Lonely children and first days at school

We are back in school and I have had a flurry of requests for books about first days. Two top my list: Sunday Chutney by Aaron Blabey and The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig as both really encourage students to imagine what it is like to be a new kid, to be resilient and what it means to be a friend.

Sunday Chutney is a little girl who moves a lot and has lived in many different countries. Not only is she always the new kid but she has a lazy eye – so she knows what it is like to look and feel different. Although Sunday comes across as self-assured and confident it is clearly not always easy settling in and finding friends. She has a long list of likes and dislikes and many plans for her future – it is a good book to get the school year started and to encourage students to get to know one another and see what they have in common.

My library copy is out on loan so here is a YouTube recording, read by Storytime with Susan.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

 Illustrated by Patrice Barton

A gentle story about kindness and resilience and how a new student can shift the dynamics of an entire class. Brian is invisible, all his other class mates seem noisier, more demanding and certainly more obsessed with fitting in. Even his teacher, Mrs Carlotti has trouble noticing Brian. She is too busy dealing with Nathan and Sophie.

‘Nathan and Sophie take up a lot of space. Brian doesn’t.’
It is interesting that the soft grey pencil strokes of Brian, make him stand out in the pages filled with kids. Already, I hope, the lesson here is why do you want to be the same as everyone else?But it hurts to be left-out.  Brian stands out waiting and hoping, as teams are picked for kickball, he listens whilst everyone talks about the ‘best pool party ever’, it is clear Brian was the only one in the class not invited.  At choosing time, Brian sits contentedly and draws his own world full of pirates and superheroes all with the power ‘to make friends wherever they go.’
When new student Justin, shows up in class, Brian is the only one to give him a welcoming smile whilst the other kids try to figure out if ‘he’s cool enough to be their friend’.
At lunch, the new boy is teased for eating Bul-go-gi and the other kids laugh as J.T says there is no way he is eating ‘Booger-gi’. Brian sits alone ‘wondering which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible‘.
Brian draws a picture of himself enjoying a big bowl of bulgogi and puts it in Justin’s cubby.  When the kids have to team up for a special project it seems that Brian is going to be left out once again but Justin calls him over and together with Emilio they make a group of three. The group make use of Brian’s artistic talents and seem to have fun.
But when it is lunch time, Brian’s least favourite part of the day ‘another twenty l-o-n-g minutes of kids talking and laughing with everyone else…but him’ he hears someone shouting his name. Justin is waving him over and Emilio scoots up to make room for Brian at the lunch table.
I love the happy ending, of course, it could so easily have gone the other way – Justin taking off with Emilio and leaving Brian out, again.
So whilst lonely kids might see themselves in Brian and new kids identify with Justin, I hope all kids take a good look at themselves and see the difference kindness and inclusion can make. Really kids, if you invite another kid over to join your group you are not going to grow extra long nose hair and be classed as untouchable – you are just going to be kind.
Do you need to be brave to be kind – raise your hands if you wish to answer…
Trudy Ludwig the author of The Invisible Boy has written many good stories that you can work with in the classroom. I love her motto:

Making a difference to kids’ lives, one book at a time.

Visit her blog to find links to lesson plans and more about her work.

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