Helping Kids Embrace Their Differences

This article caught our attention as we sit here, hurt and raging over the atrocious mass shooting in Las Vega: Illustrated Books to Help Children Embrace Their Differences, from the New York Times’s Match Book series. The article responds to a mother’s letter asking for books to offer her 4-year-old, on-the-spectrum son. She writes,

He’s just beginning to realize he’s a little different. He has always loved reading, so I’ve begun to use books to help him find comfort in this world.

The content is gentle and focused on the comforting fact that a picture book can help put little people a bit more at ease in the world. We also love that it starts with The Story of Ferdinand; one of us had a beloved doggie named after the gentle Spanish bull.

Writer Nicole Lamy’s response is reprinted below (original is here). We’ve added hyperlinks to the books she mentions.

“The serene, misunderstood bull who stars in The Story of Ferdinand, the 1936 classic written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, prefers sniffing flowers in the shade of a cork tree to butting heads with others in his herd or sparring with the banderilleros and picadores in the ring. The perceptive hero of James Marshall’s Snake, His Story (part of his droll, intimate 1970s-era quartet, “Four Little Troubles”) — whose ability to hear sets him apart from his slithery classmates and causes his parents much consternation — learns to appreciate his unique abilities after he thwarts a pair of criminal bulldogs. A fuzzy teddy bear named Tah Tah is the source of social anxiety for a hesitant boy in Bernard Waber’s conversationally on-the-nose picture book from 1972, Ira Sleeps Over. Embracing difference has long been a hallmark of children’s stories.

Contemporary picture-book authors carry on the tradition started by authors of classics; they’re champions of uniqueness, artfully celebrating the qualities of fictional children — and quite a few anthropomorphized animals, some crayons and even a piece of cutlery — while also tackling tricky social situations. The best among them sneakily construct bridges to real-life children struggling with understanding and self-acceptance.

Object Lessons—The dejected utensil in Spoon, the adorably punning tale written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon, longs to cut and spread like Knife or twirl pasta like his friend, Fork; little does he know that his flatware friends envy him too. Spoon’s mother comes through in the end, comforting her little guy by gently reminding him of the sweetest parts of his life. (You may have read Krouse Rosenthal’s essay in the New York Times this spring, You May Want to Marry My Husband –SmSt eds.)

More inanimate empathy arrives in Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story. Though his wrapper reads “Red,” the book’s hero is an erroneously labeled blue crayon who can’t color a fire engine or a stoplight with any kind of verisimilitude. When a new purple friend asks for his help with an art project, Red’s friends and family finally see his true color.

I’m O.K., You’re O.K.—Jewel tones and childlike drawings add to the joy quotient in The Okay Book, Todd Parr’s relentlessly affirmative, warmly oddball book. “It’s okay to have no hair,” reads one page. “It’s okay to wear what you like,” reads another. I wish my favorite line from the book, “It’s okay to put a fish in your hair,” could replace the banal phrase, “It takes all kinds,” as an offbeat expression of acceptance. (We wrote about another of Parr’s books, The Goodbye Book, here –SmSt eds.)

It’s All Relative—Two books about families tell stories about belonging, in very different styles. The flying squirrel in Zachariah OHora’s antic My Cousin Momo doesn’t fit in with the cousins he’s visiting: He thinks hide-and-seek is an opportunity to find mushrooms; he wears a giant muffin costume when his cousins dress as more recognizable superheroes. Heartache comes before acceptance for the saucer-eyed Momo. An interspecies separated-at-birth story with plot twists and a happy ending, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon shows the joy and freedom felt when someone—in this case a bat raised by a family of birds—is allowed to be herself.

Class Acts—Hidden talents are uncovered in two empowering school stories. In I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard, Jennifer K. Mann’s sympathetic and stellar portrait of Rose, who struggles in school yet longs for recognition, reveals a girl who feels like a misfit yet eventually discovers herself as an artist. The cleverly rhyming The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson tells the story of the unobtrusive, uncommonly observant Sally McCabe who finds her voice when she speaks up for compassion and unites her school.

