Emmie Stuart

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A mouse opens his home to one creature after another in this story of kindness and abundant hospitality. 

After many travels, Vincent, “a small mouse with boots on his feet, a hat on his head, and a house on his back,” decides to settle down. Not long after he places his house at the crest of a hill with a spectacular view, a tired bullfrog hops up. When Vincent invites the frog inside to rest, the amphibian is initially skeptical, because Vincent’s house looks much too small to comfortably accommodate them both. However, the bullfrog soon discovers that the house is “much bigger than it appeared.”  

One by one, other weary forest dwellers arrive at Vincent’s door. He warmly welcomes them all as his house expands to suit their needs, and inside is as cozy as you’d imagine a mouse’s home might be. A roaring fire, colorful rugs, mismatched wooden chairs and decorative string lights create an ambience of comfort and whimsy. It all stands in sharp contrast to the rainy night when, amid dark grays and blacks, a lost, hungry bear approaches, filling all the houseguests with fear. Will Vincent’s unwavering spirit of generosity extend to this final lonesome traveler?

The rural setting and cast of anthropomorphized animals, along with author Jonathan Stutzman’s formal tone, give The Mouse Who Carried a House on His Back the feel of a traditional fable. Like fables, the book also imparts clear moral messages as it guides readers to understand the importance of compassionate, unconditional inclusion.  

Illustrator Isabelle Arsenault’s gouache, ink and cut-paper artwork playfully brings these messages to life. In the book’s opening spread, she depicts Vincent’s house as a simple pentagonal outline in a vibrant shade of pink. Each time a new visitor appears at Vincent’s doorstep, a new house in a new architectural style appears on the hillside adjacent to the pentagon, creating a cheery conglomeration of homes. A powerful gatefold spread captures the end result. Young readers will delight in noticing the visual similarities between the new dwellings and Vincent’s latest houseguests.

Readers will empathize with the bear and be inspired by the mouse as Stutzman and Arsenault gently reveal the value of an open door—and an open heart.

This picture book has the feel of a traditional fable as it guides readers to understand the importance of compassionate, unconditional inclusion.
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A tiny owl becomes an unexpected hero in Knight Owl, a tale of dreams, dragons and determination.

“Since the day he hatched, Owl had one wish. To be a knight.” Owl loves to envision himself armed with a sword and shield and bravely confronting a dragon. At Knight School, his hard work and resilience are rewarded, though the experience is not without challenges, including heavy swords and Owl’s “habit of nodding off during the day.”

After graduation, Owl takes a post on the Knight Night Watch. One night, a hungry dragon approaches the castle. Although he is frightened, Owl reminds himself that he is “a real knight and knights are brave.” He cleverly finds a way to transform his menacing foe into a memorable friend.

Knight Owl has all the ingredients for an old-fashioned tale of medieval gallantry. Owl’s blend of ambition and tender vulnerability will be instantly relatable to young children who, like Owl, live in a world designed for creatures much bigger than they are.

Suffused with luminous warmth, the jewel-tone illustrations by author-illustrator Christopher Denise are a visual feast. Denise intersperses full-bleed spreads depicting cozy interiors and starlit castle walls with humorous and poignant vignettes of Owl and his endearing knightly pursuits. Early on, Denise depicts Owl’s heroic aspirations in a style that evokes medieval tapestries, and whimsical details abound, such as a textbook held open to a chapter called “How to build knight stuff.” Effective shifts in perspective underscore Owl’s diminutive size as he stands watch on the castle’s high wall and, later, quakes under the looming gaze of the golden-eyed dragon.

In Tremendous Trifles, a 1909 collection of columns written by the English writer G.K. Chesterton and originally published in the Daily News, Chesterton memorably observed, “The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” In its own way, Knight Owl does this as well, demonstrating how dragons can be overcome through bravery, perseverance and kindness. And in Owl’s case, with a shared box of pizza.

In Christopher Denise’s Knight Owl, the titular hero cleverly transforms a menacing foe into a memorable friend using bravery, perseverance and kindness.
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Tips for Teachers is a monthly column in which experienced teacher and children’s librarian Emmie Stuart shares book recommendations and a corresponding teaching guide for fellow elementary school teachers.


I have never lived on a farm, and I don’t really like animals. So why do Carl Larsson’s farm paintings hang on my living room and kitchen walls? Why do I cherish my annual tradition of visiting a local farm with a friend and her children? Why do I always slow down to admire the tidy and picturesque family farm that I pass on the way to my parents’ cottage in rural North Carolina? Why do weathered red barns, rolling fields bordered by white fences, the smell of hay and the clucking of chickens fill me with deep nostalgia? Why do farms have such a tight grasp on my heartstrings? 

I blame it on stories. I read my childhood copy of Trinka Hakes Noble and Steven Kellogg’s The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash so many times that it’s now held together by Scotch tape. Each year, when my family pulled down our heavy box of Christmas books from the attic, Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff’s Who Is Coming to Our House? was the one I wanted to find first. I can still hear my mom’s voice reading Charlotte’s Web to me and my sister. Yes, farms hold a beloved place in my heart and imagination. 

The kindergarten classes at my school are about to begin a nine-week study of farms and farm animals. I can’t wait to share the following three books with my students. I can only hope that these books’ agrarian settings, memorable characters and reassuring stories impress themselves upon my students’ hearts and minds, fostering a lifelong fondness for farms. 


The Barn by Leah H. Rogers book cover

The Barn

By Leah H. Rogers
Illustrated by Barry Root

In this gentle narrative about a weathered wooden barn that overlooks rolling hills and a white farmhouse, the barn reminisces about its construction. A communal barn raising brought it into existence over a century ago. Using the phrase “I am a barn” as a refrain, the barn narrates in lyrical prose. All day long—from the morning, “when the sun begins to grow over the treetops” and “strands of sunlight reach through my cobwebbed windows,” to the evening, when “the chill night air blows quietly down my stone aisle”—both animals and people come in and out of the barn’s shelter.

Rogers’ text is rich with sensory language and gentle rhythm. Root’s watercolor and gouache illustrations are suffused with golden light as they warmly depict the barn, animals and surrounding verdant hillsides. Familiar and comforting, The Barn offers children a beautiful and meditative look at a rural farm. 

  • Farm life

The idea of a barn raising may be unfamiliar to some children. Read Patricia MacLachlan and Kenard Pak’s The Hundred-Year Barn to learn more about this tradition. Older students will enjoy clips from this documentary about an Amish barn raising. Ask students if they can think of similar events that have happened in their community. How do communities or neighborhoods come together to help others?

Extend the idea by discussing family farms. Read Cris Peterson and Alvin Upitis’ Century Farm. Show clips of what it’s like to be a child living on a family farm. 

  • Art study

Ask students to tell you what they notice and wonder about in Root’s illustrations. Point out where the barn is located in relation to the rest of the farm. Show students more pieces of art featuring barns and farms, and ask them to verbalize what they notice and wonder about them. Finally, provide photographs of barns in different landscapes. Let students choose one to re-create using watercolors, oil pastels or colored pencils.

  • Through the seasons

The Barn takes place on a summer day. Reread the book as a class, recording details from the the text and the illustrations that signal its summer setting. Read Alice and Martin Provensen’s The Year at Maple Hill Farm, Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney’s Ox-Cart Man and Eugenie Doyle and Becca Stadtlander’s Sleep Tight Farm. Using details from these books, ask students to articulate what would change if The Barn’s narrator were to describe a day in another season. Using a circle graphic organizer, have students draw or write seasonal details about a farm.  


If You Want to Knit Some Mittens by Laura Purdie Salas

If You Want to Knit Some Mittens

By Laura Purdie Salas
Illustrated by Angela Matteson

A young girl describes how to knit mittens, a process with no fewer than 18 steps. The story begins at an apple orchard where the determined protagonist talks her dad into buying a sheep. Next comes a “long, chilly winter” through which the girl keeps her new sheep “warm and well fed.” Spring arrives and brings a flurry of activity, including shearing, soaking, squeezing, carding, spinning, growing and dyeing wool. Finally, it’s time to “get some knitting needles and learn to knit.” When winter arrives again, the girl has a pair of marigold-yellow mittens and true friendship with her woolly companion. This sunny story of creativity and resourcefulness provides a lighthearted entry point to discussions about how farms produce and provide.  

  • Thank you, farmers!

Show students a scarf, sweater or pair of mittens made from yarn, and ask them how many of the steps needed to make the knitted item they can recall. Segue into a discussion about the many products we get from farms. As a class, brainstorm a list of these things.

Read Lisl H. Detlefsen and Renée Kurilla’s Right This Very Minute, G. Brian Karas’ On the Farm, at the Market, Pat Brisson and Mary Azarian’s Before We Eat and excerpts from Nancy Castaldo and Ginnie Hsu’s The Farm That Feeds Us. These books will show students how we depend on farms and farmers. 

