Guest Blogger

The Magic of Big: A Month of Read-Alouds and Great Conversations

When I made the jump from a public library to a public elementary school in January 2024, I took with me my eager anticipation for that year’s Youth Media Award announcements, and walked into a situation where I was given extensive curricular freedom. As I planned out my curriculum for the rest of the semester, I thought of the books I enjoyed reading aloud, I planned an entire author/illustrator study on Jon Klassen, and dreamed of Dewey Decimal System races.

The fun, unexpected thing about winter in public school is that it’s full of half weeks, snow days,
PD Fridays, the random holiday off, and unexpected class field trips. This meant that my Monday classes were getting one lesson, my Wednesday classes the next lesson, and my Friday classes were about three and a half weeks behind, somehow.

One week, in an attempt to not let my Wednesday kindergarten class get even further ahead of the other kindergarten classes, I pulled up Vashti Harrison’s Caldecott Medal Winner & Coretta Scott King Honor Title, BIG, on Sora, and began our read-aloud.

I had an activity planned for afterwards, as well as a brain break video, but we never made it to our activity. I spent 35 minutes enraptured in the world Vashti Harrison had created in BIG, and I watched as
this class of wiggly kindergartners stilled, their eyes locked on the screen. We had such a heart filling, strong discussion of the use of her color palette, the way the words in black and pink made us feel, and what the illustrations were telling us that the words were not.

After watching the magic unfold upon these kindergartners, I decided to utilize BIG in the 3rd Grade classroom I see for breakfast every Wednesday morning. The same magic unfolded—side conversations stopped, eloping kids stayed put on the carpet, and the vocabulary that I had been slowly but surely unfolding into curricular lessons dropped off their lips easily as their anger at the characters around the protagonist raged. They were so passionate about this book–it invoked their ethical side. They all wanted the teacher fired immediately.

I decided then to make sure that every single class that I taught–from Kindergarten to 5th grade–got to read the book. I stopped planning activities after the read aloud, because I quickly found that the book could consume our entire class period. The kids were deeply invested in the story, in the illustrations, in the way it made them feel. We had been talking weeks prior about books as mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors, and I was heartened to have kids come to me and tell me, ‘this was a mirror book for me.”

I truly believe that Vashti Harrison painted magic into this book. The way that kids calmed as we read this book is a testament to the care in her pages, in her illustrations, and the love that pulsates in this important book. It offered an amazing opportunity to talk not only about social- emotional learning and diversity in literature, but also literacy vocabulary such as protagonist, spread, verso and recto pages, gate folds, perspective, color palette, and more.

I encourage you to deploy this book—and deploy is the word I am using, because this book CHANGES students. It sticks with them. It slides into their hearts and minds, and from kindergarten to fifth grade, they all told me how much they enjoyed reading it together. Some even asked to read it again!

In conclusion, I want to share a few of the student’s “favorite things” from the book:

  • “My favorite thing was the page where she had the big and important words with the pink shades”- 5th Grader
  • “My favorite picture was when she gave back the words they said about her”- 3rd Grader
  • “My favorite thing was the way she showed how some people tried to apologize”- 5th Grade
  • “It made me feel a little sad..but also happy when she got up. She believed in herself”- 2nd Grader

Have you read BIG in your elementary school yet? What magic have you seen unfold with your students?


Today’s guest contributor is Aryssa Damron. Aryssa is a children’s librarian turned school librarian, and the current co-chair of the ALSC Membership Committee.


Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.


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2 comments

  1. Suzi

    Love this book!!

  2. Charlene Cooper

    I certainly do not fit into the K-5th grade categories, but now I am anxious to get to the Library, check out this book, and read it…probably more than one time! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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