Author Archive for Kristin

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: The Pledge of Allegiance


Saying the pledge of allegiance is something most children do every morning at school.  However, do they truly understand the meaning of these words, or do they simply have it memorized to their brain?  How many times have you heard a child say the words incorrectly?  Scholastic’s The Pledge of Allegiance both teaches students the words to the pledge of allegiance and connects it to the meaning behind them.

The Pledge of Allegiance goes through the pledge, from beginning to end, displaying a phrase on each page. Accompanying this phrase, Scholastic shows a photograph(s) that represent it.  The first page begins, “I pledge allegiance.”  This page also displays four children who have placed their hands over their heart.  My favorite part of this book however, is the last few pages.  Here Scholastic includes two pages that describe the photos and why their importance to the United States and the pledge.  There is also a page that answers important questions about the pledge of allegiance.

What Does the Pledge of Allegiance Mean?
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…
When we “pledge” allegiance,” we promise to be loyal to our country.

There is also a section on the American flag.  This section lists a number of days that citizens of the United States should especially display the flag.  Scholastic features pictures of the first United States flag and the flag today as well.   Here students can learn about the differences and similarities between the flags and what each part of the flag represents. Finally, The Pledge of Allegiance features a Did You Know… section about the United States flag.

When a flag gets too old to display, it is burned in a special ceremony.

Through the use of bold photographs and their descriptions, The Pledge of Allegiance will surely capture the attention of students.

Curriculum Connections
The Pledge of Allegiance
is a great book to introduce, teach, or reinforce the importance of the pledge of allegiance.  Students will learn how to respect the flag and our country by learning the pledge and understanding its meaning (VA K.9 and 1.1).  This book also shows many important American symbols.  Most importantly, students can gain an overall sense of their responsibilities as an American citizen.  The Pledge of Allegiance truly fosters a sense of patriotism in the classroom.
Additional Resources

  • Check out this site for lesson plans, songs, poems, and more books about the United States flag and the pledge of allegiance.  Day to day activities are also available!
  • Create a book mark that features the pledge of allegiance and important American symbols!  Templates for this craft as well as other activities are included!
  • Use this site for background information on the history of the United States flag, symbols, and the pledge of allegiance.  Along with the detailed content information, there are also activity outlines, including a lesson where students create their own pledge of allegiance and flag that represents their identity!

Book: The Pledge of Allegiance
Scholastic Inc. 
Publication Date: 
32 pages

Teaching History with Children’s Literature: Johnny Appleseed: The Legend and the Truth


As a child, it is very rare that one does not learn about the legend of Johnny Appleseed.  Whether its through a poem, song, or cartoon, this famous figure holds the spirit of American culture.  Jane Yolen’s book, Johnny Appleseed: The Legend and the Truth, captures both the important aspects of the stories of Johnny Appleseed and the man behind the legend. There are many books about Johnny Appleseed, however Yolen’s book is unlike any other.  Through the combination of both her text and Jim Burke’s painted illustrations this book combines both the fact and fiction behind the life of Johnny Appleseed.  On each page, Yolen presents two sides of Johnny Appleseed, a poem, and also the history of his life, told as a story.  She also adds a fact at the bottom of the page to extend learning even farther, often including the source of the information.  Burke’s accompanying paintings bring more understanding to both the poem and history.  The book begins with the birth of John Chapman, who later gains the name Johnny Appleseed.

Apple blossoms
Tap the sill,
Welcome baby
With a will,
Johnny, Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed becomes very close to his sister Lizzie as lives with his grandparents after his mother dies.  His father, Nathaniel, is a minutemen under General George Washington.  After much suffering throughout the war, Johnny and his family are very poor.  Their luck changes however, as Nathaniel returns to war and marries a new woman.  Together the two make one large family.  Johnny soon becomes very interested in nature and studies all of its parts.  As a boy in a poor family however, he cannot finish school and is hired to work under a local farm in apple orchards.

Apples are the perfect fruit.  They can be eaten fresh or be dried, put in pies or made into sauce, apple butter, cider, or vinegar, or even fermented into an alcoholic drink.  No other fruit is so useful.

In his twenties, he becomes a great follower of religion, and vows to spread his love of religion around the nation- and apples too!  He plants apples throughout his travels through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, making friends with the native people along the way.  At his death in 1845, Johnny Appleseed owned eight hundred acres, full of apple trees!

