Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Molly Bang’s The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Molly Bang’s The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher

Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.

The grey lady is out for a day of errands, stopping by her local farmer’s market for what appears to be the season’s final quart of delicious strawberries. She is quite pleased with her purchase, and nestles it safely inside a reusable mesh shopping bag before beginning her journey home. It’s not too long, however, before readers see that the grey lady’s berries might be in danger. A cloaked blue figure is following her, stopping at nothing to snatch the strawberries that the grey lady covets!

The figure moves carefully, gliding down the sidewalk behind the grey lady – gaining and gaining while waiting for the perfect moment to snatch the berries from her bag. With each step, mushrooms appear from the ground – hinting at the figure’s mysterious origins. With every step, the blue figure draws nearer until an opportunity to snatch appears. The grey lady saves her berries, but must hurry away to thwart the thieving figure’s plan.

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Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Rebecca Rupp’s After Eli

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Rebecca Rupp’s After Eli

Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.

Daniel Anderson’s older brother Eli was killed while serving in the American military in Iraq, and three years after Eli’s death, Daniel is still working out how to feel and how to move forward after such a monumental event. In order to try to find meaning in death – not only Eli’s, but all deaths – Daniel has created a Book of the Dead. His Book of the Dead is really an old binder, but it’s filled with names of the deceased and their causes of death, all of which Daniel processes to find meaning in both their lives and their deaths – with the hope that he will someday be able to find meaning in Eli’s death and the hole that it has left in his life.

Daniel’s Book of the Dead has been years in the making by the time his story begins, right at the kickoff of what turns out to be one of the most transformative summers of Daniel’s life. Whether its all of his studies of creative causes of death or simply the time that has passed, Daniel finds himself suddenly able to open his eyes and truly see the world around him. He makes friends, begins to see the good in others, and even begins to better understand the impact that his brother’s death has had upon the other members of his family. Luckily, Daniel’s summer of awakening isn’t just a moment, it’s a beginning – and by the story’s end, his momentum is leading him away from his Book of the Dead and towards whatever is next.

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Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Anne Mazer’s, The Salamander Room

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Anne Mazer’s, The Salamander Room

Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.

The Salamander Room is told through the imagination of a young boy who desperately longs to bring an amphibian friend home with him. Beginning in the woods, the story starts when a small, orange salamander is discovered underneath leaf litter. The boy, whose imagination drives the story’s development, believes the salamander finds his hand cozy and perhaps even preferable to its natural habitat – and from this assumption ensues an explanation of the many creative measures that could be taken in order to make the salamander feel at home in his bedroom. The boy first imagines that the salamander can live happily right in the drawer of his bedside table, but prompting from an adult allows him to think through all of the salamander’s many needs, and the unintended consequences that meeting these needs might have. For example, insects will need to be introduced into his bedroom so that the salamander has a food source – but what will happen when the insects breed and overpopulate? Well, of course, the roof of his bedroom will be taken off so that birds can fly in to keep the insect population in check!

The Salamander Room bridges the gap between fiction and nonfiction, using imaginative storytelling to teach readers about habitat and the interconnectedness of nature. Resources included in our accompanying guide support the use of the text as a tool for reading and comprehension skills, as well as a catalyst for science-based learning. Get a copy of the book from your local library – salamander season has just begun!

Don’t miss out on the accompanying Critical Thinking Questions & Community-Based Learning Map, created by Robin Huntley, M.Ed., Founder and Director of Dirigo Learning, a Community-Based Education Network™ affiliate for Midcoast and Central Maine. This learning guide is filled with Resources for Self-Directed Learning about Salamanders and Their Habitats, including audio/visual materials on vernal pools, a project that will help your learner link art and science through a “literrarium,” and a web-based guide to help you identify local salamander species. Download the Learning Map here – and get out there to have some salamander fun!


Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011 as an intern and remained over the years volunteering as a community-based education correspondent until moving back to Maine in 2016. Robin is a graduate of Antioch University with a masters in education. Her interests within the field of education include policy and all types of nontraditional education. For her undergraduate project at Hampshire College, Robin researched the importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin currently lives with her husband, cats, and rabbits in Maine and is a 5th grade public school teacher.

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Jessie Haas’ Sugaring

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Jessie Haas’s Sugaring


Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.

Summary

Set in the hills of Vermont, Jessie Haas’ Sugaring teaches the traditional process of sugaring through a narrative that brings the intergenerational nature of the work to light. Protagonist Nora helps her grandfather drive a team of horses through the family’s sugarbush, stopping to collect sap at each sugar maple. Next, the two keep a fire burning in an evaporator, boiling off excess water until the sap turns to syrup, running in a sheet off of a metal spoon. The evaporator runs late into the night, turning hundreds of gallons of sap into sweet syrup. While Nora and her grandfather tend the fire and flick cream into the sap bubbles to keep it from boiling over, Nora’s grandmother turns an earlier batch of syrup into sheets of delicious, flaky maple sugar. Nora makes sure to share chunks of the sweet brown treat with the team of horses before they head back out into the sugarbush, ready to repeat the process over again.

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Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Bill Easterling’s Prize in the Snow

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Bill Easterling’s Prize in the Snow

Download the Learning Map for a guided tour of this piece of children’s literature.

A young nature-loving boy admires his older brother for his animal tracking and trapping abilities, and sets out on a quest to become an expert himself. Unlike his brother, the boy is a novice, and goes about trapping with a very rudimentary trap and classic bait. He treks into the snowy woods with a box, a carrot, and a long string which, with the addition of a stick, become a carefully balanced and patiently manned trap for unsuspecting small mammals. The boy waits patiently, all the while looking forward to the respect he imagines receiving from his brother when he has caught his prize. Finally, a creature comes – but as it’s the dead of winter, the rabbit is slow and thin, starving due to lack of food amidst all the snow. Instead of causing excitement and action, the sight of the rabbit makes the boy stop and think. Is it fair to bait and catch a starving animal? Is his role in the landscape really to trap animals purely for sport, or could he perhaps serve some other purpose? This short, sweet story includes plenty of depth and serves as a catalyst for discussion of human interaction with the landscape around us. Read the rest of this entry »

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Cynthia Rylant’s Life

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Cynthia Rylant’s Life

Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.

Beautifully detailed and metaphorical illustrations accompany deeply emotional wisdom in this work from an award-winning author and a talented illustrator. Rather than reading as a true story, Life offers up simple yet universally applicable life advice. Centered around the idea of allowing life to happen and adapting to change to survive (and love life!), the book pairs simple suggestions and thought-provoking questions with relatable experiences had by species from all around the world. Even young readers will see the clear link between the words and the natural images they are paired with – a connection that encourages deep thought and reflection. In addition to serving as a lesson for self-love, the book promotes empathy and understanding, allowing it to serve as a catalyst for community-based learning opportunities existing within the practice of kindness. Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Eve Bunting’s The Wall Sheds Light on Love and Loss at Veterans Day

Literature Guide for Eve Bunting’s The Wall Sheds Light on Love and Loss at Veterans Day

The Wall (Reading Rainbow Books) by Eve Bunting (Author),‎ Ronald Himler (Illustrator)

Narrated through the eyes of a child, The Wall is an emotional and thought-provoking story.  A young boy and his father – pictured in the cover illustration – visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC to find the name of their grandfather and father, respectively.  They’ve traveled a long distance, and the immense significance of their visit to the dark, reflective memorial is evident.

Alongside the pair are many other visitors from all walks of life – students, families, people young and old pass by to, similarly, find a name and pay their respects.  Small tokens of remembrance dot the base of the memorial, flags, photographs, and flowers sending unwritten messages to those remembered.  Together, the boy and his father honor their family member’s life and in doing so, teach readers volumes about the impact that war can have on a generation and a community.

