#vted Reads: Brave Like That

Are you wear-your-mask-in-a-pandemic brave, listeners? Or get-vaccinated-when-needles-scare-you brave? On this episode of the podcast, we’re joined by Vermont author and educator Lindsey Stoddard, who’s here to talk about her new middle grades book, Brave Like That. We’ll talk about the many different kinds of brave you can be, along with how students know that tiny acts — of kindness, of effort, and of honesty — make all the difference in the world.

I’m Jeanie Phillips, and this is #vted Reads, a podcast of books by, for, and with Vermont educators.

Let’s chat.

Jeanie: Thank you so much for joining me, Lindsey.  Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Lindsey:  Hi.  Well, thank you so much for having me.  I’m so honored to be here to chat with you about Brave Like That.  I’m Lindsey Stoddard. Now, I was born and raised in Vermont and then spent 12 years living and teaching in Washington Heights, New York City and have since returned with my young family back to Vermont which feels it feels really wonderful to be here. And I have a three year old and a four year old son. So I’m very much a full time mom.  But I’m also a middle grade author.  Brave Like That was my third middle grade novel.  The fourth one comes out in May.  So, that’s exciting too.

Jeanie:  Congratulations!  Can you just name for us your other two books and your forthcoming book?

Lindsey:  Sure! Yeah, my first book was called Just Like Jackie and the second one is Right as Rain and the next one that’s coming out in May is called B Is For Blended.

Jeanie:  Beautiful.  So, were both of your previous books on the Vermont Middle Grades Book Award list?

Lindsey:  Just Like Jackie was.  Yes.

Jeanie:  I thought it was excellent.  Thank you so much for joining us to talk about this book which I loved.  But before we get to that, what are you reading right now?  What’s on your nightstand table or maybe what are you reading?

Lindsey:  You know I just finished last night the amazing  All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat.  It’s the true account of the Thai Boys soccer team rescue from a flooded cave in Thailand. It is riveting.  She does a wonderful job storytelling.  Even though I like, I knew the ending because I had followed the story in the news, it was just like edge of your seat reading.  She did a great job.  That was wonderful.

Jeanie:  Oh, my goodness, thank you for adding that to my to be read list.  It was really good.

So, I just loved that this book just captured so much about middle school.  But before we start talking about the way in which it just rang so true, could you introduce us to Cyrus? Our main character in the book?

Lindsey:  Of course.  Yes, Cyrus is the main character in Brave Like That. The book opens on his 11th birthday. We know that he, as a baby, was dropped off the on the front step of a firehouse in Northfield, Minnesota.  He was adopted by one of the firefighters inside, Brooks Olson.  And Brooks Olson is not just a legend in this town for being a brave firefighter but he’s also a legend for being an amazing football player.  He holds records in the middle school and in the high school in town where Cyrus will be attending.

Everyone just sort of assumes that Cyrus will be the next best wide receiver in the league.  And no one knows that Cyrus doesn’t have any interest in being a wide receiver at all. He just doesn’t feel like he’s brave like his dad.

Like, he’s not brave like run-into-burning-buildings brave or brave like full-tackle-football brave.  So, this is a story about him figuring out what is really deep down in him. What kind of brave he really is.

Jeanie:  That’s just so middle school, right?  Like, this is really a story about Cyrus finding who he is apart from his family. Apart from his father.  And also feeling good about that as opposed to feeling like,

“What if it’s not okay if this is who I am?”

Lindsey:  Exactly! Yeah, I think middle school is a lot of that.  It’s a lot of looking outward and sort of comparing yourself to everybody else.  But then also, that that look inward and trying to figure out where do I fit and who am I truly.

Jeanie:  Yes.  We’re going to talk more about that and belonging as well because that’s a huge theme in this book that really warmed me and made me think a lot.  But before we do that, could, I wondered if you could read from Pages 97 and 98, as Cyrus is heading to his first day of sixth grade?

 

Lindsey:  Sure, of course.  Here we have Cyrus entering sixth grade middle school.

“Even though, I’ve known almost everyone in my sixth grade class since pre K, I’m feeling a little sweaty and uncomfortable and heart pounding like I do when I’m under my football pads.  My hands are all fumbling too which isn’t good because it’s hard enough to understand this schedule without my hands shaking the paper all over the place.

