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.
On a recent afternoon, our school secretary delivered a package to the library. Knowing it contained a copy of Sunny Day, I opened it eagerly and spent about 60 seconds relishing its goodness before a line of squirming 6-year-olds forced me to reluctantly set it aside. After checking out their books, I stepped out of the library for a quick meeting. When I returned, Sunny Day was gone.
The disappearing book mystery was solved a few hours later when a teacher returned it. She had spied the book and swiped it to show to her entire team of teachers. “‘Sesame Street’ was one of the only constants of my early childhood,” she explained. “I watched it every morning and every night. I can’t imagine my early years without the safeness and stability of 123 Sesame Street.”
On November 10, 2019, “Sesame Street,” arguably the most significant and influential children’s television show of the century, celebrated its 50th anniversary, capping off a sunny CV that includes 49 seasons, 4,481 episodes, 189 Emmy Awards, 30 international editions and one big yellow bird. Its setting? A neighborhood full of “friendly neighbors . . . where we meet.” In honor of neighbors and neighborhood days, these three books sparkle, inviting children to “come and play!”
Sunny Day: A Celebration of the “Sesame Street” Theme Song written by Joe Raposo
To mark its 50th anniversary, 18 artists lovingly illustrated the lyrics of “Sunny Day,” the show’s beloved opening melody. From Christian Robinson’s cheery jacket cover to Ziyue Chen’s nostalgic endpapers, each line of “Sunny Day” is thoughtfully reimagined and illustrated through artists’ signature art styles. The spreads include familiar “Sesame Street” characters along with a cast of diverse and happy neighborhood children. The love and respect that the illustrators feel toward the show is evident in each and every stunning illustration filled with intentional detail. Brief biographies of each artist are included in the back matter.
Make it a “Sunny Day” and invite students to join you on a trip “to where the air is sweet” and friendly neighbors meet. Show them how to get, how to get to Sesame Street!
- Illustrator Identification
After reading (or in my case, singing) the book aloud, ask students what they noticed about the illustrations. This is an ideal opportunity for identifying the parts of a picture book with students. Point out the book’s jacket, casing, endpapers and title page. Each of these parts has a different illustrator. Discuss how each illustrator has a different style and interpretation of the lyrics.
If possible, collect 10 to 12 books by the contributing illustrators and assign them a number. I used the whiteboard ledge and wrote the number on the board above each book. Give students a form labeled with the page numbers and lyrics. Throughout the week, let students work in pairs to identify the illustrator of each spread using the previous books as evidence. I paperclipped together the last two pages of Sunny Day to discourage students from peeking at the illustrator’s biographies, although they enjoyed figuring out the puzzle so much that looking at the answer wasn’t even an issue.
- History of “Sesame Street”
For older grades, dispel the notion that “‘Sesame Street’ is just for babies” by showing them how it changed children’s television programming. Newsela has a collection of articles available for a wide variety of reading levels; creating a Newsela account is quick and free. We read articles on the impact of “Sesame Street” on preschoolers, the story behind Oscar the Grouch and the introduction of a homeless muppet. Scholastic News published an article celebrating the show’s 40th anniversary. My students loved watching clips of celebrity guests throughout the years. And I have a strong feeling that many of them will be turning in for the 50th anniversary prime-time special. I mean, just look at the lineup!
Daniel’s Good Day written and illustrated by Micha Archer
Daniel knows many of his neighbors. They always tell him to have a good day. On his way to grandmother’s house one morning, Daniel decides to ask his neighbors, “What makes a good day for you?” His neighbors’ distinct answers reflect their specific jobs. For the newsstand seller, “Busy sidewalks and friendly faces” make a good day, and for the baker, “birthdays” make a good day. Upon returning home, Daniel is happy to discover each of his neighbors experiencing their version of a good day. Like Archer’s collage illustrations, Daniel’s Good Day is a multilayered story sure to spark discussion about students’ “good days” and the simple joy of knowing our neighbors.
- Neighborhood Identification & Collage Cards
After sharing the book with a group of first graders, I realized that most students thought that the word “neighbor” meant the people living directly next door. After a few comments like, “Wait, the bus driver isn’t Daniel’s neighbor!” I decided we needed some conversations and activities to clarify the notions of “neighbor” and “neighborhood.” I defined neighbors as “friends and helpers in our community.”
Watch the “Sesame Street” song, “People in Your Neighborhood.” As a class, make a list of neighbors (bus drivers, our community librarian, physical neighbors, clergy, local booksellers, the teenager working at the donut shop, etc.) and their roles in our neighborhood. The students’ task is to find out the name of one of these neighbors. At the end of the lesson, tell students, “Next week, we’re going to make collage thank-you cards for these neighbors, so it is important to remember your neighbor’s name.” The following week, watch this video of Micha Archer creating her collage and rubber stamp illustrations. Provide various different materials and rubber stamps, and watch the students’ creativity come to life as they make cards for neighbors.
- What is a good day?
Daniel asks his neighbors, “What makes a good day for you?” Ask students if the neighbors’ responses are big things (i.e. a new car or big vacation) or just small simple things. Share a few things that make a good day for you, then give them a few minutes to consider their own good days. Record their responses on a piece of chart paper with the heading, “Our Class Good Day.” Encourage students to emulate Daniel and ask their neighbors (see above activity), “What makes a good day for you?”
Saturday written and illustrated by Oge Mora
Ava’s mother works Sunday through Friday, so of course, “Saturday was the day they cherished.” On Saturdays they spend the day visiting their favorite places—the library for storytime, the hair salon for new hairdos and the park for a picnic. This Saturday is special because they have tickets for “a one-night-only puppet show.” When small details go awry, Ava’s mother reminds her not to worry because the day is still sacred and special. We know that Ava absorbs her mother’s wisdom, because when the biggest disappointment occurs, it’s Ava who comforts her mom, reminding her that Saturdays are wonderful “because I spend them with you.” Heartfelt without being saccharine, Saturday shows students the inevitability of bad days and the magic that can be found amid unfortunate circumstances.
- Dynamic Verbs
Zipped, zoomed, lounged, picnicked, boo-hooed, chirped . . . Saturday is filled with vivid action verbs. Reread the text aloud, stopping to record the verbs. Create a T-chart with columns labeled dull and dynamic. Put the words from the text in the dynamic column. For each dynamic verb, let students decide which dull word it replaced. For example, “zipped” is more dynamic and specific than “went.” Invite students to take out their writing journals and reread their entries. Can they find dull verbs and replace them with more dynamic verbs? Let older students use computers or thesauruses to practice finding synonyms.
- Recycled Book Art
Mora incorporated pages from old books into her brightly colored collage illustrations. Examine the illustrations again with students and let them share their thoughts. If a prompt is needed, “I wonder why Oge Mora decided to use pages from old books in some of her illustrations . . . ” will spark a myriad of hypotheses and ideas. Ask your librarian if she has old books that have been weeded from the collection, or stop by a used bookstore and pick out some old books with interesting fonts, designs and illustrations. Tear the pages out of the book, and spread them out on a table along with bright construction paper, scissors and glue sticks. Give children time and space to create!