Use white card stock to create notecards for students. Cut small slits on the bottom of each card with a craft knife. Pass the cards out to students and guide them in writing thank-you notes to a local farm or farmer. Let students choose pieces of yarn to weave in and out of the slits at the bottom of the card; this activity helps develop fine-motor skills. 

  • Yarn measurements

Cut pieces of yarn into various sizes and invite each student to select two or three pieces. Ask students to measure their pieces of yarn using rules or yardsticks and to record their measurements. Next, invite students to use the yarn to measure things in the classroom. Older students should record their findings using a number-sense sentence, like this:  

The pencil sharpener is greater than 6 inches but less than 12 inches. 

Younger students may simply write whether the item is longer or shorter than their piece of yarn.

Next, put small objects such as cubes, popsicle sticks or dominoes at various stations around the classroom. Ask students to choose a piece of yarn and complete the number sense sentence like so: 

My piece of yarn is as long as 20 cubes, six popsicle sticks and 12 dominoes. 

  • Yarn art

Take students on a nature walk to collect 8- to 10-inch sticks. Provide long pieces of different yarns. Students will choose four or five pieces of yarn and wrap them, one by one, around their stick. This may sound like a simple activity, but it requires perseverance and fine-motor skills. You can tweak this activity by letting students wrap the yarn around simple cardboard shapes. If time permits, teach older students how to finger knit.


Cold Turkey

By Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call
Illustrated by Chad Otis

It’s no surprise that Turkey wakes up “c-c-cold,” because it’s 10 degrees outside! Bundled up in a green coat, a blue scarf, black boots and a red and white striped hat, Turkey ventures out for a trip around the barnyard. As he checks in with each animal, including Sheep, Chicken, Horse, Cow and Pig, he finds them just as cold as he is, so compassionate Turkey shares his warm clothing with them. When he arrives back home, he is “cold and bare / in just his birthday suit!”

Meanwhile, his barnyard friends have joined forces and built a roaring campfire. They beckon Turkey to join, and soon our cold Turkey is a “toasty turkey.” Equal parts humorous and warmhearted, Cold Turkey is filled with vibrant language and clever wordplay. It’s a tender and tongue-twistingly terrific read aloud.

  • Alliteration

From a chilly chicken to a shivering sheep, Cold Turkey is full of alliteration. Define this term for students and locate examples in the book. If time allows, read other books or poems with alliteration. I like A My Name Is Alice by Jane E. Bayer and Steven Kellogg, Animalia by Graeme Base and the poems at this link. Provide students with an alphabetical list of adjectives and ask them to write and illustrate their own name alliteration sentences, such as, “Industrious Iris illustrated an interesting icy igloo.”

  • Readers’ theater

After reading Cold Turkey aloud for a second time, assign roles to several students. Give the students signs, props or costumes to designate their characters. Make a large part of the classroom a “stage” and help students act out the story. For the first time through, narrate the story. As students become more familiar with the process, let different students narrate or retell the story as their classmates act it out.

Take a trip to the barnyard with experienced teacher and children’s librarian Emmie Stuart as she explores three picture books all about life on the farm.
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“For most immigrants, moving to the new country is an act of faith. Even if you've heard stories of safety, opportunity, and prosperity, it's still a leap to remove yourself from your own language, people, and country. Your own history. What if the stories weren't true? What if you couldn't adapt? What if you weren't wanted in the new country?”—Nicola Yoon

Amidst the recent news headlines surrounding immigration and border laws, it’s easy to forget that many of these immigrants are children. As migrant children adjust to a new home, a new language and a new set of customs, they need books that authentically reflect and affirm their experiences and feelings. Equally important is the need for children born in the United States to gain small insights into life as an immigrant. These five stories of struggle and triumph, loneliness and connection, and isolation and belonging will spark classroom conversation, affirm migrant children’s feelings, and build empathy for those who are making a home in a new world.

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

“Mustafa and his family traveled a very, very long way to get to their new county.” He dreams of his old country “full of smoke and fire and loud noises” and wakes up to find himself in a new country but, as him mom reminds him, “under the very same moon.” Mustafa ventures down into a neighborhood park and takes great joy in the green trees, bugs that remind him of jewels, and flowers that look like his grandmother’s teacups. He crosses paths with a girl and her cat but is intimidated when he can’t understand her words. As the weeks pass, Mustafa continues to visit the park taking delight in the changing seasons. One day he waves to a group of playing children, but they don’t notice prompting him to ask his mother, “am I invisible?” At last, the young girl with the cat succeeds in communicating with Mustafa and a new friendship is born. A gentle and honest story, Mustafa is accessible for children of all ages and a valuable read aloud for all classrooms.

Creative Writing—Invite students to examine the title and dedication pages. They show Mustafa’s family with their belongings on their heads and backs as they board a ship that carries them to their new country. Ask to children to imagine moving to a new country and only being able to take a few possessions. After a brief class discussion let them journal about the items they would bring if they had to flee to a new country.

• Nature Walk—Mustafa loves to explore the park next to this apartment building. He takes great delight in things Americans take for granted—green grass and red birds hiding in trees. With their journals in hand, take your students outside for a nature walk and encourage them to look anew at the world around them. After 5-10 minutes of walking, stop and let children draw or write about the things they noticed “with their new eyes”. Mustafa sees flowers shaped like his grandmother’s pink teacups and others that look like dragon tongues. Encourage children to create metaphors for the things they find on the nature walk.

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

Rashin can’t wait for her first trip to an American beach. As she and her family make the trip from Brooklyn to Coney Island, Rashin reminisces about her trips to the Caspian Sea beach in Iran. Through her memories, readers will the understand that the differences between the two beaches are significant. In Iran, after a breakfast of halim, the family drives five hours to the beach where “big, long curtains divided the sea into two sections—one side for men to swim in and the other side for women.” On the subway headed to Coney Island, Rahsin misses her friend Azadeh and wonders if the sea in America will be as endless, blue, and beautiful as it is in Iran. When they arrive, Rashin’s homesickness reaches its peak and when she discovers the ice cream truck doesn’t carry saffron flavored ice cream, she begins to cry. A young girl behind her in line encourages Rashin to try chocolate crunch ice cream. The two girls become fast friends and Rashin has no problem following the Coney Island beach rule: To have fun, fun, fun. By focusing on a single experience, Saffron Ice Cream shows how very different daily experiences can be in a new country. The colorful illustrations and lighthearted prose make for an upbeat and relatable immigrant story.

Venn Diagram—Saffron Ice Cream begs for a venn diagram. As a class, create a venn diagram comparing the Coney Island and Caspian Sea beaches. Be sure to leave enough room in the overlapping portion to list the ways the beaches are similar. Use this diagram to spark a conversation about similarities and differences between cultures. If you have migrant children in your class, let them talk about experiences and traditions they remember from their home country and how they are similar and different to those in the United States.

Geography—Using a world map and Google Earth, locate Coney Island and the Caspian Sea. Let the children make observations comparing the two beaches. Show them Coney Island’s Stillwell train station as well. For many students in rural and suburban classrooms, riding a subway is a foreign experience.

Different, but essentially the same—Young Rashin is homesick for Iran and her Caspian beach, but at the end of the book she understands that though the two beaches are different, the most important aspects (family, friendship) transcend cultures. In the past few years, I have discovered several strong picture books highlighting the differences and (more importantly) the similarities between cultures. Make these pictures books a part of your classroom for the entire year. Culture awareness and acceptance is a gift that will stay with children for the rest of their lives. My favorites include This Is How We Do It (Lamothe) Same, Same, But Different (Kostecki-Shaw), This is the Way We Go to School (Bauer), The Sandwich Swap (Al-Abdullah), Everybody Cooks Rice (Dooley), Mirror (Baker) and Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe (Bradford).

The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Beginning in Greece, “back when time seemed slower and life simpler, there was a dress. A dress much like many others, made for a girl by her mother.” The girl and the dress enjoy their life in Greece, but long for something “singular, stunning, or sensational.” They don’t wait long because one day their story changes and they board a ship headed for a new life in America. The dress is put in a trunk—a trunk that gets lost during the journey. The dress is separated from the girl for many years and travels the world searching for the girl. At long last, it comes to rest in a thrift store where the girl, now a mother herself, finds it and passes it along to her daughter. Showing the importance of family history, The Dress and the Girl is a simple story with magnificent illustrations recounting the journey to Ellis Island that was common for so many immigrants at the turn of the century.

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty—Peek under the book’s jacket at the cover. You will be greeted by a magnificent illustration of the Statue of Liberty as seen by immigrants as they disembark the ship. Take a virtual field trip to the Statue of Liberty National Park and let students view the statue from across the water. Zoom in closer and read the inscription at the base of the statue. Write it on the board or a piece of chart paper. After a class discussion, keep it hanging in your classroom to remind students that the United States is open to all people. My students also loved the live cam view located in the torch of the statue.