I have home room in 102 with Mr. Hewett, who is also my English teacher.  Even though I already know where that is, the halls aren’t quiet and empty now like they were when I faked a bathroom trip during tryouts.  And that new clean smell is already gone.  Now, it’s crowded with lots of kids who are all taller than 4 ft.8 inches.  And shouting ones another’s names.  You cut your hair.  And you got your braces off. Instead of smelling like the cleaner we used to scrub the firehouse floor, it smells like the puffs of cologne that salespeople spray when you walk through the department stores in the Mall of America.

And I’m wondering if you’re supposed to start wearing cologne in middle school and how do you figure something like that out.  I see a couple kids from last year and they already seem to know where they’re going.  No one else is holding a schedule and they’re all fist bumping and asking how summer was.  I see Marcus and Shane talking with some of the big kids from tryouts, the A team.  I wave.  But they don’t see me.  And between us is a crowd of 7th and 8th graders who are comparing arm tans and sipping out of to go cups from the coffee shop on Division Street.  I guess you start drinking coffee in middle school too.”

Jeanie:  Oh my goodness, that took me back to myself in middle school.  And the question I had was like how am I supposed to know if I’m supposed to start wearing deodorant and do I have to ask for it or will somebody just buy it for me?  Like that, just felt so real to me.  The bodies are all growing at different rates.  Some kids are little and some kids are big and…

Lindsey:  Yeah, you know, I love middle school.  That’s what I taught when I was in New York City.  And just there’s so much, there’s so much change and there’s just, their sense of justice is really high and their emotions are really big.  It’s just, it’s so exciting.  A little a little rollercoaster sometimes.  But there’s so much potential and so much excitement in that age that, you know, it was really when I was teaching middle school in New York City that I realized this is the audience I wanted to write for.  I wanted to write middle grade because their hearts are just so open and ready. There’s just so much excitement.

Jeanie:  Yeah.  But there’s this other piece, right.  Like, the changing bodies, the changing habits, kids coming, the changing clothes and their care about how they look.  But there’s this other piece that you really capture here which is belonging or lack of belonging.  One of the things, I guess I’m wondering about is you captured this notion of like when the, Cyrus enters the circle of girls actually in an earlier in the book and they immediately help him feel like he belongs.  Then in other places, he feels like really like he doesn’t belong.  And I’m not sure that middle school kids are always intentional about pushing someone else out.  They’re all just eager to belong.  They’re trying to belong in any way they can.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  Is that your sense too?

Lindsey:  Absolutely.  You know, I think, you know as I was saying before that there’s, there’s so much outward looking in middle school.  You know, from the second you arrive, you’re sort of looking and comparing and, oh my gosh, she got so tall over summer.  And you know she has the same shoes as I do, is that okay?  Is that not cool, like?  There’s a lot of that outward looking.

Then also the inward looking of sort of wait, who am I?  What do I actually really love to do?  Do I, do I love football or do I just love the friends that are on the football team?  Do I even like those friends anymore and just a lot of those inward looking questions, thinking too?  And I do play with the idea of circles in the book.  You know there’s the circle of the seven girls that that joined him at the Humane Society.  The Humane Society Seven and they do have a very insular friendship.  There’s the seven of them but they do have a beautiful way of moving that they don’t push anyone out or exclude anyone.

And I wanted Cyrus to feel the difference between that kind of a circle and the kind of circle he feels with the football players in school, who, you know, he feels pulled in by them.  But then he feels other people being pushed out by them.  I wanted him to be able to compare those two kinds of circles and you know sort of how we include or exclude people and how that feels.  That happened so much in middle school.  Intentionally or not, it really does.  So, I was playing with the idea of circles there.

Jeanie:  It’s interesting though because it’s happening at middle school.  It’s happening amongst the different groups that Cyrus is and isn’t a part of.  But it’s also happening in his out of school life at the firehouse.

Lindsey:  Yes.

Jeanie:  Cyrus is seeing it happening with his peers and then he’s also seeing it happen with his firehouse family which is his father and the other firefighters, when a new firefighter Sam joins the squad.  I love Sam so much.  I wonder if you could talk a little bit.  Doesn’t give anything away if we talk about Sam?

Lindsey:  No, you know, I don’t think so.  I think you could talk a little bit about Sam.

