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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jennie

 

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Book Review, children's books, Early Education, geography, history, picture books, reading aloud, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

90 Responses to A Classic Children’s Book and History

  1. Opher says:

    It is amazing what a creative, imaginative teacher can do with a story! The whole world is in a book! Brilliant Jennie!

  2. beetleypete says:

    Such a lovely book. And in the right hands -your hands- it tells a wonderful story.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. KT Workman says:

    I’m glad the little house got to go back to a place like home. At the end of the day, I think we all yearn to return home. In the final months of my mother’s life, she wasn’t always cognizant of where and when she was, and when she was confused, all she wanted was to go home to her mama and daddy.

    • Jennie says:

      The book has many stories to tell. One I love is just what you are saying, that at the end of the day, we all want to return home. And, there may be many struggles along the way, just like the Little House had, and also your mom. Thank you, KT.

  4. I enjoyed sharing this book with students, as well, Jennie! I was fortunate at one school that I even had the “big book” version, which was lovely.

  5. Ritu says:

    Well, that looks lovely!!

  6. I remember this book from school as well. I looked back and saw it was published in 1942. I was in the first grade in 1947 so five years after the book came out. I remember drawing the steam shovels and then reading the book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and drawing even more stream shovels. I’m sure my parents thought I was going to end up operating steam shovels. Excellent post, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      This is the one and only book I remember that was read aloud to my class in school. Like you, I was first grade. What a great book! And yes, the steam shovel. Today I finished reading aloud the chapter book, My Father’s Dragon. And the same steam shovel appears there, too. It is copied by illustrators in more than one book. You’re not the only one who fell in love with Mary Anne! How wonderful that you drew her, John.

  7. John Fioravanti says:

    A marvellous post, Jennie!

  8. I see these changes happening around me here in our once-rural area. I hate how it looks now. I would find this book very sad. I know there are many who would think it is a good thing to turn rural into urban, but I’m not one of those. I can understand that it’s a great teaching tool for young children, but to see it from the POV of how life has changed because of what is now called “progress” is only saddening for me. A good teaching opportunity though.

  9. Darlene says:

    What a delightful book and a perfect way to teach history and how things change. Things will change for these children as well over the years and they need to know that change is constant in life. I liked when you said a few lucky ones may have a great grandparent, as it made me realize that my great-grandchildren still have their great-great-grandmother who has seen many changes. They are indeed lucky.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Darlene. There certainly is much to learn in this book. Reading this book to elementary school children could open a whole discussion on grandparents and great grandparents. Yes, those who have them are lucky. Change is constant. Children can learn that from this book.

  10. quiall says:

    How wonderful! It is important to spark curiosity in a child.

  11. This is a delightful post, Jennie. This book sounds amazing.

  12. Love it, Jennie! Literature is the springboard for all other leaning… Well done!

  13. carhicks says:

    I am not familiar with this book, but it sure is powerful. You do children a wonderful service using picture books to teach them about more than just a simple story.

  14. Mireya says:

    Reminds me of the Dr. Suess book something vintage about these books interests me.

  15. sjhigbee says:

    What a wonderful way of introducing a whole range of abstract concepts that cause young children so much difficulty:)).

    • Jennie says:

      I think so, too. There is much change in the book, and children often have a hard time adjusting to change. The ending is just right for children. Thank you, Sarah.

  16. cindy knoke says:

    I remember this book!

  17. Norah says:

    A beautiful lesson, Jennie. Our Australian author Jeannie Baker has done some beautiful wordless picture books that tell a similar story of the history of an area. You might be interested in them too. One is called Window, and the following one Belonging. You are right about generational changes being the place to start teaching history. This makes it tangible for children. When my mother, when my grandmother … gives them a sense of time, its passage and changes.

  18. What an interesting way to teach the concept of time, change, and “progress”!

  19. More wonderful teaching opportunities, Jennie. I hadn’t heard of this book before. Happy Weekend.

  20. petespringerauthor says:

    Thanks for sharing your process with us, Jennie. Have you or have you ever thought about teaching teachers? I’m not saying this to butter you up—you have a gift, my friend.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes I have, Pete. Actually, that was the reason I started my blog in the first place! There was (is) so much to tell teachers, and also parents. I know exactly what you mean, and thank you, my friend. It seems as though presenters who teach teachers are qualified by how many alphabet letters follow their name to signify their degrees. I know I could engage teachers- and teach them. I’m quite the storyteller, too. But, I don’t have those multiple letters after my name.

