Hey, Wall: A Story of Art and Community
Written by Susan Verde; Illustrated by John Parra
Published in 2018 by Simon and Schuster
Grades PreK – Grade 5
“Look at you now. You are beautiful! Now you tell the real story of us. And together we are somethin’ to see!” In Hey, Wall a young boy takes notice of an old, empty concrete wall in his diverse New York City neighborhood and decides to transform it. Narrated by an unnamed boy of color, he speaks directly to the wall throughout the book. He tells the wall about what he does in the street with his friends and about the communal gatherings that happen in his home and on the rooftops. He asks the wall questions like, “Can you smell what’s cookin’?” and “Can you hear our music?” After the efforts of neighbors and friends, the neglected wall becomes a work of street art affirming the story of the neighborhood, its history, and the people who live there. Hey, Wall is a celebration of street art and artists, but it is equally a celebration of the heroism of children who take action to become change agents for their communities. Author Susan Verde uses spare text often with repeated sentence starters to weave a hopeful narrative about the ways a wall can unite rather than divide a community, offering an antidote to public discourse today about walls. Award winning illustrator John Parra’s flat matte illustrations are full of color, energy, and texture and play with perspective throughout the book. Backmatter includes a note from the author as well as a note from the illustrator which explain memories they have of influential murals in their lives. Full of classroom possibilities, Hey, Wall is a book that invites readers to do something positive to make the world more beautiful for everyone.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
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 meaning. Following multiple readings of the book, add Hey, Wall to a partner reading literacy center for students to keep practicing their oral reading, identification of high frequency words, fluency, and discussion skills. *This invitation was originally in our Tiny, Perfect Things entry.
Wall Art: Creating a Class Mural. Hey, Wall is a powerful model for creating your own class mural on large bulletin board paper or on a playground or neighborhood wall. Support students to notice and name what the narrator does in the middle of the book to imagine, plan, collaborate, and start painting the wall. Gather other books about murals such as Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy, Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuth and Luis Paints the World by Terry Farish. Then, gather your students to plan a theme for your own mural that can tell the story of your class, your school, or your neighborhood. For further inspiration, read the note from the author and discuss Susan Verde’s childhood experience painting a playground mural. What did she do first? How did the mural make her feel? Consider going on a neighborhood walk to document things that could be part of the mural. Support your students in different roles to allow everyone to be part of the mural process from sketching to painting to caption creating.
The Power of “You” in Writing. Susan Verde purposefully has the boy speak directly to the wall throughout the book. Support students to share the ways they think that choice was particularly powerful and important. Gather other books that use similar second person point of view storytelling but where the narrator speaks to the reader. Use these books throughout the year for students to use as mentor texts if they want to incorporate “you” in their own narratives including Windows by Julia Denos, What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, Secret Pizza Party and Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and other If You ___ a ___ books by Laura Numeroff, and How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan.
Craft Techniques Make a Story Come Alive. Support students to engage in close reading of the book to zoom in on the variety of craft techniques Susan Verde uses to make the story of the neighborhood come alive. First, invite students to notice and name what techniques they see that Verde uses and create a class anchor chart of their noticings. Early childhood classrooms can focus on font size, punctuation, and repetition; while upper elementary classrooms can extend this to include the use of questions, sensory details, and techniques for indicating elapsed time.
Interjections as Attention Grabbers. Hey, Wall is an opportunity to introduce students to the power and purpose of interjections to grab the attention of your readers. As readers, when we encounter interjections as readers, we are often surprised just like we are in person when we hear someone interject. Support students to notice the punctuation that often accompanies interjections, particularly commas and exclamation marks. Have students work in partnerships to create their own sentences using interjections with proper punctuation. Continue to support students to notice the use of injections when speaking and listening.
I Am Affirmations. One of the most powerful ways to affirm a positive self-identity is to craft daily “I am” statements. Zoom in with students on the page that reads, “I am a writer, a creator, a game change, a wall changer.” Then, view with students the song “What I Am” by Will.i.am during his appearance on Sesame Street. Have students share the “I Am” statements they hear in the song. Then, support students to write their own “I Am” statements about themselves. Hang a blank anchor chart with the words “I Am” in the middle with a set of markers nearby as an invitation for students to continue to jot their own “I Am” statements throughout the year. Extend this invitation by adding “I Can” and “I Did” anchor chart invitations for students to keep affirming who they are, what they can do, and what they accomplish.
Neighborhood Stories Text Set. Gather other books that tell neighborhood stories to share as read-alouds in a community unit of study such as Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clarke, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest, and Madlenka by Peter Sis. Support students to notice the ways that authors and illustrators represent neighborhoods and the people in them. The recommendations above all represent neighborhoods as joyful places with diverse people and a myriad of stories. Either before or after reading a variety of selections, have students go on a neighborhood walk to document what they notice about their own school neighborhood. Give students documenting tools like clipboards and colored pencils, cameras, and audiorecording tools to capture what they see and hear along the way. In partnerships, support students to write their own neighborhood stories on their return using their favorite neighborhood picture book as a mentor text.
Citizen Kids: Social Activism. Like the boy in the story, transforming an old wall is one way students can engage in youth social activism. To help students to imagine more youth activist possibilities, pair Hey, Wall with The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World by Katie Smith Milway or other books in the Citizen Kid series published by Kids Can Press. Brainstorm with students ways they can engage in activism to make their community more beautiful, more hopeful, and more united. Then, support students in small groups or as a whole class to help them plan and take action in their own school or neighborhood communities.
Author Study. Susan Verde has written many picture books including The Museum, You and Me, The Water Princess, I Am Yoga, I Am Peace, and I Am Human. Immerse students in her books through read-alouds and by including her titles in your classroom library. Use her books throughout the year to continue to help students craft their own “I Am” statements (see invitation above) and to help students to take action in their own lives. Read her bio on her author’s site and consider with students the way Verde carried around a piece of chalk in her pocket and a skate key around her neck. How could those choices have laid the seeds of a life of storytelling and book making?
Illustrator Study. John Parra is an award-winning illustrator of books including Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown, Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, and Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong. Gather books he has illustrated for students to use as mentor texts for their own illustrations throughout the year. Support students to notice and name techniques he uses as an illustrator including his use of color, space, point of view, and his characteristic scratch effect created through sandpaper rubbing. Also support students to notice and name the positive messages that overlap across the stories he has been selected to illustrate. What do those messages say about Parra as an illustrator selecting projects to partner on? What might be important to him as an illustrator and as a person?
Walls and Fences: Uniters and Dividers. As explained by Susan Verde in the note from the author, “Walls often separate and divide. When neglected they can appear lonely and sad, but art and artists have the power to change that.” Throughout history walls have held a place in the shaping of communities but also the separation of people. Consider gathering a variety of texts that feature walls and fences in the narrative such as The Wall by Eve Bunting, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, and After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat. Allow students to share their noticings and wonderings about the characters, the situations, the ways the stories are resolved, and impact of walls or fences on the story. With middle grade students, pair Hey, Wall with Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall” and discuss whether good fences make good neighbors which is a notion contested by Frost in the poem.
Latinos in KidLit Interview with John Parra
Community Art Projects Around the World
“What I Am” Sesame Street Song
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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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