Yeah, you know, I wanted so Cyrus is he grows up in the firehouse.

So, he has his dad and he’s got the firefighters who have been a part of his life from the time literally that he was dropped on their doorstep.  And he begins to notice the way that they move and the way that they talk when a new firefighter shows up and they’re expecting it to be another male firefighter.  And it’s not.  It’s Sam. Samantha, the firefighter who shows up. All the guys’ kind of react in their own ways.  And Cyrus is very much aware of how each one reacts.

And in particular one named Leo. Cyrus is watching as the men sort of fumble through that experience.

Also with the football team, a new boy that shows up in his school, named Eduardo.

And how the kids on his football team, the kids in his class, the kids who he, who had been friends his friends forever are responding to that too. So he has these two experiences side by side.  He does realize that, you know, if that that you know boys like Marcus and Shane who are uttering and sort of subtly bullying at Eduardo can grow up and become men like Leo.  He’s watching that happen.  So, I think there’s a powerful connection there between the boys and the men in the book.

Jeanie:  I definitely thought the words more than once while I was reading.  Oh, toxic masculinity.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  This is showing the growth of toxic masculinity both in the way that the young men treat Eduardo.  Also, Cyrus when he doesn’t behave the way they expect or want him to be.  Then also Leo and his weight lifting and his sexist comments to Sam. I definitely thought that would be a really interesting thing to talk about.

Lindsey:  Yeah.  You know, because there’s this idea of, you know, Cyrus doesn’t feel like he’s run into a burning building Brave.

There’s this idea of fires and how quickly they spread.  He knows that from the way that he grew up in the firehouse.  That’s also taken into the school.  This idea that he knows how fast fires can spread.  Cyrus starts to see the bullying like a fire.  He knows that, you know, he’s got to be somebody who puts out this fire before it spreads.  And that is extremely hard.  It is really, really hard.  I think it’s one of the hardest things when you know friends that you have known your whole life are starting to act in ways that feel really uncool and really icky.  And he doesn’t, you know? It is hard to be the person to say that’s not cool. Like, that needs to stop.

In the book, Cyrus figures out a really a really great way of including his whole class in this conversation about sort of celebrating differences.  I think he finds a good way a simple, very Cyrus way of addressing that.  But he doesn’t want this fire to spread in his class.  He’s not firefighter-brave, but really he does. And he does figure out how to put out some fires which is really great by the end.

Jeanie:  He figures out, how to be an up stander in a way that’s true to himself? I love that that was — part of his inspiration is, you know, his father and the firefighters and specifically Sam.  How, Sam becomes an upstander in her way.

Lindsey:  Yes.  Yeah, she is.  She is a definitely a strong character.  So much of the book is about what kind of brave you are.  I wanted there to be a couple different examples of courage.  And Sam was really one of one of the characters I was thinking of.  Brooks, his dad really is as a supportive strong guy too.  And as we know his grandmother, you know.  So, there are a few really supportive and also like examples of bravery.  Eduardo himself, you know, he’s you know as he’s a really great example of courage and how he stands up on his own.

Jeanie:  Oh, I want to talk about all these characters.  But let’s talk about Eduardo.  I’m thinking about Eduardo speaks Spanish.  He is very small like I don’t know the word other than small.  One of the things I really admired about Cyrus, and how he becomes friends with Eduardo is, the small moves he makes for inclusivity.  So, he sits next to Eduardo.  He start, he shares a locker with Eduardo.  But he also starts to realize like, oh Eduardo speak Spanish.  This other person hadn’t thought about it.  But she speaks Spanish and maybe I could learn some Spanish from her.  There are these little moves he makes to sort of signal that he wants to make an inclusive space for Eduardo.

Lindsey:  Absolutely.  You also see through those moves that you mentioned, how, it’s not, it’s not exactly easy for him to sit next to Eduardo in the beginning.  You know, he still has his eyes on how our Marcus and Shane going to react, if I sit next to Eduardo or, you know, Marcus and Shane tried to pull Cyrus into their locker buddy ship, you know, like the three of us can share.  So, you don’t have to share with Eduardo and it puts Cyrus in this weird position.  And it takes them a little while to say no, no, it’s okay.  I’ll share the locker with Eduardo.

