Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: Earth, Fire, Water, Air


Earth, Fire, Water, Air by Mary Hoffman and Jane Ray is a children’s story designed to tell the tales of the four elements of life through mythical pictures and a varitey of examples of each element.  In the story, Hoffman personifies Earth as a sort of mother to all human beings and animals.  Fire is displayed in the book as a sort of feared phenomenom as well as a symbolic tool for human customs. Hoffman explains how vital water is to human beings as well as the creatures of the sea while again, portraying water in some mythilogical customs.  At the end of the story, air is coupled with the ideas of wheather, birds,  constellations and the ozone layer.  Overall, Hoffman writes about an overwhelming amount of information with whimsical illustrations to keep the reader engulfed in the story.


  • “All the food that people eat either grows from the soil or comes from animals, which themselves rely on the earth to provide their food.” (pg. 15)

  • “When fire is out of control, it can be the most terrifying of the four elements.  Forest fires that rage wildly leave nothing in their path.” (pg. 32)

  • “Human beings are made up of nearly three- quarters water.  Earth, our planet, has twice as much water as land.” (pg. 46)

  • “Butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and ladybugs all live a very short life compared with people, and they spend most of it on wing.” (pg. 69)

Curriculum Connections:

Earth, Fire, Water, Air is a great story to grab student’s attention and really get them thinking about all the aspects of science.  This book covers a vast area of science information such as people, animals, and the environment.  At the end of each element section there is a page that focuses on conservation of that element and environmental awareness of the future.  This story fullfils the Virginia SOL 2.4 for the second grade in which students understand that plants and animals undergo a series of orderly changes in their life cycles.  Also, Virginia SOL 3.4 for the third grade in which students investigate the behavioral and physical adaptations that allow animals to respond to life needs.

Additional Resources:

  • This short lesson from Teacher’s World allows students to use fun materials, to be creative and to follow the adaptations of animals and how their adaptations help them survive.

  • This task provides students with instructions on how to create their own terrarium where they can grow plants, moss, and other vegetation.

  • This lesson on the Water Cycle provides students with the opportunity to observe what happens to water sealed in a container for a period of time and what steps of the water cycle are involved.

General Information:

Book: Earth, Fire, Water, Air
Author: Mary Hoffman
Illustrator: Jane Ray
Publisher: Penguin Group Inc.
Publication Date: September 1995
Pages: 76
Grade Range: 2nd- 6th
ISBN: 9780525454205

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