Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley

Values: Kindness, Confidence and Integrity.

This book was drawn to my attention recently by Mat Tobin in one of my lectures for my MA. In fact, Mat interviewed Keith about his inspirations and illustrative style (so useful before reading a book in class to be able to talk authentically about the author) and it can be found on his blog, here.

It is a great, modern book for helping children understand everyone has feelings and that it is ok to express them. It challenges stereotypes of masculinity in a playful and memorable way and is perfect for EYFS and KS1, particularly. I would also look more deeply at assumptions and stereotypes with KS2 though.

Even by looking at the cover, the typical superhero is shown with a little embossed teardrop underneath his eye. What a clever little detail!

In the book, children see wrestlers, astronauts, ninjas, pirates, cowboys, superheros - roles that lots of children find exciting, but those also maybe stereotypically more associated with boys/men. However, all of these characters are shown to have feelings - no matter how brave, strong or fast they are. The reader sees the men crying, looking forlorn, having an argument with a friend and being frustrated. The characters are shown to experience all of the emotions that children will understand and relate to - and the bold, simple colours and shapes make the pages eye-catching and memorable.

I think there are many Values you could explore through the book - firstly, I think you could explore the Value of confidence. The children see the characters struggling in the book; maybe they can explore the meaning of confidence and lack of confidence. Interestingly, often we associate confidence with lots of the roles in this book - wrestlers, racing car drivers, astronauts etc. It would be really interesting to explore why we see these people as having confidence - what makes us perceive them in this way? The media? Our own stereotypes? Real role models for the professions such as Tim Peake?

The children could offer messages to the characters in the book - what would they tell them to build their confidence in this moment? How would they inspire these men to realise their own ability? How could you build the confidence of someone in your class? Is confidence always a good thing?

Another Value I would examine using this book is integrity. The Value of integrity is one of the hardest to unpick with children in my opinion. It can be shown to children through characters being honest and true to themselves. Therefore, children may be able to recognise that one way of showing integrity is being able to express inner emotions in order to communicate with others, be honest with yourself, ask for help, develop empathy etc. How are these characters showing their true selves here? This is not to say, obviously, that people who never cry do not have integrity; it just might be worth exploring that everyone expresses emotions differently and these should not be defined by gender stereotyping.

Lastly, I would look at kindness with younger children. What would you do if you found one of these characters in this situation? What would you say to cheer them up? How would you show kindness? Have you ever felt upset or confused? If so, did somebody help you? It is a great way of inspiring conversation at home or at school! Maybe the children could even do some role-play or drama to play out these conversations.

Keith Negley is an American author and illustrator (@keithnegley) and he saw this book nominated for the Kate Greenaway award in 2016. It really helps children to see that we all have feelings even though it may not appear so on the outside... it is a triumph and should be on every Values bookshelf in my opinion! It would also inspire great artwork to display.

If you want to get hold of your own copy, Blackwell's Oxford have it in stock (where I got mine!) or you can find it on the Flying Eye website. If you want to explore any of the other books on this blog with similar Values, click the hashtags: