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Teaching & Learning Gratitude: Book Suggestions For Thankfulness


The heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.
                                                                                                      -Stanley Kunitz

I remember that I was wearing my scuffed mud-brown corrective shoes the day that Christine brought her birthday party invitations to school. I was wearing my ugly shoes because I had weak ankles and my knees turned in. Christine was wearing shiny red fashion boots. I longed for boots like Christine's. The year was 1976. I went to a small school, and I was the only girl in second grade. But my classroom was a 2/3 split class, so I was friends with all of the third grade girls. 

I watched Christine prance down the classroom aisles in her shiny red boots as she passed out her birthday party invitations like a Las Vegas poker dealer just starting her shift.  I couldn't wait! She came down my row, and I was already imagining what gift I wanted to buy her for her birthday. Then, she sashayed past me. No invitation.  I waited, thinking that she had mine on the bottom of her pile. But she didn't. 

I remember completing my stupid spelling book assignment while I choked back my tears. And my shit-brown shoes felt like lead weights. I was the only girl in my classroom who wasn't invited to Christine's birthday party, because I was in second grade and not third grade. 

It was the truly the first time that I realized I was different, and that somehow, I didn't fit in with the people I thought were my friends. I've never forgotten that feeling, ever. And as an adult, when I'm  rejected or odd man out, I still feel like that second grader in the ugly shoes. 

That day in second grade changed me. 


You are down there alone, the stars seemed to say to him. And we are up here, in our constellations, together.
                               -Kate DiCamillo, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Like every other teacher in an elementary classroom in November, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a powerful book for teaching about gratitude. Edward is an arrogant china rabbit who learns about love and gratitude as he experiences hardship and isolation on an eventful journey. Recently, I had the privilege of observing a colleague teach a lesson using ...Edward Tulane. Her third grade students talked about feeling hollow and alone when they lose someone or something that they loved. It occurred to me, that they were empathizing with Edward. And after they empathized, they expressed gratitude for their happy memories. One child even suggested that Edward was learning to be grateful.

Out of the mouths of babes...I'd never really thought about how empathy is connected to gratitude, but I think my 8 year old friends are right. When we put ourselves in each others' shoes, we remember what it's like to be a rejected second grader wearing clunky corrective shoes, and we choose to connect with each other, instead. And because of that shared experience, we feel gratitude. 


They packed the food in baskets and in each one, Babushka put one of her homemade Hanukkah candles. 'So they will have the light of God in their hearts...and so that God will protect them and make them well again.' she murmured."
                        -Patricia Polacco, The Trees of the Dancing Goats.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats, by Patricia Polacco, is another fantastic empathy/gratitude book to share with students. Patricia's family is Jewish. Their Christian neighbors and friends are very sick with scarlet fever. Her family uses their Hanukkah food and gifts to feed their sick neighbors and cheer them. Later, her neighbors return the favor by turning the Christmas ornaments Patricia's family had made into a menorah for her family. 

And we learn vicariously, that "different" doesn't have to mean isolated,  hated or despised. 


For days she walked, passing through more and more villages...There was unhappiness and helplessness everywhere. The world, she sadly realized, was not as she had though it was.
                  -Jeff Brumbeau & Gail de Marcken, The Quiltmaker's Journey

Last year, I wrote about using The Quiltmaker's Gift, also by Brumbeau and de Marcken, to teach about generosity. You can read about that HERE. The Quiltmaker's Journey is the prequel to that story. It describes the quiltmaker's girlhood in a Utopian world. Everyone is fed, clothed and perfect. The village elders tell the citizens to never venture outside the village gates because there are horrible monsters. The quiltmaker is curious though, so she sneaks out one night. She finds that there aren't any dragons or monsters, but people who are suffering. She is shocked and overwhelmed by their misery. She decides to take responsibility and make a change for those in need. This begins her story of empathy, generosity and gratitude. In The Quiltmaker's Gift, she continues her outreach and teaches an arrogant king about generosity and gratitude. 


Everyone has a responsibility to create a more inclusive society and challenge hateful rhetoric. The safety and well-being of our community depend on it.
           -Sabina Mohyuddin, The American Muslim Advisory Council

This past week, my heart broke again as I imagined what it would be like for my Jewish friends to send their children to their parochial schools the day after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. I imagined myself going to church on a Sunday morning, only to encounter a gunman rampaging in the sanctuary. And, I listened to my friend cry tears of relief that her uncle hid and miraculously survived the synagogue shooting, and then later grieve for the community's tragic losses. 

I don't think there can be a more perfect time to teach about empathy, gratitude and generosity. I think our lives depend on it. 

KEEP READING for some cool opportunities (free resources and a $100 gift card)! You might want to check out these resources 
for teaching gratitude, empathy, and generosity. 

                                  

                     

This month, I've teamed up with my WE TEACH SO HARD podcast colleagues to offer a giveaway opportunity for our readers and listeners. We are grateful for you! To enter, click below!



Be sure to check out my WE TEACH SO HARD colleagues' posts below! They're offering some great ideas, suggestions and free resources, too! Our sincere wish is that your holiday be filled with opportunities for gratitude. 


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