Willow’s Smile by Lana Button

Lana Button‘s children’s picture book Willow’s Smile (April 2016, Kids Can Press) made me think of my picture days in school. I held the sign at the bottom of the bleachers when I was in third grade, and I had to retake all of my senior pictures because my eyes were closed in most of the proofs. We can all relate to Willow’s adventures on picture day.

Here’s a quick summary…. Willow can smile when she is really happy. But when it comes to picture day, the day of the forced smile, she has some trouble.  Pleased when she is asked by the photographer to help other students smile by holding up a rubber chicken, Willow is successful in helping all her classmates smile. But when it is her turn, Willow is unable to smile. Until, that is, her classmates step in.

This is a quirky children’s picture book. On one hand, I found myself wanting more of a plot, wanting there to be more depth to the piece. And then, on the other hand, I enjoyed the simplicity of Willow’s experiences in the school picture line. Button’s short lines help readers understand the struggles Willow faces, and there is a realness to this story that might have been lost had the story been made more complicated. Willow’s Smile is refreshing because it emphasizes authentic happiness in a world that all too often projects false, hollow images of joy.

I really loved Tania Howells‘s absolutely cute illustrations, and the framed pictures of each child’s smile made me smile. I LOVE the exaggeration of the teacher’s height in the last illustration.  I want a print of some of Howell’s drawings. The style of the drawings very much match the narrative’s simplicity.

Here are some teaching activities you can use with Willow’s Smile:

(1) Have students write a poem in which each stanza tells the story of one personal photo. Students can bring previous school pictures or use other personal photographs.

(2) My mentor during my first year of teaching (whom I really liked and admired) shared this strategy called Explode a Moment in which students take a photograph and then describe it with all of the five senses. This exercise really helps students focus on sensory details in their writing.

(3) Ask students to create a collage of photographs that represents what makes them truly happy. Not only does this activity integrate photography but it helps students focus on one of the central themes in Willow’s Smile: authentic happiness.

Let me know about your favorite class picture in the comments below!

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