Curriculum Connections
Johnny Appleseed is often a historical figure that is taught during early elementary school.  His lovable character and interesting story easily makes students fascinated by his story.  Johnny Appleseed, The Legend and the Truth is a great book to teach about past events through legends, stories, and historical accounts (VA K.1).  Students can also learn about Johnny Appleseed’s contribution to America through this story.  This book can easily be related to other lessons, especially with the emphasis on legends, apples, and early Americans.

Additional Resources

  •  Celebrate the birthday of Johnny Appleseed!  Use this site for a day full of activities that commemorate Johnny Appleseed and his love for apples.  Ideas include apple recipes, additional books on Johnny Appleseed, and crafts that use apples.
  • Visit to an Apple Orchard describes the experience of visiting an apple orchard.  Use this template to encourage your student to imagine the sight, sounds, smells, and touch of an apple orchard.
  • Visit An Apple for the Teacher for lesson plans involving Johnny Appleseed and apples.  Lessons cover subjects such as nutrition, language arts, history, math, and science!

Book: Johnny Appleseed: The Legend and the Truth 
Jane Yolen
 Jim Burke
Harper Collins 
Publication Date: 
32 pages
ISBN: 0060591358

Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: A Chair for My Mother


Have you ever wanted to something so badly, that all your thoughts go into somehow attaining that special treat?  You may have saved and saved your money for days, months, or years, until you had enough money to buy it.  Teaching children how to save is a valuable lesson that they will use throughout their lifetime; saving teaches children hard work, diligence, and to appreciate their possessions.

Author and illustrator of A Chair for my Mother, Vera B. Williams, has created a story that captures the art of saving. The story revolves around a little girl, her mother, and her grandmother as they cope with a life tragedy.  After shopping in town one day, the little girl and her mother come home to see a fire has engulfed their house and ruined all of their goods, including their sofa and chairs.  Their neighbors all help furnish their new home, yet without anywhere to “take a load off my feet,” the little girl, her mother, and grandmother soon come to desire a big, comfy chair in their new home, that they can use to relax.

 Yes, a chair: A wonderful, beautiful, fat, soft armchair.  We will get one covered in velvet with roses all over it.  We are going to get the best chair in the whole world.

Therefore, together the three save all of their money, putting their extra coins into a big glass jar.  The little girl even goes to the Blue Tile Diner where her mother waitresses to earn some money to put in the jar.

 I wash the salts and peppers and fill the ketchups  One time I peeled all the onions for the onion soup.  When I finished, Josephine says, “Good work, honey,” and pays me.  And every time, I put half my money into the jar.

Her mother also puts her tips in the jar and her grandmother buys things on sale in order to add to the jar.   When the jar became so heavy that the little girl can no longer lift it, she helps her mother wrap the coins and exchange them at the bank for dollar bills.  With their money in hand, the three travel to the furniture store in search for the perfect chair.  After hours of searching, they find the chair of their dreams.  Finally, they bring the chair home and enjoy it each day!

Through the use of watercolors, Williams beautifully illustrates the pages of her story.  Using bright imaginative pictures, the story comes alive with emotion, capturing every reader.  Along with the illustrations on each page, Williams outlines the pictures with a corresponding painted border.  The combination of text and illustrations make this book a truly great piece of literature.

Curriculum Connections
A Chair for My Mother
serves as a great book to teach several different themes of economics.  By reading about the little girl working at the Blue Tile Diner, children can learn that people work to earn money to buy things they want (Virginia SOL K.7).  The distinct changes in the amount of coins in the glass jar as the story progresses, stresses that people save money for the future to purchase goods and services (Virginia SOL 1.9).  This story is a great introductory piece of literature that can easily be relate to children’s daily lives.  It may be a good idea to have students practice saving as a class; students can  bring in their extra change each week in hopes to buy something that the whole class can enjoy!

Additional Resources

  • Check out this lesson plan that re-enforces the importance of helping others.  In this lesson, students will make a card for a family who have just arrived to the neighborhood.  Just like the neighbors in A Chair for My Mother, students will learn to help others in a time of need.
  • Use this site to help structure a discussion after reading this book.  A list of comprehension questions as well as other concepts connected to economics are available.
  • Looking for more books about savings?  KidsEconBooks offers a list of kid-friendly books that teaches about economics.

