Big Boys Cry

by Jonty Howley (Author)

Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

Let boys cry! This picture book imagines a world in which boys are encouraged to express their full range of emotions.

It's Levi's first day at a new school, and he's scared. His father tries to comfort Levi by telling him "Big boys don't cry." Though the father immediately understands his misstep, he can't find the words to comfort his son, and Levi leaves for school, still in need of reassurance.

Fortunately, along his walk to school, Levi sees instance after instance of grown men openly expressing their sadness and fear. His learned mantra, "Big boys don't cry," slowly weakens, and by the time he's at school he releases a tear. Once he's there, things aren't so bad after all, and on his walk home he sees everyone he's encountered earlier, feeling better now that they expressed their emotions. Upon his arrival home, he finds his father waiting for him on their porch, tears in his eyes. His father is able to admit that he was scared and the two embrace, closer than before.

Jonty Howley's gorgeous debut paints the world we wish existed for our boys, and offers a path there! This story is the truest interpretation of the notion that we should "let boys be boys": let them express the full range of their emotions, vulnerable parts and all!

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Kirkus Reviews

A compassionate story that encourages openness and honesty about emotions.

Publishers Weekly

When Levi, a boy with wavy blonde hair that matches his father's, expresses anxiety about going to school, "Papa didn't know what to do. So he told Levi, 'Big boys don't cry.' " Levi fights tears as he walks from their seaside home, across a boardwalk, a busy town square, and to school in stylized spreads that show a vast sea and characters resembling charming wooden puppets. But en route, he observes a variety of characters expressing emotions: "a fisherman with tears in his eyes, setting off on a long trip," a weeping harpist, and "passionate poets." As Levi settles into school, he doesn't cry; the day isn't so scary. Back home, though, he finds his father in tears: "It was your first day at a new school... And I was scared." It's okay for anyone to express emotions, Howley hints--and parents, too, may need a reminder. Ages 3-7. (June)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 2-Levi is nervous about his first day at a new school; with tears in his eyes, he tells his father that he is scared. Not knowing what to do, his father says "Big boys don't cry!" and sends him off. However, along his way, Levi encounters all kinds of adults crying. Proud men, rich men, musicians, poets, bikers, grandfathers, husbands, and sailors. Each man has his own, often tender, reason for shedding tears. When Levi arrives at school, he finds that it isn't so scary! Upon his return home, he sees his father waiting for him with tears in his own eyes. Levi sweetly imparts his newfound wisdom to his father: big boys do cry. The two embrace and enjoy an evening together in the glow of the setting sun. This book is emotional with a meaningful message. The illustrations are outstanding. Howley's art is vibrant, detailed, and visually interesting. VERDICT With its much needed message and beautiful illustrations, this book is a highly recommended purchase for any library.-Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"On his first day of school, a young boy learns it's OK to show his feelings no matter his age...The overall lesson about men showing tears is made all the more effective with its representation of a range of feelings beyond sadness. A compassionate story that encourages openness and honesty about emotions."


Levi is crying because it's his first day at a new school. "Big boys don't cry," Papa tells him, but Levi's
journey as he walks proves otherwise. First he sees a fisherman weeping, then a harpist, grandparents, new parents, rich men, poor men, army men, brainy men, and even baker men. "Big boys were crying everywhere!"
Digitally created full-bleed pages highlight the bright pastels of the seashore.Children will have fun seeking out the spurting blue drops on each unique face, as they understand that it's
OK to cry.—Booklist
Jonty Howley
JONTY HOWLEY is a British author, illustrator, and musician. From a young age, Jonty has always loved to draw, and few things excite him more than beautiful books and the worlds you can find inside them.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication date
June 11, 2019
BISAC categories
JUV039050 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emotions & Feelings
JUV039090 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | New Experience
JUV013060 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | Parents
Library of Congress categories
Fathers and sons
Picture books
First day of school

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