Feed Me Books Friday: Noticing Differences

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I am Special.

In case you were wondering, B’s start to preschool this week was fabulous. He adores it. Can’t wait to go back, and certainly doesn’t want me to tag along. Makes me proud and weepy all at once! The theme for the week was “I am special,” which included about-me crafts and getting-to-know-you activities. I decided I’d use some of our library choices to reinforce the theme at home. We have had a few conversations (often in the middle of a grocery store I’m afraid) about people who look different from us in some way. B has asked about overweight people, disabled people, even a wrinkly elderly man and a woman with an outlandish outfit. We talk about how differences make us special and unique, that they are not something to be ridiculed or feared. So far, I feel like his questions and comments arise out of genuine curiosity as opposed to criticism, but he is definitely aware that being different can be a source of discomfort. While on vacation, he refused to make the walk from the hotel pool back to the room without a shirt on “because people might look at me and think I’m strange.”

Unusual is OK.
Big Little Elephant
To spur the social-emotional development of valuing differences, I love a book that we came upon by chance on one of our library visits. Big Little Elephant, by Valeri Gorbachev, tells the story of a young elephant looking for playmates. When he comes upon a frog, a turtle, and a heron playing together, he is thrilled to join them. However, they soon realize that diving in the water and jumping rope are just not safe for small creatures when an elephant is involved. Sad Little Elephant is encouraged by his parents to find different activities they can enjoy together, and Little Elephant realizes his size and abilities can help his friends enjoy kite-flying on a windless day and pretending to be firefighters. We talked about the social dynamics: how Little Elephant felt when the friends decided he couldn’t play with them, how the friends felt when they realized how special Little Elephant really was, feelings of exclusion and belonging. It’s a lovely story to use in discussing unique qualities or just to encourage positive interactions among friends.

Unique is Not Ridiculous
You Look Ridiculous, Said the Rhinoceros to the Hippopotamus (Houghton Mifflin sandpiper books)
Sometimes feeling different leads to a desire to take on the traits of others. This is the plight of the hippopotamus in You Look Ridiculous, by Bernard Waber. The story begins as the hippo is informed by the rhinoceros that she looks “ridiculous.” She is initially surprised, but when the rhinoceros matter-of-factly points out that she is lacking a horn, she laments her previously unknown fault and sets out to ask the other animals of the jungle if she is indeed ridiculous looking. Each animal she meets points out a trait of its own that she is lacking (the lion’s mane, the elephant’s floppy ears, etc.) and her feelings of inadequacy multiply. Some of the animals say things like, “if you want me to me honest,” or “no harm intended,” but their comments are hard for poor hippo to handle. We used her distraught reaction as a discussion point, and I asked B if hippos were supposed to have things like turtle shells or long necks, which elicited both giggles and good discussion of liking ourselves the way we are. In the end, hippo has a dream that she is transformed to possess each of the unique traits of the other creatures. While she is initially thrilled, her excitement fades when she glances at her reflection and discovers she looks truly ridiculous. She wakes from her dream thankful and happy to be in her own skin.

A Collage Waiting to Happen

We hadn’t even finished You Look Ridiculous before I was formulating a plan for an art project involving the mash-up of animal traits hippo was longing for. While we got to see one illustrator’s version at the end of the story, I still thought B would enjoy the silliness of putting the parts together, so I started my search for animal pictures. In my admittedly brief research, I was most impressed by the selection and variety of printable animal coloring sheets at First School. We printed two hippos: a before and after, or unique and ridiculous versions. I also printed a lion, an elephant, a rhinoceros, a giraffe, a monkey, and a turtle. The hippo in the story also wishes for leopard spots, but we just drew those on.

B cut out the hippo bodies, and I did the cutting of the features from the other animals.

Then B glued the two hippos to a large piece of construction paper and added all the other animals’ features, as well as some color. He thought the mixed up creation was hilarious. He even wanted to show it to T to make him laugh, though I doubt T has absorbed enough about hippos to know there was anything out of the ordinary! We had a lot of fun with our mixed up animal, but we also had some good conversation about how nice she looked just the way she was. We also discussed why some of her features were important to her way of life, like small flat ears she could close underwater. This book and activity made for a very balanced mix of developmental discussion and simple laughs and fun. We had so much fun with the mixed up animal creature, we may print some more animal pages and make some more silly friends!

Appropriate for toddlers, preschool, primary grades.

How do you handle questions about differences with your child? What do you do to affirm their confidence in their individuality? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Link up your book recommendations for the week below, and please link back to Little Sprout Books. (Consider adding the button!)

Have a great weekend in your special and non-ridiculous way!


Anne@LittleSproutBooks September 17, 2010 at 2:13 AM  

Just came across this post from earlier this week on teaching children about differences from a Christian perspective - if you were intrigued by the books and discussions I suggested, you may want to go check it out

RedTedArt September 17, 2010 at 4:40 AM  

I love your idea of "mashing up animal parts" like that! What fun!

Can't wait for Red Ted to be that little bit older, he will love this too!!


Braley Mama September 17, 2010 at 5:55 AM  

Wow, you are sooo creative! He did an amazing job too :O) Great work mama!!!

vanessa @ silly eagle books September 17, 2010 at 6:10 AM  

Very cute--the books look great. Glad he's having such a good school experience!

jeannine: waddlee-ah-chaa September 17, 2010 at 6:58 AM  

This reminds me of The Mixed-Up Chameleon. Another great read about being yourself!

Janette@Janette's Sage September 17, 2010 at 8:22 AM  

Oh how precious...mine is going to preschool also...a first in our family of 26 years of parenting...and he so loves it. I will have to check into some of this...especially since he is still having trouble with some words and I don't want him to feel weird!

Ginny Marie September 17, 2010 at 12:19 PM  

We love some of Valeri Gorbachev's other books, too! Chicken Chickens is one of our favorites! Oh, and Bernard Waber is another great author. Great picks!

I can't wait to check out your resource for the animal coloring sheets. What a great activity! I may have to use that for my new job as a preschool teacher!

elizabeth @ twelvecrafts September 17, 2010 at 7:30 PM  

I can't believe that I've never heard of that book. I can't wait to check it out! Looks wonderful!

Raising a Happy Child September 18, 2010 at 8:31 PM  

I am glad that B enjoys his preschool, and the topic of differences is often discussed in the house. Anna always reacts very strongly to someone behaving "out of norm" even though she doesn't mind skin color or clothes differences. We are trying to teach her that you have to get to know people first before forming your opinions on them. I think your hippo project is awesome, and the book sounds like fun. I have to see if our library has it.

jeannine: waddlee-ah-chaa September 23, 2010 at 2:32 PM  

Hi Anne, Just wanted to give you a big thumbs-up on the song adaptations to "This is the way we . . ."

You know we love doing song adaptations over at waddlee-ah-chaa.

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