Mr. Peabody’s Apples is a fantastic choice to read aloud to your students during the first weeks of school. Written by Madonna, this story tells the tale of Billy, a young boy who learns from his friends that their baseball coach and teacher, Mr. Peabody, is a thief. The rumor spreads through town quickly, and Billy must tell his beloved coach why all of the players no longer show up for baseball practice. Mr. Peabody is able to prove his innocence and clear his good name with Billy, but rumors, once unleashed, are impossible to take back. Tommy Tittlebottom, the boy who started the rumor, is taught a valuable lesson about the power of his words when Mr. Peabody instructs him to cut a pillow open and shake all the feathers out into the wind which spreads the feathers far and wide. Then, he tells Billy he must go collect all the feathers – an impossible task. Each feather represents a person in town to whom the rumor was spread. Just like it would be impossible to collect all the feathers that have scattered in the wind, it is just as impossible for Tommy to undo the damage he’s done by spreading the rumor in town that Mr. Peabody is a thief.
This lesson always makes an impact on students. The story perfectly illustrates how what we say can have lasting consequences for both the person who spread the rumor as well as the person the rumor is about. Since I can’t scatter feathers in the wind, there’s another exercise I conduct with my students when reading this book. Given a clean, blank sheet of paper, I ask each student to crumple the paper into a ball being careful not to rip the paper. Then, they are asked to gently open the paper and smooth it out as much as possible. Although students are able to open the paper and smooth it out to varying degrees, no one is able to return the paper to its original state. The wrinkles represent the scars that are left behind when we say or do things that are untrue and unkind. Even though we may try to make it better by apologizing and people may forgive us, they won’t necessarily be able to forget the mean words or actions you say or do against them. Like the lesson in Mr. Peabody’s Apples, this activity illustrates the effect our words and actions have on others and it’s a lesson with a lasting impact on students that can be referenced frequently throughout the year.
Finally, I love an anchor chart, and a popular one that goes along with the lesson in this book is to THINK before you speak. Each letter in the word THINK stands for something to consider when turning thoughts into words. Before speaking think, is it: T – true, H – helpful, I – inspiring, N – necessary, or K – kind? I’ve included a bookmark reminder for you to download, print and share with your students here.
The Book Wrangler