Art by Sophie Blackall

Big Red Lollipop

Can Rubina help her mom understand how birthday parties work?

By Rukhsana Khan
From the February 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will understand how the main character changes in this realistic story about a young girl who learns the importance of empathy.

Lexiles: 500L-600L
Guided Reading Level: N
DRA Level: 30
Think and Read: Character

As you read, think about how the main character, Rubina, changes throughout the story.

I’m so excited I run all the way home from school.

“Ami! I’ve been invited to a birthday party! There’s going to be games and toys, cake and ice cream! Can I go?”

Sana screams, “I wanna go too!”

Ami says, “What is a birthday party?”

“It’s when they celebrate the day you were born.”

“Why do they do that?”

“They just do! Can I go?”

Sana screams, “I wanna go too!”

“I can’t take her! She’s not invited.”

“Why not?” says Ami.

“They don’t do that here!”

Ami says, “Well, that’s not fair. You call up your friend and ask if you can bring Sana, or else you can’t go.”

“But Ami! They’ll laugh at me! They’ll never invite me to another party again!”

Sana screams, “I wanna go too!”

I say, “Look, Sana, one day you’ll get invited to your own friends’ parties. Wouldn’t you like that better?”

“No! I wanna go now!”

I beg and plead, but Ami won’t listen. I have no choice. I have to call. Sally says, “All right.” But it doesn’t sound all right. I know she thinks I’m weird.

Art by Sophie Blackall

The Goody Bag

At the party, I’m the only one who brought her little sister. Sana has to win all the games, and when she falls down during musical chairs, she cries like a baby.

Before we leave the party, Sally’s mom gives us little bags.

Inside there are chocolates and candies, a whistle, a ruby ring, and a big red lollipop! Sana eats her big red lollipop on the way home in the car. I save mine for later.

Sana doesn’t know how to make things last. By bedtime, all her candies are gone, her whistle is broken, and the ruby in her ring is missing. I put my big red lollipop on the top shelf of the fridge to have in the morning.

All night I dream about how good it will taste.

Art by Sophie Blackall

So Unfair

In the morning, I get up early to have it. Sana’s already up. When she sees me, she runs away.

I open the fridge door. All that’s left of my lollipop is a triangle stuck to a stick.


I hear a sound in the front of the hall closet. I should have known. That’s where she always hides.

I shove aside the coats and boots. “I’m going to get you!”

Quick as a rat, she scoots through my legs and runs around and around the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, yelling, “Ami! Ami! Help! Help!”

Ami comes out, rubbing her eyes. Sana runs behind Ami, where I can’t get her.

“What’s going on out here?” says Ami.

Sana says, “Rubina’s trying to get me!”

Ami puts her hands on her hips. “Are you trying to get your little sister again?”

“She ate my lollipop! The greedy thing! She ate it!”

Ami says, “For shame! It’s just a lollipop! Can’t you share with your little sister?”

I want to cry, but I don’t.

Sana runs to the fridge and brings back the triangle stuck to the stick. “Look! I didn’t eat all of your lollipop! I left the triangle for you!”

“See?” says Ami. “She didn’t eat all of it. She’s sharing with you! Go ahead. Take the triangle.”

So I have to take it.

“Go ahead. Eat the triangle.”

But I don’t. With all my might, I throw it across the room. It skitters under the sofa.

Sana scurries after it and eats that too.

Art by Sophie Blackall

Another Party

The worst thing is that all the girls at school know if they invite me to their birthday parties, I have to bring Sana.

I don’t get any invitations for a really long time.

Then one day Sana comes home waving an invitation.

“Ami! I’ve been invited to a birthday party! There’s going to be games and toys and cake and ice cream! Can I go?”

Our little sister Maryam screams, “I wanna go too!”

Sana says, “No, I can’t take her! She’s not invited!”

Ami says, “Well… it’s only fair. You went to Rubina’s friend’s party. Now Rubina and Maryam can go to your friend’s party.”

I say, “Leave me out of it.”

Ami says, “Fine then, you have to take Maryam.”

Now it’s Sana’s turn to beg and plead. Ami won’t listen. Sana’s begging so hard she’s crying, but still Ami won’t listen.

I could just watch her have to take Maryam. I could just let her make a fool of herself at that party. I could just let her not be invited to any more parties, but something makes me tap Ami on the shoulder.


“Don’t make Sana take Maryam to the party.”

“No?” says Ami.

“No,” I say.

Ami thinks for a moment, then says, “Okay.”

So Sana gets to go by herself.

After the party, I hear a knock on my door.

“What do you want?” I ask Sana.

“Here.” She hands me a big green lollipop. “This is for you.”

“Thanks,” I say.

After that we’re friends.  

Art by Sophie Blackall

Reprinted with permission from Viking Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC., © Rukhsana Khan
Illustrations © Sophie Blackall 2010.

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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Watch This

Your kids will love this 14-minute video where author Rukhsana Khan gives an extremely entertaining performance of her story to a group of students. She tells it from the perspective of Sana, the pesky little sister.