So, you know I think there are these little moments that that are really hard and seemingly small but they make such big differences in steps toward inclusive behavior.  You know like, I think it’s just it’s hard and it’s important. You can tell that Cyrus really does think Eduardo is kind of cool and wants to be friends with him.  But it is these little tiny steps are hard and he has his eyes on the bullies the whole time.

Jeanie:  Yeah.  He’s worried that associating with Eduardo will mean he gets bullied as well.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  But that he won’t feel a sense of belonging as well.  I really appreciated that inward struggle he goes through and how clearly you paint that on the page.

Lindsey:  No, thank you.

Jeanie:  The other character I want to make sure we talk about is Cyrus’s grandmother, Brooke’s mother.  Cyrus has a really lovely relationship with his grandmother.  Could you tell us a little bit about her?

Lindsey:  Yeah.  I love writing grandparent characters.  They’re one of my favorite secondary characters to write.  Actually three of my four books, there are characters, the grandparents are very like central characters of the book.  But for Cyrus, I wanted to give him someone.  So for Cyrus, he’s a kid that has a lot of secrets in his heart.  He holds a secret that he struggles with reading.  And he hasn’t told his dad that.  He hasn’t figured out how to tell his teachers that.  He holds that secret of, you know, I don’t really love football but I’m not quite sure how to say that yet.  I’m not quite sure how to move on from that.

I wanted to give him a character, a grown-up who could see right into his heart and was very ready to support him, when he was ready to make those big statements.  To come out and say, this is actually who I am. In the book that she is right there waiting for him to be his strong self.  They do have an interesting way of communicating because she has had a stroke.  The right side of her body is paralyzed and she’s lost the ability to speak, lost the ability to speak.  So she speaks in in syllables: na-na-na.  It’s a way of communicating that is like it’s directly heart-to-heart is how, how the feeling, you know.

And I know that very well because my own nana growing up, my mom’s mom, had a stroke and paralyzed the right side of her body. It took away her ability to speak.  She was just an example of courage to me as her granddaughter growing up, just watching her never ever give up.  She never stopped trying to let us know exactly what it was that she was saying.  Even when I didn’t know what the words were, like, I knew what she wanted me to feel.

I wanted to give Cyrus, someone like that.

Someone, who could you know na-na-na a feeling right into his heart.  That’s who she is for him.  She’s also an example of courage.  She’s just a really brave woman who has to overcome a big thing.  And she learns how to be even more courageous by the end of the book.  So, it’s watching her relationship with Cyrus is growth for both of them.  And I just I love their relationship too.

Jeanie:  It’s so beautiful and it makes sense to me that you had a grandparent like that in your life because that relationship feels so tangible as I was reading it.

Lindsey:  They both, you know, they both have something that in common that’s in their hearts.  And that, you know, I don’t want to give it away like what Cyrus is real true passion is.  But he’s a lot like his grandmother.  He’s always worried about like what’s being passed down to me because, you know, I was adopted.  I don’t know you know what’s supposed to be coming through my blood and what supposed to be coming through my dad.  He has this connection with his grandmother through music.  And there’s something that’s bigger to hear that his grandmother really sees in him and he feels like he got from her.  So that’s a really special connection too.

Jeanie:  Yes.  She is fierce in her love and also in her generosity with him.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  And she is slowly handing her record collection over to him.

Lindsey:  Yeah, I know.

Jeanie:  I just, yes.  So, there’s another character another adult character in this book who we should talk about.  That’s Mr. Hewett, the sixth grade language arts teacher.

And I believe that reading young adult and middle grade fiction that involves teachers and schools helps us learn a lot as educators, right.  Like, I think we can see ourselves on the page in ways that can help us grow.  So, let’s talk a little bit about Mr. Hewett and his love of picture books.  How he shares them every day.  I wonder if we might even read a little section from Page 108.

Lindsey:  Sure.

Jeanie:  Okay.  Let’s see.  It’s on the bottom of 109.

Lindsey:  “Mr. Hewett pulls out a picture book and we all start to giggle.  What?  He says.  Can’t a grown guy love a picture book?  Then he leans right in and whispers.  I’m going to tell you a secret.  I love picture books more than I love ice cream.  He’s smiling a big smile that makes his eyes crinkle.  And I can tell it’s the truth.  It’s not a fake.  He rubs the cover of the book and says, you all think you’re too big for picture books.  But let me tell you something, you’re not.  No one is.”

