The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors (Balzer + Bay)
Written by Drew Daywalt
Illustrated by Adam Rex
For ages: 4-8
Some children’s games are just that, but some are more mythic. That’s the wildly hilarious tone of one of the best picture books I’ve read in the last ten years. Author Drew Daywalt (you might know him from The Day the Crayons Quit) pens a story that takes the mundane and reimagines it as akin to Conan the Barbarian or Lord of the Rings. This is one of the books that can unlock creativity and imagination through absolutely pure silliness for many children.
Rock lives in the yard battling a clothespin and apricot; he dispatches them quickly, lamenting that no one is a challenge. Meanwhile, in the Empire of Mom’s Home Office, Paper battles the Computer Printer causing a paper jam. Finally, in the kitchen junk drawer, we find Scissors who take on the frozen dinosaur chicken nuggets in the freezer. Each contender wants to face someone they cannot trample so easily.
Each of these three characters is beautifully realized with such distinct personalities. Rock is a gruff, bellowing figure, while Paper is an almost goofy Spongebob type, wandering accidentally into his competitions. Scissors, implied to be female, is probably the most underwritten, which is a shame. However, that doesn’t dilute what a perfect read-aloud we have here, a book your children will beg to have read to them again and again.
1. Scissors and Rock have a back and forth about Battle Pants in the book. For your artistically inclined students, have them design their own pair of battle pants. What makes them perfect for going into battle?
2. The book is all about embracing challenges because it makes the characters better. Have students discuss times they have been challenged and what they helped them learn how to do. This can be used for some personal journaling and reflection.
3. Have students choose another commonly played game (hopscotch, four square, hide n seek, etc.) and work with students to write the legend of that game. This should be used as an exercise in developing voice in writing, making sure their characters have a specific sound.
Home (Magination Press)
Written by Tonya Lippert
Illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier
For ages: 4-8
On a single night in America, nearly four in ten people are without shelter. Homelessness has been a status hitting many families in America since COVID-19 began and led to significant long-term layoffs and firings. Before the pandemic, I would encounter at least one homeless student a year reasonably often. With all groups, students should see themselves represented in your school library and/or classroom literature. No matter the comfort level you have with these issues, you do your students a disservice by not placing importance on those voices. Author Tonya Lippert grew up homeless and wrote this book from a place of experience.
Told from the point of view of a brother and sister, they have to leave the home they know one day. Both children are confused and don’t understand why they have nowhere to go. This leads to crashing with friends or a short-term motel, and the children go from feeling like it’s a fun adventure to hating the inconsistency. Through straightforward and beautiful illustrations, we see them trying to come to terms with a time in their life full of difficulties while still being expected to go to school. If you have ever had homeless students in your classrooms, you’ll feel a lot of empathy with these characters.
It’s infuriating that the United States still has millions of homeless people despite having so much wealth. This should have been a problem eliminated decades ago by making housing just as much a right as anything else that already exists under that banner. Maybe we won’t need books like this in our classrooms one day, and homelessness will be something we look back on in history texts. But for now, teachers need to make sure homeless students in their schools feel safe & loved, and having books like this accessible is just one step we can take.
1. Have your student write a story about meeting the characters from the book. How would they help them feel safe at school? What is a fun activity they could share with them? What’s something they could give them or buy for them that might help out?
2. Find an established organization helping homeless people in your community. Community kitchens or food banks are always great choices. Volunteer some time with you and your child to meet these families. When you meet people face to face, it can suddenly make a problem that seems distant from your day-to-day life incredibly real.
3. Have students discuss & brainstorm ways their school or community could become more inclusive for homeless students and their families. Let this be the first step of a plan to make it a reality. Students will learn the value of planning, feedback, and collaboration while having an end product that makes the world genuinely better and kinder.