Each month, the Chancellor selects a children’s book that she feels is inspirational and informative for the students, parents, and staff members who make up the City’s public schools. For past book selections, review the “Book of the Month” category right here on The Morning Bell.

Sarabella's Thinking CapSarabella’s Thinking Cap
Written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017

Sarabella is a daydreamer with a vivid imagination. At any given moment, her mind is filled with big things, small things, and a wide variety of things in between.

While her head is jumping with thoughts, she never speaks in Mr. Fantozzi’s class. Instead of participating in discussions or following along with in-class assignments, Sarabella’s cerebellum is somewhere else. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple distraction—like the scent of a classmate’s markers—to set her off on a mental journey. “Just put on your thinking cap and focus,” advises Mr. Fantozzi.

One day, the teacher gives the class a project for the weekend: “Draw a picture of your favorite daydreams.” Before long, Sarabella’s imagination is running wild with a thousand extraordinary things until she gets an absolute whale of an idea.

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“To share it, you’ve just got to wear it.”

The following Monday, to everyone’s surprise, Sarabella volunteers to share her project first. Proudly, she stands in front of the class and reveals what she has been working on all weekend: an actual thinking cap made out of a spectacular collection of doodles, old magazines, colored paper, stickers, and favorite drawings.

Sarabella’s classmates are in awe as they see the unicorns, planets, cats, snakes, and clouds arranged on her colorful thinking cap. Finally, they know what Sarabella thinks about during class!

In this charming book, the author makes a statement about how children come into our lives with different personalities, talents, aspirations, and quirks. To expect all of our children to be great students without focusing on their individualized characteristics sets them—and us—up for disappointment and diminishing returns.

I have also seen these differences play out beyond the classroom through my own grandchildren. Each has his own unique way of observing and interacting with the world around him, and in order to be a good grandmother to them, I must communicate with each one differently. My oldest, Charlie, is the athlete; I know that I need to know the latest sports scores and gossip to maintain an engaging conversation with him. My second grandson, Ben, is a thinker who is fond of taking conversations into tangents with “what if” questions—it takes a certain type of person to appreciate and nurture Ben’s communication style. My youngest, Ford, struggles with language issues, so I speak with him in a very unique way in order to make him feel comfortable enough to want to talk with me.

By now, the majority of our schools have held their parent teacher conferences—let us continue to build on the initial progress made during this month’s conferences and keep our lines of communication open with one another. In line with the theme of this book, parents should talk to teachers about their children’s interests, while teachers should observe their students’ quirks and write positive comments about them that can be shared with parents. Educators who acknowledge their students’ positives, especially as they communicate with parents, are better able to form strong partnerships that can help dramatically improve student behaviors and outcomes. By working together, parents and teachers can come up with instructional and/or home-based solutions, such as arts projects or physical exercises, that may be able to help improve some children’s experiences in school.

Remember: our children, like Sarabella, are great just the way they are—even “with [their] feet on the ground and [their] head(s) in the clouds.”

Posted by Carmen Fariña

Chancellor of NYC Schools, lifelong educator, native Brooklynite, and proud abuela.

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