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Digital Learning

Finding Gratitude

It's been a hard week. A close member of my family is a survivor of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre.  My family and larger religious community has experienced unheard of horror and sadness during the week that has just passed. When something like this happens, we have to dig down really deep to find something to be grateful for. This was a challenging week for me to seek gratitude, but seek I did.

First, I am beyond relieved that our loved one is physically safe and still here with us. As a survivor, he has a long road back emotionally. We are grateful as a family that he still walks this earth and can receive our love and hugs. We know it will take time, and we will be grateful for each day going forward when the news doesn't contain tales of more hate and destruction. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and multicultural unity that has arisen from this tragedy. I am grateful to see good people trying to do good in the world all around me.

When the world lets us down and children are filled with questions and needing to talk about it, I have always turned to literature. I find it so much easier and more effective to focus the conversation on what some of our favorite characters have done to manage their shock and sadness. Please note that any books mentioned in this post are Amazon affiliate links. You can also find them at the library!

As I searched my shelves and the internet for books on gratitude, I found mostly picture books. Those are the easy ones. Easy to work in a read aloud lesson on many days. Easy to have the whole piece to connect and discuss in a short time period. Even when adding in a chapter book as book clubs or whole class reads, I would still begin with a picture book.

Here are some favorites. Picture books first!

Be Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming

This beautiful book was on my mind this week, as two of the victims of the massacre were mentally challenged brothers who brought nothing but love and light to everyone they met. I recall them as small children visiting their cousins who were our neighbors. Like Eddie Lee, they appreciated the little things in life, like the beauty of nature and the goodness that can be found inside most of us.

On a boring summer day, Christy learns from Eddie Lee that beauty and gratitude can be found in unexpected places. Christy starts out being annoyed by Eddie Lee's always wanting to follow her around, and ends being grateful for the friendship he offers so completely.

Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood

Told in poetry and illustrated with beautiful collage art, this book is a perfect prompt for your students to write their own gratitude poems and create their own gratitude collages.

When Violet, the Purple Fairy, gets a case of the "gimme gimme want wants", her mother suggests making an imaginary pot of gratitude soup. She reaches deep down and pulls up so many things that she  is grateful for to create her special soup. Luckily, the pot can be downsized to fit inside her heart, where she keeps it constantly warm.

Olivia Rosewood, the author, reminds us of the research that proves that gratitude changes brain chemistry, supporting mental and physical health. I am sure that it was the tiny pot of gratitude simmering in my heart for so many years that kept me from turning into a hater this week. It's certainly an image that is stuck in my brain now, after reading this beautiful book.

Chapter books for third, fourth, and fifth graders:

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

This is an old favorite from my personal and class bookshelves. I've always asked for parent permission first because the main character, Comfort Snowberger, lives in her family's funeral home and has attended 247 funerals. I always thought that might be considered too intense or scary for some kids, but I have never had a parent say that their child could not participate.

Even the first line resonates, " I come from a family with a lot of dead people." Don't we all?
Comfort says it so beautifully herself:
"...death is hard. Death is sad. But death is part of life. When someone you know dies, it's your job to keep on living.
So...we did. We adjusted. We did what we always do when death comes calling:
    We gathered together.
    We started cooking.
    We called the relatives.
    We called our friends.
    We did not have to call the funeral home. We are the funeral home.
    I wrote the obituary."

And Comfort eventually takes over writing the obituaries for her local newspaper. She call them "Life Notices" rather than "Death Notices". She writes the most unique obituaries you will ever read, truly celebrating the life of each person. Comfort teaches each of us to find gratitude in the sweet, funny, and even outrageous events that make up a life. I met Comfort as a reader in my 50s, and she changed so much about my outlook on life. I like to think that she has done that for many of my students too!

Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney

More than a century ago, on a fictional farm in Sassafras Springs, Missouri, Eben McAllister has been fascinated by reading about The Seven Wonders of the World in school. He wants to take his first trip away from his "boring" home to visit relatives in Colorado. Eben's dad challenges him to find seven wonders right at home in Sassafras Springs that can rival the real Seven Wonders. Eben sets off on a journey of knocking on neighbors' doors to discover the origin stories about some ordinary seeming items. He hears magical tales about a doll that saved a life, a musical saw, an ordinary table, and an incredible wonder at the end that I won't spoil for you!

As Eben says:
"Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places. A fancy-dancy butterfly starts out in a plain little cocoon. A great big apple tree grows from a tiny speck of a seed. And the wonders started right on our own front porch on a hot summer night I would have forgotten on the spot if it hadn't been for what got started then and kept on going."
Once you start looking for the beauty in and finding gratitude in ordinary things, it's hard to stop. Eben sets a great example for all of us.

