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Affirming Children’s Worthiness with I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing

Written by Derrick Barnes

Illustrated by Gordon C. James

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020

ISBN 978-0-525-51877


Book Review

“I am every good thing that makes the world go round. You know–like gravity, or the glow of moonbeams over a field of brand-new snow. I am good to the core, like the center of a cinnamon roll. Yeah, that good” (n.p.). From the author-illustrator team that brought you the Caldecott Honor- and Newbery Honor-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, comes another poignant picturebook that celebrates Black joy and Black excellence. In a series of dynamic, present-tense I am statements, Barnes emphasizes the joy of everyday small moments while also resolutely affirming for Black boys: “I am not what they call me…I am what I say I am.”  Oil paintings by Gordon C. James invite readers to linger on each page and take notice of the smiles, gazes, and pride in the faces of Black boys and girls in a series of richly textured single- and double-page spreads. Readers will find faces they recognize including President Barack Obama and Kid President. I Am Every Good Thing affirms for Black boys and readers everywhere–you matter. You belong. You are worthy of love. And, yes–you are every good thing. 

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Note our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you! 

Reading Like a Writer: Mentor Sentences. Derrick Barnes uses lyrical language full of rich possibilities for mentor sentence construction. Invite students to find their favorite I am statements from the book to notice and name what Barnes does as a writer including: the use of sentences and fragments for effect, a variety of punctuation, sound words, repetition, and comparisons. Encourage students to write their own I am ____ sentences that use the same craft techniques. Display the statements in a classroom or hallway display with student portraits or create a virtual slideshow of the statements with selfies taken by students that depict the emotions they want their sentences to convey. 

Duet: I Am Every Good Thing and Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Pair I Am Every Good Thing with Barnes’s and James’s Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. What similarities do students see across both books in terms of writing and illustration style? Read aloud the author’s note for Crown where Derrick Barnes states, “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut focuses on the humanity, the beautiful, raw, smart, perceptive assured humanity of black boys/sons/brothers/nephews/grandsons, and how they see themselves when they highly approve of their reflections in the mirror.” In what ways is the humanity of Black boys portrayed across both books through the words and illustrations?

Daily Affirmation Journaling. Invite students to create either a physical or digital journal for daily affirmation and expressive writing. Their journal can be a private space for them to record what they notice, wonder, feel, or want to remember through words and images. One affirmational journaling technique from Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness that pairs well with I Am Every Good Thing is to encourage students to start the day by reflecting on the following prompts: 

  • I am ________
  • I am grateful for _______
  • What would make today great?

Then, at the end of the day, invite students to respond to any of the following:

  • Something amazing that happened today was____
  • How could I have made today even better?
  • I helped someone today by _____
  • I learned_______

Over time, support students to notice patterns in themselves by revisiting their journal entries. Encourage students to notice the kinds of self-talk they give themselves and whether they are their own cheerleaders or their own critics. 

Making Stuff: Texture and Color for Effect. Draw students’ attention to the ways Gordon C. Barnes uses color and creates texture for effect. In what ways does he fill the page with color and create the feeling of motion through his brushstrokes? What do students notice about the absence of white space and how that impacts our reading of the illustrations? Then draw students’ attention to the endpapers void of color and have them compare and contrast these illustration techniques. Invite students to use thick paint like Barnes to create illustrations that fill the page with color and texture to convey a moment from their own lives where they felt affirmed that they are every good thing. 

You Are Every Good Thing. Invite students to reflect on the ways in which other people contribute to their feelings of confidence and self-worth. Have students identify people in their life that they want to write “You Are Every Good Thing” thank you letters to by letting them know the influence they’ve had on their lives. Use this as an opportunity for students to revisit the book to identify for the craft techniques Barnes uses that students can incorporate into their letters. Students may want to expand these letters into picturebooks that they write in honor of the people who have made them feel proud, worthy, and loved. 

“I Am” Multimodal Text Set. Extend your exploration by creating an “I Am” multimodal text set. Use titles such as Paige Britt’s Why Am I Me?, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow’s Your Name is a Song, Useni Eugene Perkins’s Hey Black Child, Nikki Giovanni’s I Am Loved, Grace Byers’ I Am Enough, and Mark Gonzales’s Yo Soy Muslim. Invite students to share songs that fill them up and support their sense of “I am” such as: “I Am” by,  “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, “Hall of Fame” by The Script, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “High Hopes” by Panic at the Disco, “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers from Secret Life of Pets, and “Me, Myself, and I” by G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha (note: this link is for the radio edit of the song). 

Protect Your Confidence: Affirmations and Power Poses. Barnes directly addresses Black boys to know they are not the names they may be called: “I am not what they call me…I am what I say I am.”  Use the page where these sentences are found as an opportunity for students to think about ways they can protect their own confidence when they face injustice and personal obstacles. Then support students to notice the “power poses” made by characters throughout the illustrations where bodies are positioned in such a way to show confidence and strength such as crossed arms, arms out wide, and a flying pose. Take photos of students in their favorite power poses and hang them with students’ affirmations. Encourage students to get into their power poses when they need a mental break or to find their own place of strength when they are feeling the weight of others’ false assumptions, doubt, or uncertainty (a version of this invitation originally appeared in our entry on The Word Collector). 

Critical Literacy

Dedications: Draw students’ attention to the dedication of the book by Derrick Barnes. Read the names of the Black boys listed and invite students to share if they have heard those names before and what they know about them. The boys listed are all victims of police shootings: Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, El Bradford, Jordan Edwards, MIchael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Julian Mallory. In what ways does I Am Every Good Thing honor the legacy, beauty, and good of these boys who were killed? In what ways does the book serve as a social justice tool to affirm Black lives matter? Discuss the purpose of a dedication as a way to honor those who influence us as writers and illustrators in the creation of a book. Invite students to write dedications for their writing. Who are the influencers in their lives and in what ways can their dedications call attention to injustices in the world that they want to raise critical consciousness towards? 

Further Investigation

Online Resources

Derrick Barnes’s Site

Gordon C. James’s Site

NCTE: A Conversation with Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James

NCTE: I Am Every Good Thing: An Antiracist Counternarrative

Derrick Barnes I Am Every Good Thing Promotion Video by Penguin Books  

Book Trailer by Penguin Books

NPR Interview: “A New Picture Book Reminds Black Sons: You Are ‘Every Good Thing’”

SLJ’s 37 Picture Books that Celebrate #BlackJoy


Barnes, D. (2017). Crown: Ode to the fresh cut. Evanston, IL: Agate BoldenPublishing.

Britt, P. (2017). Why am I me? New York: Scholastic.

Byers, G. (2018). I am enough. New York: Balzer and Bray.

de la Pena, M. (2018). Love. New York: G.P. Putnam’s.

de la Pena, M. (2015). Last stop on Market Street. New York: G.P. Putnam’s.

Giovanni, N. (2018). I am loved. Ill. by A. Bryan. New York: Atheneum.

Gonzalez, M. (2017). Yo soy Muslim: A father’s letter to his daughter. New York: Salaam Reads.

Perkins, U.E. (2017). Hey black child. New York: Little Brown.

Thompkins-Bigelow, J. (2020). Your name is a song. The Innovation Press. 

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.