social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight – The Year We Learned to Fly/I Love You Because I Love You

The Year We Learned to Fly (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Written by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

For ages: 4-8
With their last collaboration, The Day You Begin, Woodson and Lopez won readers’ hearts and are back at it again with another uplifting book full of love. This story features a girl with a beautiful Afro and her little brother who live in the big city. Summer storms have kept them locked up inside, but their grandmother suggests using their imaginations to escape their current world. Their imaginations are connected to the dreams of their ancestors, people who were enslaved and stolen from their homes but used their inner lives to escape. The girl and her brother reflect on their grandmother’s words and continue to use them as changes happen in their lives that put them in places where they feel like outsiders.

It goes without saying that Rafael Lopez is a brilliant artist; using mixed media and a very expressive, almost animated style. He can convey the dull, muted interiors of the rainy day apartment and contrast it with brilliant pastels outside scenes of sunny nature. Visually, Fly is a perfect companion to Day. They both speak directly to children with the intent to boost their self-esteem and appreciation of life. It’s pretty difficult not to read these texts without smiling and feeling that little bit more hopeful.

One of the most important things about books like this one is that they plant the seed in children’s minds to dream of a better future. Right now, living in highly uncertain times where the threads of society are fraying, children need to be reminded that what happens next lies in their hands. As adults, we need to realize that we merely hold this world to hand over to them sooner than we think. If we dream of a better world, we have to instill that in today’s children. 


1. In the text, the grandmother talks about ancestors and their dreams for their descendants. Make a family tree that goes back a few generations. Then, for example, ask your child what they think their great-grandmother imagined about life and what about today would have surprised them.

2. This book is all about using your imagination to overcome boredom. First, brainstorm a list of fun projects for a Rainy Day. Then, search online and make a document that links to them. You and your children can refer to the list for something fun to do on the next rainy day.

3. For older students, the book mentions African slavery. This is a good jumping-off point for them to research the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and write about what it was and how it ended.

I Love You Because I Love You (Katherine Tegen Books)
Written by Muon Thi Van
Illustrated by Jessica Love

For ages: 4-8
Love is such a broad concept that sometimes it can be overwhelming. I Love You Because I Love You presents itself as a series of call-and-response interactions between people with various relationships. We see parents, children, grandparents, siblings, and more talk about why and how they love each other. The characters shown in the book come in a diverse array (skin tone, gender expression, age, and size) and help see the true beauty of the human race. 

One example of an exchange in the text is identical twins shown in matching dresses with the same hairstyle a few years earlier. On the other page, we see them now, and one sibling has a shorter cropped haircut and is wearing jeans while the other just looks older but similar to their younger self. We see a grandmother in the kitchen making food while her little granddaughter watches in awe, with the adjoining page showing the granddaughter enjoying her grandma’s food. The text has them expressing love by making food and enjoying food others make for you. A couple discovers their child drawing with crayons all over the wall and shows their love by making art with their child. 

Throughout every interaction is the core of unconditional love expressed through many forms. This book could provide some strong support for children with home lives where love isn’t represented healthily. I recently had a former student come out to me as genderfluid, and I made sure to tell them how happy I was for them. Children need to know that who they are, no matter how they express this, is beautiful, and they are loved not despite it but because of it. 


1. Have your artistically inclined children make a dual portrait of themselves and someone in their lives that they love. They can write a sentence at the bottom of the painting expressing why they love this person.

2. For a more significant challenge, have your child make an entire book following the same structure as I Love You Because I Love you. Pick six friends or family members and work on the writing first. After the words are done, then make the book with colorful illustrations.

3. Have your students brainstorm ideas of what they could do for a beloved person in their lives. Then, plan it, make it, and share it with them.

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