Author Archive for Mary Beth

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Capital


The capital of the United States of America wasn’t always Washington DC.  Read about how our nation’s capital has moved and changed as well as how the capital city, Washington DC has grown and changed. Capital explains the detailed history of the important buildings in Washington DC, such as the White House:

James Hoban, the architect, had designed a large, gracious, and comfortable mansion that was quite grand by the standards of eighteenth-century America.  Critics, however, claimed it was ‘big enough for two emperors, one Pope, and the Grand Lama.’

Lynn Curlee’s book Capital is particularly precise and structured.  At the end, Curlee notes,

The word ‘capitol’ refers to the building in which a state legislature meets.  ‘Capitol’ refers to the building in which the U.S. Congress meets.  The word ‘capital’ refers to the city or town serving as the seat of government.

Curriculum Connections
This book can be used to teach about Washington DC and the development of our nation’s capital.  In Virginia, it can be used to teach SOL 1.11, which states that students will recognize the symbols and practices that honor and foster patriotism in the United States.

Additional Resources

  • Lesson Plans about George Washington and his work to establish the capital.
  • A map of the Capitol Complex

Book: Capital
Author/Illustrator:  Lynn Curlee
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:
Pages: 40
Grades: 1-5
ISBN: 0-689-84947-8

Teaching History with Children’s Literature: George Washington Carver


Did you know that George Washington Carver developed hundreds of uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans? In George Washington Carver, a biography by Tonya Bolden, students can read the inspirational and impressive life of George Washington Carver, the brilliant “Wizard of Tuskegee.”

Whether teaching subjects such as botany and chemistry or techniques such as deep plowing and crop rotation, Carver sought to instill in his students the belief that it was best to treasure nature and not just take from it.

‘The farmer whose soil produces less every year, is unkind to it in some way,’ he stated in The Negro Farmer, a Tuskegee-based journal. Those who were unkind to the soil- ‘soil robbers,’ he called them – were ultimately harming themselves.

The book emphasizes Carver’s love for nature and preservation of the planet. He believed that any substance a person might need could be produced from plants.

Curriculum Connections
This biography can be used to teach scientific method, agriculture, history, and art to elementary school students. In conjunction with a botany lesson, students can explore how farmers keep soil healthy, through methods like crop rotation.

In Virginia, George Washington Carver can be used to teach Social Studies SOL 1.2, which asks students to describe the stories of American leaders such as George Washington Carver and their contributions to our country.

Additional Resources

  • George Washington Carver was an agricultural genius, a scientist, and a writer, but did you know that he was also an artist? Explore this extensive art curriculum that teaches about George Washington Carver’s methods.
  • The US Department of Agriculture provides printable puzzles, riddles, math practice, and coloring pages from an activity book about George Washington Carver.
  • This lesson plan incorporates biology in the exploration of George Washington Carver’s processes, products, and accomplishments.

Book: George Washington Carver
Author/Illustrator: Tonya Bolden
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 41 pages
Grades: 1-5
ISBN: 9-780810-993662

Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Atlantic


What brings warm weather to Ireland?  It’s the same thing that brings dry winds to Africa— The Atlantic Ocean, of course!  Atlantic, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, provides a wonderful introduction of world geography to children.  The story, narrated by the Atlantic Ocean, poetically explains:

I stretch from the icy poles,
North and South
I rub shoulders with North America
and bump into Africa
I slosh around South America and crash into Europe

Karas effectively explains some of Earth’s processes through illustrations and verse,

The moon
so far out in space
pulls at me
and then lets go
so my tides go in and out,
ebb and flood

Atlantic explains how the oceans have been around long before people named them, charted and studied them, and dirtied them.

Curriculum Connections
Atlantic is a great book to use when teaching geography.  This book includes facts about the Atlantic Ocean, including its relationship to other oceans and earth’s land masses.  With an emphasis on human and environment interaction, students are provided with a big-picture overview of the world.

In Virginia,  Atlantic can be used to teach social studies SOLs K.4 and 3.5, which state that students will locate land and water features and develop map skills by positioning and labeling the seven continents and four oceans to create a world map.

