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One of the reading strategies we teach students is to notice character changes, whether it be in chapter books, movies, or even in life. When I first started out teaching this strategy, I was inspired by the language of Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. This book provided my students with the foundation for having deeper reading conversations and a common language as we developed our thoughts and our discussion skills.
While being able to track characters and notice when they act out of character is a great reading strategy, it is an even bigger life skill. Inferring and noticing when people don’t seem like themselves or when they change can be practiced within literature and media. As a way to introduce and really focus on the strategy, I have long used picture books to showcase it. 8 years ago, I created this initial list of picture books and I figured it was about time to update it as I sit and watch Titanic with my kids.
The Noisy Classroom by Angela Shanté and illustrated by Alison Hawkins. A young girl is about to enter the third grade, but this year she’s put into Ms. Johnson’s noisy class. Everything about the noisy class is odd. While all the other classes are quiet, Ms. Johnson sings and the kids chatter all day. The door is always closed, yet sounds from it can be heard in the hallway. With summer coming to an end and school starting, the girl realizes that soon she’ll be going to the noisy class. What will school be like now?
In After the Fall by Dan Santat, Humpty Dumpty has to come to terms with his own fear and anxiety after a great big fall. But that requires him to act opposite of what his fear tells him to.
When my Cousins Come to Town by Angela Shanté and illustrated by Keisha Morris. Fitting in can be hard, but standing out isn’t easy either! Every summer a young girl eagerly waits for her cousins to come visit and celebrate her birthday. All her cousins are unique in their own ways and have earned cool nicknames for themselves… except for the girl. But this year things are going to be different. This year before summer ends, she’s determined to earn her own nickname!
My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown. A young boy named Bobby has the worst teacher. She’s loud, she yells, and if you throw paper airplanes, she won’t allow you to enjoy recess. She is a monster! Luckily, Bobby can go to his favorite spot in the park on weekends to play. Until one day… he finds his teacher there! Over the course of one day, Bobby learns that monsters are not always what they seem.
I Hate Everyone by Naomi Davis and illustrated by Cinta Arribas. “I hate everyone.” In your worst mood, it’s a phrase you might want to shout out loud, even if, deep down, you don’t really mean it. Set at a birthday party, this disgruntled, first-person story portrays the confusing feelings that sometimes make it impossible to be nice, even-or especially-when everyone else is in a partying mode.
In Big by Vashti Harrison we follow our main character and she goes from loving herself, to feeling the direct pressure from society to fit in. Can she find herself and her strength again?
Timid by Harry Woodgate offers up the story of Timmy, who loves to perform even though they also have anxiety whenever they are asked to perform in front of others. While they want to overcome it, and nearly do, it turns out letting go of who you used to be is a lot harder than one might think.
In Francis Discovers Possible by Ashlee Latimer and illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani, Francis loves learning new words. At school, when her class is reviewing words that begin with the letter “F,” someone sneers “Fat, like Francis.” Francis always thought “fat” was a warm word—like snuggling with Mama or belly rubs for her puppy. But now “fat” feels cold, and Francis feels very small. After school, Baba takes Francis to the park. She chooses the bench instead of the swing set, and gets very quiet. But when Baba uses the word “possible,” Francis wants to know what it means.
In The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith, Mean Jean was Recess Queen and nobody said any different. Nobody swung until Mean Jean swung. Nobody kicked until Mean Jean kicked. Nobody bounced until Mean Jean bounced. If kids ever crossed her, she’d push ’em and smoosh ’em, lollapaloosh ’em, hammer ’em, slammer ’em, kitz and kajammer ’em. Until a new kid came to school! With her irrepressible spirit, the new girl dethrones the reigning recess bully by becoming her friend in this infectious playground romp.
In Home for a While by Lauren H. Kerstein and illustrated by Natalie Moore, Calvin is in foster care, and he wants to trust someone, anyone, but is afraid to open his heart. He has lived in a lot of houses, but he still hasn’t found his home. When he moves in with Maggie, she shows him respect, offers him kindness, and makes him see things in himself that he’s never noticed before. Maybe this isn’t just another house, maybe this is a place Calvin can call home, for a while.
El Cucuy is Scared Too by Donna Barba Higuera and illustrated by Juliana Perdomo. Ramón is a little boy who can’t sleep. He is nervous for his first day at a new school.
And El Cucuy is the monster who lives in Ramón’s cactus pot. He can’t sleep, either.
It turns out that El Cucuy is scared, too!
Truman by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a worried little turtle especially as Sarah leaves him for school. How will he manage when she continues to leave and cannot bring him along?
It’s like this picture book was written just for this lesson. The Bad Seed by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald features two changes in character and also a powerful message about trauma and what can happen to you even after bad things happen.
In Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant, Morris goes from being sad and timid, unsure of his choice to wear a tangerine dress. As the book progresses he changes as he realizes that he wants to be himself.
According to the boys watching Allie play, girls can’t play basketball.
In A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Robertson, the C&C is how the two sides view the story.
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty and illustrated by Mike Boldt is C&C throughout. The main character does not want to be what he is supposed to be and protests it every way he can.
As two cousins write to each other, we see the contrast (and similarities) between their lives.
Tuesday by David Wiesner started us off in our discussions about contrasts and contradictions. This fantastic nearly wordless picture book is an easy entry into this discussion as it allows students to easily see how the magical event with the toads floating is in contrast to what frogs normally do.
With one of my classes I also used Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, where the contrast lies in the rules being shared and the images. While this one was a little more advanced for the students, they greatly enjoyed the illustrations and discussing what they might mean.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody in class ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine
Another contrast and contradiction text between self and society in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown where Mr. Tiger just will not conform. When he tries to change his ways, he loses his real identity.
This Is A Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld is a great example of the contrast between what a moose is supposed to be like and what they really are.
The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman is a wonderful example about change in a character as Snail is too scared to follow Fish on a new adventure.
That Is Not A Good Idea by Mo Willems is another great example of a character changing and acting in a different way than we would expect. I do love this devious little tale.
What I love about Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, is that most of my students can relate to its message about being expected to fit in in a certain way. The contrast lies between the characters and how their upbringing has shaped them.
Any day I can use Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed is a good day in our room. Here, we focus on the change that Pete the pig goes through as he meets Pickles. Great book also to use for character development and inferring.
Don’t Call Me Choocie Pooh by Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley follow the story of a dog that does not want to be treated in a certain way afraid of what the other dogs will think. Great ending that shows the change in the character.
Horrible Bear written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah O’Hora is a lovely picture book that shows what happens when you don’t do what is expected.
Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon is a perfect example of a character that does not fit the stereotype. Great-Grandmother Nell isn’t anything but warm and fuzzy and as the great-grand daughter starts to understand why, we see a great slice of history as well.
North Woods Girl written by Aimee Bissonette and illustrated by Claudia McGehee is also about a grandma that doesn’t quite fit the mold.
Little Red by Bethan Woolvin is wickedly funny, it follows the path of the regular story but with a twist at the end and it is that twist that provides our contract and contradiction.
Which books have you used for contrast and contradictions?
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