Book: A Chair for my Mother
Vera B. Williams
Publication Date: 
32 pages
ISBN: 0688040748

Teaching Earth Science with Children’s Literature: Shadows and Reflections


As a child, were you ever fascinated by a shadow?  Shadows are always very exciting to watch as children, especially one’s own shadow.  However, there are many shadows that are more difficult to define.  Shadows are all around us, yet are highly overlooked in everyday life.  Tana Hoban clues children into this phenomena, creating a story, Shadows and Reflections, that explores the beauty of shadows.

Tana Hoban’s Shadows and Reflections, is a visual experience, that features a variety of photographs.  These photographs document shadows in daily life.  Even without the use of text, Shadows and Reflections is a very successful story, that is relative to many children.  Tana Hoban creates a book that is uniquely tied together in one theme, yet is open to the imagination- without the use of text, the reader can use the photographs to create his own story.  Shadows and Reflections urges children to use their imagination, that clues the reader in on how the world works.

Shadows and Reflections is exciting in large part to the large range of shadows displayed.  Hoban features both very obvious shadows and more difficult ones, capturing a large audience.   The book continuously has the reader asking, “What does this represent?”  She begins with a photograph of a street sweeper, showing his body from his legs down, yet also capturing his full form, in his shadow on the ground.  Other shadows include a bouquet of flowers and an iron chair, grass on a dune, the planks of a fence, hands playing Cat’s Cradle, a bicycle, sailboats in a marina, and many more!

Curriculum Connections
Shadows and Reflections
serves as a great introductory book for a lesson on shadows.  This book can easily be related to the study of the interrelationships between the earth and space systems.  Hoban provides a great foundation to teach children that shadows occur in nature when sunlight is blocked by an object (Virginia SOL K.7a).  Using the range of photographs, it would be great to have children compare the shape and sizes of the shadows.  During or after reading Shadows and Reflections, further questions for discussion may include: How does the size of an object affect the size of its shadow?  When can you see shadows?  How does the location of the sun affect the formation of shadows?  You can test students responses by tracing students shadows with chalk outside on a sunny day!  Connecting what children saw in Shadows and Reflections to a personal, live experience, will have children eager to learn more about shadows!

Additional Resources

  •  Check out this site for a lesson plan on shadows called, “Me and My Shadow.”  The lesson plan includes four days of activities investigating how the sun forms shadows throughout the day and how these shadows differentiate.
  • Are you looking for more books on shadows?  This site provides a list of books about shadows written in many different genres.
  • Use this shadow handout , “Shadow Watching,” with students as they record and observe their shadow!  The handout instructions students to draw a shadow as well as the location of the sun, to indicate the source of the shadow.

Book: Shadows and Reflections
Tana Hoban
Publisher: Greenwillow 
Publication Date:
32 pages

Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: Pumpkin Circle


The beauty about having four seasons is the distinct characteristics that come along with each.   The changing of each season is especially exciting for children, for they anticipate their favorite activities that may come only once a year. As a child, I was often very anxious for the start of fall.  Not only did I get to start back at school, but I also loved to watch the leaves change colors and celebrate Halloween.  There was one thing that always embodied the heart of fall for me–pumpkins.  Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson celebrates the growth of pumpkins with the story of their life cycle.

Using bold photographs taken by Shmuel Thaler, Pumpkin Circle explores the growth of a pumpkin.  Levenson explains the process starting at the beginning, with a seed, and completes the cycle, where it first began, with pumpkin seeds.

How did this begin? What is this pumpkin thing?  Is there Mother Nature?  Is there a Pumpkin King?  We can be sure of this: It’s a circle without end.  It’s pumpkin seeds to pumpkins to pumpkin seeds again!

Levenson explains that pumpkin seeds come in all different shapes and sizes, yet once they are planted in soil, they can grow to become pumpkins!  First the seeds sprout into two small leaves, with roots deep down in the earth.  Then with the help of the sun and water, the plant sprouts grow into large leaves that create the perfect place for a pumpkin flower to grow.  Levenson then introduces animals into this life cycle, as bees buzz near the gold, velvet flowers, and grasshoppers make adventures throughout the garden.  As summer turns to fall, it is time for the pumpkins to be picked, so they can be enjoyed!  Levenson encourages the reader to due this by creating their own personal jack-o’-lantern.  However, the cycle does not end here.  The pumpkin then shrinks into the earth, dispersing its seeds into the ground once again!

