Tiny, Perfect Things
Published in 2018 by Compendium Books
Brimming with double page, intricate illustrations, Tiny, Perfect Things weaves simple prose with detailed images to invite young readers to pay attention to the beauty and mystery of the natural world around us. The opening page shows a young girl holding hands with her grandfather as he tells her (and implicitly the reader) that “Today we will keep our eyes open for tiny, perfect things.” Subsequent pages offer readers one tiny, perfect thing to focus on per page as the girl’s grandfather points out nature’s delights like “a yellow leaf that the wind blew down” and “a snail that climbed the fence last night.” When they arrive home, the girl’s voice emerges as she tells her racially diverse parents about the things they found today. The book ends with two fold-out pages that give a facade view of the girls’ neighborhood with seemingly countless tiny, perfect things for readers to find. M.H. Clark and Madeline Kloepper complement each other’s writing and illustration respectively to give young readers myriad reasons to celebrate the everyday beauty of the world around us. Tiny, Perfect Things adds to the growing collection of recent books for young readers that emphasize waiting, slowing down, and contemplation. Teachers will find that Tiny, Perfect Things can become a touchstone text throughout the year to hone students’ observation skills as they explore texts as well as the natural and built world.
Grades PreK – Grade 3
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Examining the End Papers. The study of end papers is an opportunity for students to practice drawing conclusions and thinking for themselves before hearing the story read aloud and before teachers model through think-alouds. Before reading Tiny, Perfect Things, guide students’ attention to the end papers. See if students notice the book’s title and draw connections to what is to come in the story. Either use a document camera or circulate the room to allow all students to see the endpapers. Then, invite students to generate language using the thinking prompts: I see ____/ I think ____/ I wonder ____. Encourage any suggestions from students including language for colors, shapes, and objects. Support students to move from simple naming to the use of adjectives and adverbs to express more of what they see, think, and wonder.
From Read-Aloud to Shared Reading. The simple, single sentence structure throughout most of the book offers wonderful opportunities to move from a read-aloud structure to shared reading over a series of days. Invite students to participate in multiple readings of the book by using a document camera to enlarge the lines of text. Shared reading days can be used to focus on high frequency words, attending to end punctuation, and using your voice to match the character speaking. Following multiple readings of the book, add Tiny, Perfect Things to a partner reading literacy center for students to keep practicing their oral reading, identification of high frequency words, fluency, and discussion skills.
Out of the Book and Into the World. Tiny, Perfect Things is a book that invites readers to go on their own neighborhood walk to engage in finding tiny, perfect things. Gather clipboards and various sketching materials like colored pencils as well as cameras to document what students see. Prepare students to use all of their senses as they look, listen, jot, and sketch the world around them. When students return, create a class list through shared or interactive writing that documents the tiny, perfect things everyone noticed and wondered about. From that list, have students work in partnerships to create their own Tiny, Perfect Things picture books using the original as a mentor text for their writing and illustration. Encourage families to go on neighborhood or nature walks–see links in Further Explorations to share with families.
Visual Storytelling. M.H. Clark’s detailed, colored pencil illustrations extend the print and provide their own visual story of the girl’s walk through the neighborhood with her grandfather. Consider making copies of the book’s pages without the print to invite students to craft their own version of the story by closely reading the illustrations. Then, gather a collection of picture books for students to examine the visual storytelling techniques of other artists / authors to compare and contrast their choices in medium, layout, and use of color. Some recommended wordless and illustrated picture books from The Classroom Bookshelf include Lines, Wolf in the Snow, A Ball for Daisy, Flora and the Flamingo, The Secret Box, and Mirror.
Who’s Telling the Story: An Introduction to Narration. Hone students’ inference skills by specifically examining who’s telling the story. Prime students to notice when the narrator changes and how they know when that happens. This can serve as a simple introduction to first person narration where the characters are also the narrators. Support students to imagine how the story would be different if it were told from a different perspective. Use Tiny, Perfect Things as a mentor text throughout the year to help students construct their own narratives using first person narration with a fictional character or characters.
Dialogue: To Tag or Not to Tag. Clark made the distinct choice not to include dialogue tags to indicate who is speaking throughout the story. This book is a wonderful mentor text for students who are not yet ready to use proper quotation marks, commas, or various dialogue tags to demonstrate which characters are speaking in their stories. For students who are ready to incorporate punctuation and dialogue tags into their writing, Tiny, Perfect Things offers an opportunity for guided practice by having students properly punctuate and creatively tag each line of dialogue as if they were the author.