Oral family history—The dress holds significance for the girl because it is a family heirloom and traveled with her from her home country of Greece. Use the story to launch an oral family history project. With the help and input of students, develop a short family history questionnaire for them to use with their parents, grandparents, or other relatives. One of the questions can be about treasured family heirlooms. Use this opportunity to teach and develop students’ interviewing and conversational skills. Let them practice interviewing each other before conducting a family interview.

Book pairing—Read aloud one of my all-time favorite picture books, My Grandfather’s Coat by James Alyesworth and compare the two stories.

Ella and Monkey at Sea by Emilie Boon

Told through the eyes of a young girl and her stuffed monkey, Ella and Monkey at Sea is perfectly pitched for young children. The story opens with Ella hugging her grandmother, Oma, before boarding a ship bound for America. During the long journey across the ocean, Ella’s emotions are transferred to monkey. Monkey “wants his own bed at home,” he “misses Oma and dinners at home,” and “says no” when the other children ask him to play. Eventually, Ella moves through feelings of homesickness to feelings of hope and excitement for their new country. I read this simple yet effective story aloud to a group of kindergarten students and the empathy stirred by Ella’s honesty was evident on their young faces.

Creative Writing—Ella’s emotions are transferred to her beloved stuffed monkey. Allow children time to share a special recent experience. Afterward, tell them to retell/write the story from the perspective of their most beloved stuffed friend.

Art Therapy—When Ella is sad she colors a picture with “angry black,” “scared gray” and “cold blue.” At the end of the book, she colors a picture of a cheerful yellow sun. Discuss how colors reflect emotions. Put some soft music on and let children create their own feelings pictures. For more color and emotion books, be sure to read Niko Draws a Feeling (Chris Rackza) and My Blue Is Happy (Jessica Young).

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Ten-year-old Mia Tang works the front desk at her parents' Calivista Motel. Life isn’t easy for Mia’s family, Chinese immigrants who have been in the United States for two years. Living in a room behind the motel’s office, they work around the clock serving the customers of the motel and ensuring that the customers are happy. The American dream seems anything but dreamy as the family battles several unfortunate events including an abusive robber, a broken washing machine and a stolen car. Equally hard are the cultural challenges and racism Mia faces at school. Raw and believable, Mia’s voice is strong making her struggles relatable for students who share her migrant experience and opens a window for students who have never felt the isolation and confusion that accompanies navigating a life in a new country.

Struggles and Triumphs—Reflecting the story of most immigrants, Mia experiences many challenges as she adjusts to life in America. Because of her hard work and grit and the kindness of others she also experiences several triumphs. Before reading Front Desk, make a “Struggles & Triumphs” chart. Keep it easily accessible so that it can be updated at the conclusion of each read-aloud time.

If I owned a motel—Mia dreams of being a writer, and toward the end of the story she enters an essay contest with an essay titled, “If I Owned a Motel.” Encourage children to design and plan their own motel or restaurant. Visit the websites of several family-owned businesses and discuss components of a small business including marketing, theme and customer service. Invite children to write their own essays and share their small business plans with the rest of the class.

These five stories of struggle and triumph, loneliness and connection, and isolation and belonging will spark classroom conversation, affirm migrant children’s feelings, and build empathy for those who are making a home in a new world.
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As the daughter of a nurse, I understood from a young age that twice a month my Mama stayed at the hospital all night taking care of sick patients. One Saturday afternoon, a friend came over for a playdate and my dad reminded us to, “Play quietly, Mama’s sleeping.” I clearly remember attempting to explain why my mom was sleeping during the day. Unless a child has a parent who works the night shift, working all night is often a foreign concept for them. Using gentle nighttime narratives, the following three picture books illustrate the various aspects of working the night shift and help children understand the necessity and role of night-shift workers in the workforce and community.

Night Job by Karen Hesse and G. Brian Karas

“On Friday nights, when the sun goes down, I snap the clips shut on Dad’s lunch box and climb onto the back of his bike.” Lyrical prose and muted evocative illustrations tell the story of a young boy helping his dad during his job as a school’s night custodian in Karen Hesse’s Night Job. Though the work is hard (“We scrub the cafeteria, then sweep the stage”), it’s clear the boy cherishes this special time with his father. They shoot hoops in the gym, listen to baseball games on the portable radio and eat egg salad sandwiches in the courtyard. Eventually, the boy falls asleep on the library couch until 4 in the morning when his dad wakes him up. They ride home, and as the sky lightens, they fall asleep together in the big recliner. In addition to offering insight into a night-shift routine, Night Job reminds students of the dedication and daily duties of those who work to keep their schools clean.

City Daily Photo—Hesse was inspired to write Night Job after seeing a photograph on City Daily Photo. Each day, photographers from around the world post photographs of the city in which they live. As a class, look at some of the daily photographs and choose one to discuss. Using that photograph, model a creative writing task with prompts about the scene it depicts.

Figurative Language—Alliteration, similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia and imagery: Though not long in length, Night Job is filled with figurative language. If students are familiar with figurative language, reread the book and take time to identify and name the figurative language devices that are used and discuss how they enhance the story. Type out basic sentences on strips of paper. Invite students to take one of the sentences and make it richer through the use of figurative language. Afterward, students can copy their new “rich” sentences to cardstock and choose a way to illustrate it (collage, watercolor, colored pencils, digital illustration, etc).

Inferencing—Inferencing is an essential skill and one that students will use throughout their entire lives. Before even mentioning the word, ask students the following questions: Do you think the dad and boy in this story are wealthy? What makes you say that? How does the boy feel about his dad? How do you know this? Tell me about the last sentence of the book. Be sure to remind students to refer to the text and illustrations to support and further explain their answers. After the discussion, introduce the word inference. During the next few days, read aloud other books that require inferencing. Boats For Papa (Jessixa Bagley) and Little Fox in the Forest (Stephanie Graegin) are my favorite books to use when teaching inferencing skills.

Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan and Taeeun Yoo

As the sun is setting, a man hugs his family and heads a construction site where he works as the night watchman. Under the light of a full moon, he checks the doors and workshops and walks past the abandoned vehicles. Then out from under a garbage truck wanders a small gray kitten. The night watchman shares his sandwich with the kitten and a friendship is formed. But after another inspection around the site, the kitten “is nowhere to be seen,” and the man “is too worried to read.” A tender reunion occurs on the following spread, and when his shift is over, the night watchman takes the kitten home to his family. Author John Sullivan’s spare text and illustrator Taeeun Yoo’s rich and textured artwork keep the story from being saccharine. As a class read-aloud, Kitten and the Night Watchman is a pure delight.

Nonfiction Research—The first time I read this book aloud to students it became clear that my knowledge of construction sites was about at my students’ level. My first-graders had a myriad of questions about the different machines, vehicles and the construction site itself, and I could not answer any of them with confidence. After we finished the story, I jotted down the questions. The next day, the same group of students and I read some nonfiction books about construction vehicles and sites and found answers to most of our questions. This was the perfect opportunity to show students the need and purpose for both fiction and nonfiction books.

Shadows—The text and illustrations explain that, “An excavator bows like a strange giraffe,” and “A backhoe rises like a giant insect.” It’s the shadows cast by the vehicles that make these similes ring true. Read a nonfiction book about shadows. (I used What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla.) Provide a variety of oddly shaped objects. In pairs, students will use these objects to make piles. Then, using flashlights, students will look at the shadow cast by their combination of objects. After experimenting with different object combination and placement, students will trace one of them onto oversize white paper and decide what their shadow drawing looks like. Encourage them to write similes for their art similar to the ones found in Kitten and the Night Watchman.

Onomatopoeia—The “ki-DEE, ki-DEE, ki-DEE” of a killdeer, the “Shhhheeeeerrrrroooooommmm,” of an overhead jet, the “peent, peent, peent” of a nighthawk, the “rumble-clack-clack, rumble-clack-clack” of a freight train—onomatopoeia is used to help readers understand the different night sounds at a construction site. Write down all of the examples used in the book (there are six) and then create some onomatopoeias that can be heard at a neighborhood park. Afterward, let students choose a setting (beach, ice cream parlor, amusement park, etc.) and write their own onomatopoeias. Encourage them to read them aloud to the class so that everyone can hear how words reflect sound.

Night Workers—As a class, discuss why we need night workers. Give students time to brainstorm other jobs that require a night shift. Encourage critical thinking by asking students to explain why these jobs require a night shift. Write down the children’s thoughts on chart paper. If one of their parents works a night shift, invite them into the classroom as a guest speaker.