This book has held a special place in my heart for so many years. It was a favorite read-aloud for my students. We all loved how each chapter was its own little story. I based my writing lessons on it for a unit on memoirs. Each student created a "Wonder of Farmington Hills" story. (The location of our school.) Every story was a touching closer look at something that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  One particular story still in my heart was the story about a rose that blooms each summer in one family's yard on the anniversary of the death of a favorite uncle who left them at a young age. Another was the story of how the Rainbow City (my classroom name - but you knew that, right?) Rocking Chair came to be. It was a special chair, painted and repainted every year by each new class, but of course the story of how it came to be was nothing like the real one!

We sent our collection of "The Wonders of Farmington Hills" to Betty Birney and she loved it! She sent us a beautiful letter to share with families and our school community as a celebration of our writing!

The best lesson here though, is the same as above - finding beauty and feeling gratitude when looking at simple everyday things. "Fancy-Dancy butterfly". I still love that!

While digging deep for some gratitude this weekend, I attended a huge Solidarity service and multicultural gathering at our Temple on Friday night. We welcomed a new Shabbat with shalom (peace) in our hearts and gratitude to God for this crazy, unpredictable world that has been entrusted to us. I was honored to have been asked to light the Shabbat candles for all to see and to read a poem with my daughter in honor of my uncle and in memory of his friends who were lost. As we said the blessing over the candles, I could feel the love pouring out from our expanded congregation, and I let the light of gratitude back into my heart.

I am grateful to have been born and raised in Pittsburgh. My upbringing has made me #PittsburghStrong and #StrongerThanHate for life. I am grateful for the home I've made and the family we have created and the friends I have found here in Michigan. I'm so very grateful for all the students I've known and hopefully reached over the years of my teaching career. And... I'm especially grateful to each of you who is reading this post.

To express my gratitude to you, I have pulled out a sample of my new Grateful Gnomes resource. I would love for you try it along with some (or all!) of the books I've talked about here as you awaken just a little more gratitude in your own students.

Find it here:

Tonight, I'll be talking about Gratitude and how to bring it into your classroom with my podcasting buddies, and we'll be announcing an amazing gratitude giveaway! (Aren't you glad you kept reading?)
It will be released on Wednesday! Check out our podcasts here and click below to enter  our giveaway and how you can win your choice of a $100.00 gift card! 

Our Podcast:

                       I hope you'll check out the posts below by our blogging crew on gratitude!

Wishing you the magic of fancy dancy butterflies, a tiny simmering pot of gratitude inside your heart, and the wonders of noticing the beauty in simple things inside your mind in the days ahead. Even that chatty class that you may have - it's a beautiful thing! Right?

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  1. This reader and colleague is grateful for you! These are fabulous book suggestions. 💜

  2. Always grateful for things in life. Good to pay respects

  3. Thank you for this post! I can’t wait to use these books with my students!

  4. This is SO inspiring!!! I'm off to check out the rest of your blog!!

  5. I love the book recommendations!

  6. Thank you for the book recommendations and reminding us to stay positive in challenging times.

  7. Your attitude of gratitude is so refreshing and inspiring. Can’t wait to check out the rest of your blog and share these books with my littles!

  8. It's gotta be fate - I have "attitude of gratitude" written on a bit notepad on my desk, and I somehow stumbled across this awesome post! Grateful for that :)


  9. What you write is touchibg. Gratitude is important, especiallt in this crazy world. Love the book recommendations.

  10. thanks for the great book recommendations!

  11. Love all the book suggestions! I added many to my list to check out!

  12. I love these books! What great reminders and ways to teach gratitude.

  13. I love how you are using literature to help students relate. It’s so important to find something to be grateful for amongst even the hardest of times. Sending hugs & prayers your way!

  14. Thank you for this inspiring words and book recommendations! I’m grateful to have found this blog, I look forward to reading more!

  15. I find a number of my students lack gratitude. Thank you for the books suggestions To use as a model!

  16. I find a number of my students lack gratitude. Thanks for the book suggestions to use as a model!

  17. So sad about the synagogue shooting. We don't have any guards at our shul and haven't worried. Maybe we all need to in this harsh climate.

  18. Thank you for this post. Very inspiring. Thankful and grateful.

  19. Gratitude is always hard to teach to some these days. Thanks so much for the blog post on this.

  20. Thank God your loved one survived!