hear stories from those they look up. This is especially true about stories that are filled with adversity and hope. Usually with anthologies from various authors, we find ourselves liking only some of the stories and finding that others are dragging; however, with this text, we found that each story fit purposefully in the book. And because of the purposeful choices, every reader will find something in the book to connect with and will learn a little bit of something from each story.

Although we liked all the stories, we did have some favorites:
-Pablo Cartaya speaks from the heart and definitely made us cry (and clap for the young lady who we know inspired one of Kellee’s favorite books, Each Tiny Spark);
-James Bird shows that there is hope even in the darkest of times and the power of a strong support system;
-J.C. Cervantes shared how a teacher changed everything even if the teacher nor the student realize it at the time;
-Adam Gidwitz writes about what so many of us have felt at one time or another, and we felt it deep in the gut;
-Christina Soontornvat shows what life can teach that school cannot;
-Stuart Gibbs tells the truth about adversity and absolute grief;
-Janae Marks speaks to how hopes and dreams can lead to different hopes and dreams, you just need patience;
-Gordon Korman speaks about that feeling of revision and the emotional roller coaster that come with it;
-Hena Khan speaks about what it means to feel different and to want to share a piece of ourselves with others;
-Sarah Mlynowski writes about the powerful bond of sisterhood and the feeling of being far from those we love; and
-James Ponti showed how even in middle school you can stand up for who you want to be, and the power of names and naming.

Although the diversity of stories and authors is vast and all readers will find something to connect with, we did wish there were a few more queer stories in the collection. With the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, we are particularly thinking about this topic. This could be supplemented by teachers with other essays beyond the collection.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This book easily lends itself to a personal narrative unit or a college essay unit. Both of these are very prevalent in curricula, which makes this book a phenomenal fit. Ricki showed the first chapter to her neighbor who is writing her college essay, and it inspired a great discussion.

Discussion Questions:  

  • What is hope?
  • Where and how do we seek hope?
  • When have you found hope in your life?
  • Which stories resonated with you? Why?

Flagged: “The daily reminder of how our own lives can be turned upside down made me realize why it’s so important to hang on to hope. It’s not always an easy thing to do—sometimes, it feels downright impossible—but the thing I know is that difficult times in life come and go; with those experiences, we grow as people. The key is to find ways to motivate and inspire our spirits—stories of hope can do that” (n.p.)

Read This If You Love: Hope Nation edited by Rose Brock; The Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series; Essay Collections; Anthologies; Middle Grade Authors

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Rosa’s Song by Helena Ku Rhee, Illustrated by Pascal Campion

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Rosa’s Song
Author: Helena Ku Rhee; Illustrator: Pascal Campion
Published June 14, 2022 by Random House Studio

Summary: A young immigrant from South Korea finds community and friendship in an apartment house filled with other newly arrived kids.

When Jae looks out the window of his new home, he wishes he could still see his old village, his old house, and his old friends. But his new apartment feels empty and nothing outside is familiar. Jae just arrived from South Korea and doesn’t even speak the new language.

Yet, making friends is the same wherever you go and he soon meets a girl with a colorful bird perched on her shoulder. Rosa knows just how Jae feels and the two become fast friends. Not only does Rosa show Jae his new neighborhood but she shows him how his imagination can bring back memories of his old home. Then Rosa leaves unexpectedly one night but leaves her parrot for Jae. He thinks about the song that Rosa would sing: “When I fly away, my heart stays here.” And when Jae meets two other newly arrived kids, he teaches them Rosa’s song and becomes their guide to this new world.

From the creators of the highly acclaimed The Paper Kingdom, comes a new book about the importance of community and demonstrates how a simple act of kindness can be passed along to others.

★ “Striking and raw…. Readers will share the sadness of Jae’s loss, but only after seeing Rosa and Jae’s joyful playing—a happiness that’s distinct to childhood.” —Booklist, starred review

About the Author and Illustrator:

Helena Ku Rhee grew up in Los Angeles, but has also lived in various parts of the U.S., Asia and Europe. She has a soft spot for small, stout animals and loves to travel far and wide across this beautiful planet, counting among her favorite journeys a camping trip in the Sahara Desert, a swim with elephants in Thailand and a horseback-riding tour of Easter Island. She is also the author of The Paper Kingdom, which was included on many year-end Best Books lists, including NPR, BookPage, Kirkus, Parents Magazine, the Los Angeles Public Library, and Amazon, among others. Helena works at a movie studio by day, and dreams up story ideas in her spare time. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Visit her at helenakrhee.com.

