The Littlest Yak (Simon & Schuster Children’s)
Written by Lu Fraser
Illustrated by Kate Hindley
For ages: 4-8
No matter the period, it seems like children always feel a sense of inadequacy from being so much smaller than the world they are born into. Some kids are just itching to grow up because they feel left behind, unable to do all the things the big kids do. Gertie feels just the same, the smallest yak among a herd of very big ones. She sees the other yaks with their “hugest of hooves and humongous horns” and yearns for the same. Gertie’s mother tries to convince her to cherish these times of being a kid but Gertie just won’t have it.
Gertie begins trying to make herself bigger through a series of exercises that don’t really go anywhere. Then one day, her small stature becomes a benefit that the other yaks need. Another little yak has become stuck on the edge of a cliff. Only someone small can fit in the space to rescue the lost yak. Gertie is just the one for the job. Using a color palette of grays, blues, white, and just touches of red illustrator Kate Hindley creates a fun & engaging world of yaks high up in the snowy mountains.
This is a book that is going to appeal to all your students because they all feel like this at some point. They are racing to be “grown-up” not understanding the benefits of being a child and going through the process of growth. This book will also evoke oohs and aahs from how cute little Gertie is portrayed. I love Hindley’s cartoony style that doesn’t feel extremely derivative or chasing any sort of popular trend in children’s entertainment.
1. Gertie isn’t fully aware of her own character & physical traits as she thinks. Have students make a list of words that describe Gertie, both in her size & shape but also her heart.
2. Using that list of traits, students can now compose a letter to Gertie, letting her know about all the wonderful things she’s overlooking. They can even add some of their own thoughts about what they like about being a child.
3. From there, it’s time for self-reflective writing/drawing. Students should spend some time thinking and responding to this question: What do you like about being a kid? What is something you look forward to about being a grown-up? What is something you think you might miss when you aren’t a child anymore? What are things you do now as a child that you will keep doing when you are older?
Carnivores (Chronicle Books)
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Dan Santat
For ages: 4-8
No, this is not a book for or against veganism. This is a cleverly written book about self-acceptance. Using three notorious predators (lion, shark, wolf), author Aaron Reynolds talks about how much it hurts to feel one way and then be pressured to be something different. Our three animal friends form a support group after being shamed one too many times for being meat-eaters. The wildebeests have chastised the lion, the great white just eats really fast, and the wolf hasn’t wolfed down too many little girls on their way to grandma’s house.
Who should help this troubled trio but the wise Owl, a predator as well. After putting on costumes or adopting vegetarianism, the animals have given up hope but their winged mentor knows what to say. Owl gives them a mantra to repeat “I’m not bad. I’m a carnivore. Eating meat is just what I do.” Soon, the beast buddies are smiling and back at it. They know who they are and it’s up to the rest of the world to learn to accept them, not for them to change & conform.
The illustrations are by Dan Santat, who I previously spotlighted. Honed through years of work in animation, Santat’s character designs and composition are beloved by children. He’s able to accurately present the emotions of his characters, from slouch-shouldered sadness to wide-eyed joy. In many ways, Santat makes illustrations that feel as dynamic as an animated cartoon. Carnivores makes a great text to bridge between lessons on food chains while also addressing the social-emotional needs of your students. This is a reminder that who they are is good & the judgements of others are empty.
1. There is a specific incident that causes each predator to feel bad about themselves. Help students in mapping out the cause & effect for these. Then have them map the cause & effect that gets the carnivores back on their feet again.
2. Have students brainstorm a different predator not featured in the story. They can write a short story where this predator is bullied and how lion, shark, and wolf come to help out their new friend in accepting himself.
3. Students can write/draw as they reflect on the following prompt: When was a time you felt pressure to not be who you are? How did that make you feel? If that happened to your friend, what advice would you give them on accepting themselves?