Episode 118: Back to School and Helping Our Children become Compassionate Classmates

In this episode of “Books that Spark,” we look at some back-to-school books that will help our children think about being compassionate and caring toward others, seeing needs and meeting them. Comment below to enter our September giveaway.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. I know that school has already started for just about everyone, and I still wanted to take some time to talk about books for the start of school. And the reason I’ve waited till now is, we had some great interviews and some other things going on, but also I thought, sometimes it’s better to take a moment after school has been going for a week or two, and sit down with your kid and really talk about what’s going on.

And another thing is, one of the first books I want to share with you is one I really like, it’s called This School Year Will Be the Best by Kay Winters and illustrated by Renée Andriani. And this book is such a great idea. The teacher asks the students the first day of school what they want to happen this year? What are they looking forward to? What are they hoping for? And each child shares what they’re hoping for for this year to make it the best school year ever. And I love it because there’s some great ideas, some silly ideas, fun things to talk about, your children will giggle at a couple of these. And then the teacher says her hope for the year is to get to know each of the students well, but I thought, what a great book to read together, and then sit down and talk with your kids and say, what do we hope will happen this school year? What do we hope to accomplish? Do we have goals for ourselves and for our kids that we want to see happen this year? Maybe if one of your children is super shy and not very social, that their hope is to make more friends or to make a new friend. We can think about all of these kinds of things, and as parents then, we can add those things to our prayer lists as we pray for our kids each day. And so I love that book, and I love that idea, and now that they’ve kind of settled into the school year and know what it’s going to look like for those who’ve already been going to school for a couple weeks now, then they can think a little bit more clearly what they really hope to see happen this year. So I think that’s the first thing I want to do is talk about that book, and I want to challenge each of us to take that seriously, to think about this for ourselves. I’m a teacher, so I just started school as well, and what do I hope to see happen this year? What’s going to be different about this year? So I always think that’s a good thing to do, whether we’re at the beginning of a school year or the beginning of a calendar year, to take that time and say, what do I hope happens this year?

And then of course I have to share the book from the interview we had the other day with Glenys Nellist. She has a brand new Little Mole book out, Little Mole Goes to School, and I really love this book. Of course, I like all the Little Mole stories, they’re wonderful. But this one, he is afraid of so many things and worried about so many things, and he finds out as he goes to school, that everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. Everyone has something they can contribute to the classroom, to the group that they’re in to your family or whatever your group is, and so I love that. And as we talked about in that interview a few weeks ago, it reminded me of the scripture that talks about the church being the body of Christ and each part of the body has its function, its place in the body because we are all gifted differently, and we can fulfill different roles because of the gifts we have, and so I do love that one.

There are a few other books for the beginning of school or for during the school year that are just really special books, but one writer I wanted to mention, and I have mentioned her in the past, is Patricia Polacco, and she has some of the best books about teachers and students and school for your middle grade kids. They’re picture books, but they’re a little more sophisticated than for like, a board book, or a younger picture book. These are written, I believe, more toward like middle grade elementary. Of course, I think they appeal to middle schoolers as well. They really are beautiful stories. My very favorite is Thank You, Mr. Falker, and you’ve probably heard of that one before. It is a wonderful story of a teacher that makes a real difference in a student’s life. And then another one that I just love of hers that literally made me cry as I was beginning to read it because I have children who have been in special ed, and you know, sometimes children are not kind, and this one just really hit me, and the book is called The Junkyard Wonders. And because they’re in special ed, some people dismiss them and call them names and other things like that, but there’s this beautiful passage in this book where the teacher begins the class and she opens up the dictionary and reads a definition to them that is just, so powerful. And so she gets the big dictionary and she comes up to the front of the classroom, and the teacher says, “The definition of genius: ‘Genius is neither learned nor acquired. It is knowing without experience. It is risking without fear of failure. It is perception without touch. It is understanding without research. It is certainty without proof. It is ability without practice. It is invention without limitations. It is imagination without boundaries. It is creativity without constraints. It is extraordinary intelligence.’ Then she took a deep breath and slammed the book shut so hard it sounded like a gunshot. ‘Welcome to the junkyard. I am your teacher, Mrs. Peterson.’ She started walking around the room, looking at each of us. ‘I want you all to write the definition on the blackboard. Post it on your mirrors. Look at it every day, memorize it. The definition describes every one of you.’” And I love this book so much because there are so many children who feel like they are less than, that they are incapable of being important in this world, and I believe every single person is God’s plan, and God has a purpose and a plan for each of their lives. No matter how many physical limitations they may have or any other limitation they may feel they have, and this book is just beautiful. She has so many great books. The Art of Miss Chew, she has An A from Miss Keller. They’re just amazing stories, and I love them. Of course, being a teacher, I love them even more because they’re about all the different teachers in her life who influenced her. And she, as a student, grew up with dyslexia and struggling and moving and many things going on, and so these are her stories and she does a beautiful, beautiful job in every single one of them. They’re just wonderful stories. So I recommend those anytime during the school year, but especially at the beginning of the school year, they are a very powerful read.

