family, fantasy, science, social-emotional

Spotlight – Unicorns Are The Worst/The Great Whipplethorpe Bug Collection

Unicorns Are The Worst (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Alex Willan

For ages: 3-7
It’s easy to judge but harder to look at others with empathy. That’s a lesson the goblin narrator of this tale learns. He is sick of unicorns for many reasons, mainly because he feels that other magical creatures are ignored. The goblin also dislikes all the glitter the unicorns are sprinkling everywhere. He spends so much time talking to the reader about the unicorns he doesn’t spot the other magical creature stalking him. 

His judgments about unicorns come into question when they leap to the goblin’s defense. Now he has to reevaluate how he feels about these animals. Finally, we realize that the goblin felt he wasn’t being included and wanted to go to the tea parties and playtime the unicorns were having. The bold, colorful illustrations are matched by clever, funny writing. The pictures also keep things simple; with plain backgrounds, the characters pop off the page.

1. Present students with material to do an art project. Half of the materials should be glittery, unicorn-colored, while the other half should be greens, brown, and more earth tones. Let students pick which style they want to use and make a piece of art. Then display so students can see that both types can be used to make beautiful things.

2. The goblin has a lot of opinions about unicorns—present students with a T-chart. In one column, identify an opinion the goblin has about unicorns. Then, through observing the illustrations of the unicorns, students provide a fact. Work until you have 3-4 of each. 

3. For a piece of spirited opinion writing, have students write a defense of their favorite magical creature. You will likely need to provide them with a shortlist to choose from. Fairy, unicorn, goblin, giant, vampire, dwarf, etc. Students should be able to give examples of their creatures from books or popular media to explain why they are the best.

The Great Whipplethorpe Bug Collection (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written by Ben Brashares
Illustrated by Elizabeth Bergland

For ages: 4-8
At some point, every child begins to wonder about their family history. Chuck discovers he comes from a line of explorers and scientists who lived such exciting lives. He lives in the suburbs and is bored all the time. Chuck decides to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps but finds it’s more complicated than he first imagined. The one thing Chuck finds possible is building a bug collection like one of his grandfathers. Upon seeing his first beetle, the young man realizes he must kill it to make it part of his collection. Instead, he starts hunting for dead flies around the house to start things off.

The illustrations in this book are pretty remarkable; characters are drawn in pen outlines with watercolor backgrounds. The result is something that looks very impressionistic. The characters are black and white, so more time has been put into the details of their faces and clothes. The way Chuck chooses to share his bug collection is a delight of children’s book art, a two-page spread that requires a 90-degree turn to take in all the glorious detail. This book does a great job of discussing the family legacy and promoting empathy towards nature.


1. The book provides an obvious opening for making a family tree or, for older advanced students, writing a short report about a family member. If students have and are allowed to, bringing in heirlooms or objects associated with that relative will help make them feel more natural. 

2. Chuck designs a house for bugs. Students can pick another animal and design a place that would work for that creature. They should be expected to provide adequate detail and label their house. For advanced students, having them write a paragraph or two about this home would be even better.

3. Have students brainstorm about starting their own collection. Provide logs so students can track how their collection grows. Ideally, this is a collection they have at home. At the end of a quarter or the end of the school year, have students either bring in their collection or pictures of their collection (depending on how large it is). This is an excellent opportunity for them to speak to their classmates about why they picked these objects and what they mean to them.

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