Books That Spark Conversations

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When reading is shared with others and when it leads to conversations about the little and big things in life, it is a powerful experience. I like to choose books to read with my children that lead to conversations about how we treat other people. Qualities like compassion, generosity, and kindness… qualities that I hope to instill in my children are themes that I look for in books to share with them.  The conversations we have around stories are often impromptu and in the moment; a character will do or say something and we can stop and talk about it.

These impromptu conversations happen when I am more intentional around the books I add to our shelves.

This month I want to share with you a few stories that I love reading with my children and my students because they are centered around themes of how we treat others.

Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli

This book has been a long time favorite of mine. I’ve read it over the years to each class of students I’ve had, no matter the grade. And I’ve shared it with my own little children too.

The main character is Mr. Hatch who is introduced as a solemn and lonely person. Even the colors of the illustrations portray a melancholy feeling.

And then one day he gets an anonymous package with a note that says “Somebody  Loves You”.

And it changes him. He smiles and laughs, initiates conversations, and offers help to his community. His neighbors notice the change and it has a joyous effect in their neighborhood. When it turns out that the special package was actually not intended for Mr. Hatch, it was the neighbors turn to reciprocate the kindness and joy he had shared with them.

This story lends itself to conversations around the power of a kind word, a helpful gesture, and being a part of a community. You can have conversations about how we can impact those around us and we are impacted by others.

(This book is read on storylineonline.net– a children’s literacy website that has a collection of books read by well-known actors. Check it out!)

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy

This picture book is about a little girl named Lucy. Lucy is unique and her classmate, Ralph, points out her differences in unkind ways. But, even though Ralph has hurt her feelings many times, Lucy is the one to help when he truly needs it.

She has the courage to be herself and to stand up for what is right.

Part of the secret to young Lucy having the strength to rise above the situation is the words of wisdom being spoken into her life by her Papa Gino.

He tells her, “Even if we are different from others on the outside, we all have a heart with feelings on the inside” and “When you treat others with love and kindness, you are doing the right thing.”

Those are the kinds of words and lessons I want to be teaching my kids!

I’ve read this story with many kids over the years and we have conversations about being confident in who we are, standing up for the right thing, and showing love and kindness in the face of adversity. However, more often than not, the conversations that happen after this book are ones with “one time this happened” and “I could have done this instead”. Most kids have a story of being treated unkindly.

And many times they let it get to them and they don’t know how to rise above it.

Or, they have treated someone poorly and haven’t made it right. In the classroom, I don’t think I’ve read this book without someone bringing up Ralph and wondering why he is being so unkind.  Unpacking reasons why people choose rudeness and hate over love and kindness can be powerful conversations.

Lastly, have you read Wonder by R.J. Palacio? Seen the movie?

The book was released on Valentine’s Day in 2012.  I had the chance to read it with two or three classes of students before it became popular, so most students hadn’t heard of it or read it yet. And even though I love reading books with kids that are new to them, I’m not disappointed that this book became so popular and even had a movie made from it!

(Moment of honesty- I haven’t seen the movie… I’ve heard it is wonderful and very well done. And I probably will eventually see it.  But I always have a hard time with movies made from favorite books because I don’t want the movie to alter how I saw the story in my mind.)

This novel is a great book to read, even if you aren’t a kid! It’s well written and shares first person perspectives from multiple characters which brings a depth and a certain connection to the characters. It centers around Auggie who’s facial deformities change the way he is treated. And the theme of the book is to choose kindness which has even become a movement in the wake of the books popularity. Read it. You will see why this story is a good one that should be read by many.

(The audiobook version of this book is great with multiple narrators to distinguish between the different characters chapters. Listen to it in the car with the whole family! Great for a long road trip or even here and there in spurts!)

Choose books intentionally. Choose books that will lead to the kinds of conversations you want to have.

Tiffany Carter is wife (to Drew), mom (to Ellie-5, Jack-3, and Matthew- 3 months), and an elementary school teacher. She loves to read and believes there is no such thing as too many books! She especially loves children’s books and reading with kids. 

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