Instagram: @helenakurhee

Twitter: @HelenaRhee

Pascal Campion is a prolific French-American illustrator and visual development artist whose clients include: DreamWorks Animation, Paramount Pictures, Disney Feature, Disney Toons, Cartoon Network, Hulu, and PBS. Working in the animation industry for over 15 years, he has steadily posted over 3,000 images of personal work to his “Sketches of the Day” project since 2005. He lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Instagram @pascalcampionart or Twitter @pascalcampion.

Ricki’s Review: There is so much for kids (and adults) to connect with in this book: Feelings of loneliness, worries about making friends, sadness from missing a place or time, magic from developing a new friendship, and loss of something or someone important. This book simultaneously offers readers windows and mirrors. The book offers a steady calmness amidst a swirling storm. It reveals human emotions in ways that are magnificent—despite the magnificent sadness that Jae experiences in the story. I love this book, and it belongs in every classroom, library, and home. It exists within a circle of knowledge—Jae takes Rosa’s song and shares it with others, and they will, the reader can assume, share it with others, as well.

Kellee’s Review: I love this beautiful book about discovery: Discovery of friendship, discovery of other cultures, discovery of exploration, discovery of loss, and discovery of purpose. Jae and Rosa represent so many students in our classrooms and all of the emotions that come with being new somewhere. Also, with the loss at the end of the book, it touches on a subject that many kids are affected by but books normally stay away from–it is important to talk about tough subjects with kids, and books are the best way to introduce them. I think my favorite part of the book is the ending though when Jae takes what he has learned and passes it on.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We would love to use this book in literature circles. Specifically, we could see it in a literature circles with a theme of new beginnings, immigration, kindness, and/or friendship. Below, we list some books in the “Read This if You Loved” section that we believe would pair well with this text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is Rosa’s song given life in the story?
  • What does Jae miss from his old home? What does he find in his new home?
  • When have you experienced something that reminds you of what Jae experiences in this story? Select a page that allowed you to make this connection.

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Love: Bright Star by Yuyi Morales; Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Refuge by Sandra Le Guen, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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**Thank you, Barbara at Blue Slip Media, for providing copies for review!**

I Want to Be a Vase by Julio Torres, Illustrated by Julian Glander

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I Want to Be a Vase
Author: Julio Torres
Illustrator: Julian Glander
Published June 7, 2022 by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

Summary: Former SNL writer and comedic rising star Julio Torres takes readers on a journey through the lives and intimate dramas of some of the unsung shapes of our time in this picture book inspired by his HBO special My Favorite Shapes.

Shapes. You’ve heard of them. You might have even interacted with a few. But do you really know them? From plucky Plunger, who wishes to defy his shape and become a beautiful vase, to other household objects with dreams of a life beyond their predestined roles, I Want to Be a Vase takes readers on an essential and visually stunning journey through the lives and intimate dramas of often-overlooked household appliances.

Press Release: Julio Torres is a comedic genius that pairs a dry, absurd humor with earnestness. I WANT TO BE A VASE is out there, wacky, bonkers, but ultimately grounded in the honesty of sense of self and the dream of defying expectations. The book explores the intricate, complicated emotions of childhood (belonging, jealousy, fear of change, excitement) through humor and metaphor, appealing to a crossover audience while being primarily directed towards a young readership. Kids will see their emotions reflected in plucky Plunger, nervous Vacuum, sassy Sink, and helpful Hair Dryer. It’s perfect for fans of the irreverent playfulness of B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures or Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers’s The Day the Crayons Quit, which take seemingly basic childhood concepts and subvert tropes with wit, insight, and parallels to the human condition.

While this picture book is a hilarious, quirky tale first and foremost, it’s also a story about being your truest self no matter your publicly-ascribed role—in that sense, there’s a gentle pro-trans message to be found here. Julio is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and many of his works have been heralded as subtly queer and progressive. This book is no exception to that standard!

Julio’s voice is unique and authentic, and, despite the absurdist spark to his work, he connects with his audience on a deeply human level. As a self-proclaimed Aquarius with synesthesia, Julio is also quite the aesthete, and his involvement with the visual component of his book guarantees that it will be like anything you’ve ever seen (while maintaining his dazzlingly fun, bright style which is certain to appeal to young eyes!). 3D artist Julian Glander is the perfect, offbeat other half of this whimsical picture book pairing. A darling of the design world, Julian is a welcome new voice in children’s publishing, though he has experience working in children’s animation. His bright color palette and toylike models perfectly complement Julio’s surreal style.