      • petespringerauthor says:

        We connect with people and not letters of the alphabet. I’ve seen my share of intelligent people who don’t know how to reach kids. You have the #1 ingredient—heart! Kids are going to see that as well as your excitement to learn with them.

      • Jennie says:

        You are absolutely right! You got my drift that the “intelligent” people, those with high degrees, don’t know as much as I know and can’t light a fire of passion under teachers. But, they’re the ones selected to be presenters. In all fairness, many are pretty good, but they’re not teachers in the classroom.

  21. Sarah says:

    I’ve never heard of this beautiful book before but just reading your post about and the children’s reaction, makes me love it! 😍

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad, Sarah! You would definitely love the book. Every library has a copy. Her illustrations were far ahead of the times. She incorporated the text into the illustrations. Thank you!

  22. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, once again–this is a wonderful post, and you are an excellent teacher!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Charles. Your passion for teaching, and how you bring literature to life inspires me. You set the bar for excellence, and your students love you.

  23. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another excellent post from Jennie, who is one of the best teachers — of any grade or age!

  24. You know, this story brought back an experience for me, Jennie. When I was young, our home seemed so large to me. Years later as a grownup, I had an opportunity to drive by it, and suddenly it seemed so truly small. That was a difficult change to accept. It is interesting how our perspective changes with time. That was a wonderful and meaningful lesson, Jennie, as always.

    • Jennie says:

      Perspectives are often quite different. Change is not easy. I have heard that people who go back and see their childhood home are often disappointed, as it’s not what they remember. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Anne. 🙂

  25. Annika Perry says:

    Wow! A wonderful book and I can see why this is a favourite for both teachers and students. It really brings home the lesson where ‘progress’ has taken us. I like how you find that ‘Generations are a concrete way to teach history to young children’. I totally agree, it is here they can truly identify with a moment in history, imagining their grandparents in that era. I love how the house is moved and happy in its new location! In northern Sweden, they moved the whole town to save it from a sinkhole – where there is a will there is always a way!

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Annika. It’s the concrete link for children to learn and understand history. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. I can’t imagine moving an entire town – wow!

  26. srbottch says:

    Excellent. I remember reading that book to our kids. I hope I discussed some of the ‘huuuge’ social lessons that you raised.

  27. Good grief, Jennie, I’ve never heard of this book and I can’t believe I missed it. It would be a favorite–may still be. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Jennie says:

      It’s so good, Jacqui, on many levels. I’m glad I introduced you to the book! Maybe your daughter remembers the book from school? I hope you check it out at the library. 🙂

  28. jilldennison says:

    I wasn’t aware of this book! I thought I knew of all the best in children’s books, but this one passed me by. What an excellent book, and you have made the most of the opportunity to teach a bit of history. Thumbs up to an awesome teacher!!!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Jill. It’s a classic, and so good! I hope you check it out at the library. My post didn’t come close to covering the whole book. Thanks so much for the thumbs up. 🙂

  29. Ren says:

    This book reminds me a lot of (cannot recall name) Mike Mulligan and Maryanne the steam shovel. Not sure that is correct either.
    Jennie, this is such a lovely sharing of your past to present life of story books. You were destined to teach children…it’s just part of you.

  30. Dan Antion says:

    I remember this story, Jennie. I am so happy to see how you’ve adapted and used this sotry to reach and engage today’s children. Well done.

  31. I too remember this book and have a copy.

  32. Guided by our famous Charles, i found back to you too, Jennie! 😉 A wonderful book. Honestly i often love the vintage books for children much more. Michael

  33. I love this book and how you use it to teach. Sarah may never find it in a library in Berlin but maybe she can find it online somewhere. Your posts impact so many diverse people that it fascinates me to see how we all come together here. I offered to buy some books for the ex-DIL. She didn’t have room for anymore she said. ;( Like I said, she will never be a Jennie. Makes me sad for her students. You are special in so many ways you don’t even know yet. I wish you the best Thanksgiving ever.

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