Is stealing always wrong? Open with this inquiry and allow for discussion before reading The Lunch Thief, written by Anne C. Bromley and beautifully illustrated by Robert Casilla, aloud.
Here’s a simple synopsis: Rafael is a pitcher for his school team, and his second favorite thing to do is eat. Today he’s really hungry because someone stole his lunch; so hungry, in fact, that he could “eat the crumbs the seagulls left behind.” Rafael saw Kevin, the new kid, sneak his lunch bag from underneath his desk and tuck it in his backpack. He wants to confront the thief but doesn’t want to pick a fight. Inspired by his mother’s advice to use his mouth instead of his fists, Rafael bides his time until other lunches disappear as well. Rafael finds out that Kevin is from a nearby town that was ravaged by recent wildfires. When Rafael sees Kevin carrying a bundle of laundry into a motel room, he realizes Kevin’s family might be one of the families who lost their homes. The next day, Rafael invites Kevin to share his lunch, subtly stopping the stealing and replacing it with friendship and a good meal.
There’s a lot of food for thought in this tasty treasure. Ask students again if stealing is always wrong. Find out if they think Kevin wants to be a lunch thief. What might they do in Kevin’s situation? Would they do anything differently if they were Rafael? Why did Kevin offer Rafael a quarter for his lunch in the end? Will Rafael take the quarter? Why or why not? Use the story not only for a discussion about sensitivity, friendship, and conflict resolution, but also as a chance to learn more about hunger and/or homelessness in your area. Help your students brainstorm ways to help combat the issue, then find a homeless shelter where they can make a donation or serve a meal. For more discussion points and service-learning ideas about this book and others, visit the Tilbury House Publishers’ website.
Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award.
For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.