Julio told The Hollywood Reporter: “Had I followed convention, I would probably have a reasonable job and be married with kids in El Salvador, where I’m from. That sounds nice, except I wanted to be an experimental comedian, prolific writer, and so-so actor in New York. At first, I was on a path to be one sort of person, when I really wanted to be another. I wanted to pursue things I wasn’t supposed to, and had the courage to do it, thanks to my parents never saying, ‘That can’t be,’ but instead asking, ‘Well, why not?’ So this book is about a plunger who wants to be a vase. Because, well, why not?”

Praise: 

★“A toilet plunger yearns to be a vase in Torres’s moving object lesson of identity and purpose … A thoughtful and broadly applicable fable with saturated, 3-D-style art by Glander.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review“

The premise is odd but comical and certainly original; children will giggle contemplating different uses for everyday gadgets. Kids are great at pretending and playing imaginative games, so they won’t have trouble buying into the whimsy on offer. They’ll appreciate the reassuring, empowering message to be who you are if that makes you happy, and the collaboration and acceptance themes will resonate. The colorful digital illustrations, featuring dollhouse like miniatures representing common household goods, are very appealing… Hilarious … Great for stimulating creative thinking and art activities: What else can ordinary objects be?” –Kirkus Reviews

About the Creators: 

JULIO TORRES (he/him) is a comedian, a former writer on Saturday Night Live, and one of the masterminds behind Los Espookys, HBO’s Spanish-language comedy about a group of horror enthusiasts, produced by Fred Armisen. Julio is also the creator of the HBO special My Favorite Shapes. Released In 2019, this Lorne Michaels-produced special immediately garnered a cult following. In it, Torres conducts an elaborate show-and-tell that offers a backstory to a wide array of “shapes.” With its unusual, absurdist humor and decidedly human narratives explored within the framework of a universal concept, Torres’ performance is the perfect inspiration for a picture book that completely upends expectations about the everyday shapes and objects in our own lives. While I WANT TO BE A VASE is not a direct interpretation of that special, the connection between that piece of work and this story of household objects will be evident to his many fans. Visit him on Instagram @SpacePrinceJulio.

JULIAN GLANDER(he/him) is a 3D animator, designer, and illustrator. Mostly self-taught, he has created work for Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Adult Swim, and The New York Times. He is also the creator of the video game Art Sqooland the squishy comics collection3D Sweeties. Visit him at Glander.co.

Review: There is so much to figuring out who you are, what your identity is, what you enjoy, etc. Plunger is all for trying new things and being a bit different than what is expected of them. However, vacuum cannot handle the lack of order, questioning of ideals, and change. So what will take vacuum to see that it doesn’t matter who everyone is as long as everyone is happy?

I do think Torres was trying to have an extending metaphor about identity specifically, but there is a moment where the characters also mention jobs and liking what they do, so I think that this book will comfort anyone that feels like they don’t fit exactly where everyone expects them to be, either in their identity, how they act, how they dress, what they like to do, etc. And it is pretty silly and fun in so many ways!

And I loved the illustrations by Glander! The 3D art that is clay animantion-esque just brings the characters and setting to life! A perfect combination.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: Like the Kirkus reviewer mentioned above, I’d love to see what creative thinking this will bring out with students. The discussions and writing that could come from these questions would be fantastic!

  • Pick an every day object–what else could it be?
  • If you were an every day object, what would you pick?
  • Other than what that every day object does, what else could you do if you were that every day object?
  • What is something about you that doesn’t fit your “definition”?
  • Is there ever a time where you feel like you are a different shape than others expect you to be?

I think conversations about author’s purpose, comparison/contrast, and symbolism could also be started based on this book.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: My Shadow is Purple by Scott Stuart, I’d Like to be a Window for a Wise Old Dog by Philip C. Stead, Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima, Picture books by The Fan Brothers

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Alex at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division for providing a copy for review!**

Interview with Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Authors of And Tango Makes Three

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I am happy to start Pride Month with this interview as books with representations of all families need to be shared with all students as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (Sims-Bishop, 1990). As an educator in Florida, we are being challenged as are the books we love and students need. Sharing diverse representation, of race, culture, sexual & gender identity, and more, will only lead to empathy and a safer more happy world.

And Tango Makes Three
Authors: Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published: June 1st, 2005 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalizes the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

Introduction from Simon & Schuster: Florida’s new law, to take effect in July, prohibits classroom “discussion” and “instruction” about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in grades K-3, as well as any discussion or instruction about these topics that would be considered not age appropriate in the eyes of the State in grades 4-12. And Tango Makes Three, a multiple award-winning picture book, tells the simple and true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who pair-bonded, built a nest, and with the help of a kind zoo-keeper, together hatched an egg.