Additional Resources

  • This World Atlas is an interactive site which provides maps and information about every continent, ocean, and region.  It can also can be used on a micro level, providing detailed maps and information about every country and each state in the United States.  It is also available in Spanish.
  • This site, powered by Enchanted Learning, provides information about the oceans and processes that involve the oceans, such as the water cycle, tides, and waves.
  • Here is a lesson plan about the states on the east coast of the United States and their relationship to the Atlantic Ocean

Book: Atlantic
Author / Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 29
Grades: K-3
ISBN: 0-399-23632-5

Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: Monkey For Sale


How far does a five-franc coin go?  The book Monkey For Sale, beautifully written and illustrated by Sanna Stanley, shadows a journey in the marketplace with a young girl named Luzolo who learns to make the best of a day at the marketplace with five-francs, a friend, and a little determination.

“Don’t buy the first thing you see,” said her father.  “Look around, choose what you really want, and then bargain for a fair price.””And remember, Luzolo,” added her mother, “no one gets something for nothing on market day.”

Luzolo and her friend Kiese pool their resources and bartering skills to find what they really want to buy, a mischievous monkey that Mama Lusufu is selling.  Luzolo and Kiese rescue this monkey and set him free into the woods through a long string of bargaining in the marketplace.

Kiese’s mother was completing a sale.  She smiled when Kiese said that Mama Lusufu wanted a water pot.  “What a lucky day,” said Kiese’s mother.  “If Mama Lusufu buys a water pot from me, I can buy an embroidery from Luzolo’s mother.  Your mother does the best embroidery in the village,” she said to Luzolo.

Curriculum Connections
Monkey for Sale
takes students on a fantastic economics ride where they learn about money, bargaining, trade, the free-market, and the economy of another culture.  The book may be read aloud to young students but is also enjoyable enough for older elementary students to enjoy, especially if they can learn a little more about the setting.  In Virginia, this story teaches social studies SOLs K.7, 1.8, 2.8, and 3.8, which state that students will

  • recognize and explain that people make choices because they cannot have everything they want,
  • distinguish between the use of barter and money in the exchange for goods and services,
  • recognize that people specialize in and sell products that they make the best and trade in order to obtain other things.

Additional Resources

  • This website “Show me Economics” provides activities involving economic reasoning for students K-5.
  • The geography lesson combined with the economics elements of this story allow students to learn about a different culture.  Here is a lesson plan that revolves around central Africa and the Congo River, which flows through The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the assumed setting of this story.
  • Here is a lesson plan that teaches about community resources, consumers, producers, goods, and services.

Book: Monkey For Sale
Sanna Stanley
Publisher: Dragonfly Books
Publication Date: 
30 pages

Teaching Earth Science with Children's Literature: The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System


What would it be like to take a field trip through the solar system?  In The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Joanna Cole’s lovable super-teacher, Ms. Frizzle, leads her class on one of her signature adventures.  The reader journeys with Cole’s well-drawn characters to the sun, the moon, and each planet and then compares the characteristics to all of the other space bodies.

Cole describes,

“Below the clouds, Venus was as dry as a desert.  The ground was covered with rocks.  And it was HOT!  It was about 400 degrees Centigrade!  That’s much hotter than an oven baking cookies!”

The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System calls the reader’s attention to many interesting facts about the planets that are fun to learn about.  For example, by reading The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, you will learn that Jupiter is so big that more than one thousand Earths could fit inside it.

Curriculum Connections
This book could be used throughout the elementary school grades to teach about Earth Science and the structure of our solar system.  In Virginia, The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System can be used in connection with SOL 4.7 in which students learn the motions of the Earth, moon, and sun.  Students learn through this book all about the relationships that the sun and moon have with the planets.

Additional Resources

Book:  The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System
Joanna Cole
Bruce Degen
Scholastic Inc.
Publication Date:
36 pages

Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: Are Trees Alive?


Trees are not animals, but are they alive? In Are Trees Alive? Debbie S. Miller compares the qualities and needs of trees to the qualities and needs of people. Even though trees are not animals, they are still alive and are extremely important to the world in which we all live.