Jeanie:  I just love that every day in this classroom he shares a picture book in one way or another.  Often, it’s him reading the picture book aloud.  But he finds other ways to share picture books.  I love that you name actual picture books that are wonderful.  I also love that there’s this sixth grade quality that I’m a former school librarian.  So, I read many picture books to sixth graders. I completely felt this thing that you write about which is that the kids all pretend that they’re not interested, that they roll their eyes and their like, it’s so silly that he’s reading a picture book and their whole bodies are leaning in and hanging on every word.

Lindsey:  Yes.

Jeanie:  So I, I just, what was your inspiration?

Lindsey:  Yeah, you know, I mean I love picture books. I used them as a teacher for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.  I obviously read them all the time now with my three and four year old.  And the picture books that are being published now are just, they are beautiful and fresh and exciting.  I just love them.  I really just love picture books.  Also, I was really inspired by Jillian Heise, who’s an educator and a librarian.  She started this idea that happened, it’s a real thing called #ClassroomBookADay.  It’s the idea that you as a as a teacher and educator, you read one picture book every day to your class.

On average you have 180 stories that are now a part of your classroom community and just the opportunity for diversity, you know, for new voices and different experiences and authors that come from different backgrounds and characters that come from different backgrounds.

You know if you have 180 of these stories in your class by the end of the year, you’re not only learning about all those different experiences and hearing from their voices.  But you’re also creating culture and community in your classroom around them.

So that, when there are things that come up like bullying like in Cyrus’s class or uttering like things like that, you can talk about the characters in the picture book because that’s it’s easier to talk about characters than it is to talk about your own self or your friends or your class.

I just I think it’s really powerful to have stories, lots of stories, a wide variety of stories that live in your classroom in that way.  So I wanted to give Cyrus that opportunity to sort of see some of the issues that are happening in his class in the stories.  And some of the things that are happening for himself, you know, with the picture book, he read when he’s like, oh yeah, I think I might be mislabeled too.

He can kind of talk about himself or think about himself or the things that are happening in his class but through the stories and through the characters of other books.  So I, just, I just love picture books for that.  I think they’re really powerful used in all grades.  I think they’re powerful.  And so I wanted to give him that.  I also wanted to give him a really positive experience with reading, you know, because he struggled so much with his own reading comprehension that.  I wanted him to love it.

Really, I wanted him to have an experience of loving reading and loving books.  And he gets he gets to really love some of these stories and that helps him through his challenges of reading independently.  It gives Eduardo a chance to be a sort of hero too because Eduardo is the first one that says, well, I love this picture book and this is awesome. That gives Cyrus a little bit more chance to say, yeah, me too, you know.  So, I think there’s a lot through the picture books.

Jeanie:  Eduardo really shows his bravery by writing his book report on the book, I love most about one of the picture books.

Lindsey:  Yes.  Ones that speak very much to him.  Yeah.

Jeanie:  And to Cyrus.

Lindsey:  Absolutely.

Jeanie:  I love that the way you talked about picture books is like third things as ways to, as safe ways to talk about concepts about concepts of identity or who am I.  How am I showing up?  How, is it okay to be like me?  Because one of the books is Oliver Button is a Sissy. Is that the name?

Lindsey:  Yes.

Jeanie:  I get it that right.  Yeah.  And so it just gives this opportunity for the whole class to explore this notion of the different ways we can show up authentically as ourselves.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  Yeah.  The picture book I want them to read.  The picture book I’m currently in love with is We Are Water Protectors, have you seen that one yet?

Lindsey:  I have seen it.  I have not read it yet.  But I have heard the most amazing things about it.  Yeah.

Jeanie:  I’m swooning.  Let’s talk a little bit about Cyrus and reading.  Because he actually, I get the impression about Cyrus from the beginning that he actually really loves stories and books.  But that he’s ashamed because of his own difficulty with reading.  Let’s talk, let’s just first describe what his difficulty is?