The book is written for children ages 4 to 8, but the new Florida law may prevent their teachers from sharing or discussing it with them. Teachers use And Tango Makes Three and books like it to help children with same-sex parents feel welcome in their school and to help their classmates understand the different family structure of their classmates. Lessons like these are invaluable to children of same-sex parents. Censorship of facts about gay families and lives, like that required by the new law, threatens the mental health of children with same-sex parents as well as that of LGBTQIA+ children themselves.

Since its initial publication, And Tango Makes Three has been challenged and banned countless times. The American Library Association has reported that it was the most frequently challenged book between 2006-2010, and the second most frequently challenged in 2009. It was also the fourth-most banned book between 2000 and 2009, and the sixth-most banned book between 2010 and 2019.

Interview: 

Kellee: How did you first learn about Tango and her family? And why did you choose to tell their story? 

Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson: We first read about the penguins over breakfast one Saturday in a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith entitled “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name.”  Justin said, “Peter, you have to listen to this,” and there was just something about hearing the story read aloud that made us think of a children’s book.

As prospective parents ourselves, we knew that there was an unmet need among the children of gay parents for stories involving families like ours.  And we knew that while many parents who are not gay might wish to introduce their children to the subject of gay families, many felt unsure as to how to approach the topic, what language to use, how specific to get, and so on.  This story seemed to us a perfect way for them to open a discussion of about queer families with the confidence of knowing that they were doing it in an age-appropriate way.

K: What was your hope in sharing Tango’s story?

PP & JR: Like any author, we hoped the book would find an audience. We wanted kids to be moved by the story, and to expand their understanding and awareness of different kinds of families. We are most gratified when we hear the book has been a part of a child’s bedtime routine or a family’s life for years.

K: When you first heard about And Tango Makes Three being challenged, what were your first emotions? Reaction? 

PP & JR: We did anticipate that there would be some resistance to the book when we wrote it. But we could never have imagined then the extent of the challenges it would face or the strength of the support it would get around the world.

I think you never forget the first challenge. For us, that was in Missouri, when a library director who had received complaints moved our book from the fiction to the (less browsed) nonfiction section in order not to ‘blindside’ parents. The story got picked up by the AP (much thanks to a local news reporter who read library’s log looking for stories). We heard about it on a Saturday night, and were like, “Okay, this is happening…”  The story literally travelled around the world. Stephen Colbert held up the book on “The Colbert Report,” and proclaimed it the Number Two Threat to the American Way of Life (the number one threat was people who are not blond).

We have a coffee mug at home that we stumbled across in a toy store with our daughter a few years ago. On it are displayed a dozen or so banned book titles. There’s Animal Farm, 1984, and The Origin of Species. And our title is snuggled in there amongst the rest of them. We thought the juxtaposition of our book with these great works was kind of hilarioius. But we’d by lying if we said we weren’t also proud. In the years that we read TANGO aloud at the ALA’s Banned Books Week Readout in Chicago, we did so alongside folks like Steven Chbosky, Robie Harris, and Judy Blume. It’s an honor to be in such great company. But in truth, being banned is painful and infuriating. Any pleasure one can squeeze out of it is worth holding onto, if it softens the blow.

K: The “Don’t Say Gay” bill does not allow any sexual orientation or gender identity instruction in grades K-3. I would argue that And Tango Makes Three is not INSTRUCTION of either listed things; do you agree?

PP & JR: The law is purposely written to be vague, leaving terms like “instruction” and “sexual orientation” undefined. We recently lampooned that aspect of the law in the Washington Post, showing that banning discussion or instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity means there can be no talk about men and women marrying or indeed any book that depicts characters as having a gender.

We wouldn’t recommend going down the rabbit hole of arguing what does or doesn’t qualify as instruction. The law should be attacked for its discriminatory intent, it’s manipulation of parent fears to stoke the political careers of its authors, and the damage it will do to children and families in Florida.

K: If someone tried to state that And Tango Makes Three is not age appropriate for K-3, what would your counterargument be? 

PP & JR: The book actually grew out of Justin’s experience as co-author of a book about the very real challenges parents face when trying to address sexual topics with their children–Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know about Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask). It’s hard to imagine that anyone who actually read Tango could consider it as not age appropriate; however, we would place the burden on anyone who made such a claim to explain it. Parents who hold negative views about gay families may object to the book, because it presents one such family in a positive light. But that’s quite a different matter than describing it as inappropriate for all children based on their age. Explaining that sometimes two people of the same sex form a couple and make a family is appropriate at any age.

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