Author Archive for Sarah

Teaching History with Children’s Literature: Sweet Land of Liberty


The book Sweet Land of Liberty, written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, tells the true story of how a simple experience as a child can lead to an extraordinary experience in history.  It begins with a poor white boy in rural Virginia during the Jim Crow era, who sees how his black friends are treated unfairly.  The boy, named Oscar Chapman, sees the effects of racism at a young age, and it leads him to a life-long commitment to end bigotry.

Fortunately, Oscar ends up with an important government job in Washington, D.C. (Secretary of the Interior) and he becomes friends with Walter White, head of the NAACP.  Oscar and Walter worked together to figure out a way to have Marian Anderson, a black singer with a beautiful voice, sing at a public concert. Even though she was famous across the world, she wasn’t allowed to sing in Constitution Hall (the largest concert hall in D.C.) because of her race. Then Walter had an idea and told Oscar that the perfect place to have Marian sing would be in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

“The Lincoln Memorial had never been used for a public gathering. But Oscar wasn’t about to let that stop him. Oscar went to see his boss, Harold Ickes, who agreed to talk to his boss: President Franklin Roosevelt!”

President Roosevelt thought that the performance would be “a wonderful idea” and on Easter Sunday in 1939, 75,000 people of all ages and races came to see Marian Anderson sing America: My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Marian decided to change the traditional lyrics “of thee I sing” to “to thee we sing” knowing that America still had a lot of work ahead to “let freedom ring.” Oscar, Walter, and Marian had no idea at the time that 24 years later, another important public “performance” will take place in that very same setting, promoting an even bigger protest against segregation by Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the end of the book, the author gives a factual review of the events that eventually led to Marian Anderson’s performance, along with actual photos of the characters. This story’s colorful and depective artwork, along with author’s message of a child’s ability to change the course of history, makes Sweet Land of Liberty a great choice for any elementary student’s classroom or home.

Curriculum Connections:
Sweet Land of Liberty uses a symbolic national song, America: My Country Tis’ of Thee, to tell the story of how segregation led to the first performance ever conducted at the Lincoln Memorial in front of a large crowd (of course, a couple decades later, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the same setting for his I Have a Dream speech).  The book gives examples of the effects of segregation in the first half of the 20th century, and shows how even the famous African-Americans would still be treated unfairly.  Also, this book emphasizes the importance of standing up for your beliefs, and your belief in others, which promotes good citizenship.

Additional Resources:

  • The University of Pennsylvania’s library site provides a detailed biography of Marian Anderson, which includes the audio and a video from her performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 (located in the “Singing to the Nation” link).
  • The website for President Truman’s Library includes the actual transcript from an interview with Oscar Chapman where he tells the stories of what it was like growing up in the south during segregation, and then how he helped organize Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial (these conversations start about halfway down the page.) The book’s author mentions that she stumbled upon these transcripts while doing research, then realized that Oscar was a pretty important character in Marian’s story.
  • The History of Jim Crow is a website devoted to detailing what life was like in the era after the civil war and before civil rights.  This site gives a lot of great resources for teachers, including lesson plans, state-specific segregation laws, and additional websites that are useful for education about this time in American history.
  • Deborah Hopkinson’s personal site is filled with information about herself, her books, resources for students and teachers. She is also available to do presentations or workshops at schools and libraries.

Book: Sweet Land of Liberty
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Leonard Jenkins
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Publication Date: March 2007
Pages: 32
Grade Range: 1st – 5th
ISBN: 978-1561453955

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Freedom on the Menu



Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins, written by Carole Boston Weatherford with paintings by Jerome Lagarrigue, tells the story of an important event of the civil rights movement from a little girl’s point of view.  Connie, a young black girl, wants to know why she can’t have a sundae at the counter like another little girl can.

“All over town, signs told Mama and me where we could and couldn’t go. Signs on water fountains, swimming pools, movie theaters, even bathrooms.”

But Connie’s dad mentions that there is a Dr. coming to town who is working to make things better for them.  Soon after Connie’s family hear Dr. King’s speech, her brother and sister join “the N-double A-C-P.”  Then one day when Connie and her mom are walking by that lunch counter downtown, she sees some of her brother’s friends from A&T College sitting there.

“‘Do they know they’re in the wrong place?’ I whispered.  ‘Some rules have to be broken,’ Mama whispered back”

The rest of the story explains how those four boys sat, and that they inspired hundreds more to join, and then more joined in protest (including Connie) holding picket signs in front of that store until the sit-ins had spread throughout all of the south. Connie wondered how long the sit-ins would last, because it was not so easy for her family to go downtown anymore.

