A Classic Children’s Book and History

I read this book yesterday to children, and I only got through the first few pages.  It is one of the best books to teach history and what happens over time.  We had to stop and talk about so many things.  Today we will finish reading the book.  This is a repost, and it bears reading again and again.


As I read one of the classic children’s books, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, it turned out to be an unexpected history lesson.  This wonderful book begins with a charming little house on a hill, living through days and nights and the seasons.  She loves the countryside and the changes.  The early illustrations capture all the images of the seasons.  At this point in the book children are hooked, because they love the little house.  As I turned the pages they knew summer followed spring, then autumn then winter.  Each page was predictable.

The next page was the game changer.  A road is being built by the little house, yet the children couldn’t see what was happening on that page.  How could they not see?


I went back and forth between the previous page and this page, asking plenty of questions.  Were they so focused on the house that they couldn’t see ‘the big picture’?  Once the children saw what was happening, the story changed; there was much more than just the little house.  We talked about steam shovels and trucks, and the smoke from the steam roller.  From this point forward, every page in this book shows a significant change, and we jumped in with both feet.  The tenement houses were built, and that was the trigger for history.  We talked about the buildings; they were different.  Then a child commented on the cars passing by.  Yes, they were different, too.


The cars started most of the conversation.  I told children that my grandmother drove those cars and my mother was a little girl riding in those cars.  Generations are a concrete way to teach history to young children.  It’s their closest element to an abstract concept.  Children identify history through their parents and grandparents, and a few lucky ones may have a great grandparent.  It starts with something close to home, like a car, and that can be the catalyst to talking about history.  That’s exactly what we did.  The next page, and the next, and so on were steps in history.  Trains and subway cars were a natural curiosity, since children were captivated by cars.  Then came the twenty-five and thirty-five foot buildings.  We talked about Boston and about Groton, and who has the tall buildings.  We even imagined how high twenty-five stories would be.

Of course we never forgot about the little house, especially when she was moved from the city back to the country.  This was perhaps the most exciting page; it sparked great conversation.  Children asked how they did that, moving the house, and also asked how deep the hole was, and if the house was okay.  This is the pinnacle in education.  This page is all about math, science, engineering, kindness, history, and language.  I think that’s why children like this page.  There is so much to talk about and so much to learn.


The rest of the book is wonderfully predictable, as it should be.  After all the lessons and learnings and dialogue that transpired while reading this book, the little house comes to rest at a new place in the country, much like where the story began.


When I was in first grade, this was the one book I remember my teacher reading aloud.  Frankly, that is my strongest memory of first grade.  Now that I am the teacher, I have a greater understanding of how a picture book can teach history and beyond.  That’s what I do.



Posted in Book Review, children's books, Early Education, geography, history, picture books, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The White Feather

Eagles, specifically the bald eagle, is our unit of study.

The live video cam was on.  We watched a mother eagle in her nest taking care of two eggs.

A child said, “Jennie, you have a white feather in your hair.”

Children came over to check it out, hopeful it was a real white feather.

I think they were disappointed.


Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, preschool, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , , , | 51 Comments

Storytelling… and Ellis

Interestingly, my storytelling to children often happens in the bathroom.  While that might sound strange, it really isn’t.  It’s me, sitting on the bench with three or four children, squished in close.  It feels good.  We’re waiting for the child on the potty, who is far more interested in hearing what story Jennie will tell.

It wasn’t always this way.

My storytelling started almost accidently during lunchtime at school.  Lunchtime is chatty and fun.  We learn about each other, share what is happening.  We talk about important things, like if girls can marry girls, or what happens to dogs when they die.

This is why I love teaching.

And then, a child asked me something about my childhood.  The first thing that came to mind was a story of me as a child in school, and old Dr. Tyler the Peanut Man.  I told the story to a captive audience.  Storytelling became a highlight of lunchtime.  There were many things in my childhood and adulthood that became classic stories.  Many.

The storytelling grew branches.  There are true, It happened like this… stories, and pretend, Once upon a time… stories.  Fairy tales are popular, especially “The Little Red Hen” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

One day in the bathroom, the waiting line was long, so I made up a story on the fly, incorporating all the children who were there.  It went something like:

“One day, John was in his bedroom late at night.  He heard a sound outside, opened the window, and saw Elaine and Terry.  What were his friends doing there under his window at night?”

