A Story-Pack of Belonging


Carol Doyle-Jones

date published

Oct. 6, 2015, 6:30 p.m.



As an educator I love to start my classes by sharing newfound stories or classic favourites. Connecting to story elements (the visuals, the texts, the imagined sounds and smells) is always a wonderful way to spend time with students. Books are also a great way to weave topics such as self-esteem and positive body image into the classroom. They can be instrumental in creating a safe space for dialogue, action, and sharing. When I think about concepts such as belonging, self-love, security, success, pride in oneself, and finding one’s voice, I consider books a creative and fun avenue to discover and explore such themes. There are many connections to finding and accepting oneself inside the beautifully crafted pages of a number of inspirational titles. Kyo Maclear’s Spork, Ink-blot by Maria Eugenia, and Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses authored by James and Kimberly Dean are just a few examples.

Finding oneself while searching through our feelings is evident in the work of two of my favourite authors. Through powerful words and images a little girl meanders through self-discovery in Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree. The young girl, “a stand-in for ourselves” according to Tan, shares her feelings, often dark moments, while an image of hope keeps appearing to ground and inspire her. Kyo Maclear’s ageless picture book, Virginia Wolf (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault), is a stunning study of working on our “wolfish” feelings. Maclear’s book revolves around the relationship between writer Virginia Woolf and her sister, a painter, Vanessa Bell. Both sisters struggle with their feelings; while one is often sinking into her own sadness, the other tries to carry her out. The illustrations are incredibly stunning and the text will evoke questions and dialogue among any age group on not only art and literature, but on feelings and relationships.

Books about ‘fitting in’ always provide interesting avenues to discuss friends, family and ourselves. I recently discovered a local author, Tara White. Tara is Mohawk and she shares this merges this identity into her characters. In White’s picture book, I Like Who I Am, Celina moves to her mother’s reserve and finds out how, why and where she belongs in her community. In White’s novel, Where I Belong, Carrie also takes a journey to find her place in both her adopted family and her Mohawk community. Tara challenges her readers to share her characters’ journeys on their roads to acceptance. Similarly, in Beth Vrabel’s novel Pack of Dorks, Lucy uncovers not only aspects about her grade 4 self, but about her family and friends. Vrabel utilizes the image of the wolf pack to illustrate the importance of genuine and positive friendships. Building positive self-esteem, finding good friends, and family discoveries characterize this quirky novel.

There are so many good books out there to engage students in the classroom in meaningful and active understandings of topics like building self-esteem and creating space for positive body image. What are your favourite books to share with your students?

Carol Doyle-Jones has been a teacher in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. She is an Adjunct Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). Carol recently earned a PhD in Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.

Books & Sites:

Dean, J. & Dean, K. (2013).Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses. NY: HarperCollins.

Eugenia, M. (2013). Ink-blot. Toronto: Second Story Press.

Maclear, K. (2010). Spork. Toronto: Kids Can Press.

Maclear, K. (2012). Virginia Wolf. Toronto: Kids Can Press.

Tan, S. (2003). The Red Tree.  Vancouver: Simply Read Books.

Vrabel, B. (2014). Pack of Dorks. NY: Sky Pony Press.

White, T. (2008). I Like Who I Am. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books.

White, T. (2014). Where I Belong. Vancouver: Tradewind Books.

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