Patty’s Picks: Family & Togetherness Stories

Patty’s Picks is a regular series in which our Vooks Education Director, Patty Duncan, selects five titles around a specific theme and shares why she chose them as well as associated vocabulary, discussion ideas, activities, and more. 

This month’s theme: Family & Togetherness


Hiku is a little penguin who feels grumpy. The ice is too bright, the sun is too hot, and his mother woke him up too early. Then Hiku remembers his whole family is coming for a visit—which is the last thing he wants right now. He doesn’t feel like smiling, being polite, and getting teased by his aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins. He wants to be alone.

But when Hiku sneaks off to his special snow hole, he starts to think about all the fun times he’s had with his family. Will Hiku realize he’s missing out on having fun and making memories? And if he does, will he make it back in time for the family photo? Come along with Hiku and find out!

Why Patty chose this story: I chose this title because the holidays can be overwhelming for children and it is very important that they know how to handle these feelings. Hiku helps children realize that they are not alone in having these feelings. This title offers the opportunity to discuss positive behavior strategies for coping with feelings of being overwhelmed and wanting to just get away from everything and everyone. 

Vocabulary word(s): grumpy

The independent reading level of this story is second grade; however, as a read-along it can be enjoyed and understood by children as young as preschool. Hiku is a valuable mentor text for SEL (Social Emotional Learning), presenting feelings of being overwhelmed and wanting to be alone. Children will also be able to identify with the illustrations that very subtly point out that Hiku not only has a different kind of name, but also looks different (he has a heart-shaped stomach). Hiku’s eyes are also very illustrative of his feelings. In addition to using this title for SEL, it makes a great mentor text for dialogue, punctuation, and lists in writing. 

Discussion starter suggestions:

  • What are some things that your family/friends do that make you grumpy?
  • What kinds of things happen that make you want to be alone?
  • Do you have a special hiding place?
  • What are some happy times you have spent with your family/friends?

Activity suggestions:

  • Draw a picture of your family. 
  • Write a story about doing something special with your family. 

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me

Nothing seems to be going right for Sammy today. At school, he got in trouble for kicking a fence. Then the cafeteria ran out of his favorite pizza for lunch. After having to walk home in the pouring rain, Sammy finds his neurodivergent little brother Benji is having a bad day too. On days like this, Benji has a special play-box where he goes to feel cozy and safe.

But while Sammy lovingly cares for Benji, Sammy doesn’t have a special place where he can feel protected. And he’s convinced no one cares how he feels—or even notices him at all. But somebody is noticing, and they might have an idea of how to help Sammy feel a bit better.

Why Patty chose this story: I chose this title because there are many children who have neurodiverse siblings. It is important for these children to understand neurodiversity to help build strong relationships between the siblings. Benji, the Bad Day, and Me is an example of both brothers understanding each other and being there for support. It also illustrates that anyone can have a bad day, but having support can make all of the difference. This title not only provides an opportunity to discuss neurodiversity, but also positive behavior coping strategies when those bad days occur.

Vocabulary word(s): Although the word “autism” is not directly stated in the book, Sammy is autistic. Introducing children to the word and the characteristics of autism is appropriate.

The independent reading level of this story is second grade; however, as a read-along it can be enjoyed and understood by children as young as preschool. The title offers the opportunity to discuss autism with children. Listening to the author’s note following the title is a great way to introduce a discussion about autism that can hopefully facilitate understanding and acceptance. Benji, the Bad Day, and Me can also be used as a mentor text for choice/consequence using Benji’s behavior and the resulting consequence: Ask the question, “What happens when ______?” This title can also be used as a mentor text for adjectives, paying special attention to the hyphenated words sad-mad, etc. 

Discussion starter suggestions:

  • Name three things that have happened to you that made a day bad for you. How did you react to those things that happened?
  • If you have a brother or sister, describe your relationship with them. If not, describe the relationship you have with someone (a cousin, a neighbor, a friend). What kinds of things do they do that might make you unhappy/happy?
  • Name three things you can do to make a bad day better. 

Activity suggestions:

  • Act out a scene from Benji, the Bad Day, and Me. (What would you do if someone were having a bad day?)
  • Have children brainstorm ways they “shake off” a bad day. Ask the children to act it out or share. Depending on your group, you may have to provide ideas of “bad days.”

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji

Aneel loves when his grandparents visit. Most of all, he loves their stories. Today, Dada-ji tells Aneel the story of a lad from a village far, far away. The lad could wrestle water buffalo, tie two hissing cobras in a knot, spin trumpeting elephants by their tails, and touch the sky with his feet. The source of the lad’s tiger power? Hot, hot roti, prepared by Aneel’s Badi-ma herself!

