Recently on Twitter, Tara Lazar asked people to give a shout out to picture books published during the pandemic that they thought hadn’t received enough attention. I read through the chat and stumbled upon this book. The beautiful cover and the title caught my attention. When I read the reviews and learned it was about gratitude, I thought it would be a great November post. After all, gratitude is a frequent November theme due to Thanksgiving.
Then, something marvelous happened. I read the Ten Beautiful Things and my heart opened. On the outside this book is about gratitude, but on the inside this book is about making space for and accepting sadness in our lives. It’s about the fact that life isn’t all smiley face emojis, rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes we have something really hard going on in the inside while something beautiful is happening around us on the outside. Like life, we are all complex with complicated emotions swirling around inside, hidden from the outside world.
Even though I had that experience as a reader, I took it into my classroom with the intention of using the book as a model for “show don’t tell,” for a writer’s workshop lesson, and I did do that. After all, Molly Beth Griffin does an outstanding job of showing instead of telling sadness and of showing a character moving from sadness to acceptance. But what struck me while reading wasn’t the efectiveness of the “show don’t tell,” mini-lesson, it was the kids listening to every word and hearing their hearts opening during the silence of the page turn.
The next morning on our grafitti board, aka last year’s COVID divider, I wrote, “Tell about a time you felt hollow inside like Lily.” Here are their responses:
It was magical all over again.
Each morning I stand outside my classroom, greet each individual student and do an emotional check-in. One student burst into tears about her upcoming move to the Netherlands and having to leave her horse Lilly behind. After she told me about it, she had the opportunity to express herself on our grafitti board. Thanks to this simple morning work task, each student had the chance to open up to the class.
I learned a ton about my students from reading their responses. How about the student who is so out of touch with his emotions that he was unable to identify a time he felt hollow inside? Later that week, we read through their answers as a class. Students had the opportunity to see that many of their classmates had felt hollow for a reason similar to their own.
Every day in our classrooms we have a choice. We can choose to pretend that everything is hunky-dory or we can choose to be cynical and ignore all the small, beautiful moments that occur throughout the day or we can choose to be real. We can make a safe space that acknowledges and celebrates the fact that life is a smoothie of miraculous and tragic and everything in between.