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The Surprise

What do a judo-loving guinea pig and a class of fourth graders have in common? Readers discovered that, it turns out, we’re all a bit odd.

In Zadie Smith & Nick Laird’s endearing picture book, a new pet guinea pig named Maud is viewed by the other pets of the house as an “oddball”. It isn’t until she meets a kind neighbor that she discovers being different is something to be proud of.

It immediately had my gears turning in connection to the community building and social emotional learning we’ve been working on in our classroom. Through growth mindset work, students have thought about strengths and challenges they have in school. Through identity mapping and small moment stories, they’ve shared personal events and interests. But we’ve never opened up the space to share our quirks…those things about us that maybe we’re proud of, maybe we’re a little self-conscious about, but they are those things about us that make us truly unique.

After reading The Surprise, I asked students to do just that- think of one thing they love/hate/do that few others they know seem to. The result? A celebration of our oddball qualities, ranging from fashion choices (“I only wear black clothes”) to hobbies (“I like improv”) to physical abilities (“I can move my nose without twisting any other part of my body”).

When discussing our thoughts about the book, a student shared she loved the story because “[Maud] found someone else that was different and now she feels brave.” As the year continues, I look forward to finding bravery in our oddness together!

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