Class Discussion

Ask your students about how Rubina’s classmates treated her after she brought her sister to the birthday party. What would they do if they noticed a classmate wasn’t getting invited to parties?

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Social-emotional learning: Social awareness (empathy); responsible decision-making (analyzing situations); relationship skills (communication, relationship building)

Key Skills

How a character changes, point of view, key details, making inferences, figurative language, cause and effect, plot

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan


Preview Text Features (10 minutes)

  • Ask students to look at pages 14 and 15. Direct their attention to the title, subtitle, and illustration. Have them use clues in the subtitle to identify Rubina in the illustration on page 14. Ask them to compare how she feels in this picture and in the illustration at the bottom of page 15.
  • Direct students to the pictures and subheads on pages 16-19. Read aloud each subhead with the class. What are Rubina and her sister doing in the illustration on page 16? What has happened to Rubina’s lollipop in the picture on page 17? How does she appear to feel in these pictures? Ask students to predict why Rubina becomes angry. Remind them to think about their predictions as they read the story.
  • Direct students to the words in italics on page 15 (that, her). Explain that sometimes the writer of a story puts certain words in italics because they should be read with greater emphasis. Read aloud the dialogue with appropriate expression and have students repeat after you.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • We have highlighted in bold three words that may be unfamiliar to students and defined them on the page. Discuss the meaning of the words, focusing on how they are used in the story.
  • Preview these words by projecting or distributing our Vocabulary Skill Builder and completing it as a class. You may also play our Vocabulary Slideshow.
  • Highlighted words: plead, skitters, scurries

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

  • Call on volunteers to read aloud the Think and Read and Think and Write boxes on pages 15 and 19. These features and the fiction package support the story’s featured skill, how a character changes.
  • As they read, remind students to look for details that describe how Rubina changes from the beginning to the end of the story.


Reading and Unpacking the Text

  • First read: Read the story as a class. Have students identify story details or vocabulary they don’t understand. Ask them to think about how the illustrations help them understand the changes in Rubina’s character throughout the story.
  • Use the Pause and Think question at the end of each section to check comprehension.
  • Second read: Distribute the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions to the class. Preview them together. Ask students to read the story again and answer the questions as a class or in groups.

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes) 

  • Who is the narrator of this story? How do you know? (point of view) Rubina is the narrator. She uses words such as I’m and I. How will this affect what readers find out in the story? Readers will learn about the events from Rubina’s point of view.
  • Why doesn’t Rubina want to take Sana to the birthday party? (key details) She thinks her friends will laugh at her. They won’t invite her to another party again.
  • Read “The Goody Bag.” Why does Rubina say, “Sana doesn’t know how to make things last”? (making inferences) By bedtime, everything in Sana’s goody bag is broken or lost. She’s much younger than Rubina and isn’t as responsible as her older sister.
  • Read “So Unfair.” What does Rubina compare when she says, “Quick as a rat, she scoots through my legs and runs around and around the living room…”? (figurative language) She is comparing Sana’s speed to the speed of a rat. She is emphasizing how fast Sana ran.
  • Read “Another Party.” What happens to Rubina after she brings Sana to the birthday party? (cause and effect) None of her friends invite her to a birthday party for a long time.
  • What happens when Sana is invited to a birthday party? (plot) Their little sister, Maryam, wants to go with Sana; however, Sana doesn’t want to take her.
  • Look at the picture of Rubina in the illustration at the bottom of page 18. How does she probably feel at this point in the story? (making inferences) She probably feels relieved that Sana’s problem with their youngest sister doesn’t concern her.
  • How has Rubina changed by the end of the story? (how a character changes) She understands what Sana will go through if she brings Maryam to the birthday party. She can put herself in Sana’s place.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

  • Think about Rubina’s character at the beginning and end of the story. How does the change in her character affect her relationship with Sana? (how a character changes) At the beginning of the story, Rubina is angry and embarrassed because she has to take Sana with her to a friend’s birthday party. At the end of the story, their mother wants Sana to take their youngest sister to a birthday party. Because Rubina understands how Sana feels, she asks her mother not to make her. Her empathy toward Sana brings them closer together.


  • Distribute our How a Character Changes Skill Builder. Ask students to work in small groups to complete it.
  • Discuss the assignment in the Think and Write box with students. They can complete it in class or as homework and discuss their journal entries in groups.

Differentiate and Customize
For Small Groups

Have students read the story together. As they read, ask them to underline details that describe how Rubina feels in the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Ask: Have you ever put yourself in another person’s place the way Rubina did? What happened?

For Reading Partners

Ask students to read the story silently. Have them look for details that describe Rubina’s relationship with Sana in the beginning, middle, and end of the story. How do both sisters change by the end of the story?

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to reread the story and look for words that Rubina uses to tell the story from her point of view. Have students rewrite a favorite event or scene from the point of view of Rubina, Sana, or Maryam. Students can read aloud their stories in small groups.

For Struggling Readers

Read the story aloud while students follow along in their magazines. Ask them to describe what is happening to Rubina, Sana, and their mother in the pictures on pages 16, 17, and the bottom of pages 18-19. Then ask students to write a caption for each illustration.