Author Archive for Jackie

Teaching History with Children’s Literature: The Silent Witness


The Silent Witness written by Robin Friedman and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola tells the story of the Civil War as told by a young Lucretia “Lula” McLean.

The story begins by introducing Lula, her family members, and her rag doll enjoying life on their plantation located in Manassas, Virginia. “When Lula was four years old, her life changed forever” because confederate soldiers used their home as its headquarters. The story continues by discussing the issues fueling the Civil War, the daily problems the McLean family encountered in Manassas, and their move from Manassas to Appomattox. Robin Friedman also includes mention of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the military manuvers and decisions made by famous Civil War generals. The story ends with Lula leaving her rag doll in the living room as General Lee surrendered to General Grand. The “soldiers dubbed Lula’s doll ‘the silent witness'” thus giving the book its name.

Friedman concludes the book with an author’s note explaining how the story of the McLean family and the rag doll is true, the current location of the rag doll, and the implications and results of the Civil War. Robin Friedman does a phenomenal job of simplifying the complexities of the Civil War in this piece of historical fiction.

Curriculum Connections 

 The Silent Witness can be used in classrooms ranging from third to fifth grade to teach a simplified time line of the main events which took place during the Civil War. It especially focuses on Virginia’s role in the war including its major battles and the roles played by whites (VA SOL VS.7b&c) The book also describes how the issue of slavery increased the tension of the war, the roles of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant, and the effects of the war on both Union and Confederate soldiers (VA SOL US1.9b,d,f).

Additional Resources

  • This website provides a list of other book resources teachers can use to discuss aspects of the civil war.
  • Teachers can use this website to find supplemental information on Wilmer McLean and his role in the Civil War.
  • Teachers can use this lesson plan which has students role play in order to understand the different perspectives of people involved in the Civil War.
  • Students can use the time line found on this website to help them sequence and remember the major events of the Civil War.

Book: The Silent Witness
Author: Robin Friedman
Illustrator: Claire A. Nivola
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: May 30, 2005
Pages: 32 pages
Grade Range: 3-5
ISBN: 978-0618442300

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Farmer George Plants a Nation


Farmer George Plants a Nation written by Peggy Thomas and illustrated by Layne Johnson, from the maps of Mount Vernon printed on the inside cover of the book to the extra resources found at the end of the book, seeks to teach readers about George Washington from an angle different from that used in most biographies.  

Instead of opening the story by introducing George Washington as the nation’s first president, Peggy Thomas begins by describing Washington as he pursued his primary occupation: farming. Thomas includes this quotation taken from Washington’s 1760 journal, “Spent the greatest part of the day in making a new plow of my own invention” which shows how dedicated he was to improving farming techniques.  The story continues to unfold by explaining Washington’s growing disatisfaction with the British government in terms of the way they handled and taxed the produce he grew and his superb leadership in the Revolutionary War. Even as Washington assumed the presidency of the United States, he continued to look for improvements in agricultural from which all farmers could benefit.

Peggy Thomas does an excellent job of tying George Washington’s political successes with his agricultural contributions. Washington himself also linked these two different spheres in his quote, “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”

Curriculum Connections 

 Farmer George Plants a Nation can be used in classrooms ranging from second to fifth grade to provide a look at the life of George Washington and identifies his contributions in the Revolutionary War and his leadership of the United States in its early years. (VA SOL 2.11, VA SOL 3.11b, VA SOL VS.5b, VA SOL VS.6a, VA SOL US1.6c)

Additional Resources

  • Teachers can use this lesson plan to reinforce who George Washington was and how we remember his legacy today.
  • These coloring sheets can be used to help students visually recognize George Washington in his various roles.
  • Teachers can use this website to supplement their background knowledge about George Washington, his actions, and contributions.
  • Students can use the time line found on this website to help them remember the sequence of the events of George Washington’s life.

Book: Farmer George Plants a Nation
Author: Peggy Thomas
Illustrator: Layne Johnson
Publisher: Boyds Mills Pr
Publication Date: February 1, 2008
Pages: 40 pages
Grade Range: 2-4
ISBN: 978-1590784600


Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Adventures in Ancient Egypt


Adventures in Ancient Egypt written by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin is a developmentally appropriate, text within a text approach to teaching children about the geographic and cultural history of ancient Egypt.

Linda Bailey does an excellent job of presenting the factual information alongside a kid-friendly and engaging story line by using a text within a text approach. She begins by instantly engaging students using a comic book-like format and three bored children with nothing to do on a summer day. They end up in a run down travel agency which eventually leads to a trip back in time to ancient Egypt. “There was a terrible, wonderful flash and . . . in one brief moment, everything changed!” The book continues by following the kids’ adventures along the Nile River, visiting an Egyptian town, school, and pyramid along with experiencing other culturally important Egyptian concepts. Bailey pairs this adventure with detailed historical commentary about the locations and cultural features the kids are experiencing along the bottom of each page.

Presenting the information and concepts by using these methods simultaneously allows students to learn about ancient Egypt on two distinct and effective levels.

Curriculum Connections 

Adventures in Ancient Egypt effectively introduces second or third grade students to the relationship between ancient Egypt’s environment and culture (VA SOL 2.4b).

Additional Resources

  • This lesson plan is a great hands-on way for students to interact with hieroglyphs.
  • Teachers can use this coloring sheet to stimulate discussion on pyramids and their importance in ancient Egyptian culture.
  • This website provides extra background material and visuals on ancient Egypt.
  • This website is a conglomeration of on-line ancient Egyptian games and activities to further re-inforce the concepts students are learning.