Pumpkin Circle is told with rhyming text and great close-up photographs.  Along with the descriptions of the life cycle, Levenson uniquely places the text in designs that outline the shape of the photograph, emphasizing the characteristics of a pumpkin at that stage.  For example, as he writes about the twisty tendrils of the pumpkin plant, he places one line of text in an upward arch and the next in a downward arch, replicating the shape of the tendrils.  This technique enhances the text and provides further visuals for the reader.  Together the rhyming, photographs, and placement of text make Pumpkin Circle a book that will surely keep children’s interest.

On the last page of the book, Pumpkin Circle includes advice on how to grow pumpkins.  Levenson includes tips on the varieties, reproduction, protection, special effects, and harvesting of pumpkins.  This serves as a great follow up activity for children!  I’m sure they will eagerly want to grow a pumpkin after reading this story!

Curriculum Connections
Pumpkin Circle’s theme, the life cycle of a pumpkin, is a great way to teach children about the life processes of living things as they grow and change.  It emphasizes the need for water, sunlight, and care.  Students can also gain knowledge about the different parts of a plant, such as the seeds, roots, stems, leaves, and flowers (VA SOL K.6 and 1.4).  However, this book can also be linked to a physical science standards and investigation themes.  As students learn about the different stages of a pumpkin, they can use their observational skills to compare the physical properties of a pumpkin as it grows from a seed, to a leaf, and to a pumpkin.  Pumpkin Circle serves as a great extension into a history lesson as well, emphasizing the importance of pumpkins to the lives of early settlers and Native Americans.

Additional Resources

  • Visit the Pumpkin Circle Project Website for information on the Pumpkin Circle video.  This site offers both the video and book for purchase in English and in Spanish.
  • Learn how to grow a pumpkin! Plant a pumpkin seed and watch it grow as a classroom activity!  Directions and tips on gardening are also available.
  • Check out this site for pumpkin lesson plans for language arts, math, science, social studies, cooking, and creative thinking!  Ideas include measuring the circumference of a pumpkin, using pumpkin seeds to create popcorn, and investigating the history behind jack-o’-lanterns!

Book: Pumpkin Circle
George Levenson
Photographer: Shmuel Thaler 
Tricylce Press
Publication Date: 
40 pages

Teaching Physical Science with Children’s Literature: Just Look


Have you ever looked at a part of an object, tried to guess what it was, and been fooled?  Even using all the clues provided, this can been a difficult task.  Using beautiful photographs and this technique, Tana Hoban takes the reader on a visual adventure in her book Just Look.

Just Look is a book for the imagination.  Without the use of text, Hoban creates a beautiful story, simply with the use of photographs.  The book features nine distinct objects, each with its own shape, color, and texture. The key objects photographed include:

  • a penguin
  • a toy sailboat
  • a rabbit
  • a bulldozer
  • a giraffe
  • the Eiffel Tower
  • a pelican
  • a cantaloupe
  • a horse

Hoban does not simply display these photographs.  Instead she gradually gives visual clues to uncover the object.  First she begins with a black page that has a 2-inch die-cut center.  The hole provides a peak of the photograph on the next page.  Then she follows this photograph with a wide view of the object in its environment.  For example, the first page shows black and white spots that are similar to the coat of a cow.  However, as the reader flips to the next page, Hoban reveals that these black and white spots are actually the feathers of a penguin.  On the following page, she zooms out the photograph even more, showing a pack of seventeen penguins.  The level of difficulty varies among the photographs, ranging from the easily recognized hide of a giraffe, to the disguised bolt of a bullzozer’s wheel.  Just Look will have children glued to the photographs, thinking about what they see!

Curriculum Connections
This book is great to teach students that physical properties can be used to help describe matter.  Students can focus on the color, shape, and texture of the pictures to help them predict what the author is showing in the die-cut.  It would be a great idea to compare and contrast each of the photographs.  The featured animals, building, and objects could serve as a basis for a classification exercise that focuses on the physical characteristics of each type of matter.   In Virginia, this book works well with the K.4 SOL.

Additional Resources

  •  The Utah Education Network provides a great lesson plan called “What it is, What it isn’t.”  Resources such as Instructional Procedures, Extensions, and Assessment Plans are also available on this site!
  • Are you looking for similar books like Just Look? Check out this site for additional books by Tana Hoban!
  • Relate this book to a visual arts lesson that focuses on texture and patterns.  Lesson plan #7 on this site is based off of Tana Hoban’s Just Look.