Lindsey:  Yeah, so.  So, Cyrus has, he’s an excellent reader like he can read the words really well.  He’s a fluent reader.  He feels comfortable doing that.  It’s the comprehension piece of, you know after I finished reading that page aloud.  What did I just read?  And he can’t, he can’t quite string all the different parts together and remember them and do a retell.  Like he’s, he has a hard time with his comprehension.  But his fluency is really great and this is what gives him the ability to kind of fake his way through.

He’s come up with a bunch of really, he’s a very smart guy.  So he’s come up with a bunch of ways to fake his way all the way through the sixth grade without really, really reading a whole book by himself.  So, he knows, you know, when to raise his hand and volunteer to read out loud because then maybe he won’t be asked a question.  And you know right when they’re going to do partner work and he has to, you know, talk about something that they just read in class, he knows that’s when he goes to the bathroom.  He’s gotten good at faking his way through.

But he does, you know, he does feel shame about it.  He hasn’t been able to tell his dad or to tell you know his teachers. He’s not quite sure when he’s just going to figure out the reading pieces.  And that’s part of the courage he needs to find is the courage to say, I need the help that I deserve.  I just don’t, I haven’t figured this piece out yet and this is hard.  This is hard for me.  That’s part of the courage he needs to sort of uncover in the book.

Jeanie:  Yeah.  It’s interesting.  I’m a school librarian by training but I’m not that familiar with reading disorders, right.  You’re right, he’s an excellent decoder.  My husband is also an educator and he’s done this hugely deep dive into the neuroscience of reading for the last two years.  He’s been really focused on that.  So while I was reading this, I stopped. I said, honey, is it, is there a reading disorder where you read fluently but you can’t, you don’t comprehend anything?  And he was like, yeah.  Of course.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  Okay.  Is there to like, is there a ways to treat that?  He was like, yeah.  I was like, okay, okay.  I guess I wondered had you had a student like that.  It’s clear you understood this reading disorder.

Lindsey:  Yeah.  Yeah, I definitely had students that struggled in that way that we’re really fluent readers and loved to read out loud.  But when you did you know sit one on one with them and ask them questions about what they just read, you could kind of see them going trying to go back to the text or finding something to read back out loud to me.  So, it’s definitely, it does have a name I think and I’m not sure what it is right now but I did have several students that struggled with it in that way.

You know there’s always the opposite too where you know students, they’re not fluent readers and it sounds like choppy when they come out. Then they tell you this perfect retail everything that they just read and what they think about it.  The brain is just, it’s incredible.  It’s a really incredible thing.  And yes, I have noticed that.  I did think it was a perfect, it fit perfectly for Cyrus because he’s he has faked his way through so much that this is, that this seemed like a perfect thing for him to struggle with because it’s something that he can kind of tuck away and fake.

Jeanie:  He is very clever in all of his fake, right.  In also a book reports coming, he knows how to get about it.  He thinks ahead of time that if the language arts teacher asked him what did you read this summer, he’s going to go oh, I’m in the middle of the fourth Harry Potter.

Like, he’s got all these like strategies and I admired him for that, right.  Even though what it meant was that he wasn’t getting the help he needed because he was so good at passing.

Lindsey:  Yeah.  And in the same way for football too, you know, he, he’s in tryouts.  He doesn’t want to be in tryouts.  He’s expected to make the A team because his last name is Olson.  But he doesn’t want to make the A team.  He doesn’t even want to make the B team.  And he’s out there, you know fumbling passes and you know doing things that he’s like, oh shoot, you know like I Butterfingers this time, you know.  It’s just such a struggle to see him on the field because you know he doesn’t want to be there and he’s trying to figure out a way to, you know what he thinks will make his dad happy and what will make him happy.  He’s perfected the fake.

One of the things that Brave Like That the whole book is about is sort of becoming your most authentic true self and just giving up the fakes you know.  That’s also just what middle school is about.  It’s a big time for that for figuring out you know where are my most comfortable and what do I love to do and what, you know, what fakes can I just give up right now, yeah.

Jeanie: I just love this notion that like this big theme of showing up as your authentic self and trusting that people will love you for your authentic self.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  So, I want to keep talking about this book forever because — and I’m so grateful to talk about it because I have been buzzing ever since I finished it this weekend thinking about it.  But how would you suggest that teachers use this book in the classroom?  Do you have any hopes for how it might be used?