And then one last book I wanted to mention for the beginning of school is The Invisible Boy. This one’s by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton, and I’ve shared about this book before, but what I would love for us to do, as we read this to children is then, encourage them to look around and see, is there someone that’s kind of invisible that everyone’s kind of just ignoring while everyone else is in a group? There’s someone else outside the group who’s not a part of it? That we can make a difference in their lives by bringing them into our circle, bringing them into our group and helping them feel important and feel apart. And I love in this story because the little boy, the invisible boy, he has a lot of talent. He has a lot to offer a group, but nobody recognizes it because they’re too busy, hanging out with their friends and not recognizing there’s this little kid all by himself and he’s shy. And so he doesn’t step up and say, hello, can I be in your group? We have to sometimes go out of our comfort zone to draw someone into our group because they’re too shy to step up and ask to be a part of our group, and so to help our children understand that and to be able to be a catalyst, to help someone be a part of a group and be a part of the class and make their school year something really special, because they’re included in, they’re part and Patrice Barton, who illustrated this, did such a wonderful job of effectively drawing the invisibility of this little child. His name is Brian and he’s the invisible boy, and in the first part of the book, he’s in black and white, he’s gray tones. And so he just kind of isn’t as noticeable as the ones who are wearing the bright, yellow or green or whatever colors, he’s just kind of blending in. It talks about each of the students and what they’re doing and the dreaded picking the players for kickball. Most of us see that as a nightmare from our childhood and only Brian is left, still waiting and hoping to be chosen, and he’s the last one to be picked. Actually, he’s not picked at all. In this part, it says JT glances in Brian’s direction, and just as quickly looks away, “We’ve got enough players for each team,” He tells the others. “Let’s play ball.” So they completely leave him out. How sad is that? And at lunch, of course, they’re all having conversation and eating, and he’s just ignored. But Brian is a brilliant drawer. He can draw beautiful pictures, adventurous pictures, amazing pictures, and so when he does finally get in a group, he gets to use his artwork to add to what the group does, and it happens because this new student comes to class named Justin. And I want to read this part. It says, “On Monday morning, Mrs. Carlo introduces Justin, a new student to the class. Brian smiles shy at him. Some of the other kids sneak looks at Justin trying to figure out if he’s cool enough to be their friend. They haven’t quite made up their minds yet. And so at lunch, they make fun of his food because he’s Korean and he has bulgogi for lunch, and so he’s kind of ostracized because he’s new, he eats strange food. And Brian’s watching, and Brian, he sits there wondering, “Which is worse, being laughed at or feeling invisible? And I understand that.” And then what Brian does is just, such a simple little act of kindness. And so I love that as well in this book, says the next day, when Justin goes to his cubby to put away his backpack, he notices a piece of paper with his name on it and he opens it up and it says, “Justin, I thought the bulgogi looked good, – Brian.” And it shows Brian looking at the bulgogi saying, “Yum.” It’s just beautiful. And so of course, Brian and Justin become friends and Brian gets to be in Justin’s group when they have a project, and they all get to contribute, and it’s just a wonderful story. So yeah, I think this is a great book to read at the beginning of school to challenge our children, to look for those around them, who could use a friend who could use being drawn into the group.

And I said, that was the last book I was going to share, but I think I’m going to share one more. And the reason I wasn’t going to share it is because I just shared it a few weeks ago in our episode about wordless books, but this one of course is about school as well, and it fits well with The Invisible Boy, and that’s I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness. And this is by Kerascoët, and this book has no words in it, but it is so beautifully done because Vanessa is new, she’s being bullied. She’s not feeling a part of the school, and Vanessa is all alone, except for this one little girl who notices her, and so she decides to walk with her to school, and as she does, she introduces her to her friends, and pretty soon she’s a part of the group. It’s just so simple, if we would just take the time to make a difference in people’s lives. And so I would love to challenge you to think of some simple acts of kindness. We can challenge our children to use each day at school. I will post a list if you have some great ideas and could post them in the show notes or email them to me, we will make a list of simple acts of kindness that our children can do with the new school year. And I will post that on our social media, on Facebook and Instagram, once we compile that list. So help me make that list. Would you write a note or make a comment on our show notes so that you can contribute to this list of simple acts of kindness any child can do at school?

Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with me, you can reach me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. I’d love for you to sign up for my mailing list. When you do, you receive several free items, as well as you get notifications when I post my blog posts or a new episode of this podcast, and you also get the monthly newsletter, which includes our book club, and also includes the monthly devotional that I share with you and many other goodies. In our newsletter, we also have a giveaway each month, so be sure and look for that on social media. It’s also in the newsletter and in our private Facebook group, so look for that. I give away at least one book every month, so I’d love for you to be a part of that and get in on the giveaway. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share, we appreciate it. It helps people know we’re here and helps us to grow, helps our audience to grow. Thank you for being here today. You have a wonderful week.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

September Giveaway!

Each month we have a giveaway. This month’s giveaway is La Llama, Llama, Rojo Pijama (Llama, Llama, Red Pajama in Spanish) in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. I will include the devotion from our newsletter in Spanish as well. To enter, comment below or in our private Facebook group that you’d like to enter the drawing.

The translation of this story is done so well. They’ve kept the fun rhyme and lyricism of the original text. This is a Spanish only version, not bilingual.

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