Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book #274: Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein

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A series of good actions is set into motion by the single positive act of Amelia smiling in New York City. This smile is seen by Mrs. Higgins, who smiles too and then thinks of her grandson in Mexico. So she makes him cookies, which he shares with his class along with a song about cookies in English. And because he teaches the class a song, one of the other students, a kickboxer, decides to be a teacher too and she puts some kickboxing tutorials on the internet, which are seen by a dance troupe in England…and so the positive actions increase and expand around the globe until the chain reaction comes full circle and makes Amelia smile again.

This text of this pay-it-forward story is simple, which fits the tone of the story. Stein doesn’t need to exaggerate or elaborate; he just describes each action and reaction. Page turns have been strategically placed to build anticipation and to move the story along. The illustrations were created with a new method developed by Stein meant to mimic print-making. He calls it Stein-lining and it involves drawing with crayon on label paper (that waxy paper left behind when you pull all the labels off the sheet), turning the label paper over and pressing it against a piece of regular paper. He used this to create the outlines of the illustrations. The result is a highly textured, movement-filled book. It’s a bit chaotic and colorful and this can make it difficult to find a focal point, but this also creates a highly detailed, realistic world. It also means that readers will continue to find new elements each time they read the book.

For a complete explanation of the inspiration behind this book, check out this interview with Stein published in BookPage. It’s a wonderfully insightful interview and well worth the five minutes it takes to read it. 

Use this book to talk about small acts of kindness and how our actions, even the small ones, can be felt around the world. Read other books that highlight positivity, such as Lola Reads to Leo and “More, More,More,” Said the Baby. Stein mentions singing a song about cookies in the text, so follow up with the classic Sesame Street song, C is for Cookie. You can extend the song by picking a different letter and what it stands for, such as D is for Doggie or A is for Apple.

Ask kids to talk or write about something positive they’ve done today. Make a positivity jar or box and leave it in the classroom or storytime room. Provide slips of paper and encourage kids to write down any positive act, big or small, and put it in the jar. You could also turn the slips into a paper chain of positivity. The idea is to focus on bringing positive, rather than negative, energy into your daily life. As the book points out, sometimes the smallest act of positivity by one can become a catalyst for many.

Bring out a globe or map of the world and find all the locations mentioned in the book. For older kids you can calculate how many miles Amelia’s smile traveled.


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