Teaching Kids to Love Themselves with the Whale Who Wanted to Be Small!

whale activitiesI come from a very tall family. I am 5’10” and I am considered kind of short (at least according to my 6’3″ sister!). My sister and I have grown to be proud of our height, thanks to our parents. While we definitely face a few struggles (just try finding pants long enough), there are definite advantages to being tall.

My daughter is already taller than both my sister and I were at her age, so she is on track to continue the family tradition of being taller than most of her friends. While I will do my best to teach her to be proud of her height, I am definitely on the look out for great books that will help her to be confident about it. When I heard that Gill McBarnet had a story titled The Whale Who Wanted to Be Small, I knew I wanted to check it out!

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In The Whale Who Wanted to Be Small, the reader is introduced to the main character, a baby whale named Kanani. She is very shy because she is already much bigger than her other friends in the sea. She doesn’t like being big, and wants to be small like her friends. When they hear that whale hunters are headed their way, her friends try to help her hide by showing her how they hide from predators. Unfortunately, Kanani is too big for any of their ideas. When her grandfather Kapunekane hears her crying, he shares an important lesson with her about the people in the boats, as well as why she should be proud of her size. The book also includes some interesting facts about humpback whales, which can help kids appreciate the true size and magnificence of these creatures.

Like Gill McBarnet’s other books, this title is full of friendly and colorful characters, and the beautiful illustrations transport the reader to the blue ocean waters surrounding Hawaii. I really appreciate how her books share important lessons that kids can relate to, as well as lessons they need to learn about ocean conservation and the effect that humans have on the living creatures in the ocean. We don’t live near the ocean, so I love that my daughter can learn about sea creatures in her books, as well as how our actions affect them. It may seem like the oceans are far away from us, but it is still an important lesson for her!

I was inspired by the beautiful setting of the story and the important message to create some fun learning activities. There are so many great ways that parents can use this book to talk to kids about whales, the ocean, and even themselves!

Bringing Kanani’s Story to Life

whale activities

Retelling with Story Stones – Retelling a story is an important strategy for teaching reading comprehension. Story stones are a great way to give kids an opportunity to retell a story on their own. They can also be used to keep kids engaged in a story while they are listening to it. For this story, I painted some simple shapes of some of the characters onto different sized rocks.

As I read the story to my daughter, I had her pick up the stones with the animals on the page. She acted out the scenarios in the book and named the animals. Once we were done reading, she used the rocks to retell her own version of the story. (She is only 2, so she kind of made up her own story). I used washable paints to create our stones, so I will be able to wash them off and reuse them for our next story time. 

Hide the Whale – In the story, Kanani tried to find a good hiding place. To bring this part of the story to life, I decided to start a game of hide the whale with my daughter. I cut a whale shape out of blue felt and glued it to cardstock. (This made it durable enough for us to hide around the yard). We took turns hiding the whale on each other and searching for it. She had a lot of fun looking for it, but I think she had more fun making me look! This activity not only got her moving, but made her use her problem solving skills while having fun.

whale activities

Learning to Love Yourself

Why I Like Myself – My parents raised my sister and I to be very proud of our height. While it can be hard to find pants long enough, and never having enough leg room can be annoying, they helped us to see that there are great things about being tall too. Kanani learned to see her large size as something to be proud of. This gives parents and teachers a great opportunity to help kids to be proud of their differences as well.whale activities

I created this printable for kids to write and draw about their feelings on themselves. Do they like being tall because they can reach the highest shelf? (I feel like this may be my daughter’s answer. I foolishly thought I could hide things there and was quickly proven wrong). Do they prefer being shorter because they can fit into small spaces? Have kids talk about some of the things that they can do. Keep it positive and remind them that they are perfect the way they are!

Sorting Items by Size

Practicing Size Order – Since the story has a lot to do with sizes, it provides a chance for kids to practice shape sorting and size recognition. This is a great activity for quiet time. Decide on what shapes you would like kids to sort. Pick one of the shapes to start, and cut a larger version of the shape out of craft foam. Continue cutting slightly smaller versions out of the foam. Move on to another shape and repeat the same process. When you are finished, place all of the shapes in a bin or in a pile. Have kids sort through them to match the shapes together and place them in order from smallest to largest.