Miller effectively explains the concepts of roots, trunks, habitats, bark, branches and leaves, pollen, seeds, dormancy, and the life cycle.

Bark is dark or light, rough or smooth, thick or thin, just like people’s skin. Bark Protects the inside of a tree from harsh weather and insects, like your skin protects you.

One of the most captivating features of the book is its multicultural theme; each concept is illustrated with a tree from a different part of the world. Stacey Schuett’s illustrations show people, plants, and animals from many cultures as the story teaches about the concepts and ideas, which are true of every tree and culture across the world.

Curriculum Connections
This book could be used in the lower elementary school grades to teach about life science and how trees and other plants are living things that have needs. In Virginia, Are Trees Alive? can be used in connection with SOL 1.4 in which students learn the life needs of plants (food, air, water, light, and a place to grow) and their functional parts (seeds, roots, stems, leaves, blossoms, fruits), as well as the classification of plants according to certain characteristics.

Additional Resources

Book: Are Trees Alive?
Debbie S. Miller
Stacey Schuett
Walker Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication Date:
26 pages

Teaching Physical Science with Children’s Literature: The Science Book of Light


How much does light affect us?  Light is essential to life on Earth and it is constantly moving, even though we can’t see it.  In Neil Ardley’s book The Science Book of Life, students explore a few facts about light and then experiment with the activities in the book.  Activities include shadow play, reflection of light, making a kaleidoscope, optical illusions, and constructing a box camera.

All living things need light to live.  Plants need light to grow.  Without plants, all life on Earth would cease because animals feed on plants or on other animals that feed on plants.

The activities in this book vary in level, so it is appropriate for many elementary grades.  Younger students can begin with learning about shadows and the manipulation of light, while older students may explore something more challenging, such as building a box camera.

Curriculum Connections
This book could be used throughout elementary school to teach various levels about light’s function and properties.  In Virginia, The Science Book of Light can be used in connection with SOL 5.3 where students explore the characteristics of visible light and its behavior.   Students learn about reflection and refraction of light and may use activities in The Science Book of Light such as ‘Seeing Double’ to test or confirm the facts with which they are presented.
Additional Resources

  • Here are directions for students to make their own Sun-Clock.
  • This  activity from The Franklin Institute helps students explore that white light is made of colors.
  • This website from the ProTeacher Community lists the ‘rules of light’ and also links to activities involving bending light, mirrors, and images.

Book: The Science Book of Light
 Neil Ardley
Art Editors:
Anita Ruddel and Peter Bailey
Gulliver Books,  Harcourt Brace & Company
Publication Date:
29 pages

Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: The Planet Hunter


How many planets are there in our solar system? It’s eight, right? Didn’t we used to have nine? In Elizabeth Rusch’s The Planet Hunter, we follow the story of astronomer Mike Brown in his discoveries that led to the reclassification of Pluto.

Rusch walks the reader through Mike Brown’s thought process and research as he discovers bodies in space, one of which is bigger than Pluto.

What do my discoveries really mean? Mike asked himself. Perhaps astronomers were wrong to call Pluto a planet in the first place. After all, Pluto’s so much smaller than the other planets. And it floats near Eris and Quaoar and a bunch of other objects just like it.
Even scientists make mistakes, Mike thought.

The story of this book is attention-grabbing, but what really brings Mike Brown’s adventures to life are illustrations by Guy Francis. Brown is portrayed in the book as a friendly and curious young man, a character who is easy to relate to, since he’s drawn just as students might picture themselves.

Curriculum Connections
This book could be used in the upper elementary school grades to teach about scientific investigation, reasoning, and logic. In Virginia, The Planet Hunter can be used in connection with SOL 5.1 where students investigate and understand the nature of science, a constantly changing field of continuous observation and trial through the scientific method.

Additional Resources

  • Here is a lesson plan from Education World about how we are constantly learning and discovering information about our solar system.
  • This is Mike Brown’s website. Here he shares his latest news.
  • In the activity The Earth is a Peppercorn, posted by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, students explore and compare the size of planets and their distances from each other.

Book: The Planet Hunter
Elizabeth Rusch
Guy Francis
Rising Moon
Publication Date:
29 pages