“‘Till folks get what they want,’ said Mama”

But that summer the family heard that something had happened, and they went downtown to see “the women who worked in the restaurant’s kitchen” being served at the counter!  And so the next day, Connie knew that when she went downtown for her sundae, she could finally sit at the counter too.

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins does a wonderful job at explaining segregation from a child’s point of view, while still clarifying the significance of the situation.  In addition, Jerome Lagarrigue’s artwork is beautifully illustrative of the narrative. This book would be an excellent read by a teacher during a civics lesson, or for any student doing research on the civil rights movement, or for the kid who is just plain interested in American history.

Curriculum Connections

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins is a fabulous narrative that can be used with any lesson on equal rights and civil liberties.  The book describes how American citizens, no matter what their origin, have the right to stand up (or, in this case, sit down) for their beliefs (VA SOL 3.12).  Of course another important aspect of the story tells how the A&T students were inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr’s teachings and speeches and used the sit-in as a form of non-violent protest (VA SOL 2.11, 3.11).  Segregation was most apparent in the southern states, and a lot of major events during the civil rights movement happened in areas close to Virginia. This book would be a good opportunity for children to look at a map and point out Greensboro and other significant landmarks of the movement.

Additional Resources

  • This easy to navigate website about the Greensboro sit-ins includes a timeline of the civil rights movement (starting with the abolition of slavery), the original newspaper article reporting the sit-in, and many pictures and audio clips of the events.

  • The International Civil Rights Center & Museum’s website is also great resource for teachers who are looking for more information about the Greensboro sit-ins, or just the civil rights movement in general. There is a virtual tour of the museum (located at the actual site where the sit-ins first took place) and links to other civil rights museums and organizations.

  • Carole Boston Weatherford‘s personal website provides her audience with an interesting bio, questions from children, info about her books- including lesson plan ideas involving her stories, and a bunch of other useful tips and resources. 

Book: Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator/Artist: Jerome Lagarrigue
Publisher: Puffin
Publication Date: December 2007
Pages: 32
Grade Range: 1st – 6th Grade
ISBN-13: 978-0142408940

Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Let’s Go Traveling


Robin Rector Krupp’s Let’s Go Traveling  is the story of a young girl, Rachel, who journeys around the world, exploring the real-life mysterious landmarks of 6 different countries.  She travels to France to see pre-historic cave drawings, to England for Stonehenge, to Egypt for the pyramids, to China for the Great Wall, to Mexico for Mayan ruins, and Peru to see Machu Picchu. Rachel’s trips are narrated in first person, and the book is designed somewhat like a scrapbook, full of pictures, postcards, and journal entries written by Rachel.  Along with the narration and “scraps,” there are random tid-bits of facts and vocabulary words scattered throughout the book. There is a lot of information in Let’s Go Traveling, so this book would work well for students who just want to quickly flip through pages and still learn something, or for those who are really interested in travel and ancient world cultures.   

Curriculum Connections

Let’s Go Traveling is filled with facts and stories about important locations that are often used when students are learning about geography (VA SOL 2.4, 3.5). In additon to the maps and info about the countries, the author also explains some of the history behind some of the facts included in the book.   Because Let’s Go Traveling covers very different locations, the book could be read for an introductory lesson on how landscapes and cultures vary depending where in the world a person is; or, only certain sections of the book could be used to focus on specific lessons (like Egypt). 

Additional Resources

  • The Children’s Author Network  provides a nice short bio of Robin Rector Krupp and the other books that she’s written.
  • At the National Geographic for Kids website, the People and Places  section supplies a good amount of information in a kid-friendly format about anywhere in the world. I enjoyed the “What school is like in (featured country)” segment, where a video highlights what it is like to be a student in a different country.
  • A fun way to help kids practice their geography and map knowledge is offered at, where a student can play games ranging from learning the locations of states and countries, to knowing capitals, to reinforcing latitude and longitude.
  • The National Council for Geographic Education is a good resource for teachers who are looking for additional support with their geography skills and lessons.