Book: Adventures in Ancient Egypt
Author: Linda Bailey
Illustrator: Bill Slavin
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: September, 1 2000
Pages: 48 pages
Grade Range: 2-3
ISBN: 978-1550745481

Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: The Night Worker


The Night Worker written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben provides a simple and colorful description of the job of night-working engineer.

The book begins with Alex’s father taking him on a surprise nighttime visit to his job site. They see many other nighttime workers like street sweepers, policemen, and a delivery man on their way there. Upon their arrival, Alex’s father describes what he and the rest of his crew are doing, “Men are hollowing out the earth. A building is going up.” In simple language, he further describes the functions of the heavy machinery they use such as bulldozers, excavators, cement mixers, cranes, and loaders. Alex, with the help of his father, is even allowed to operate the loader which prompts him to say, “I’m a night worker, too.”

 Kate Banks‘ beautifully written and illustrated children’s book does a thorough job of teaching young students what engineers do at work and may even inspire them to take that career path later in life.

Curriculum Connections 

The Night Worker is an excellent way to help kindergarten students match a simple description of work that people do with the name of the job (VA SOL K.6). In this case, the job of a night-working engineer and construction worker is described.

Additional Resources

  • Teachers can use this website to show student’s real-life photos of some of the equipment described in The Night Worker.
  • Students will enjoy coloring the printable coloring pages of construction equipment found on this website.
  • Teacher’s may use these two websites to gain additional background information on the jobs of engineers and construction workers.
  • Teachers can use this website to expand their students’ understanding of the many other types of structures engineers help to design and build.

Book: The Night Worker
Author: Kate Banks
Illustrator: Georg Hallensleben
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: August 28, 2000
Pages: 40 pages
Grade Range: K
ISBN: 978-0374355203

Teaching Physical Science with Children’s Literature: What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?


What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? written and illustrated by Robert E. Wells begins by exploring the characteristics and relative sizes of familiar animals and objects like the pygmy shrew, elephant, ladybug, and toadstools. Wells writes, “If [the pygmy shrew] happened to meet an elephant, [he would] probably think [he’s] the smallest thing in the universe!…But pygmy shrew you’re not so small. Not compared to a ladybug.” Following this, Wells describes smaller and smaller organisms like protozoa, paramecia, and bacteria and continues to compare their sizes with the use of his illustrations. He further goes on to examine the molecules that make up the organisms, the atoms that make up the molecule, the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up the atom along with the quarks that make up the protons and neutrons. Wells ties the book together by explaining how everything in nature, the world, the universe, and even the pygmy shrew that opens the story is made up of atoms.

This book does a phenomenal job of exposing students to new organisms and terms in a fun and visually stimulating way and reinforces these terms in a glossary found at the end of the book.

Curriculum Connections

This book could be used in fifth or sixth grade classrooms to help students review that objects can be described in terms of relative size (VA SOL K.4d) and in terms of their physical properties which may be too small to be seen without magnification (VA SOL 3.3b). It further describes how all matter is made of materials such as molecules, atoms, protons, electons, neutrons, and quarks as well as their relative size which directly relates to Virginia SOLs 6.4a.

Additional Resources

  • Teachers may use this activity to help students understand the structure of atoms as well as the principles and procedures for measuring their components.
  • This lesson plan uses hands-on activities to teach students about the structure of molecules and how they interact. It also gives students the opportunity to create models of two different type molecules.
  • This website, using diagrams and easy-to-read instructions, explains how to use a microscope.
  • This website allows students to use a virtual electron microscope and then match the magnified specimen to its description.

Book: What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?
Author: Robert E. Wells
Illustrator: Robert E. Wells
Publisher: Albert Whitman
Publication Date: March 1995
Pages: 32 pages
Grade Range: 5-6
ISBN: 9780807588376

Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: You Can’t Taste a Pickle With Your Ear


You Can’t Taste a Pickle With Your Ear written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Amanda Haley explores the five senses by explaining what they are and how we use them as well as colorful and fun illustrations and rhymes.

The book appropriately begins with an introduction briefly describing the five senses along with their functions. Each of the subsequent chapters focuses on an individual sense by examining some of the many ways we use it. It further captures the attention of young ones with short rhymes incorporating sensory descriptors such as this one found in the chapter on taste, “Pizza is spicy, milk is not. Milk is cold and pizza’s hot.” The chapter on touch includes this fun rhyme, “Worms are soft, beetles hard. Can you find some in your yard?” Each chapter concludes with thought-provoking questions and simple activities aimed at motivating students to use that particular sense. For instance, the chapter on sight asks the questions, “When you shut your eyes, what happens to your eyeballs? Are they still there? Do they move?”

In keeping with the theme, this easy-to-read book ends its concluding chapter with a memorable poem re-emphasizing the five senses, their functions, and their importance:

Curriculum Connections
This book could be used in a kindergarten classroom to help students learn what the five senses are as well as help them think about and understand the ways they use their senses in day-to-day life. It directly relates to Virginia SOLs K.2a and K.2b which focus on humans’ five senses and corresponding sense organs as well as sensory descriptors.

Additional Resources

  • After taking a brief walk outside or around the classroom, students can use this worksheet to record what they experienced through their senses.
  • Students would enjoy and benefit from flashcard games where they must match the sense organ to corresponding pictures depicting that sense such as the one found in this lesson plan.
  • This website hosts a variety of activities, games, and lesson plans related to the five senses.

Book: You Can’t Taste a Pickle With Your Ear
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Amanda Haley
Publisher: Chronicle Books Llc.
Publication Date: June 2006
Pages: 40 pages
Grade Range: K- 3
ISBN: 9781593541729