by Judy Newman with Alana Pedalino
Last year, I lamented that with everything on pause, I was feeling like a very impatient caterpillar stuck in a chrysalis. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling that way!
Now, more than a year later, I’m thrilled that live events are returning. I’m especially excited that Broadway is back, with measures to keep us all safe while enjoying such talented performances. I’m not sure when I’ll return to the Great White Way and which show I will see, but one particular musical was on my mind as I watched last month’s Tony Awards and read the Book of the Week, Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, though not at the same time, of course.
Pippin: the Bob Fosse–directed classic about a prince finding his way in a medieval world unsuited to the way he desires to live his ideal life.
Whether you love or hate Pippin, there are lots of numbers from the show that have gone on to become Broadway standards, or in my case, earworms:
Back in my younger days, when things were going wrong
I might sulk, I might pout
Now I've learned if I just pitch in and do what’s right
Things will always work out
That’s how the song “Spread a Little Sunshine” starts. The version I recalled out of thin air was the one by Chita Rivera from a made-for-TV special—you can watch that here.
While Chita’s character, Fastrada, uses the song as a means of manipulating Pippin to seize his father’s throne, she has a point. Spreading sunshine is a no-cost way to alter someone’s day for the better.
About a year ago, the coronavirus was novel—in many ways, it still is. I’m happy to report that after writing that post about feeling stuck in a chrysalis way back in March of 2020, the Scholastic Book Clubs team and I were able to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps. We connected with teachers and saw to their in-person and virtual needs, all during one of the craziest times I’ve ever lived through. I’m proud of myself, our team, and former Scholastic CEO Dick Robinson’s commitment to spreading a little sunshine to kids and teachers during the seemingly endless time that was quarantine.
To me, Broadway’s return heralds a shred of light at the end of the tunnel. I believe in the power of people coming together to make each other’s day better, simple as that, even if that’s corny to admit.
I know that Renée Watson understands where I’m coming from.
“I tend to look on the bright side of things. I’m definitely the kind of person who needs to express my feelings—I cry, I vent, I get frustrated, but after that I am pretty good at thinking up a solution to the challenge or coming up with a Plan B.” —Renée Watson
I met Renée in 2018 at the Behind the Book Gala. We were co-honorees. She is an incredible person, teacher, and writer who has won the Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor.
And Ryan Hart, the protagonist of Ways to Make Sunshine—the first book in Renée’s middle grade series—is just as incredible as Renée is.
“Each episodic chapter confronts Ryan with a situation; intermittently funny, frustrating, and touching, they should be familiar and accessible to readers.…Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet!” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Ryan is a girl in fourth grade who lives with her family in Portland, Oregon—just like another all-star protagonist you might have heard of named Ramona Quimby. Ryan’s name means “king,” so in order to live up to her name, she always does her best to spread her brand of sunshine in every situation.
Ways to Make Sunshine reminds me—and the New York Times—of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series in the best ways. It’s a contemporary, relatable story about a young girl whose family sticks together through it all, with plenty of heartwarming moments, trouble, laughs, and fun.
Best of all, Ryan serves as a great inspiration to all kids in that she “looks for things to be grateful for,” according to Renée.
This week, we connected with a Scholastic Book Clubs teacher and Renée herself. Below are links to four free resources you can use to shape lessons about this middle grade series and share with students:
• The Book Boys spread sunshine throughout the world in a class-friendly video
• Fifth grade teacher Leigh Poindexter shares why Ryan and her family are so relatable in Book Talks
• Renée Watson discusses her childhood journey as a reader and offers advice for aspiring young writers in an exclusive Behind the Scenes interview
• You can help your students consider different perspectives with a writing prompt inspired by Leigh in Cooked Up from a Book
I hope that Ways to Make Sunshine leaves an impression on you and your students, and that it inspires everyone in your classroom to spread a little sunshine to anyone who looks like they need a dose. Or have a Ryan-style cooking adventure like my friend and colleague David Vozar (hopefully your concoction is more successful and tasty!).
Order the Book of the Week from Scholastic Book Clubs