Book:  Let’s Go Traveling

Author and Illustrator: Robin Rector Krupp

Publisher: Scholastic

Publication Date: January 1992

Pages: 38 pages

Grade Range: 2-5

ISBN: 0590485768

Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: This is the Tree


This is the Tree, written by Miriam Moss and illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway,  is a prose poem that centers around the ancient baobab tree in Africa. Each three line stanza starts out with the phrase, “This is the tree,” and explains the importance of the baobab tree to the ecological system around it.  The short stanzas on each page make this book a great read-along for young readers, and the water-color-like artwork is a beautiful way to show children how vital the tree is to the wildlife it supports.  In addition to teaching kids about the African habitat, the book can be used to aid reading lessons which focus on poetry and poetic devices like metaphors and personification.

“This is the tree with the huge rounded belly,
  all lacy with shadows
  in a sea of new grass.

 This is the tree that the tribespeople visit
 to cut bark, spilling insects
 on read beaten earth.”

After the story is finished, the final two pages of the book provide more trivia-like facts about the Baobab tree. This is the Tree does a fabulous job of combining science and reading in a poetic way, and would be a great staple peice of children’s literature in any classroom or home library.

Curriculum Connections:
This is the tree provides a combination of the teaching of reading along with an understanding of the life needs of animals and people (VA SOLs 1.5). The book’s illustrations help show students the physical adaptations animals make, such as gathering food and finding shelter, in order to survive (VA SOLs 3.4).

Additional Resources:
The book’s author, Miriam Moss, has her own website which provides detailed descriptions of all her other children’s books. Many are written in the same style as This is the Tree, and also give great lessons on wildlife and other subjects.

To find out more information about the Baobab tree, there are many websites, like this one, that give a lot of great facts about the actual tree and the importance of it to the life surrounding. 

The National Geographic For Kids website would be a excellent resource for students to do more research about the animals mentioned in This is the Tree.

General Information:

  • Book: This is the Tree
  • Author: Miriam Moss
  • Illustrator: Adrienne Kennaway
  • Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
  • Publication Date: March 2005
  • Pages: 32
  • Grade Range: K – 4
  • ISBN-10: 1929132778

Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: Wow!: The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read about the Five Senses


Wow!: The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read about the Five Senses, written by Trudee Romanek and illustrated by Rose Cowles, is a non-fiction reader full of fun facts and lessons about the five senses that can be enjoyed by a wide range of elementary students. This is the seventh book in the “Mysterious You” series, which keeps kids entertained by including fun pictures and diagrams with simple kid-friendly experiments, and lots of facts scattered throughout it (perfect for children who don’t want to read a book from front to back in one sitting!) 

Wow! is split into seven sections, and explains how the brain works to help people experience sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Each section includes an explanation of how the senses work, why they work that way, fun stories about a scientific experiment or invention based on a sense (e.g. a pair of talking glasses invented by a 15 year-old in 1998 to help the visually impaired), a “You Try It” experiment, and plenty more interesting facts. One fun fact mentions that a gourmet dinner shouldn’t be wasted on a chicken because “you have thousands of taste buds that let you taste food. The average chicken has just 24” (p. 21).  Finally, an important aspect of learning about the senses is how they all work together. The last section of the book describes that the senses are designed to compliment each other. “You combine the information from your senses every moment that you’re awake. Turn off the volume during a scary movie or close your eyes on a roller-coaster ride, and you might be surprised at the difference” (p. 38).

Curriculum Connections

This book might be hard for younger elementary students to read on their own, but it provides a lot of great information and experiments that teachers can share and use with the lower grades.  Wow! is a perfect book to keep on the bookshelves of upper-elementary classrooms because the material is easy for older children to flip through and stay interested in, and the “You Try It” experiments can fit well into lessons about scientific investigation. Specific SOLs that this book could correlate to include:

K.2 (a) five senses and corresponding sensing organs

1.1 The student will conduct investigations in which (a) differences in physical properties are observed using the senses; and (b) simple tools are used to enhances observations

2.1 The student will conduct investigations in which (a) observations is differentiated from personal interpretation, and conclusions are drawn based on observations

3.1 The student will plan and conduct investigations in which (a) predictions and observations are made

4.1 The student will plan and conduct investigations in which (b) hypotheses are formulated based on cause-and-effect relationships

Additional Resources

BrainPOP is an animated, curriculum-based website that offers student videos and activities for many standard-based lessons.  This interactive lesson includes the senses.

This word search can help with vocabulary words related to the senses.

The Five Senses Lab is a good science exploration for early elementary students to help better familiarize them with their own senses and how they can make the world around them seem more “real”.

General Information

  • Book: Wow!: The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read about the Five Senses
  • Author: Trudee Romanek
  • Illustrator: Rose Cowles
  • Paperback: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2004
  • Grade Range: K – 6
  • ISBN-10: 1553376307