Book: Just Look
Author/Illustrator: Tana Hoban
Publisher: Greenwillow Brooks
Publication Date: 1996
Pages: 38 pages
Grades: K-1
ISBN: 0688140416

Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: Lunch


Have you been looking for a book about sensory descriptors that will actively engage students?  Author and illustrator, Denise Fleming, meets this need  with her book Lunch.

Denise Fleming's Lunch is a clever story that teaches about the senses through a mouse's journey to eat lunch.  Using bright, bold illustrations, originally created in handmade paper, the pages of Lunch easily catch the eye of the reader.  Fleming plays off the mischievous nature of a hungry mouse who escapes the hole in the wall to fulfill his hunger.  The mouse begins using his nose to "sniff, sniff" around the table.  As the story progresses, the mouse encounters new fruits and vegetables to nibble.   Fleming plans the placement of the text in order to gain anticipation from the reader.  She begins "he ate a crisp white€”" and continues on the next page, "turnip."  Along with each short description, she includes half of an illustration of the food.  Using this technique, the reader is encouraged to guess what snack the mouse will eat next.  The reader can use the sensory descriptions of colors, texture, and taste to predict the upcoming fruit or vegetable.  As the mouse nibbles from one food to the next, he covers himself with particles of what he eats.  The story ends when the mouse finishes his lunch, covered with yellow corn on his nose, green peas on his tail, and purple grapes on his toes.  Fleming writes, "Then, he took a nap until€¦dinnertime!"  Similar to the first page, the last page shows the mouse coming out of his hole in the wall, sniffing for foods for dinner!

Curriculum Connections
Not only entertaining in its illustrations, the adventure in Lunch is equally useful as a concept book.  This book is great for students learning how to describe objects using their visual, tactile, tasting skills.   Fleming uses phrases such as "tender green€”peas," "tart blue€”berries," and "shiny red€”apples" in the text; using these adjectives, a child can learn how to describe using touch, taste, and sight.

This book perfectly correlates with instructing students in process skills and scientific investigation.  Specifically students in Kindergarten and first grade will benefit from Lunch.  Lessons using this book can emphasize sensory descriptors such as sweet, sour, hard, soft, bright, dull, and colors.  Students can also use their observation skills to predict the mouse's next snack in the story.  In Virginia, this book works nicely with the K.2b SOL and the 1.1f SOL.

Additional Resources

  • Lesson Exchange offers daily activities for a week using Denise Fleming's book Lunch.  The site offers tips and techniques on how to read the story to children, including how to encourage students to interact with the book.  Another activity uses color words from the story, urging students to use their visual senses to describe the foods in the story.
  • Props for Lunch Play.  This resource lists materials and directions on how to create props when reading or acting out Fleming's Lunch.  Access to the book is necessary to complete the props.
  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills website provides a unique lesson plan useful in teaching process skills and differentiating between living and nonliving organisms.  This activity asks students to characterize and sort the fruits and vegetables in Lunch in terms of size, shape, color, and weight.

Book: Lunch
Author and Illustrator: Denise Fleming
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: March 15, 1998
Pages: 32
Grades: K-1
ISBN: 0805056963

Counting Book Podcast – 10 Minutes to Bedtime


In this podcast, Kristin Coffee introduces listeners to the book 10 Minutes Till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann.

The counting book 10 Minutes Till Bedtime, written by Peggy Rathmann, counts backwards from 10 to 1, and then to “bedtime”, and might be usefulto introduce a lesson on counting back. Although the book doesn’t include much written text, the colorful and engaging illustrations provide readers with opportunities to practice their counting skills on every page. 10 Minutes Till Bedtime could be especially helpful in encouraging students to understand how math lessons are incorporated into everyday life, as they read about the little boy and his pets getting ready for bed.

Related Books
The Crayon Counting Book, written by Pam Munoz Ryan and Jerry Pallotta and illustrated by Frank Mazzolla, Jr.
The Icky Bug Counting Book , written by Jerry Pallotta and illustrated by Ralph Masiello

Additional Information
Learn more about the book and take the Hamsters 10-Minute Bedtime Tour.
Learn more about the author at her web site.