Lindsey:  Yeah.  You know, I’ve actually spoken to teachers who are and some teachers that are doing some really wonderful things.  I think one of the things that I think it would be great for is using as a riddle out in the beginning of the school year to kind of set the tone for community. How we can work together to and use this certain language that Cyrus, towards the end of the book, Cyrus comes up with this language that we can use to kind of combat bullying and celebrate it.  So, celebrate difference, not celebrate bullying.

Jeanie:  To celebrate.

Lindsey:  To celebrate difference, you know, to move from that sort of tolerance of like, he’s different and that’s okay to — we all have something that makes us different.  And that’s what’s special.  That’s so cool.  Like, that’s something that we can talk about and be, you know, and we can celebrate.  So, I think you know if classes were to read this at the beginning of the school year, they might have a common language that they could use when they see some of the bullying that that comes up in classrooms.  They might remember back to Cyrus classroom.  And some of the things that Cyrus said.  It might be a good use for community building at the beginning of the year.

I also really, what’s something that I do when I do classroom visits or virtual visits now.  But is, you know, I put up, I am brave like and then I have students figure out for themselves what kind of brave they are.  Because Cyrus constantly throughout the book is saying the kinds of brave that he isn’t and then the kinds of brave that he finds out that he is, you know, I’m not run into a burning building brave or you know.  So, I have students right.  I am brave like and then finish that sentence.

And some of the things that they came up with are just amazing.  Like I am brave lived through a pandemic Brave.  I am brave like take care of my little sister after school Brave.  You know these statements that are stories all in, they’re all in their own.  You know, they’re really wonderful.

So I think that like having some of those present in the classroom, just sentenced strips of.  The different ways that we are brave even if they seem small, are really quite big.  Sort of celebrate that in in our classrooms.

Jeanie:  I love and that’s, what came to me is redefining what bravery is?  Redefining what it means to be brave and thinking beyond the sort of stereotypes of bravery, I love that very much.  I also think you’re absolutely right.  This is a great start of the year building belonging.  How do we want to hold each other in our classroom?  How do we want to honor each other’s strengths and weirdness’s.

Lindsey:  Yeah.

Jeanie:  We forgot to mention one of the really important characters in this book, Parker.  We don’t have to say a lot but people need to know this is a dog book.

Lindsey:  Yeah, it’s true.  That’s so funny that we haven’t even mentioned him because he’s usually like the first thing that students talk about when I go and talk to their classes.  Yeah, so on that first page, they’re having Cyrus’s 11th birthday and a dog, a stray dog shows up on the on the firehouse step right where Cyrus was left 11 years ago as a baby.  And so, he immediately forms this bond with this dog and he wants to keep it.  But his dad has this like strict, no, no pets, no way policy.  They quickly take it to the animal hospital.  And he’s put into a humane society.

His dad says, you know, don’t visit it.  We’re not visiting this dog.  We’re not naming this dog because it’s not our dog, you know, we don’t want, you can’t get close to it because it’s not ours.  And Cyrus, he just can’t.  He just can’t.  He has to.  Because he loves this dog.  He feels a really strong connection.  Now, he was the only one that the dog would approach at the firehouse and so he feels like he feels in some ways that he abandoned Parker and he just wants to go back. He names the dog Parker because he parks his nose right on Cyrus’s left shoulder.

The book is also about him trying to figure out, you know, that’s one of the secrets in his heart.  Like, how do, I am actually sneaking to the Humane Society and visiting this dog for dog walking hours.  And how do I tell my dad that actually this is something I really, really want.  I really want this responsibility.  I really want this love in my life.  There is a big dog part of this story too.

Jeanie:  I love that because it feels like the op, it’s a fake but it’s the opposite of a fake, right.  So, often Cyrus is faking things so he can get out of things he doesn’t want.  But then there’s this big switch when he’s faking in order to get into something that he does want, when he’s finding his truer self, so, good.  Gives me chills.

Lindsey:  Thank you.

Jeanie:  Lindsey, I want to thank you so much for this beautiful book.  And thank you so much for joining us to talk about it.

Lindsey:  Well, thank you so much.  It was so great.

Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie Phillips is a former (and always!) school librarian and a Professional Development Coordinator for TIIE. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she is passionate about student engagement, equity, collaboration, and questions. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of southern Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

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