In August, I received a message from a former year one student of mine, inviting me to read to her prep class as part of her Book Week celebration. As reading to children is one of my favourite things and I consider read aloud to be one of the non-negotiables in any classroom, especially early childhood classrooms, I was delighted to accept. I was even more delighted to visit her as a teacher and read to her class.
When Lauren contacted me, she told me that it was because of me that she became a teacher and now reads to her class every day, just as she remembers me doing all those years ago. While that makes me feel very special, it also affirms the important role that we teachers have as we help form, guide and influence the hearts, minds and lives of the young people we work with. What a privilege it was to teach Lauren in year one and now to visit her in her own classroom. She is obviously an excellent teacher with a great rapport with her students who are totally switched on and love books and reading. What a brilliant start to their school days and ones they will remember, I’m sure, as she remembers being in my class.
This is a plate and cup Lauren painted for me when she was in year one. They have been on my shelf as a reminder of this special student since then. Though I have no trouble remembering her either.
After receiving Lauren’s invitation, the first thing to decide was which book to read. Lauren told me she’d already read Mem Fox’s books, which she remembers me reading. She also told me that they loved the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, which I love too. I wanted to read them something different, something Lauren hadn’t already read to them. Knowing that the area Lauren works in is very multicultural, I knew different cultural backgrounds would be represented in her class.
I thought The Boy Who Tried to Shrink his Name, written by my friend Sandhya Parappukkaran, would be a good one to read, and asked Sandhya’s approval to do so. She kindly agreed, and also sent some pages from the book for the children to colour. Lauren confirmed she hadn’t yet shared the book with her children, so the decision was made.
I spent the week prior to the visit practising, especially the pronunciation of the main character’s name: Zimdalamashkermishkada. The name seems daunting at first and even Zimdalamashkermishkada would like to shrink it. When his friend Elly shortens it to Zim, he asks his mum if that’s okay. His mother suggests he gives everyone time to learn to say it correctly.
Throughout the book, Sandhya Parappukkaran cleverly breaks the name into smaller chunks for Elly to learn. At the same time, Elly is teaching Zimdalamashkermishkada to skateboard. By the end of the story, Zimdalamashkermishkada can do a full turn on his skateboard and Elly can pronounce his name correctly.
When the day came, I put the book, the colouring pages, and some Book Week stickers and bookmarks in my bag. I also put in my puppet Cool Cat.
Cool Cat had been in my classroom for years, singing and playing games with the children, and encouraging them to join in. I hoped Lauren would remember him and would be happy to carry on the Cool Cat tradition in her own classroom.
As a last minute thought, I also put in my Pigeon and Duckling toys since Lauren had mentioned how much her class loved Pigeon. (I had no intention of parting with them though. Not yet anyway.)
I introduced the children to Cool Cat, Pigeon and Duckling before I began reading. As I thought, they were especially excited to see Pigeon and Duckling. I promised I’d read them a Pigeon story at the end if we had time. Then we settled down to read The Boy Who Tried to Shrink his name. First, we talked about which of the children had long names and which had short names, and why someone would like to shrink their name. One child suggested so it would fit. Before I arrived, they’d been pasting the letters of their names onto sheets of paper and some of the longer names were difficult to fit. The activity was a good introduction to the book.
As I read the story, the children enjoyed joining in, learning how to put the pieces of Zimdalamashkermishkada’s name together, and had such a sense of success when they said it all the way through with Elly at the end.
After the reading, we played a name game ‘Tell me what your name is’, one of Cool Cat’s favourites. We went around the circle saying our names and clapping the syllables. Some of the names were a bit tricky for me and I had to ask the children to tell me again, just the way Zimdalamashkermishkada’s teacher did.
Finally, we did have time for one Pigeon story before lunch, the children’s favourite and mine: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
It was lovely morning for me, and I look forward to other read aloud sessions in the future.
Coincidentally, Lauren is teaching in the same school where I began my teaching career 50 years ago. How amazing is that? The same buildings are there but others have been added. They have been painted a new colour and the facilities and playground are much improved. There was no prep back then, all those years ago. While some things stay the same, others change, hopefully for the better. We have a great future to look forward to with eager, positive young teachers like Lauren and enthusiastic and willing young learners like her class.
The Boy who Tried to Shrink His Name can be purchased from all good bookstores and your local independent book shop. Or follow this link and click on ‘Buy Now’ to see online stores.
Teachers notes for The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name can be found here.
You can find out more about author Sandhya Parappukkaran:
on her website: https://sandhyaparappukkaran.com/,
or connect with her on social media: