Tell Me a Tattoo Story, by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, features a young boy who learns about his father’s life through the stories behind each of his father’s tattoos.
The We Need Diverse Books campaign has raised awareness about the importance of kids seeing themselves, and their families, in books. While we may first think about racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, there are other types of diversity too. Many students in your class may have parents who have tattoos, and this book celebrates those parents in a beautiful way.
Tell Me a Tattoo Story makes an excellent writing prompt for your classroom. After you read the book aloud, here are a few ways to use this picture book with your students:
1. Ask each student to draw a tattoo. It can be simple—like a cat, or a single word—or more complicated. On a separate piece of paper, ask students to write down the story behind their tattoos. Whose tattoo is it? And why did the person decide to get that tattoo? Perhaps it is the story of how a lonely man found a cat and adopted it, and then got a tattoo to show his love for his pet. Or perhaps it is the story of a little girl who desperately wanted a pet cat but could never have one due to allergies…so she got a cat tattoo when she grew up.
2. After each student completes his or her own tattoo story, collect the tattoo drawings, shuffle them, and give each student a new drawing to think about. Ask students to make up stories behind the unfamiliar tattoos that they have received. When all students are finished, you may wish to hold up a picture of a tattoo and have both students who wrote about that tattoo (the original artist and the second recipient) share their stories, then discuss similarities and differences.
3. The father’s tattoos in this book are his way of telling his life story. What are other creative ways that a parent could tell his or her life story to a son or daughter? Make a list individually or as a class.
4. Ask each student to think of an important event in his or her own life. What tattoo would be appropriate to represent that event?
5. Would your students want to get a tattoo if their parents permitted it? Why or why not?