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?”