humor, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight: Don’t Hug the Quokka/I Want To Be A Vase

Don’t Hug the Quokka! (Magination Press)
Written by Daniel Errico
Illustrated by Mia Powell

For ages: 4-8
If you have never heard of the quokka, you are in for a treat. Quokka are a small marsupial found on some small islands off the coast of Western Australia. It would be best if you googled them because I guarantee their pictures will surprise you. They have such an open, happy face and have little fear of humans. They are cases of a quokka biting a person, but for the most part, they are curious when these outsiders visit them. They have no natural predators on their island, so they have never needed to develop fear-based instincts to survive. Quokka can carry salmonella, though, so touching them is not safe. 

Author Daniel Errico and illustrator Mia Powell take the incredibly enticing quokka and use it to illustrate the importance of consent in their book. The quokka is so cuddly and friendly that every fiber of your body wants to hug & cuddle it. But you can’t just do that. If the quokka says “No,” you must respect it. Throughout the book, the child proposes different scenarios to ask if it’s okay to hug the quokka now. With each one, the adult reminds the child that the animal said No, which means No. Only if the quokka says “Yes,” may you hug one. Much like in life, we shouldn’t violate people’s personal space & always ask permission to touch another person, respecting their No. 


1. Have students work in groups to make posters warning visitors that they should not hug the quokka without permission. The posters should emphasize the text’s central theme that consent is critical.

2. Having students research the quokka or other Australian native creatures is always a great idea. The diversity & uniqueness of animal life in that region always captivates children. 

3. Students can write a reflection about consent. What do they think about the message of the book? Why is asking for consent necessary? What should we do if someone is not respecting our choice?

I Want To Be a Vase (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Written by Julio Torres
Illustrated by Julian Glander

For ages: 4-8
Shapes are all around us. Comedian & former SNL writer Julio Torres is obsessed with shapes, which you would know if you saw his HBO special. Torres brings his love of shapes & inanimate objects to this lovely children’s book, all about defining your own shape. Plunger knows he was not meant to sit by a toilet his whole life only used to unclog it. He’s meant to be something beautiful & admired. Instead, Plunger wants to be a vase. This starts chaos among the other objects in the bathroom and eventually the whole house. Some things want everyone to stay as they are, while Plunger has awakened others. They have always felt off, and now they want to be who they truly are.

It’s pretty easy to see this is a text about gender identity. Still, it’s also about pushing back against the negative thoughts people get tangled up in so easily. So often, people are labeled and shelved by society. They tell us that because of a few external physical features, they know who we are. But anyone who listens to themself and is truly honest knows we are so much more than that. Torres brings along illustrator & animator Julian Glander, who delivers digital images that feel like something torn out of the 1990s but also still so fresh & relevant. There will not be another book on your classroom shelf that looks anything like this one; I guarantee it.


1. Have your students pick an everyday household object they can imagine themselves being. In writing and/or illustration, have students explain what they would do if they got to spend their day as a teapot, for example. 

2. Taking this a step further, create a T-chart with students. On one side, give Plunger and the other objects’ reasons for wanting to be other things. On the other side, list the vacuum cleaner’s rebuttals from the text.

3. Taking the T-chart from the last activity, have students compose a single-paragraph opinion essay about whose point of view they agree with more. Make sure they defend why they think that character has the right perspective with details from the text.

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