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For today’s post, I have two picturebooks that show how one may be able to go beyond one’s name, colour, labels – and ultimately find a quiet acceptance with one’s self – regardless of how people may bully or perceive you differently. This is also in keeping with our current reading theme this May-June: Universal Republic of Childhood.
Written and Illustrated by: Kevin Henkes
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 1991 ISBN: 0688147321 (ISBN13: 9780688147327)
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Chrysanthemum is a well-loved child – she has parents who doted on her, read her to sleep, spend quality time with her. She also adores her beautiful name – she enjoys saying it out loud, the way it rolls off her tongue; and she also enjoys writing it down in crayon, pencil, even icing on a cake.
But all this changed when she started going to school and her classmates started making fun of her name. Victoria, in particular, was quite insufferable. Whenever Chrysanthemum comes home in tears because of some cruel remark that her classmates have thought up, I loved how her parents attempted to make her feel better by calling her “precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome.” Henkes also adds an entirely different layer to the narrative with his art (see below):
I especially liked the Picasso-mouse painting. Here is another one:
indicating how Chrysanthemum’s parents are actually pretty bothered by what she is going through and seeks to understand it better by consulting the experts and providing her with comfort food – chocolate cake with buttercream frosting sounds particularly delicious.
I also liked the music teacher, Miss Twinkle. She is a reminder of the importance of having caring and compassionate teachers whose studiedly-casual remarks may actually serve to change the dynamics in the classroom and ultimately, a child’s life. For teachers who may wish to use this in the classroom, here is a list of suggested activities from teachingheart.net.
Red: A Crayon’s Story
Written and Illustrated by: Michael Hall
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 2015 ISBN: 0062252097 (ISBN13: 9780062252098)
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. Book Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2015)
When I read this book last year, I was floored by its simplicity and its brilliance. Just imagine what it’s like to be red and to not be very good at it.
In a deceptively-simple story, Hall was able to capture the distinct sensation of being labeled one thing when one feels entirely like something else. I thought that Hall’s use of crayons was particularly brilliant as it shows in such a concretely-stark fashion just how practically nonsensical people’s expectations are of people who are so obviously different from how people expect them to be. It also captures the well-meaning intentions of teachers and parents in ensuring that Red stays red:
Faced with something that goes against the grain of societal expectations, it is fairly easy to pronounce judgments, as the oddity seems like an affront to everyone else, all predicated upon an inherently faulty assumption of what one believes the other should be.
This can become so dangerously insidious that it may make one truly wonder about one’s nature, and could very well lead to denying one’s own truth and breaking one’s spirit:
And sometimes, all it takes is one open-minded purple boat to think outside self-imposed confinements to set red free, allowing it to be its gloriously-blue self. I think this is a perfect book for teachers and parents, as it forces us to really reflect on the things we do to allow individuality and identity to flourish under our guidance. For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, here is a 9-paged downloadable pdf resource created by Scholastic that includes suggested activities and discussion questions in the classroom.
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