Written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This book follows a little boy CJ as he rides the bus with his grandma from church to the soup kitchen as they do each Sunday. It’s full of imagery and imagination as we meet different people who get on and off the bus, and CJ’s grandma helps him to enjoy the bus ride instead of feeling bored or wishing he could go do things his other friends do. Time and time again, his grandma shows him how to find beauty in things around them that aren’t immediately obvious, and he comes to appreciate the connections he makes with others and the service they do at the soup kitchen. The language at times is pretty metaphorical and uses some larger words, so it might not be completely understood by young children, but the lessons are repeated enough that they should be able to come away from it understanding those overarching morals.
Through the dialogue and events of the book, you and your child will get to explore a very underrepresented culture within America! If your family comes from a culture that isn’t very similar to this, be careful to not make generalizations about things like the way that Nana and CJ speak. CJ will say things like “how come we gotta wait does the bus in all this wet?”. If you tell your child, “that’s just how [this group of people] talk”, they will take that literally and assume every single person from that group talks in that way, which is problematic! Within every culture, community, and race, there is great variety in people and it is really beneficial for children to appreciate the individuality in people instead of grouping together people into a set of characteristics. If you do want your child to know that certain ways of speaking vary from culture to culture, use words like “some [group of people] people” or “many people from [whatever place] speak like this!” And maybe also point out an exception your child may know (even if it’s an example of a movie or tv character) so that you’re really emphasizing that they can’t assume that trait of everybody from that group/place. You might even point out how your family may speak a little differently than other people with certain words or phrases you use that are specific to you!
During the reading:
- As you read some of the imagery, act it out with your child! For example, while you read about the rain freckling CJ’s shirt and dripping down his nose, mimic the rain by lightly touching their shirt and pretend that your finger is rain dripping down their nose. Or when CJ waves to his friends, take their hand and wave it. This positive physical contact will help them to enjoy reading and bond with you. It will also help them to be involved readers, establishing patterns of really connecting with stories and fully understanding what they mean and what they think of the meaning.
- As you read about different characters on and off the bus, ask your child to point to them on the page. This will help keep more wiggly kids engaged as you read the sometimes more flowery language.
- When you read about the older boys who get on the bus, it says that CJ wished he had “one of those” but doesn’t explain what he’s referring to. Ask your child if they know what he wants (the headphones/phone) to make sure they’re following the story, since that particular part really drives the next little bit of the book.
- You can ask your child about a time when he listened to music that they really loved like CJ and “felt magic”.
- Talk about how nice it was for CJ to give the guitar player his coin. You can bring up a specific example of when your child has been generous or kind with someone else, too. Ask your child how they felt when they did that generous or kind thing! As you help them to learn to recognize and identify their emotions, they’ll improve in their ability to manage difficult emotions, help others with their emotions, and desire to be kind and helpful to others.
- You can open up a discussion about seeing beautiful things even when you’re in places that are dirty. The book shows all of the dirty city spaces really positively, so you could help your child to see the good in the city even with those things, and extend that to helping them see the good in the places around them that are less than ideal–you could even point out examples in your own home or neighborhood. If you draw on specific examples of places your child visits often, then this principle will stick even better in their minds.
- Explain what a soup kitchen is and what CJ and his grandma are doing there!
- Talk about how CJ feels when he sees people he recognizes at the soup kitchen and how he feels doing nice things for others. Ask your child how they feel when they do nice things for others. You could ask them to tell you about something nice they did for somebody else in a context when you’re not around (like at school) so they have the opportunity to recall and relate that story and their feelings about it. Make sure to really sincerely praise their kindness!
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