The story went from there, where all the children were included.  Now, children heard every word, because they were part of the story.  So, I made sure I used ‘big words’, like massive, interrogating, or decipher.  This was big, a captive audience and the perfect opportunity to expand their thinking and introduce them to new words.  Yes, chapter reading does this, but it’s a whole different ball of wax when the child is part of the story.

How do I know these bathroom stories make a difference?  Ellis.  She’s three-years-old.  Last week when everyone in the bathroom was asking for a Jennie Story, she interrupted and said she had a story.  Ellis wanted to tell a story.  This is what she said:

“Once upon a time there was a boy named jack-o-lantern.  He lived in the woods.  There was a scary bear in the woods.”

Jennie, just squeeze my finger if you get scared.

“The dinosaur was in the woods.  He came and bit someone.  A penguin came along and bit someone, too.  The boy played and was just laughing.  The light bugs were working in the forest, looking for the dinosaur and bear.”  ~The End~

I couldn’t grab a pen fast enough to write down the story Ellis told.  Not only was she fully vested in the Jennie Stories, especially those told in the bathroom, she was able to make up her own.  That is remarkable.  That is what happens when words and stories are part of school and part of children’s lives every day.

The more words a child hears, the better s/he will do in school.


Posted in Early Education, Inspiration, preschool, storytelling, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , | 62 Comments

Eric Carle and Kate DiCamillo

Getting more than what you expected is a wonderful thing.  When that ‘more’ lingers for weeks, that’s a bonus.

I went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art a few weeks ago to hear Newbery Award winning author Kate DiCamillo speak.  For children’s book lovers and art lovers, this museum is a treasure.  It’s the real deal.

The Kate DiCamillo event sold out quickly.  I knew it would.  I bought my ticket the first day.  There are few authors who have multiple award winning books and are just as humble as apple pie.  If you have read Because of Winn-Dixie in one sitting because you couldn’t put it down, or cried at reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, or laughed at the Mercy Watson series, you know.  I was lucky to be there and hear her speak.

For all you writers out there, Kate is just like you.  She had 473 rejection letters in 5 1/2 years.  She almost gave up at rejection letter 471.  But she didn’t, and her first book won the Newbery.  She writes early in the morning before she has time to doubt herself or think about how she can’t do it.

Kate remembers Mrs. Boyette, the teacher who read aloud to her class.

When she joined a children’s book writing group, she was told, “You have no business writing children’s books if you haven’t read Charlotte’s Web.”

Kate worked at a library, shelving books, and when she had free time she discovered and read a book, Bridge to Terabithia.  That was ‘the book’ for her.

She’s funny, down to earth, and a great storyteller.  Best of all, when it was question and answer time, she took the questions from children.

Kate DiCamillo’s latest book, Beverly, Right Here, is the final in a trilogy of three friends.  I devoured the first two books, and I know this one will be just as good.

I was one of the first in line to get my copy signed… and to tell her that I’m a Mrs. Boyette.  Kate smiled and thanked me for reading aloud.

The story of my day at the Eric Carle Museum gets better!

There are always three exhibits of picture book art at the museum, one of which is the art of Eric Carle.  His current exhibit is “Under the Sea.”  It is always fabulous to see the real art of illustrations in the books I read to children, especially Eric Carle.  This exhibit is one of the best.

The art is outstanding, especially seeing it up close.  Then, the next display was from the book, A House For Hermit Crab.  That is a favorite book in my classroom, year after year.  You can imagine what a thrill it was to see this beloved book in it’s raw beginnings and final illustrations.

Then, I saw THE illustration, the one my preschoolers loved the most when they discovered Eric Carle’s end papers.  It was the end paper in A House For Hermit Crab.

I was beside myself.  My preschoolers had finger painted this work of art, over and over again.  This was the art that opened their eyes and inspired them.  They loved this art.  We had to open every Eric Carle book and look at the end papers.  It was exciting!

To this day, every time I read a book in the classroom, children want to see the end papers.  Thank you, Eric Carle.


