Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary with Most Days
Written by Michael Leannah; Illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Barrata
Published by Tilbury House
Grades K and up
“When I go to bed, this day’s ordinary minutes glimmer in my memory like stars in the night sky.” With these words, author and former elementary school teacher Michael Leannah draws our attention to the miracles and wonders hidden in the commonplace. Most Days is a book that celebrates the everyday routines of both people and the natural world, showing how “a plain old ordinary day” can still be full of awe. An unidentified narrator (each page centers a child of different skin color, gender, and ability) invites us along throughout their day, beginning with the quotidian steps of getting dressed and eating breakfast before shifting our perspective: “But wait! The plant on the windowsill had six leaves yesterday, and today there are seven.” The rest of the day is full of similarly subtle sensations, ending with a clock ticking, a “sliver of moon,” and the above reflection of the wonders of a usual day. Even Leannah’s straightforward text conveys a tone that is both soothing and surprising: “The wind has blown yesterday’s air far away, and the air we’re breathing now will be miles from here tomorrow.” Likewise, Barrata’s cartoon-like illustrations offer a little secret for the keen observer. As the world waits with anticipation about returning to the routines of pre-COVID days, Most Days is a gentle reminder across content areas that the “here and now” still carries tremendous value and fascination.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Comfort and Healing in Routine. For many, the predictability and consistency of everyday routines is a calming, comforting, and even healing experience. Have students keep track of their daily routines for a few days. You might want to provide students with some blank schedules broken up into specific time slots. Once they have tracked their routines enough to see some patterns, have them reflect on which daily routines are comforting (e.g., playing a musical instrument, riding bikes with friends after school, reading a book for pleasure before bedtime, packing their backpacks the night before, etc.). Make time for students to share their those routines, especially if they involve hobbies and talents, with one another. Engage students in a conversation about why they think these routines are comforting and helpful to them. After consulting with students’ families, you might also encourage students to teach one another some of the steps and skills involved in those routines to help one another try applying them to their own lives.
Finding the Extraordinary in the Natural World. The first extraordinary event highlighted in this ordinary day is the growth of a new leaf on a houseplant. Invite readers to search for the extraordinary things that happen every day in the natural world around them, whether it be a spider web catching the morning dew or a squirrel displaying astonishing agility and strength as it leaps from object to object. Equip students with sketching materials, notebooks, blank paper, tablets, and cameras to document what they find. Remind them to use all of their senses. For example, you might have them note the changes in the moon over a few nights or the sounds they might not usually hear during the day. Have them share their discoveries with one another in class and use them as inspiration for writing assignments. You might also pair this book with Tiny, Perfect Things, by M. H. Clark, A Stone Sat Still, by Brendan Wenzel, or Mornings with Monet, by Barb Rosenstock, which showcase the beauty appearing in the natural world every day.
“The Little Things I Love So Much.” Ask students to think about the little things that give them joy. Especially after being limited in what we could do and where we could go for over a year, what little things have they noticed that they didn’t before the pandemic? What little things have provided them with comfort and happiness? Perhaps it was a daily stroll around the block with family, the way the heater hums on a cold day, the smell of clean laundry, or the sound of a pet snoring at your feet. Share the books Before Morning, by Joyce Sidman, Here and Now, by Julia Denos, and Joy, by Corrinne Averiss, which spotlight how simple things can spark immense pleasure and peace. Have each student list the little things they love and then select one of those items to share with the class. Compile students’ items to construct a class poem or a multimedia presentation to share with them throughout the rest of the year to remind them of the little things that make them smile. Make copies for students to keep with them beyond the school year. You might also want to share the Healthline article “8 Way to Actually Enjoy the Little Things” to help students continue looking for the little things in their lives to give them a sense of happiness and peace.
Watching the World’s Show for Creative Writing. Leannah writes, “The world puts on a show, as it does every day.” Have students sit in front of the school, at a park, or at the window to watch the show that is happening outside their classroom. Have them jot down what they see that wasn’t there the day before or earlier that morning. Maintaining the frame of a show, have them identify the actors/performers in that show to begin a piece of creative writing. Why might the actors/performers be trying to do in the show? What might their motivations be? If creating a piece of narrative writing, what is the setting and plot? If writing poetry, what figurative language might be used to describe the show? What emotions might be involved? Have students take these pieces through through revision, editing, and publishing to share in a creative writing publishing party.
Circular Endings. Leannah begins and ends this book with the same two words: “most days.” Share some other picture books that have circular endings, such as Sea Bear, by Lindsay Moore; Library Mouse, by Daniel Kirk; If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff, and One Thing, by Lauren Child, and engage students in a discussion about the craft of writing. Why might an author want to do that? How does writing an ending that circles and connects back to the beginning impact the meaning that readers can make of the text? Have students try out a circular ending in their next writing piece, or have them revise a current draft or previously written piece to include a circular ending. You can apply this craft move to a variety of genres, from narrative writing to informational writing to poetry.
Symbolism and Motif. Upon seeing the illustrations in Most Days, your students might notice that a blue jay appears on each double-page spread. Introduce your students to the literary elements of symbolism and motif. What might the blue jay symbolize? Why do they think it appears as a motif throughout the entire book? What could its repeated presence mean in relation to the book’s theme? Challenge students to find other examples of symbolism and motif in some other picturebooks the class has read over the year, and discuss as a class how they enhance their understanding of the books. Some picturebook titles we have blogged about that have strong examples of symbolism and motif include The Rabbit Listened; Square; After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again; Lines; Here I Am; and Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave.
Michael Leannah’s website
Megan Elizabeth Barrata’s website
Healthline article – “8 Ways to Actually Enjoy the Little Things”
Clark, M.H. (2018). Tiny, perfect things. Ill. by Madeline Kloepper. Compendium Books.
Denos, J. (2019). Here and now. Ill. by E. B. Goodale. Candlewick Press.
Hanh, T. N. (2008). A handful of quiet: Happiness in four pebbles. Ill. by W. Vriezen. Plum Blossom.
Henkes, K. (2016). Waiting. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Leannah, M. (2017). Most people. Ill. by J. E. Morris. Tillbury House.
Nye, N. S. (2020). Everything comes next. Greenwillow Books.
Portis, A. (2017). Now. Roaring Brook Press.
Sidman, J. (2016). Before morning. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wenzel, B. (2019). A stone sat still. Chronicle Books.
Filed under: Picture Books
About Grace Enriquez
Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.
SLJ Blog Network