A Lesson in Cooperation

Linus the Little Yellow Pencil is not just about a yellow pencil. It’s also about Ernie and how Linus and Ernie manage to create something really big together. First comes conflict and feeling small, but this engaging story models the benefits of cooperation and how two very different creatures can work together, sharing their gifts with beautiful results.

       Magoon, Scott. Linus the Little Yellow Pencil. Hyperion Books for Children, 2019.

You can pick up this book at your local library, independent book store, or…


  • Linus and Ernie couldn’t create good art with heart.
    • What was Linus good at?
    • What was Ernie good at?
    • Why couldn’t they do anything good together?
  • Ernie made Linus feel little (or bad).
    • What did Ernie do that hurt Linus?
    • Did Ernie’s words help Linus or make it harder for Linus to create something?
    • What did that do for their project?
  • Ernie and Linus needed to work together, or cooperate. Smudge helped.
    • What did Smudge tell Linus to do?
    • How did that help Linus?
    • How was Ernie able to do what he was good at?
  • When Ernie did what he did best and Ernie did what he did best, they created good art with heart! When people cooperate by sharing their gifts with each other, great things can be accomplished.
    • What did Linus and Ernie make together?
    • What did each of them give to the project?
  • God made each person unique with special gifts. When we share those gifts with others and help others to share their own gifts, we make wonderful things happen.
    • What are some of your special gifts?
    • What are some ways you share your gifts with our family (or class)?
  • We cooperate well with others when we:
    • invite others to participate
    • take turns
    • encourage others
    • do our best on our own work
    • know how we feel
    • consider how the other person feels
  • Tell me about a time you’ve done one of those things.

Family Art Show: Art with Heart
Materials Needed: Collect the materials for whatever art medium you would like to use. You can simply use pencils or crayons on paper, get more involved with paint on paper, or use collage items. It’s all up to you. 

  1. Choose a partner. Art will be created cooperatively in pairs. (If your family or group requires a “partnership” of three, that is fine.)
  2. Artist 1 uses the materials to create the first part of the project – only one part of a whole.
  3. Artist 2 then uses the materials to build on what has already been done, adding his or her own part of the masterpiece.
  4. Continue in this way, taking turns adding to the piece of art, until both agree that the work is finished.
  5. Applaud each other. You’ve created Art with Heart!
  6. If you decide to make another piece of art, Artist 2 should begin it.
  7. If your family is big enough or you are doing this as a group, other pairs will work at the same time.

Rules for Art with Heart:

  1. Each person creates only a part of the work at a time.
  2. No one can tell the other artist what to create or add.
  3. Practice waiting patiently for your turn to add to the artwork.
  4. Encourage your art partner by saying good things about what he is doing.

Dear God,
I love to create things!
You must like it too
because you created everything!
Thank you for the ability to make things.
I can make art.
I can make songs.
I can make games.
And I can make friends.
You have given me so many gifts.
You gave gifts to others too, Lord.
It is wonderful when I can use my gifts
and someone else can use his gifts
and we can make something beautiful together.
That’s cooperation.
I bet you smile
when people cooperate.
So do I!
Help me to be a good cooperator.
Help me to love others just like you do.

Relevant Reflections
          Who was it that said, “Haters gunna hate.”? It seems like everyone has an “eraser,” the voice, that says, “That’s not good enough.” Those kinds of voices can shut down creativity and collaboration completely. The story of Linus and Ernie is a good one to introduce the big idea that each person is meant to use his or her own strengths to create something beautiful together – without hurting each other.
            This is a central tenant of Catholicism – that we are meant for self-gift. We have been given unique gifts, talents, and abilities for the purpose of sharing with others, to make the world a better place. Also, working positively and cooperatively with others encompasses many of the virtues, chief among them, charity or love. Charity is the virtue of loving God above all else and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. It’s no coincidence that Linus and Ernie are tasked with creating art with “heart”.
           We can help our children grow in the ability to cooperate with others by first being aware of some of the mini-steps involved in cooperative behavior: inviting others to be involved, taking turns, sharing, asking nicely, dealing with disappointment, speaking words that encourage, being aware of one’s own feelings and the feelings of others. We can be on the lookout for situations to encourage and validate these behaviors in children. To encourage emotional intelligence, we can ask children what they are feeling at the moment and ask them to consider the feelings of others. “Dad yelled when he hit his head. What is he feeling right now?” “Rosie wants to play with the doll too. How does she feel when you take it away from her?”
          There are many benefits of teaching your child to cooperate, or work well with others. It will help him have more positive social interactions, growing the ability to make and keep friends. Learning these skills can also help a young child grow out of his natural egocentrism, to move from seeing everything from only his own perspective to considering the needs of others. Emotional intelligence involves the ability to know what he is feeling and be able to identity the feelings of others. That’s a skill that will not only help him be successful in relationships but in most areas of life.
          By teaching our children to appreciate their own gifts AND the gifts of others, they can learn to be successful cooperators and make lots of beautiful art with heart!

Word Every Catholic Should Know
charity – charity is a virtue, the virtue of love. We love God above everything else, and we love others as we love ourselves. Cooperating with others means that I have to treat others with charity.

 Relevant Scripture
Colossians 3:13-15

TALK-IT-UP (Use this question to spark family conversation this week, perhaps in the car or over dinner.)
Do you think God wants people to cooperate? Why or why not?

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