Your students may know a Daisy or a Violet, but they probably don’t know a Chrysanthemum. They also may not even realize it’s the name of a beautiful flower they’ve seen or have growing in their gardens at school or at home. But Chrysanthemum is also the name of a young student just like themselves. A student who loves her name until she starts kindergarten and meets her classmates with shorter names like Sue, Bill, Max, and Sam.

    In Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, your students will get to know the title character and witness the bullying and teasing she experiences for having an unfamiliar name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Throughout their reading, students will discover adjectives that describe the ways Chrysanthemum’s feelings change during the story. They’ll also learn about the importance of self-esteem and how a simple act of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life.

    The book provides a great opportunity to start a class discussion or independent writing activity on bullying and why students and teachers have to work together to foster a culture of kindness inside the classroom. With these 5 questions below, students will begin to reflect on Chrysanthemum’s experience, and may be inspired to talk about their own experiences overcoming a similar situation.

    Questions to Prompt Discussions

    1. Cause and Effect

    Why did the class laugh when Mrs. Chud took roll call?

    2. Analyze Character

    How would you describe Victoria? Give details from the text to support your answer.

    3. Key Details

    What did Chrysanthemum’s parents do to try to help?

    4. Drawing Conclusions

    Why do you think Chrysanthemum loaded her pockets with her most prized possessions and her good luck charms before going to school?

    5. Thinking Critically

    Why did Chrysanthemum’s feelings about her name change in the story?

    Writing Activity

    Encouraging students to write independently may inspire even greater reflection. The following writing activity will motivate your students to think more deeply about the consequences of bullying and what they can do when they witness it.  

  • Using details from the book, ask students to write a paragraph describing how they might help another friend who is being teased.
  • Have students use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose their paragraph. Scaffold with the following sentence frames:  My friend ______ is being teased. I will help ______ by _______. Then I will _______.
  • Suggest that students begin by describing why their friend is being teased. Then have them add sentences that explain how they can help their friend. 

    Additionally, you can organize a “change your name day” and bring a variety of artificial or real flowers into the classroom. Students can close their eyes, choose from the bouquet, and receive a brand-new name. One lucky student may even get to be Chrysanthemum for the day!