Aneel asks his mother, father, Dadi-ma, and sister for help making roti for Dada-ji. But when no one can help, Aneel is left to make the recipe on his own. Will the roti turn out all right? And if it does, can it still give Dada-ji the power of the tiger? There’s only one way to find out!

Why Patty chose this story: I chose this title because it is important for children to understand the importance of tradition and to appreciate the wisdom of their family members. Especially during the holiday season, children may have opportunities to learn about the different family traditions and cultures in talking with relative. Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji illustrates the bond family members can have and will hopefully inspire children to talk to family when given the opportunity. 

Vocabulary word(s): roti

If read independently, Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji is best used by advanced second graders and up; however, as a read-aloud and with the help of the animation, the title is very appropriate for both kindergarteners and first graders. This story introduces children to the culture and traditions of India. Many aspects of life in India and contemporary life in the United States are illustrated in this story. Hot, Hot Rot for Dada-ji can be used as a mentor text to introduce children to the Indian culture and traditions. Hopefully it will also inspire the children to learn about their own culture and traditions. In addition, this story can be used as a mentor text to teach alliteration, adjectives, and adverbs. 

Discussion starter suggestions:

  • What are your family traditions?
  • What is the background of your family? 
  • Did members of your family come from a different country?
  • What do you know about the culture of your ancestors?

Activity suggestions:

  • Share a favorite legend. 
  • Write about something interesting you know about your family’s background.

Kevin’s Kwanzaa

Kevin is making decorations to celebrate a special African American holiday: Kwanzaa! This year, he got to decorate the unity cup. His mom lays a mat on the table, adds the candleholder and candles, and sets out an ear of corn for each kid. There are also presents. Tonight, grandpa will light the first candle. In six days, at the end of Kwanzaa, Kevin will light one too!

Come join Kevin as he learns important Swahili words, thinks about his community goals, and attends a Kwanzaa party full of drumming, dancing, and eating. You might know all about the importance of Kwanzaa—or maybe this will be your first chance to attend.

Why Patty chose this story: I chose this title because it is important for children to understand different cultural traditions. It is through understanding that children build acceptance. Children may celebrate Kwanzaa in their own homes or have friends that celebrate. 

Vocabulary word(s): Kwanzaa, African American, Swahili

Kevin’s Kwanzaa can be used to teach children about Kwanzaa. As an independent read, it is appropriate for second grade, but first grade, kindergarten, and preschool children can understand it as a read-aloud with the animation helping in comprehension. This story can also be used as a mentor text for history told through first person narrative writing as well as an introduction to chapter books. Kevin’s Kwanzaa also has great examples of onomatopoeia for a quick introduction to that figure of speech concept. 

Discussion starter suggestions:

  • What are seven words that your family thinks are important words to live by?
  • Why is Kwanzaa an important holiday?
  • What are some facts you learned from the story?

Activity suggestions:

  • Write all of the facts you learned about Kwanzaa from the story and create fact cards to share with others. 
  • The Unity Cup is one of the most important symbols in the celebration of Kwanzaa. It represents the unity of family and community. Draw, design, and decorate your own unity cup and then explain what unity means to you.


Spork sticks out. In his kitchen, utensils have a single purpose. Even though he tries to act more spoonish or look more forkish, he never gets picked at mealtime. Instead, he sits and watches while the forks twirl knots of noodles and the spoons scoop up mountains of peas. They even get to enjoy a bubbly bath in the sink when dinner is over.

He seems destined for a life in the drawer … until one day, a messy guest arrives. This guest doesn’t seem to care about cutlery customs. Spork wonders—could this be his chance to find his way to the table? Could his uniqueness make him the best solution for this problem?

Why Patty chose this story: I chose this title because many children feel like Spork and they can identify with the feelings of being a misfit. This story illustrates that different can be good and being unique can actually help them belong. 

Vocabulary word(s): spork

As an independent read, Spork is advanced second grade; however, the story is accessible to younger children as a read-aloud using the animation as a comprehension tool. Spork is a metaphor-rich celebration of hybrid identities and can be used to explore the themes of purpose, conformity, diversity, and finding your place in the world. Spork can also be used a mentor text to study metaphors, alliteration, verbs, and adjectives.

Discussion starter suggestions:

  • What makes you unique?
  • Do you have a special talent?

Activity suggestions:

  • Create you own object by putting two objects together like spoon + fork = spork. Draw a picture of the object and either write a description or a story about it.