I love all Kevin Henkes’s books! His characters are unique and realistic and spirited. You might recognize his little mice characters from Chrysanthemum, Owen, or Wemberly Worried. This past week we have been reading Julius, the Baby of the World in the library.
In the library, I always like to start by asking the students if they recognize the author or the illustrator, and having read Chrysanthemum earlier in the year, most of them did. And while reading, we talk about the vocabulary and text-to-self connections.
Finally, a realistic look at siblings! It’s not always roses, you know. I love my one and only bro! But when we were young… sometimes we had trouble showing the love. And Kevin Henkes totally gets that.
One thing I love: Henkes never talks down to his audience, and he inserts sly little jokes about over-anxious parents. So big sister Lily is full of “vocal exuberance” and tells her friends that babies are “dreadful.” (These may not seem like big words, but believe me, our students have never heard of them before.) Her parents “shower her with praise and niceties of all shapes and sizes. But nothing worked” when Lilly is jealous of her new baby brother. And despite all her parent’s careful strategies and worry, it is a bratty cousin sneering at the new baby that finally inspires some sisterly love. It’s always amusing to see how Henkes shows parents worrying over their child’s troubles, only to have it solved in a manner entirely different from the parenting expert book. So it goes (name that book…).
So after the story, we have some discussion. I ask them what changed in Lily’s life when her new brother came home (she has to share her room and be quiet during nap time), what her parents do when Lily blows bubbles or babbles or screams like Julius (they tell her to act her age, use her words, and show restraint), what is nice about having a younger brother or sister (lots of cute answers here…), and how Lily felt during the story (alternately jealous, angry, and protective). I know these answers by heart by the end of the week… like literally, after teaching a lesson I can pretty much recite the entire book.
So then we segue from the question about feelings… and we play a game about feelings. I call on students to come up to my bag of “Face cards” that portray emotions like happy, sad, bored, angry, and surprised on little cards. They pull a card out of the bag, identify the feeling, and share a time when they felt the same way. The stories have been so cute! Reminds you that no matter how aggravating teaching can sometimes be, kids are still kids. And kids are cute, thank goodness.
Next we read a book called A Pinky is a Baby Mouse, by Pam Ryan.
It’s a cute informational book about the names of baby animals. We end the lesson with a little matching game, linking the names of adult and baby names on the dry erase board. Always gotta throw some science or something informative into the mix. And that is that!
I must add one tiny criticism of the Julius book, though: when Lily is jealous, she does do some mean things. It’s funny, but the one word I left out while reading aloud was “hate.” There’s no point in saying over and over again, “We don’t talk ugly. Don’t say ‘hate'” to kids, but then turn around an read about Lily saying she hates her new brother. I just read “does not like” in place of hate when I was reading aloud.
So in conclusion: Julius, Baby of the World is a great book, recommended!