Good Morning, Harry—Good Night, Daddy by Katy Beebe and Valeri Gorbachev

I absolutely love this understated read-aloud gem. The front endpapers show Harry and Gran headed toward their seaside cottage as a big red sun sets over the ocean. While Gran and Harry’s mother help their sons begin their nighttime routines, Daddy is just beginning his workday. He is a conductor on the London-Penzance sleeper train. With simple rhythmic prose and warm watercolor illustrations, this story goes back and forth between Daddy’s duties on the train and the cozy nighttime activities of Harry and his family. When morning arrives, “Harry hears the front door open . . .” and Daddy is home! Together they enjoy their breakfast/supper of porridge, and as Daddy heads to bed, Gran and Harry begin their day with a walk along the sunny seashore.

City Comparison—Show students a map of England and locate both London and Penzance. Ask students to share where they think Harry’s family lives (hopefully, they use illustration clues and know that it’s along the coast). Explore the cities of London and Penzance on Google Earth or watch short videos about the cities. Make a chart with descriptive details about each city. (London is a bustling big city and Penzance is a quiet seaside town.) Harry’s family lives in the small coastal town of Sennen Cove. Look up the area on Google Earth. My students loved “walking” along the beach just like Harry and Gran.

Train Math—My students were unfamiliar with trains and the concept of sleeper trains. Use the U.K.’s Trainline website to look up the timetable of the London to Penzance train. Ask them if they notice anything different about the times (24-hour time instead of 12-hour time) and then convert standard to 24-hour time. For example, 6:00 pm is 18:00. Encourage critical thinking by inquiring, “Why are some of the trips are eight hours while others are only five hours?” Trainline’s Journey Information from London to Penzance has detailed information that lends itself to mathematical word problems. Convert times and mileage to figure out how fast trains travel or discuss why the journey takes longer on weekends and holidays.

• Train Travel—Watch a short video showing the inside of the London to Penzance sleeper train. Many of my students were very unfamiliar with trains and train travel. Make a list of the jobs that Harry’s dad does during his shift as night conductor. (He yells, “All Aboard,” helps passengers find their cabins, collects tickets, serves meals, welcomes them to Cornwall and reminds them to “Mind the gap.”) Pose the question, “Why are there sleeper trains?”

As the daughter of a nurse, I understood from a young age that twice a month my Mama stayed at the hospital all night taking care of sick patients. One Saturday afternoon, a friend came over for a playdate and my dad reminded us to, “Play quietly, Mama’s sleeping.” I clearly remember attempting to explain […]
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The recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor moved me to tears as I learned more about the life and widespread influence of Fred Rogers and his TV series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In each episode, looking directly at the camera, he asked his television viewers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Alternating between his living room and the whimsical puppet community, Mr. Rogers reminded children that loving those around them—their neighbors—was of utmost importance. The characters in the following three picture books show genuine love for their neighbors through their small yet important acts of kindness. With gentleness and sincerity, they invite children to (in the words of Mr. Rogers) “imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind act to another person.”


Found by Jeff Newman and Larry Day

This wordless story of love found, lost and then found again will resonate with every child who has ever loved a pet. In the opening pages, a little girl looks out of her apartment window and spies a pup wandering through puddles. She brings it inside and provides food and a dry bed. A poster and framed bedside photograph reveal that in the past, the girl has lost a dog dear to her. After a tentative first night, the pair begins to bond and soon there is no doubt that the girl has come to love the new puppy. Not long afterward as they are walking home from the pet store, the girl spies a “Lost Roscoe” flier with her puppy’s picture. Despite her obvious sadness, the girl returns Roscoe to the owner. The story ends on a hopeful note when the girl passes the Human Society on her way home and spies a forlorn boxer sitting in the window. Considering our neighbor’s feelings and putting their needs above our own are hard concepts to grasp, but in this story, these big ideas are conveyed in a sensibility that is developmentally perfect for children.

Inference—Wordless books require children to study the illustrations as the way of deciphering characters’ feelings. In Found, the main character goes through a range of complex emotions. Reread the book through with students and write down (on the board or chart paper) the adjectives they use to describe how the girl is feeling. Read the book for a third time. This round, invite children to tell you why they chose these particular adjectives . . . what concrete illustration details did they use to infer the girl’s feelings? Make a concept map by connecting each illustration clue with the appropriate adjective.

Compare and contrast—Share Stephanie Graegin’s wordless picture book Little Fox in the Forest with students. Like Found, this story shares similar themes and colorwork, but they are vastly different in their settings, characters and plot execution. Guide students in creating a two circle Venn diagram. As a class, identify one similarity and one difference between Found and Little Fox in the Forest. Allow time for students to individually fill out their diagrams.

Parts of a book—This story begins on the front endpapers. Readers who skip to the official first page will miss two key plot points. Use this as an opportunity to introduce students to the concept of reading every part of a book. Discuss front and back endpapers and the title page. Pose the question, “What would happen if I skipped over the endpapers, opening pages and title page?”


Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Séve and Pamela Zagarenski

A new girl named Zola has moved in next door to de Séve’s unnamed protagonist, and despite her mothers’ wishes, she is convinced they won’t be friends because “Zola already has a friend. I know because I saw the big box.” The girl is convinced there is an elephant inside the box. Richly colored mixed-media illustrations show the fun adventures (eating toast, taking bubble baths, playing hide-and-seek and building a clubhouse) that the girl imagines Zola is having with her elephant best friend. Muted illustrations on the intervening pages show readers that Zola is actually bored and lonely. Finally, with her own stuffed elephant tucked under one arm, the narrator rings Zola’s doorbell, and the final illustrations show the new friends’ magical adventures filled with whales, hot air balloons and (of course) an elephant. Equal parts practical and fantastical, Zola’s Elephant shows children that reaching out to others isn’t always easy, but it often reaps big rewards.

Creativity—It nearly killed me, but I read aloud the first page to my students and then stopped. Ignoring their protests, I sent them back to their seats with the writing prompt, “Tell me what you think is in Zola’s big box.” After they had written a sentence or two, I provided oversized paper, pastels, patterned paper, colored pencils and other art supplies. They spent the next 30 minutes making their ideas into a visual picture. The creations turned out to be more original and personality-revealing than I had anticipated, and the children loved engaging in the open-ended art project.

Imagination vs. Reality—Make a T-Chart with the words “imagination” and “reality.” Fill out the chart with your students and compare the narrator’s imaginings with Zola’s reality. For example, the narrator smells toast and imagines Zola sharing a fanciful tea party with her elephant. In reality, using a box as a table, Zola is forlornly staring at a solitary piece of toast.

How DO you transport an elephant?—At the end of the book, one of my nonfiction-loving students inquired, “How big of a box do you need to move a real elephant?” I didn’t have an immediate answer, but I was delighted to discover this article by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. It covers all the fascinating transportation details that were required to move an elephant from the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C., to the Calgary Zoo in Calgary, Alberta. We looked at photographs of the journey and even did a few math equations with the details provided. Afterward, we watched a video of an elephant being transported from a conservatory to a wildlife compound.


Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

On the very top floor of her apartment building, Omu (the Igbo term for “queen”) is making a thick red stew in her big fat pot. A little boy comes to her door to inquire about the most delicious smell. Omu gives him a bowl of stew and sends him on his way, but the smell has the attention of the entire neighborhood. Ms. Police Officer, Mr. Hot Dog Vendor, a construction worker and the mayor are just a few of the many neighbors who stop by for a bowl of the scrumptious stew. When Omu opens the pot for her nice evening meal, she finds it empty. But then she hears a knock and opens the door to find her neighbors are back! Only this time, they shower her with food and cards. Squeezing into Omu’s small apartment they eat, dance and celebrate. With its bold mixed-media illustrations and rhythmic prose, Thank You, Omu! captured the attention of my students and provided a natural segue for a discussion about hospitality and community kindness.

Notes of gratitude—In the author’s note at the end of the book, Mora explains how Thank You, Omu! is a celebration of her late grandmother’s life: “Everyone in the community had a seat at my grandmother’s table.” Her grandmother’s selfless gift of hospitality as well her delicious stew made an impression on Mora. Discuss hospitality with your students. Ask them to think of a person in their lives who has demonstrated hospitality and kindness toward them or the community. And then, following the example of the little boy in the book, guide them in writing personal thank-you notes. This is an ideal opportunity to teach the fundamentals of writing notes of gratitude, a skill that will serve students for the rest of their lives.

Shades of meaning game—When Omu tells them about her stew, the little boy says, “That sure sounds yummy.” Ms. Police Officer says, “That sounds mighty tasty.” Mr. Hot Dog Vendor says, “That sound quite delectable.” Discuss how yummy, tasty and delectable are words that share a similar meaning. Let students work in pairs for a game of synonyms. Give each pair a thesaurus (or let them use an online thesaurus) and explain how a thesaurus helps writers with word choice. After a few practice words, write a sentence with a strong verb or adjective on the board and underline the word you want them to replace. Give students time to use find and choose a new word. Let each group share their new sentence with the class. After a word is used, it can’t be used by another pair. At the end of each round, give a point to the pair who chose the most effective or creative synonym.