Friend Requests—Two sensitive books about outsiders learning to make friends show kids the way in. Dennis, a silent boy who mimes in Be a Friend by Salina Yoon, prefers pretending to tangible play. His style is smart and creative, but it can be lonely when other children climb trees while you prefer to act like one. One day, though, Dennis kicks an imaginary ball. When a girl named Joy catches it, a friendship takes shape. In Jack and Michael Foreman’s simple, spare story Say Hello, a lonely, disconsolate boy on the sidelines is unsure how to break into a game. A serendipitous moment with a dog and red ball helps the boy to join in the fun and understand that he is not alone.”

Thanks for reading with us, friends.

Opportunities, Plants, and One Last Push: Come on over and tell us what you think!

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It’s live for just a few more days…come on over and take our survey!

A HUGE thank you to those who have already stopped by. Responses are already helping us figure out what we’ll be working on next, how to bring you more of what’s been helpful, and what you might like to see that we haven’t done quite yet.

We are also about to begin a project preserving stories from educators in this national moment. If you’d like to talk with us, anonymously or otherwise, about how things are for you and your students, right here and now, we’d love to hear from you. (And you can indicate that on our survey.)

Now for opportunity! If you are a Bay Area teacher working with students in grades 8-12, you just might be interested in KQED Learning’s new Student Inquiry and Publishing pilot program.

We are looking for 40 Bay Area English, science, social studies or VAPA educators who teach grades 8-12 to pilot a new project starting this summer and continuing into fall of 2017.

The project will feature curriculum, media-making resources and professional development for teachers to support students in investigating questions and creating media about their findings. Using an online publishing platform, students will be able to work with peers both in their own classroom and other classrooms in a safe space where they can seek authentic feedback, support and inspiration. Students will access this platform through their teacher (similar to Google Classroom), and student work will not be visible to anyone not participating in the project.

Head on over to the link above to read more and apply. Get moving–applications close 3/24!

And plants: we recently discovered the Smithsonian’s Botany and Art and Their Roles in Conservation. Aside from being gorgeous to look at, these resources for primary and middle grade students can help provide in-depth interdisciplinary content for a science or art classroom.

This teaching guide includes a lesson plan originally published as “Smithsonian in Your Classroom.” It introduces students to the work of botanists and botanical illustrators, specifically their race to make records of endangered plant species around the world. The students try their own hands at botanical illustration, following the methods of a Smithsonian artist. Also included here are additional resources on the topic, a one-hour webinar and a website.

Thanks again for stopping by and responding to any and all of our survey questions!

 

Resources for Black History Month…and All Year Long

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Allan Rohan Crite, School’s Out, 1936. Via Smithsonian Education.

Here are a few things that we’ve encountered lately that would be great additions to the classroom, whether during Black History Month or at any other time of the year.

The National Museum of African American History & Culture has an interactive online feature, Collection Stories,  curated by NMAAHC staff. Staff members choose an area of focus based on items in the museum’s collection. The resulting stories include images of the items, historical discussion, and thoughts from the curator on why these stories are so important to African American history and culture.

We especially enjoyed “Dress for the Occasion,” a story centered around the dress that Carlotta Walls wore when she integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 as one of the Little Rock Nine. Check it out get a glimpse of the school, her diploma, and the process behind choosing the dress that she wore for that first day of school.

From Smithsonian Education, we’d like to highlight two sets of lesson plans. Both include material appropriate for kindergarteners all the way through high school, available for download as zip files.

The Art and Life of William H. Johnson includes detailed information on how the curriculum meets Visual Art, History, and Language Arts standards. Younger students analyze color choices, subject matter, and older students conduct comparative analysis with works from other artists (including this post’s header image, by Allan Rohan Crite).

Finally, The Blues and Langston Hughes does just what you’d think: compares the poetry of Langston Hughes with blues rhythms, structures, and lyrics that most students are probably already familiar with, whether they know it or not. Younger students write their own simple poems; older students dig into the Smithsonian Folkways’ collection of blues recordings from The Great Migration.

And speaking of Smithsonian Folkways…we have one more recommendation after all. Check out Say It Loud for hours from their collection of African American Spoken Word recordings, whether from Langston Hughes himself, an interview with W.E.B. Du Bois, or a recording of Angela Davis.