Posted in Author interview, Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, Eric Carle, museums, picture books, reading, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 94 Comments

Hands-On Math for Children

Often, in the flow of our day, there are unplanned learning opportunities.  Typically, this is when some of the best learning and the most fun happens.  Recently we were playing with Squigz, a toy with multiple sized rubber pieces of various colors that have suction cups for building and attaching.  When it was time to clean up, we collected all the pieces, fifty to be exact.  In order to make sure we had all fifty, we began lining up and counting the pieces by color.
Next, we lined up the pieces by rows of ten, counting out loud one to ten, in each row.  We did that five times.
“That’s fifty.  Five rows of ten is fifty.”  We then counted by tens, multiple times, pointing to each row.
“Let’s see how five rows of ten is actually 50.”  We pulled out the iPad and found the calculator.  We typed in 10.  Then, we added another 10, and three more 10s.  Children watched and counted along as they saw the numbers 20, 30, 40, and finally 50 appear on the screen.  They now had numerals to correspond to the Squigz pieces.
This was a math lesson that included multiple ways of learning – visual, auditory, and tactile.  And, we used technology in an age appropriate way to reinforce what we learned.
Learning can be fun!
Posted in Early Education, Math, preschool, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 73 Comments

Thanking a Veteran and Astronaut

As soon as the leaves begin to fall, I start teaching children patriotic songs.  I have my Big Book Atlas handy to look at and talk about America.  Of course the American flag hangs in my classroom.

All of this is a build up to Veterans Day.

Some years we have invited members of our military into the classroom to say thank you.  Other years we have reached out across the world to say thank you to our military serving overseas.

This year, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon, we thanked retired Navy Captain and astronaut Jon McBride.  Jon was the Commander of his space shuttle mission.  He was also the president of the association of all astronauts and cosmonauts.

The children only know and understand that he was a pilot in the Navy and an astronaut in space.  We made him a big thank you note.  Children dictated every word and decorated the big note with enthusiasm.

Do you see the astronaut going into space?

There are suns, hearts, a flag, drawings of Jon, and a most interesting drawing on the bottom by Ethan, who worked on this for over twenty minutes.  Ethan is over the moon (pun intended) about eagles, the American flag, and Jon.

When we made the big American flag, it took children two days of cutting and pasting red stripes to make the flag.

We carefully counted the red stripes on our classroom flag – seven.  Ethan told me there were thirteen stripes.

Yes, Ethan, you are right.  While the flag has thirteen stripes, there are seven red ones.

The children were very proud of their American flag.  I was, too.

As we learn about eagles, their symbol and importance to America, and about the moon, we salute you, Jon McBride.  We thank you, and all those who have served, for your service and sacrifice.  God Bless America.


Posted in America, American flag, Early Education, Giving thanks, history, Inspiration, military, patriotism, preschool, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

Read For The Record

Today is the big day.  Teachers all across the world read aloud the same book on the same day to children.  The magnificence of children all over the world hearing the words and seeing the illustrations of the same story – together – is enormous and bonding.

I was ‘there’, today, reading Thank You, Omu, by Oge Mora.

The book is a wonderful story about a neighborhood, and how the smell of a delicious soup can bring people together.  Typically when I read a story, there are a few ‘antsy’ or chatty children.  Not with this book.  Every child was riveted.

The text brings in one person after another in the neighborhood, in a pattern of anticipation, combined with the familiar love of food.  The story builds with Omu (pronounced ah-mu) sharing her soup with each person in the neighborhood until her pot is empty.  Her neighbors, in turn, return the favor in a delightful way.

The illustrations are outstanding and appealing.  Being a Caldecott Honor Book says it all.  Children were drawn to the illustrations of the scent of the soup, and to the neighborhood.

Within our school, we celebrated how we are a community, a neighborhood, by making a big soup together, the same soup that Omu made.  Children added ingredients into a big crock pot, and we smelled the same delicious smell that was  in the book.  Then, after reading the story, we ate the soup and came together, like the same neighborhood in the book.

Thank you to Jump Start’s Read for the Record for creating this annual world-wide event. Schools, libraries, museums, and other organizations are raising awareness about the importance of early literacy. Read more about Read for the Record, Jumpstart, and fostering early literacy at http://www.jstart.org/read-for-the-record/


Posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Diversity, Early Education, Family, Giving thanks, Inspiration, picture books, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 56 Comments