Importance of Setting—Ask students, “Could this story have happened in a rural or suburban neighborhood?” Discuss how the compactness of a city block as well as the community members who work and live in close proximity are crucial to this story. Read other books in which the setting is an integral part of the story. Read aloud a few more books that have settings that influence the story and then let students look through more examples on their own. Let students apply their new understandings by drawing their own strong setting. Extend the activity with older students by inviting them to add characters and stories to accompany their imagined setting. Some of my favorite recent strong setting books include A House That Once Was, Imagine! and Hello Lighthouse. ​​​

The recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor moved me to tears as I learned more about the life and widespread influence of Fred Rogers and his TV series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In each episode, looking directly at the camera, he asked his television viewers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Alternating between his living room and the whimsical puppet community, Mr. Rogers […]
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Lapland, crackers, Christmas pudding, Crimble, mince pies, Father Christmas—if these words and expressions are familiar to you, then you’re likely from England, or you’ve celebrated Christmas across the pond. British holiday traditions look similar to those found in the United States, but there are some key differences: Presents are delivered by Father Christmas (who hails from Lapland), pantomimes pop up on every street corner, and a Christmas dinner is not complete without Christmas pudding and the pulling of Christmas crackers. The following three festive picture books are brimming with British traditions, magic and cheer.


The Queen and the First Christmas Tree by Nancy Churnin and Luisa Uribe

When she is 17 years old, Princess Charlotte leaves her home in Germany and moves to England so she can marry King George III. She brings a yew branch with her and it brings her immense comfort during her first Christmas away from home. Forty years later, Charlotte throws a Christmas party in Windsor Castle and invites 100 local children. At the party, she delights the children by decorating a giant fir with nuts, fruits, string, toys and candles. The tradition soon spreads beyond the walls of the castle to the people of England. Appealing to history- and princess-lovers alike, this nonfiction narrative tells the interesting and little-known backstory behind a familiar holiday tradition.

History of the Christmas tree—After reading The Queen and the First Christmas Tree, ask students what questions they still have about Charlotte or the Christmas tree tradition. Write the questions on the board or a piece of chart paper. Read aloud the History Today article, “The First Christmas Tree,” by Allison Barnes. For younger children, discuss the article and if it answers any of their questions. Write the answers under the questions. For older children, provide each child with a copy of the article and a highlighter. Give them time to read the article, highlighting the parts which provide answers to the class questions. This activity gives children the opportunity to read for knowledge and helps equip them with research and information-gathering skills. For a short video on the topic, watch the History Channel’s History of Christmas Trees. Be sure to watch a time lapse of this year’s Windsor Castle’s Christmas Tree.

Diary entry—Queen Charlotte invited 100 children to her first Christmas party. Read the pages that discuss the party aloud as well as the back matter. Discuss how these children (who had never seen a Christmas tree) might have felt at the party. As a class, brainstorm and list some adjectives and phrases that might describe the feelings of the children at Charlotte’s party. Give students time to write a first-person diary entry from the perspective of one of the children. Afterward, let the children copy their entries onto old-fashioned looking paper and provide materials for them to illustrate their entry.

Make a yew branch—Visit a local Christmas tree stand and ask them if you can gather the branches and remnants of tree trimmings. Ask the tree trimmers to help you cut the branches so that they about 12”-18” each. Discuss Charlotte’s yew branch with your students. Queen Charlotte decorated her yew branch with colored paper, nuts, fruits and candles. Brainstorm other items that can be used to decorate yew branches. If the weather is nice, take a walk outside and let children collect acorns, leaves and other natural elements. Invite them to bring items from home as well. Provide ribbon or string and let children decorate their yew branches with their collected items. My students’ creativity amazed me. Each yew branch reflected the decorator’s personality and creative sensibilities.


The Village of Lights by Mitchell Stevens and Emily Pritchett

“A long time ago, on top of a hill overlooking a village in far-off England there lived a lonely old farmer,” writes author Mitchell Stevens. The farmer’s wife has died and his children have grown and moved away. To ease his loneliness, the old man would watch the lights of the village come on in the evening and then watch them as they were extinguished one by one. When World War II brings aerial bombers to England, the villagers take all of the lights out of their street lights, businesses and homes. The village is blanketed in darkness. As Christmas approaches, the old farmer figures out a way to bring light and hope to the people in the village. A simple yet powerful story, The Village of Lights shows how a single person’s small act can renew the spirit of an entire community.

Life on the English home front—Briefly discuss life on the home front during World War II. For older students, read the opening few pages or watch the opening scene of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In The Village of Lights, the farmer hears that England is at war with Germany over the radio. Listen to recordings of Winston Churchill addressing his country over the radio.

Letters for the lonely—Discuss why the farmer is lonely and looking at the village lights makes him remember his family and their happy holidays together. Ask students why the holiday season can make deepen feelings of loneliness for those who have lost their families. Ask students to think about people in the community who might be lonely. Write their ideas on the board and then let them brainstorm ideas for helping these people feel less alone. Provide time for children to write letters or make cards for the elderly, soldiers serving overseas or other people who might suffer from loneliness during the holiday season.

FDR and Winston Churchill—Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World (Douglas Wood) and In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story (David McCullough) are excellent read-alouds to pair with Village of Lights. Both books tell the story of Churchill’s visit to the White House just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the Dark Streets Shineth addresses an aspect of the British blackout that brings tears to my eyes each time I read it. Watch this accompanying video to hear the story and song. The video also has excellent photographs of Roosevelt, Churchill and the British blackouts.

Blackout posters—Discuss blackouts and ask children why it was important for all of the villages in England to be dark at night. Show students examples of the blackout posters from World War II. Invite them to design their own blackout poster.


One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell and Emily Sutton

Feeling annoyed at being left at home alone on Christmas Eve, Theo unwraps a cardboard box and discovers four old ornaments: a tin soldier, an angel, a rocking horse and a robin. Looking out the window, he sees a shooting star and wishes, “to be un-alone.” Instantly, the four ornaments come to life. The rocking horse eats everything in sight, the robins longs to sing, the angel desires real feathers and the solider wants to find true love. Theo and the ornaments venture out into the night and have experiences that can only happen on Christmas Eve. Katherine Rundell’s prose is delightfully British (“That might be rather difficult. I don’t know many tin people that I can introduce you to. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a furry hat?”), and Emily Sutton’s 1950s retro and atmospheric illustrations add more British goodness. Though it is a new story, One Christmas Wish feels magical and timeless—just the type of story one longs to read during the holiday season. At 60 pages, it’s an ideal holiday class read-aloud.

Christmas in England—Before reading it aloud, tell your students that One Christmas Wish takes place in England. Ask them to keep their ears and eyes open for phrases, words, traditions and illustration details that are distinctly British. As a class, compile a list of included details like Christmas pudding, fruitcake, baubles, tinsel, old cathedrals and trains. Take some time to read other Christmas books that have distinctly British settings like The Snowman (Raymond Briggs), The Story of Holly and Ivy (Rumer Godden), Alfie’s Christmas (Shirley Hughes) and an adaption of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol.

Shooting stars—Theo makes his wish on a shooting star. What are shooting stars? Falling stars or meteor showers are other names for shooting stars. Take some time to research them with your students.

Story of ornaments—After reading One Christmas Wish, invite children to choose a favorite ornament from home (or provide a few in the classroom). Model a creative writing exercise with the class. What if our ornaments came to life? The ornaments in One Christmas Wish have distinct personalities and desires. Remind students to include these elements in their ornament story. This exercise works well in pairs or groups of three. My students enjoyed imagining and writing ornament stories together.

Compare and contrast—Read aloud a version of The Nutcracker. My favorite versions are illustrated by Susan Jeffers and Lisbeth Zwerger. The traditional Nutcracker story shares many of the magical elements present in One Christmas Wish. As a class, make a Venn diagram comparing the two stories. What are the similarities and differences between the two?

Lapland, crackers, Christmas pudding, Crimble, mince pies, Father Christmas—if these words and expressions are familiar to you, then you’re likely from England, or you’ve celebrated Christmas across the pond. British holiday traditions look similar to those found in the United States, but there are some key differences: Presents are delivered by Father Christmas (who hails from Lapland), pantomimes pop up on every street corner, and a Christmas dinner is not complete without Christmas pudding and the pulling of Christmas crackers. The following three festive picture books are brimming with British traditions, magic and cheer.

