Location and Times
 

Verdi

Janell Cannon
Toronto: Harcourt, Inc. 1997

When Verdi’s mother tells him to grow up big and green, Verdi can’t imagine why. All the big green snakes seem lazy, boring and rude. So he decides he simply won’t turn green, which is why he finds himself in a whole heap of trouble.

Verdi is a children’s book. But like so many good children’s books, this one focuses on a theme appropriate for all of us. When we grow older, we worry about remaining who we’ve always been, losing pieces of our identity, and losing what has made us feel like ourselves. When changes happen around us (and to us), this book helps reassure us that we can remain true to who we are. Our aging, our graduating to a new grade, a new school, a new job, or a new reality doesn’t mean that we can’t be true to the essence of who we are on the inside.

This book can also lead into a conversation about knowing our limitations. There are certain things that we can learn about ourselves – what we’re good at, what we’re not so good at, what our strengths are and what we’d like to work at. Verdi believes he’ll be young forever, but he forgets that as he gets older he will appreciate different things about life. We might really miss something we used to do, but can focus also on the things we can still discover about ourselves when we try new things, or do things differently.

One

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.

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