Intergenerational Friendships. Readers will immediately notice from the cover that the girl is holding hands with what appears to be her grandfather. Discuss with students the importance of this relationship throughout the story. Have students reflect on the adults in their lives that give them feelings of security, belonging, and unconditional love. Students may want to write and illustrate their own story about that relationship in their life. Gather other books that have meaningful intergenerational friendships such as Love by Matt de la Peña, Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola, Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells, The Wall by Eve Bunting, Miss Tizzy by Libba Moore Gray, Sitti’s Secret by Naomi Shihab Nye, and Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest.
Text Set that Invites Contemplation and Mindfulness. To support student happiness alongside their literacy skills, focus your read-alouds throughout the year on living a joyful life. One way to do that is to read books that invite a sense of contemplation and mindfulness. There are many recent works of children’s literature that support students through powerful narratives to contemplate the beauty and mystery of the world around us including Round by Joyce Sidman, Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson. We also encourage you to read books that invite contemplation of big questions in life such as What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada and The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater. Finally, there are many recent titles that invite students to contemplate the gift of waiting or looking for something worthwhile including Waiting by Kevin Henkes, Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems, Wait by Antoinette Portis, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett.
Lapsed Time. For young students, noticing time passing across the day and having the language to discuss time is an important developmental milestone. Tiny, Perfect Things offers readers an opportunity to discuss lapsed time where the words and illustrations give indication of time passing including the changing sky color, temperature changes, and the rhythm of family life. Encourage students to share their noticings about time passing and the context clues they used to know that time has passed. Pair Tiny, Perfect Things with Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug or Windows by Julia Denos which also has text and illustration clues to indicate time passing.
Is There Such a Thing as Perfect? Research from positive psychology has found that students who have a growth mindset about life and learning are more likely to take risks and show resilience when learning gets challenging. A mindset oriented towards notions of perfection can ultimately be debilitating and can shut down learning over time. Discuss with students whether such a thing as “perfect” exists. Is anything “perfect” in nature of in life? Support students as text critics by coming up with alternative word choices in lieu of “perfect” for the title. Throughout the year, support students to notice when their internal voice is steering them towards counterproductive pressures of “perfect” and offer them strategies for how to reorient their thinking. Read books like Peter Reynolds’ Ish to offer students an opportunity to apply “ish” thinking to their lives as a strategy for when their own pressures towards perfection get in the way of learning or life. View our entries on After the Fall by Dan Santat and Lines by Suzy Lee for more growth mindset invitations.
Turn Any Walk into a Nature Walk
Tips for Nature Walking: The Wilderness Society
Baker, J. (2010). Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Barnett, M. (2014). Sam and Dave dig a hole. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Bunting, E. (1990). The wall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.
Campoy, F.I. & Howell, T. (2016). Maybe something beautiful. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Carle, E. (1995). The grouchy ladybug. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Chin, J. (2018). Grand Canyon. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
de la Peña, M. (2018). Love. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.
de Paola, T. (1973). Nana upstairs, Nana downstairs. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.
Denos, J. (2017). Windows. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Fox, M. (1989). Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. St. Louis, MO: Turtleback Books.
Gray, L.B. (1998). Miss Tizzy. New York, NY: Aladdin Picture Books.
Henkes, K. (2016). Waiting. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Hest, A. (2007). Mr. George Baker. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Idle, M. (2013). Flora and the flamingo. New York, NY: Chronicle Books.
Lawson, J. (2015). Sidewalk flowers. Toronto, Canada: Groundwood Books.
Lee, S. (2017). Lines. New York, NY: Chronicle Books.
Lehman, B. (2011). The secret box. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Nye, N.S. (1997). Sitti’s secrets. New York, NY: Aladdin Picture Books.
Portis, A. (2015). Wait. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
Reynolds, P. (2004). Ish. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Santat, D. (2017). After the fall: How Humpty Dumpty got back up again. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
Say, A. (2008). Grandfather’s journey. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Sidman, J. (2017). Round. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Sidman, J. (2016). Before morning. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Slater, D. (2017). The antlered ship. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books.
Stewart, M. (2017). Over and under the pond. New York, NY: Chronicle Books.
Wells, R. (2001). Yoko’s paper cranes. New York, NY: Disney Hyperion.
Willems, M. (2014). Waiting is not easy! New York, NY: Scholastic.
Yamanda, K. (2018). What do you do with a chance? Seattle, WA: Compendium.
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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