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Every year during the long third quarter, my 4th-grade students and I read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. This pitch-perfect novel is most students’ first encounter with World War II. Driven by my students’ deep curiosity and interest, I have developed a repertoire of WWII lessons to supplement the novel. The subject matter can be tricky and complicated to teach, and for years, resources for elementary school students were scarce. I was thrilled to see the publication of three strong WWII picture books in the past year which discuss three different aspects of the war, but they all tell stories laced with the courage, faithfulness and reconciliation.


Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady and Amiko Hirao

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, young Japanese-Americans were incarcerated with their families in internment camps. In the opening pages of Write to Me, young Katherine Tasaki tells her librarian, Miss Breed, that she is leaving, and Miss Breed gives her an addressed postcard, telling her to write. Thus begins a correspondence between Miss Breed and her young patrons. Told in both a narrative and an epistolary format, the book highlights Miss Breed’s courage and work on behalf of Japanese-Americans and shows the power of literature and story amid darkness. By focusing on the efforts of a single citizen, Write to Me brings a complicated and large issue to a level that is ideal for elementary-age students.

Establish Background Knowledge—The front and back endpapers have historical photographs showing various aspects of the Japanese-Americans’ internment. Before reading the book, cover the captions and show a few of these pictures to your students. Ask them to tell you what they think is happening in the photographs. If you have not discussed the Pearl Harbor bombing, then briefly read an informational book or article to your students. Emphasize the surprise nature of the attack. Locate Japan and Hawaii on a world map. Ask students to explain why the Pearl Harbor base was an ideal target.

Opinion Writing—President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. After reading Write to Me, give students an article or let them research the order and the resulting relocation camps. Without too much prior discussion, invite children to think about the order and the relocation camps. Instruct children to respond to the following prompt, “Do you think that President Roosevelt was right when he enforced Executive Order 9066? Why or why not?” Be sure to think about the mindset of the U.S. in early 1942. After students have formed opinions, encourage a few students to share their writing with the class. Or take it a step further and assign a “Dear President Roosevelt” letter-writing assignment where students share their opinion in a formal letter.

Further Reading—Read other books discussing the relocation of Japanese-Americans like The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee. Make a list of the things you learn about the internment camps from the three different books. A few of my students wanted to read more, so I directed them to the novels Dash by Kirby Larson,  Heart of a Champion by Ellen Schwartz and The Journal of Ben Uchida by Barry Denenberg. For a longer, more informational text, be sure to read Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim.

Write for Justice—Clara Breed mailed the children postcards, seeds, books, soap and thread. She visited them in the camps, but she was not content with her efforts. So she began to advocate for the rights of the children by writing magazine articles and “letters asking for a library and school for the imprisoned children.” Encourage students to talk to their parents about unjust situations in the U.S. and around the world. When each student has decided upon an issue, show them how to write an article or letter advocating for justice.
 


Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Melissa Iwai

In September of 1942, to prove that the continental U.S. could indeed be bombed, Japan sent pilot Nobuo Fujita in a small plane to bomb the woods near Brookings, Oregon. Only one of the two bombs exploded, causing a minor forest fire. A later attempt was also unsuccessful. Fast-forward 20 years. Fujita is invited to Brookings’ Memorial Day festival. Burdened by feelings of guilt and shame, Fujita decides to attend the festival, and what unfolds is a story of reconciliation and restoration. Visits between Japan and Brookings lasted until Fujita’s death in 1997. Sharing a little-known story of the war, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon fascinated my students and led to a complex discussion of personal and national loyalties.

Cultural Knowledge—Fujita strapped his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword to his plane seat when he bombed the Oregon forest. Years later, he gave the sword to the town of Brookings and it is now located in the Brookings Public Library. Learn the cultural importance of the samurai sword by reading a few of the stories in Sword of the Samurai: Adventure Stories from Japan by Eric A. Kimmel and Michael Evans. I also found this article/worksheet from The Asian Art Museum to be very helpful.

Write Around a Phrase—A WWII veteran responded to protestors who didn’t want Fujita to attend the Memorial Day festival in a newspaper article writing, “He was doing a job and we were doing a job.” Write this phrase on the board or a piece of chart paper. Give students a few minutes to respond to the phrase. Afterward, allow students to share what they wrote about the phrase and lead a class discussion about national responsibility and loyalty. After our discussion, I read Shooting at the Stars by John Hendrix aloud. The story of the WWI Christmas Truce further emphasized the concept that the students had begun to understand and vocalize—that war is made up of individuals who have more similarities than differences with those fighting for the opposing side.

Vocabulary Art—Learning not just the definition of unfamiliar words but how to apply them in different contexts is an essential skill for all students. With my students, we made a list of “power words” found in Thirty Minutes Over Oregon (examples include catastrophically, pride, veteran, condemning and reconciliation) and then each student selected a word. The assignment was to make an illustrated definition of his/her selected power word. I provided oversized paper, markers, pastels, magazines and other materials to ensure maximum creativity. The only criteria for their illustrated word assignment was that their creation must include a sentence using the selected power word and the artwork must reflect an aspect of their sentence or the word.

Learn More—Watch two short videos (here and here) about Nobuo Fujita’s life and his reconciliation with the town of Brookings.


Ruby in the Ruins by Shirley Hughes

It’s 1945 in London, and the war has finally come to an end. Young Ruby is thankful her house survived the blitz bombings and is excited for her father’s homecoming. When he finally arrives home from his duty in the war, she is surprised by her feelings of shyness around him. One day Ruby and her friends decide to play on the forbidden piles of rubble that line the London streets. An accident occurs, and Ruby’s dad saves the day. The incident and conversation afterward help ease the emotional distance between the two. Hughes’ straight-forward text and illustrations present the London blitzes and post-war devastation from a child’s point of view, showing how the war affected not just soldiers, but the lives of all English citizens.

Life in London during WWII—For young Ruby, life during the war meant “nights when the warning sirens wailed and searchlights swept the sky,” terrifying explosions that made her family’s small house shake and trips to the cold and crowded air raid shelter. The BBC People’s War is a collection of several articles (many first-hand accounts) regarding the blitzes and daily life in London during the war. Print various articles and let students read them individually or in pairs. Afterward, write the following words on pieces of chart paper: air-raids, Blitzkrieg, evacuees, siren, rubble, Luftwaffe, Royal Air Force, countryside and air-raid shelter. I wrote two words on each sheet of paper. Let students provide the information they gathered from their articles to flesh out the meanings of the words. My students enjoyed listening to the sound of an actual air-raid siren.

• Nonfiction Text Features—When the students have grasped the concept and big ideas of the London Blitz as well as the mass evacuation, show them these excellent photographs of children evacuees from the Imperial War Museum. Read the captions that accompany the photographs and then discuss the importance of photo captions in nonfiction documents. Teach students that though a caption can be more than one sentence, the first sentence is the most important and must give readers information about the photograph. Give each student a copy of this photograph of young children next to London rubble. Provide the basic details of the photograph and then let them write a caption to accompany the photograph.

I was thrilled to see the publication of three strong WWII picture books in the past year which discuss three different aspects of the war, but they all tell stories laced with the courage, faithfulness and reconciliation.

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It’s been there for five years, on the corner of my circulation desk computer: a post-it note with Kate DiCamillo’s wise words, “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell a story. Make some light.” For this librarian, these sentences are equal parts frightening and invigorating. They remind me that it’s my responsibility to love my students by delivering light through the sharing of stories, which is a truth that humbles me daily. The following three books tell the stories of dedicated librarians and the ways in which they change individual lives and entire communities through the power of reading.


Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar

In 1921, Pura Belpré leaves her home in Puerto Rico and travels to New York City for her sister’s wedding. Intrigued by the hustle of the city, she decides to stay and accepts a job as a bilingual assistant at a neighborhood library branch. It’s not long before Belpré sees a need in the diverse community and begins to act. She starts bilingual storytime events complete with puppets derived from Puerto Rican folklore and then proceeds to turn these shows into the first mainstream American-Latinx storybooks. Traveling “from branch to branch, classroom to classroom, to churches and community centers,” Belpré’s dedication, energy, storytelling and love for the Spanish-speaking community transform the New York libraries, making them a joyful haven for children and families. My students—who were already familiar with the Pura Belpré Award—loved learning about its eponym.

Read Global Folktales and Stories—When she begins working at the NYPL, Belpré is disappointed to discover that, “Not one folktale from Puerto Rico is on the shelves.” Ask students to interview a family member to find out which countries and cultures that are part of their family heritage. Then let students research folktales from their family’s origin country. The International Children’s Book Database has over 4,000 books from 59 countries available to read online. If possible, borrow books published in other countries from the public library and let children spend time reading or looking at them.

