I really enjoy Kevin Henkes’ books, and I know the children do too. His clever, relatable storylines revolve around quirky, lovable characters, who often have their own hilarious comic-strip-style comments in addition to the regular text. Chrysanthemum is the story of a girl (or more accurately, a mouse) aptly named Chrysanthemum. She really loves her name, until she goes to school. There, she is teased about it, until the other girls make a discovery that makes them wish they were named after flowers as well. It’s a great book for talking about social skills, not teasing in particular, but also fantastic for talking about our individual names.
I like to use this book for a small group activity at the beginning of the year. After reading the book, I have a paper for each child with his/her name written in outline on it. (You can actually do this on your computer, just set the paper orientation to landscape, and the font to outline.) Since it’s a small group, I spread the names out on the table and first just give the kiddos the chance to identify their own names. Once they’ve done that, we talk a little about how their names might be similar, especially if some of those similarities made identifying their names a little tricky. Then, I have them trace over their names, using their fingers, a few times. Since the story often mentions Chrysanthemum’s name having 13 letters, you could also count the letters in their names and talk about which names are longer and shorter, tieing in some math concepts, while also recognizing that words are made up of individual letters.
Lastly, they get to decorate their names in collage fashion. Be sure to provide items that could form the shape of the letters if that is what the children choose to do. Yarn and pipecleaners are great for staying straight or bending around curves; beans, sequins, and stickers are perfect for dotting i’s and j’s, or for lining up around any shaped line; and toothpicks and dry spaghetti noodles are naturals for the straight lines. Point out the shapes of their letters as they decorate, but resist the urge to rearrange their items. Remember, these creations belong to them. Talk to them about what they’re doing. “Those beans are lined up like two straight lines on your ‘t’!” “You have four sequins on top of your ‘r’!” They don’t have to stay within the lines to recognize the shapes of their letters.
Another option for extending this book is to have the children write their names, or some of the letters in their names, with their fingers just like when Chrysanthemum wrote her name in the dirt in the story. Use some kind of granular medium in an art tray or cookie sheet. I like to use cornmeal, sand, or salt. I made colored salt one day when, as I often do, I suddenly decided I needed it for an activity THAT DAY! I was in my classroom and I had some salt, some chalk, and a ziplock bag. Being resourceful (and a little bit crazy like that) I put colored chalk in the baggie and stomped on it a few times to turn it into a powder. Then I added the salt and shook it up. Ta-da! Colored salt was born! (I’ve also made it with a bit of tempera paint powder.) Whatever you use, put the medium in a tray and have the children write with their fingers. (Just as a note, you would obviously not want to use salt-or really any medium- if a child has an open sore on his finger. I’m sure you can see why. Have the child write in it with a stick or unsharpened pencil instead.) Writing in the sand/salt/cornmeal etc. lets them practice the motion of writing without the strain of holding and pressing a pencil, plus it’s just more fun and enticing when they can write in something new, colorful, and tactile! Enjoy this book, and celebrate the names in your class!
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