by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I am writing this post on my birthday, October 12.
It will be posted tomorrow when our Book of the Week and new blog posts go live.
For the record, I am self-reflective on my birthday. I spend a good part of the day thinking about what’s important to me: my family and friends and my long-standing Scholastic Book Clubs community of colleagues and classroom teachers. I try to reflect on what I have done well—and not so well—during the past year, and what I am planning to tackle in the year ahead.
I know. It seems heady. But it’s important to me to take stock of what’s going on in my life, as well as who I am sharing it with and learning from.
Of course, I also love a good (smallish, socially distanced) party with chocolate cake and vanilla chocolate-chip ice cream. And I love getting thoughtful birthday cards and beautiful flowers.
I also have a few personal birthday rituals: I go through some old photo albums of family birthday celebrations, and I send myself a JibJab birthday message. (So much fun, you should try it—here’s the link!)
But this year—the first time I am celebrating my birthday during a pandemic—some big issues are taking up even more space in my mind.
The story of the COVID-19 global pandemic will be written and rewritten for decades to come. And tomorrow’s students—whether studying in a classroom, at a remote location, through a hybrid model, in space labs on the moon, or wherever the future will take us—will be learning about this earth-shattering and truly fascinating period in human history.
But after the scientific, medical, economic, and political impacts have been studied and debated and codified as part of 21st-century history, I still think the most important lesson of all to pass down is that we—each one of us who has a birthday—have to be kind to each other.
At the end of her author interview for our Book of the Week, The Invisible Boy, author Trudy Ludwig raises her fist and cries: “Kindness Warriors, Unite!”
I most definitely agree!
The Invisible Boy is the story of a boy named Brian, who is pretty “invisible” in his classroom. Brian doesn’t get picked for teams. He isn’t invited to birthday parties. And he doesn’t even get too much attention from his teacher, Mrs. Carlotti, whose time and energy is unevenly required by kids like Nathan and Sophie. But Brian loves to draw, and he is really good at it.
When a new kid, Justin, arrives in class and is made fun of at lunch for using chopsticks and eating bulgogi (“booger-gi,” to a particularly obnoxious and mean classmate), it is Brian who sends Justin a comforting note with a drawing.
Ultimately, Justin—and an initially reluctant but ultimately compliant kid named Emilio—becomes friends with Brian. And as Brian works on his team’s class project with his new friends, his image, which illustrator Patrice Barton drew in black and white throughout the story up to this point, becomes colorful.
Readers will cheer—as did I—that Justin and Emilio ultimately become friends with Brian and that Brian “is not so invisible after all.”
Of course, I love that Brian now has friends and is no longer black and white. But there is another aspect of Brian in The Invisible Boy that speaks even more powerfully to me.
I am inspired that it is Brian, the invisible boy in the class—the one who is alone and friendless—who has the strength of character to reach out to Justin with a special note and a perfect illustration.
No one else is kind to Brian, and it would’ve been much safer and more comfortable for him to stay away rather than reach out to the new kid. But he does. And to me, that is an awesome demonstration of kindness and true humanity—and the type of person we all need in our lives.
It is also special that Justin, in addition to responding to Brian’s overture of friendship, doesn’t let Emilio exclude Brian from their group. That also takes special courage and strength of character!
Brian and Justin (and I guess a few Emilios, who may not be at the vanguard of Kindness Warriors but who are at least able to eventually join the right team) are the kind of people I want in my life. On my birthday and every day.
The process for choosing our Scholastic Book Clubs Book of the Week titles is deliberate and extensive. Our editorial and marketing teams review hundreds of books and spend hours in meetings debating whether a title meets our criteria.
My friend and colleague David Vozar and I have been celebrating birthdays together for decades. He embodies kindness, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and creativity. I cherish our professional partnership and personal friendship, and I truly trust his judgment.
David has been advocating for us to feature The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton, practically since it was first published in 2013. The Invisible Boy speaks to David and his own personal experiences as a not-so-visible kid in school. He captures that here in his weekly comic:
And the critics agree. Check out these glowing reviews:
“Illustrator Barton adds a wonderful touch by drawing all the other characters in color but sketching Brian in faint shades of black and white—at least at first.…Before long, Brian, in living color, is not so invisible after all. It’s a lovely lesson in the simple acts of friendship, especially recommended for the most popular kids in class.”
“Pitch-perfect words and art.”
School Library Journal (starred review)
“This is a simple yet heartfelt story about a boy who has been excluded for no apparent reason but finds a way to cope and eventually gains acceptance.”
“Tender illustrations rendered in glowing hues capture Brian’s isolation deftly.…Use this to start a discussion: The author includes suggested questions and recommended reading lists for adults and children. Accessible, reassuring and hopeful.”
“Ludwig and Barton understand classroom dynamics....They portray Brian’s situation as a matter of groupthink that can be rebooted through small steps. It’s a smart strategy, one that can be leveraged through the book’s excellent discussion guide.”
Carrie Goldman, Award-Winning Author of Bullied
“Trudy Ludwig has given us the gift of another empathic, poignant book for children that addresses the complex topic of peer relationships.…A must-read.”
To help you share, extend, and deepen kids’ (and adults’) reading of The Invisible Boy, we’ve put together the following free activities and resources for you:
• Author Video: Trudy Ludwig talks about The Invisible Boy and leads the rallying cry “Kindness Warriors, Unite!” in Behind the Scenes.
• Fun Video: Real kids join the Book Boys (and guest star Liz—filling in for Max, who just became a proud dad!) and share their beautiful ideas for how to be kind.
• FREE Activity: Your students can express their own ideas for how to be kind in Cooked Up from a Book.
• Teacher Review: Second grade teacher Eileen O’Rourke shares how she uses The Invisible Boy with students in Book Talks.
I am happy to be celebrating my birthday writing about The Invisible Boy and making it available as the Scholastic Book Clubs Book of the Week. And if you share this story and its simple messages of creativity, kindness, and inclusivity—and what it means to not be invisible—that will be the best birthday gift of all.
Happy birthday to me! Happy reading to you!
Order the Book of the Week from Scholastic Book Clubs