Folktale Writing—After a week or so of reading folktales from around the world, let students emulate Belpré by writing their own folktales. Discuss the components of a folktale and provide a rubric with clear expectations for the final product. Belpré’s folktales have animal characters and settings that reflect her Puerto Rican heritage. Encourage children to create character and settings reflecting their chosen country or culture. A few of my students used folktale books published in a different language and wrote own story to go along with the illustrations. After their folktales are complete, give children time to illustrate them.

Plan and Perform a Puppet Show—Belpré learns to make puppets and soon her stories are dancing across the stage. Give students the opportunity to turn familiar stories into puppet shows. Model the process of turning a narrative into a drama and then provide your class with fairy/folk tale collections or familiar picture books that have a simple plot and limited characters. Divide children into pairs or small groups. Offer guidance as they work together to turn story into a short script. After they have completed writing the drama let students create puppets out of various materials (encourage them to bring materials from home). After the puppets and practice are complete, throw a class puppet show party allowing time for the groups to perform for their classmates.


Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile by Sharlee Glenn

Mary Lemist Titcomb grew up poor in rural New Hampshire. Through hard work and determination, she completed seminary school and then fell into her life’s calling after she read a newspaper article about librarianship. When she became head of a large library system in Maryland, she remembered her childhood and decided to act. The library was for everyone—not just the wealthy families who lived in town. Ignoring obstacles (there were many), she worked tirelessly in her mission to bring the library to all people. Her rural book deposits were successful, but in 1905, she had her most revolutionary idea—a horse-drawn “book wagon.” Thus, the very first library bookmobile. Filled with photographs, postcards, old book covers, archival letters and other ephemera, Library on Wheels has the feel of an old-fashioned scrapbook and is excellent for older students.

Curate a School Bookmobile or Little Library—Discuss how room on a bookmobile is limited and how the bookmobile librarian must choose books carefully. Help your students make a list of the things that must be considered with deciding which titles to put on the bookmobile (age, education level, interests). Give students this challenge: “You are the school bookmobile librarian. It is your job to choose 50 titles (3 copies of each title, for a total of 150 books) that will be purchased for the bookmobile. Which books are you going to buy and why? Be sure to consider the needs of the entire school when you are choosing your titles.” My students loved this simple project and became very invested in researching and selecting their titles.

A World of Libraries Project—Titcomb worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone in her county had access to books. Read aloud more picture books (here’s a list of my 10 favorites) about individuals who created innovative ways to make books available for everyone. Compare and contrast these stories with Titcomb’s story or let students choose one of the books and complete the printable A World of Reading response organizer.

Create a Class Book—Provide students with a piece of blank letter paper. Invite students to create/sketch/plan an artistic representation of the library/bookmobile they researched or to design one that meets another need. Provide many different types of mediums (pastels, collage paper, watercolor, colored pencils, etc.) and encourage children to push their creative boundaries. After they are satisfied with their creation or design, give them cardstock for their final creation. Require older students to write a paragraph about their creation and its origin. Bind the students’ art together to create a class book.


Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

When author and illustrator Yuyi Morales and her infant son migrate to the United States “thirsty, in awe,” they are met with “words unlike those of our ancestors.” Unable to read signs or understand the English language, they are afraid to speak and make “lots of mistakes” as they navigate the challenges that accompany life in a new country and culture. And then they find the local library. At first “suspicious” and “improbable,” they soon discover that it holds the most unimaginable treasure. The library becomes their second home, “a place we didn’t need to speak, we only needed to trust,” as librarians and fellow patrons give them the tools they need to speak, write and make their voices heard. Dreamers is a book with words and illustrations so rich that it demands to be savored, shared and then read again and again.

“Books that Inspired Me” List/Timeline—My students loved identifying the familiar picture books that Morales includes in her illustrations. In the back of the book, she includes a list of “Books That Inspired Me (and Still Do).” Prior to the lesson, gather the books that have influenced your life. Hold each one up and explain why and how it influenced/es your life. Challenge students to make a similar list. Give them a few days to think about their books. My students and I created life timelines, drawing and labeling our books at the specific points when they first influenced us.

Guest Speaker—If you have students who were born in other countries in your class, privately ask them if they (or their parents) are interested in sharing the challenges and victories they experienced upon first arriving in the U.S. Reach out to the school and local community as well. Before the guest(s) visits your classroom, guide students in creating a list of questions and teach them formal interview etiquette.

Personal Art Challenge—In the back matter, Morales lists the variety of items (a brick from her home, her childhood drawings, an old woven blouse) that she scanned or photographed and then incorporated into her illustrations. After sharing this list with your students, reread the book and look for the ways Morales incorporates the items into her illustrations. Ask students to think about items or surfaces that are a part of their life story. Invite them to bring them to school for sharing. If possible, collaborate with your school’s technology teacher and let students photograph or scan the items and then incorporate them into a piece of personal art.

Public Library Extra Credit—The majority of public libraries offer resources for immigrants who are learning how to navigate the U.S. Encourage students to visit their local branch and to inquire about what resources are offered. Offer extra credit for students who follow through and can share the services offered. Opportunities to initiate conversations with adults in the community helps nurture students’ communication skills.

Three books tell the stories of dedicated librarians and the ways in which they change individual lives and entire communities through the power of reading.

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Children see the world through their unique lens. Their innate creativity and innocent imaginations give them a pure perspective on the world. But in the era of smartphones, I wonder if the artistic language of photography—line, color, texture, balance, lighting—is being lost. Do children know that photography goes beyond selfies and Instagram filters? Do they understand what makes a quality photograph? Do they realize that a photograph can move people to action? The following three books address these questions and show children the history, power and beauty of photography.


The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson 

Author Fiona Robinson tells the story of photography pioneer Anna Atkins in The Bluest of Blues. Raised by her scientist father, Anna Atkins developed a love for the natural world early in her life. She became a collector of flowers, ferns, insects and shells. In her early 20s, Anna began cataloging her collections and dedicates herself to creating a herbarium with thousands of dried botanical species. She wanted to share her work with the world, but she didn’t have a “quick, accurate way to copy her collection” until she was introduced to the cyanotype print. Using its chemical reaction process, Anna started to document her collection and later published what is considered the first book of photography. As a lifelong lover of sun prints, I love using this printing process with my students, but I have always stumbled when attempting to explain the chemical process. Robinson’s blue watercolor and pencil illustrations provide a strong foundation for students’ forays into cyanotype art. 

  • Nature Notebooks—Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived around the time of Atkins, believed that children need to observe nature and record their observations in a notebook each day. Make or order blank books for your students. Explain that for the next few months, they are going to be observing nature and recording their observations through drawings and notes. In my experience, colored pencils and watercolors work best for nature drawings. Set up a nature table in your classroom with shells, pinecones, magnifying glasses, rocks, dried flowers, botanical books, etc. Create a few pages in your own nature notebook to show students. As time allows, take students outside and let them spend time observing and sketching. When students come inside, let them look for answers to the questions (there will be many) that arise from their time spent outside. 
  • Cyanotype Prints—Provide students with the opportunity to emulate Atkins by creating their own cyanotype prints. Purchase chemically treated sun paper at an art or photography store. I like to have enough paper for each student to create multiple prints. Ask students to bring in one small treasure from home. Gather buttons, old keys, blocks, jewelry, plastic letters and other small objects. Before beginning the project, take students outside and let them collect leaves, acorns, flowers and rocks. (I have classroom ferns and ivy plants and their leaves work well.) Let students spend time designing their cyanotype and then put them in the sun for five minutes. Come back in and soak the prints in water. Hang the cyanotypes up around the classroom to dry and then let each student pick out one of their prints to contribute to the class book. 

This is My Eye: A New York Story by Neela Vaswani 

Neela Vaswani’s story of a young girl living in New York City is told with photographs “taken” from the girl’s perspective. “My dad says it’s not what you look at—it’s what you see,” she says at the beginning of the story. From there, the photographs on each page illustrate the city’s subway stations, rainy days and people as seen through a peephole. Vaswani’s powerful photographs and spare text offer a glimpse of what it’s like to be a 9-year-old living in New York. Storytelling through perspective photography can be a tough concept for children, but this is the perfect gateway for classroom photography projects. 

  • Figurative Language—This book is filled with figurative language. Briefly review personification, similes and metaphor, then read the book again and write down the examples of each on three sheets of chart paper. Print several photographs of cities and show them to students one at a time. Let students write their own sentences with figurative language to go along with the photographs. After they have composed several sentences, ask them to write their favorite on an index card. Hang each photograph on the board or bulletin board and let students come put their index card around the photograph that it describes. 
  • City Stories—As a class, discuss the meaning of the sentence, “Walls tell stories and stories are everywhere.” Encourage students to talk about the stories they see in the coordinating photographs. If possible, use Google Earth to show your students images of murals in your city. Using the Socratic seminar method, have a class discussion about the stories behind the murals and what they symbolize. If there are not enough murals in your city, use historical or interesting local buildings. My 4th graders and I did this exercise and the students were so interested that many of them did further research and shared their findings with the rest of the class. Inquiry-driven local history at its best! 
  • Camera Walk—Write the phrase, “It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see” on the board or a piece of chart paper. Give students time to think about the meaning and then reread the book. Assign partners and then take students on a walk around the school’s campus. Their mission is to take 10 photographs while keeping the phrase “it’s what you see” in mind. Upon return to the classroom, give students time to write sentences to go along with their photographs. Extend the project by asking students to take photographs around their homes or in the local community. Have them email you the photographs and then share these with the class. 

