Location and Times

If You Want to See a Whale

Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead
New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2013

If you want to see a whale, you will need to know what NOT to look at. Pink roses, pelicans, possible pirates . . . If you want to see a whale, you have to keep your eyes on the sea, and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.

This is an excellent read-aloud book. The text is charming and demonstrates the difficulty in waiting for things. There are so many things to distract. What makes this story such a great introduction to a conversation about patience is that the things that distract us are, in their own right, very worthwhile and beautiful things. What’s not to like about roses, pelicans and clouds?

In my conversations with children around this topic, we’ve talked about the difficulty in waiting for exciting things like parties, birthdays and special days, but we’ve also talked about the challenge of waiting for difficult things too. Kids know a lot about waiting…it can seem like an eternity of waiting for parents to end their chit-chat, to be done at the grocery store, to arrive at destinations, to name only a few! We can practice compassion and empathy when we can imagine what it’s like waiting for results from a doctor when we’re sick, a surgery date, or waiting for a family move to a new neighbourhood/city/school. These situations all require waiting and we all can learn ways to make the waiting easier – for ourselves and for our friends and family.

I’ve often wondered out loud to the children if the author of this story might be telling us a little bit of a joke: Although she writes that we can’t be distracted if we really want to see a whale, aren’t there times when being distracted by these ordinary, but wonderful sights might just be a positive? Might noticing these everyday wonders help us be patient, help us in our waiting?

This book opens up all these ideas and I imagine sharing this book again and again.


Kathryn Otoshi. Publishers Group West, 2008.

Blue is a quiet colour. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. The other colours don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colours how to stand up, stand together, and count.

This is an amazing story, told in an accessible way for almost any child 4+. The fact that the characters of this story are colours and numbers means that this story of bullying and possible responses is appropriate for anyone – children, teens, adults, seniors. I use this story to enter conversations about how we can respond to a bully, and that there are many possibilities. Most students get taught in school to tell a trusted adult. This is good and important information, but what else? There is a need to say stop to a bully. Of course, this can’t always be done safely, or individually. When a group is inspired to stand up for others, the norm of acceptability can change, the culture of bullying can be transformed, positive results can happen. The message of this story? It often only takes one to inspire a group to do the right thing. Bystander research shows this: inaction might be the default, but as soon as one stranger helps another, it gives permission to other bystanders to get involved alongside.

There’s a sense of realism to this story when the bullying red grows bigger as his anger increases. Likewise, when he is stopped by the others, he returns to normal size. This is an excellent conversation starter around how bullies like to increase their own size/power at the expense of others.

The book ends with an invitation for red to join the other colours. Sometimes this is possible with a bully, and sometimes it isn’t. But this is a fantastic glimpse into offering inclusion as a way of resolution, as long as (and this is important to discuss with children) that it’s safe and the offender understands the boundaries of behaviour and that the group won’t tolerate other instances of bullying.

All in all, this book easily leads to conversations about possible action to take when confronted with a bully, safety issues in standing up and saying ‘stop’, the importance of our responses when we see others being bullied, and even how we might think about inclusion and reconciliation.

We’ve used this book at our annual “Pink Shirt Day” when we pledge to do our best to create an anti-bullying atmosphere. Kathryn Otoshi has created a fantastic story and a wonderful entry into a difficult topic for all ages.


Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick, 2004

Ramon likes to draw but after his brother criticizes his art, Ramon gets frustrated and loses interest in his art. Then his sister shows that art does not have to be perfect and introduces him to the concept of “ish”. This is a beautiful and funny story about learning that self expression is personal, unique and subjective. Our thoughts, ideas, writing, drawing, and by extension our whole living, doesn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. In fact, it’s the uniqueness and creativity of each person’s interpretations and expressions that make art and life so beautiful.

This book leads so well into a conversation about the willingness to try, the boldness of expressing one’s self, and the courage it requires to draw/play/speak/express what one sees and how one sees it. The conversation can also go in the direction of valuing ourselves. We may not be perfect at something, but it matters more that we enjoy it, that we be true to who we are than what others might think of it.

I like to follow up a conversation of this story with a video from Sesame Street that has singer Wil.I.Am singing with the Sesame Street gang a song called “What I Am”. Not only is the song catchy, but its message reinforces that we are all unique and important people….all valuable and affirmed.

The Sneetches

Dr. Seuss
New York: Random House, 1961

Themes: inclusion, equality, inner worth, jealousy, justice, prejudice, discrimination, outer differences, friendship

The Star-Belly Sneetches think they are the best, and look down upon Sneetches without “stars upon thars”. The Plain-Belly Sneetches remain oppressed, prohibited from associating with their star-bellied counterparts. They learn a lesson when Sylvester McMonkey McBean (“the Fix-it-up Chappie”) comes to town and teaches them that pointless prejudice can be costly.

This story is a great one for teaching all of us the danger of making judgements based on outward appearances or even perceived differences. Once McBean comes to town with his star-off and star-on machine, there’s no more telling who’s who anymore. The Sneetches are left without money, but also without the source of their prejudice. The confusion helps all the sneetches to recognize that there is no declaring anyone is ‘the best Sneetch on the beach’.

The story leads very well into a discussion about what we can learn from the Sneetches. We are all different, whether its due to our outward appearance, how we think, what we eat, or who we love… These differences, like the stars on the bellies, are not a good reason to exclude. They are opportunities to celebrate our uniqueness. It is so important to reinforce with our children that they are valuable and that each person is equally valuable, although uniquely different. Where and how it matters, we are the same. We are human, we all want to be included.

What matters is how we might try our best to act like the Sneetches that are revealed at the end of the story, rather than those at the beginning. If we can include others, if we can reach out to someone that seems different…come out of our comfort zone in order to make that connection…we will soon learn how similar we are, and how we can learn from each other’s differences.

This is one of Dr. Seuss’ finest…It’s amazingly fun to read out loud….and its worth reading again and again.

My Mouth is a Volcano

Julia Cook and Carrie Hartman
Chattanooga, TN: National Center for Youth Issues, 2005

Themes: interrupting, self-control, behaviour, listening, speaking, words, waiting, respect

Louis always interrupts. All of his thoughts are very important to him, and when he has something to say, his words rumble and grumble in his tummy, they wiggle and jiggle on his tongue and they they push on his teeth, right before he ERUPTS (or interrupts). His mouth is a volcano, but when others begin to interrupt Louis, he learns how to respectfully wait his turn to talk. Ages 4 and up.

As stated on the jacket, this is a book that deals with the universal challenge of teaching children the social nuances of polite conversation, not interrupting, and when to stop talking. It’s funny, and every child and parent will recognize the urge to say what comes to mind immediately!

This is an excellent tool to engage the topic of conversation being a two-way communication with both speaking and listening, and even more than that: that there is a time to wait and be quiet. There is a supplementary teachers guide available as well, of interest to parents, teachers and leaders of all kinds.