I. love. picture books. Read my declaration of love to the wonderful world of picture books *here*. As you have probably noticed from the header of my blog, I also teach big kids. (Well, big for elementary school!) If you are not the picture book enthusist that I am, you might be wondering what value there could be in reading books meant for young children to intermediate grade students. Well, there is a LOT of value. I love sharing picture books with powerful themes with my students, and here are a few of my favorites that focus on the important thing of embracing differences and being yourself.
A Bad Case of Stripes (David Shannon)
This book is silly in all of the right ways. Its main character is more concerned with fitting in than staying true to herself and consequently comes down with a “disease” that not only makes her skin appear striped, but also causes her to change her appearance based on what other people say about her. The only cure? Eating her favorite food, lima beans, even though she knows others may mock her for it. While this book just scratches the surface of the importance of being yourself no matter what others think, it makes a great “beginning of the year” read and never fails to stimulate a good discussion.
Tacky is different than the other penguins…he wears bright clothing, greets his friends with a loud “What’s happening?,” and prefers cannon balls to graceful dives. To say he doesn’t fit in is an understatement, until one day hunters come to the penguins’ home. When the other penguins hide in fear, Tacky bravely faces them head-on, using his unique mannerisms to confuse the hunters and eventually scare them away. This book does a beautiful job of using humor to teach that differences are what make us special. It also lends itself well to opening a conversation with kids about the strengths that our uniquenesses bring us, and why all different people are important members of the community.
I fell in love with this book when an ed professor read it aloud to our class in college. It is a powerful (not to mention true!!) story that beautifully illustrates the different ways in which kids learn and the difference one teacher can make in your life. ‘Tricia slips through the cracks in school year after year until one teacher, finally realizing that she can’t read, goes above and beyond to truly help her. I get choked up every time I read this book! When I share this with my students, we talk about the different talents and gifts we all bring to the classroom, and how we all learn in different ways. Like most of Polacco's books, this story is one that can be enjoyed by young children, but also packs a powerful message for older kids just starting to figure out who they are.
For any kid or adult who has ever felt “different,” this book is for you. Weslandia’s protagonist, Wesley, would prefer reading and inventing over sports and is bullied by the other neighborhood kids. Undeterred, he decides to use his summer to start his own civilization. Wesley is an example of the importance of staying true to oneself, showing how sometimes the unpopular, “out there” kids are the ones who can have the most influence on society. This book not only lends itself well to a study of theme and a discussion about the qualities that make us all unique, but would be a great intro to a conversation about real-life examples of “square pegs in round holes” who have had great influence in the world like Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, or even a personal favorite, Temple Grandin.