Joy, N. (2007). The Secret Olivia Told Me. East Orange, NJ: Just Us books.
Olivia has told the narrator of this picturebook a secret. A BIG one. The narrator does her best to keep it secret, but inevitably lets it slip to a friend and the secret spreads and grows from there.
The untold secret is wonderfully represented as a red balloon that is blown up as the secret spreads. The fact that the secret remains unsaid is relevant and allows students to imagine their own life experiences on to the text.
The illustrations are wonderful, done in black and white outlines, with very intentional use of the color red.
A teacher could guide discussion of when the color red is incorporated into the illustrations and the significance of its use as well as the meanings traditionally given to the color in literature. Why are the rest of the illustrations in black and white? Students could also think about the balloon as a symbol and consider intertextuality, or other children's books that include balloons. Another important topic to discuss is secrets, what advice can students give one another to keep secrets. If a secret slips out, what do you do then? How do students feel the narrator handled the situation? How do they think Olivia handled it? Are there secrets that children should report to an adult? etc.
In response to the book, students could journal about how they feel about secrets. Have they ever told a secret? Have they ever heard others share secrets, but exclude them?
An innovative teacher could also make copies of some of the characters from the book and create popsicle-stick figurines for students to re-enact the drama of The Secret Olivia Told Me.
Quotes of Note:
"Olivia told me a SECRET.
I promised I would not tell."
"As I played with my classmate, Ayanna,
the secret accidentally slipped.
Before I could catch the secret,
it tumbled right out of my lips."
"Tabby passed it on to her classmates.
She blew up the secret, too."
"The secret became even bigger,
with parts that were not true.
The secret was no longer special
because now everyone knew."