Using Size Words

Ocean Animal Size Comparison – This book provides a great opportunity to talk to kids about comparing sizes. There are lots of words that we use to describe the size of different objects. This activity gives kids a chance to practice using them, as well as sorting items by size. There are a couple of ways you can set this up. I painted our story stones on different sized stones so my daughter could put them into size order.


whale activitiesYou could also use pictures from the internet. Print pictures of ocean animals out on cardstock (appropriately scaled in size). You could also print them on regular paper and glue them to cardstock or construction paper. Have kids sort them from largest to smallest, and use some of the size words while talking about them. Ask them if a whale is bigger or smaller than an anemone. Is the octopus taller or shorter than the fish? Is the eel longer or shorter than a crab?

This book is a great opportunity to talk to kids about being different. Just as Kanani learned to be proud of her size, kids can learn to see their differences in a positive way. Check out our previous activities with Gill McBarnet’s work here!

Head on over to Instagram for a chance to win a copy of this great book!


  • Lisa Tanner

    July 6, 2017 at 8:44 am Reply

    Love the story stones, what a fun idea! I think we will have to get this book, it looks like a good one.

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 1:06 pm Reply

      Thanks! My daughter has been having fun playing with the story stones.

  • Kiley D. Smith

    July 6, 2017 at 8:58 am Reply

    I had never heard of story stones before now. I love that idea!

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 1:07 pm Reply

      Thanks! We are having a lot of fun with them!

  • Jiya

    July 6, 2017 at 9:16 am Reply

    I loved the pictures and the eye-catcher was little fairy in the story. The story pebbles are awsome and the entire concept is fun.

  • Nicole

    July 6, 2017 at 11:13 am Reply

    Oh, I love this and what a great idea to make story stones to go with! My middle daughter is 51/2, but I can see her really enjoying this. Thanks for the idea. 😊

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 1:08 pm Reply

      Thanks! I hope she has fun with it! My daughter has been loving playing with the story stones.

  • Clair

    July 6, 2017 at 12:41 pm Reply

    What a cute story! I love how you incorporated painted stones to help with reading comprehension….I will be doing this for our next book ❤️

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 1:08 pm Reply

      I’m so glad! I hope you have a lot of fun with them!

  • Bethany | Mama Finds Her Way

    July 6, 2017 at 1:52 pm Reply

    This sounds adorable! And I love that it promotes healthy body image and self esteem. I am definitely going to be reading this with my kids.

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 10:49 pm Reply

      I’m so glad! I hope you enjoy it!

  • Heather

    July 6, 2017 at 1:59 pm Reply

    I love everything about this post. You have so many good engagement strategies.

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 10:50 pm Reply

      Aw, thank you so much!

  • Rachel

    July 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm Reply

    I absolutely LOVE the activities you have for this book!

    • Vicki

      July 6, 2017 at 10:51 pm Reply

      Thank you so much! We had a lot of fun with them!

  • Danielle @ A Sprinkle of Joy

    July 7, 2017 at 5:44 am Reply

    I love the idea of retelling the story with painted rocks!! I’m always trying to think of new ways to retell stories, so thanks for the ideas! 🙂

    • Vicki

      July 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm Reply

      I’m so glad to help! My daughter has been loving playing with them!

  • Kristen

    July 7, 2017 at 7:41 am Reply

    What a great book to use as a learning tool. I love all the activities that you created to go along with the book!

    • Vicki

      July 7, 2017 at 12:32 pm Reply

      Thank you! We’ve had a lot of fun with it!

  • Sharon Chen

    July 7, 2017 at 7:51 am Reply

    This looks like a fun activity for kids! It’s also very creative 🙂

    • Vicki

      July 7, 2017 at 12:32 pm Reply

      Thank you so much!

  • Joanna

    July 7, 2017 at 1:22 pm Reply

    Getting this book right now! I love the message that it conveys,

    • Vicki

      July 7, 2017 at 2:17 pm Reply

      I’m so glad! It is a really sweet book!

  • Rachel Ritlop

    July 8, 2017 at 8:47 pm Reply

    Awe what a great lesson coming from this children’s book !! It’s definitely so important to instill confidence in every child at a young age!

    • Vicki

      July 8, 2017 at 9:10 pm Reply

      I agree! I love finding great books that help to teach my daughter these important lessons!

  • Bobbi

    July 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm Reply

    I love these ideas!! And I’m going to check out the book, I think that it’s a very important lesson for kids to learn and I’m always looking for things that help strengthen their confidence. Thanks for sharing this!!

    • Vicki

      July 9, 2017 at 9:15 pm Reply

      Thank you! I hope you really enjoy the book! I’m always looking for great books to build confidence as well.

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