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford and Sarah Green 

Dorothea Lange knew from a young age that she wanted to be a photographer, and she became one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. But it wasn’t until she was in her late 20s that she had an awakening and realized that “She was meant to photograph people—not just the wealthy but from all walks of life.” Her newfound purpose led Lange to document the reality and suffering present around the country: breadlines, migrant workers, internment camps. She was focused on sharing reality and considered herself “a storyteller with a camera.” Insight into some of Lange’s famous photographs and her social activism led my students to have discussions about the power of photography, and they began to understand that a photograph is indeed worth a thousand words. 

  • Historical Context—Lange’s work is best understood in historical context. Spend time discussing the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, migrant workers and internment camps. Read aloud portions of Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley, Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman, Blue Willow by Doris Gates and Write to Me by Cynthia Grady and Amiko Hirao. For older students, study primary sources including maps, song lyrics and posters. Using their new knowledge, ask students to write a first-person journal entry as if they are a child of the Dust Bowl or Great Depression. 
  • Visual Literacy Lange considered herself a “storyteller with a camera.” Show students a few of Lange’s most well-known photographs including Migrant Mother, Breadline and Dust Bowl Refugees. Give students the tools they need to “read” the stories in these photographs. Let them practice by filling out a Reading Photographs graphic organizer
  • Compare Photographers—Lange knew she was meant to photograph people. Read Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott and Christy Hale, Polka Dot Parade: A Book About Bill Cunningham by Deborah Blumenthal and Masha D’Yans, and Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jamey Christoph. Each of these photographers felt called to a certain type of photography. Look at examples of their photographs. Create a four column T-chart comparing and contrasting their lives and works.

The following three books show children the history, power and beauty of photography.

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Author Richard Louv’s 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder shifted my entire teaching paradigm. As classrooms continue to move toward technology-based learning, Louv’s nature-deficit disorder continues to explain why children no longer enjoy spending time outside. “If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature,” he writes. For 80 percent of children living in urban areas, exposure to nature is often overlooked or limited. In these three picture books, distinct urban settings and unique storylines remind city-dwelling children that there is beauty and purpose to be found in interacting with the natural world. 

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan and Lorraine Rocha 

What do you do when your birthday wish-list reads, “robot dog, drone, computer, phone, remote control car, and headphones,” but Grandma shows up with a lemon tree? In Jamie L.B. Deenihan’s picture book, the little girl’s initial disappointment is palpable. After reading a few care instructions for the tree, the girl begins to take an interest. Bright illustrations from Lorraine Rocha show the young girl nurturing the tree throughout the course of a year. Finally, the “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” adage is made literal as the girl finds great joy in setting up a lemonade stand outside of her urban apartment building. In a twist ending, her lemonade stand profits are used to purchase more plants which add color and beauty around her apartment building. The celebration of community and nature, spunky set of characters and colorful illustrations make for a cheery read-aloud that shows students the gratification that follows patience and hard work. 

  • Classroom Lemon Tree—As a class, research lemon trees. Show students how to use climate and growing zone maps to determine if a lemon tree can survive in your area. (The answer is yes, lemon trees can be grown anywhere in the country.) Hold a discussion about the things the class needs in order to get a classroom lemon tree. Make a list of the students’ questions and then allow time for individual research. Knowing how to research for the purpose of answering questions is a valuable skill. These two lemon tree sites were informative and perfect for my second and third graders. Invite students to use their lemon tree research to write a letter explaining why the class needs a lemon tree and their plans for taking care of it.
  • Entrepreneurship—An old-fashioned lemonade stand is a crash course in economics and marketing. With your students, discuss the concepts of advertising, supply and demand, capital resources and profit margins. Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins and G. Brian Karas is an excellent read-aloud for budding entrepreneurs. Have students decide on a good or service to “sell” to their classmates. Spend a few weeks guiding students as they make a marketing plan (including a brand name and logo) and create a budget. After the planning is complete, celebrate their work with a Class Market Day. 
  • Further Reading—Create an entire unit by reading more books that celebrate children bringing beauty to an urban community. Write the question, “How Can We Bring Beauty to Our Neighborhood?” on the board. Tell students that over the next three weeks, they will be hearing stories of children who improve their community. Read The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isobel, Teresa Howell and Rafael López, The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham and City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. These stories have young protagonists who see a need in their urban neighborhood community, create a plan and take action. After reading each book, record students’ own community improvement ideas. 

The Chickens Are Coming! by Barbara Samuels 

Siblings Winston and Sophie live in a big city apartment building with a small backyard. Walking home one day, they spot a lamppost sign advertising five hens. “You don’t need to live in the country to raise chickens,” their Mommy declares. Just a few days later, “THE CHICKENS ARE HERE!” Initially, the chickens and children are unsure of each other. Sophie and Winston are worried when the chickens don’t immediately lay eggs, and their various attempts to persuade them into laying eggs (performing a skit about Easter eggs, playing music, reading them a bedtime story) are unsuccessful. However, the children soon learn the habits and personalities of their unconventional family pets. Based on real families who raise chickens in Brooklyn, Samuels’ lively story and expressive illustrations celebrate the possibility of bringing a small piece of the country to the city. 

  • Hatch a Plan—In her author’s note, Samuels, a New York City resident, shares that chickens are the “cheapest and easiest farm animals to raise in a backyard.” Tell students to pretend that grocery stores have decided to stop selling eggs and so their family (or your classroom) will need to start raising chickens. They will need to decide which breed is best for their needs and neighborhood. Ask them questions: How many chickens? What type of cage is best? What will they feed their chickens? What type of eggs will their chickens lay? How much of a starting budget will be needed? Students are extra motivated when presented with projects that connect to the real-world. Create guidelines for final presentations and invite students to create visuals with photographs and their gathered information. Backyard Chicken Project and Backyard Chickens have a wealth of information for budding urban farmers. 
  • Animal Breed Chart—On the back endpapers is “Sophie’s Chicken Chart,” a five-column chart with information about each chicken’s breed, weight, country of origin and egg size/color. Let children choose an animal (dogs, horses, cats, lizards, etc.) and create a similar breed comparison chart.  

Noah Builds an Ark by Kate Banks and John Rocco 

In this nonreligious retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark, a young boy named Noah peeks over his backyard fence toward the city and sees a storm on the horizon. “It’s going to be a beauty,” his dad says as he boards up the windows on the house. But Noah looks at the creatures in their garden and devises his own plan. Using his tool caddy and planks of wood, Noah repurposes his old red wagon and makes it into a makeshift ark. While his mother and sister fill water jugs and gather candles for the family, Noah furnishes the ark with food and furniture. The storm arrives, and it rains for four days. Noah and his family stay safe in the house while the animals ride out the storm in the lovingly prepared ark. When the storm passes, the animals exit the ark into the backyard which is framed by a rainbow. With attention to “the least of these” at its heart, Noah Builds an Ark gently reminds children that they, too, have the responsibility and privilege to care for the natural world. 

  • Natural Disaster Preparation—Ask students what type of storm they think is coming to Noah’s city. Create a list of other natural disasters that can occur (hurricane, tornado, floods, forest fires, etc.), and then select three that are most relevant for your geographic area. Spend time reading books and learning about these natural disasters. After studying each one, help students create “I’m Ready” books. Give students fact sheets with the information the class learned in your research. Visit “Be Prepared” websites that explain how to prepare for these natural disasters. Invite a member of the local Red Cross chapter to come speak to your class. Students will record ways to prepare for natural disasters as well as family emergency plans and information. Providing information and guidance can help ease children’s fears as well as give them a strong emergency preparedness foundation. 
  • Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt—Noah Builds an Ark is filled with vivid vocabulary. As a class, go on a vocabulary scavenger hunt. Identify the words that help readers visualize and understand the mood of the story. “Dreary,” “drizzling,” and “popped” are all words that create pictures in our minds. Discuss the meaning of the words. Then, encourage students to look through their independent reading books to find more vocabulary words. After the scavenger hunt is complete, students can share one of their favorite found words with the class. Chart these words and challenge students to use one of the words in their own writing.

In these 3 picture books, distinct urban settings and unique storylines remind city-dwelling children that there is beauty and purpose to be found in interacting with the natural world.

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