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Literature Guide for “Shy Mama’s Halloween” (Supports Immigration Studies)


Click on the image for the full, downloadable literature guide in .pdf format.

Shy Mama’s Halloween beautifully illustrates the experience of learning a new and unfamiliar culture. Though the book is set in the past (mid-20th century), the story itself is timeless, capturing the uncertainty, nervousness, and even excitement that accompany new experiences.

In the story, an immigrant family prepares for Halloween – a holiday that they’ve never celebrated before because they’re new to the United States and, in their home country of Russia, Halloween wasn’t part of the culture. While Mama is willing to help her four children prepare their costumes, she’s equally wary of both going door to door in her new neighborhood and a holiday whose theme is centered around sinister characters. It is decided that the children’s father will bring them trick-or-treating, but when he comes home from work sick on the evening of Halloween, it is up to shy Mama to supervise the family’s Halloween outing. Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Eden Ross Lipson and Mordicai Gerstein’s Applesauce Season

Literature Guide for Eden Ross Lipson and Mordicai Gerstein’s Applesauce Season

Download our literary guide for Applesauce Season.

Applesauce Season is the quintessential fall book: a young narrator describes with wonder the coming of apple season and the family food traditions that follow suit, subtly teaching readers all the while about apple varieties and the natural flow of the fruit’s season. Readers follow the narrator from farmers’ market, to kitchen, to table again and again while learning not only the specifics of applesauce, but the many other ways in which apples can be preserved and enjoyed during the fall.

Set in an urban area, the story brings concepts, skills, and traditions generally associated with rural living into a modern city. Rather than being grown and harvested in the narrator’s backyard or community, the apples that narrator so loves are sold at a neighborhood farmers’ market, introducing the idea of food systems to readers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Debby Dahl Edwardson’s “My Name is Not Easy”

Literature Guide for Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name is Not Easy

Download literary guide for Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name is Not Easy

Told from multiple perspectives, Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name is Not Easy is a narrative of the hard, culture-crippling truths of the boarding schools that native Alaskans attended during the early 1960’s. The characters in Edwardson’s story attend the fictional Sacred Heart School, a Catholic institution whose structure and methodology is fierce, brutal, and deeply rooted in the idea that native students needed to be re-trained in order for their communities to succeed. The characters are fictional, but just like their school, they each present carefully designed portraits of “typical” students at such schools, and their experiences give literary life to the real life experiences of unnamed others.

The students at Sacred Heart have been sent there from villages all over Alaska, and while each one’s story of why they’ve wound up there varies, each native Alaskan student’s story shares the same undercurrent: their presence at the school forces them to let go of their language, their landscape, and their people, and it is assumed by those in charge that this is necessary in order for native Alaskans to survive. On top of the clashes between students from self-identified Eskimo villages and Indian villages are emotional and physical abuse from school staff, forced consumption of radiation-filled iodine for government testing, and the adopting out of students not deemed appropriate for school life.  Read the rest of this entry »

18 Story Books on Weather for Kids

18 Story Books on Weather for Kids

There’s a riotous energy this time of year: the mad leafing out of plants and trees, crazy bird song at dawn, unruly swarms of biting insects, the palpable freedom of school letting out for summer, and wild weather that can change from snow squalls to thunderstorms within hours. Those first spring storms are greeted with a mixture of excitement and nervousness in our home. Thunder and lightning, rain and the wind, are full of edgy juxtapositions, scary and beautiful, exciting and terrifying, exquisite and destructive.

Nature’s power is clearly evident in weather phenomena and often seems mysterious. But many weather events can be explained in scientific terms, and when packaged with pictures into the safe covers of a book, help kids understand the wild weather that impacts our lives.  Here’s a collection of kids’ books, mostly about riotous forms of stormy weather. I’ve included a short selection of nonfiction titles and a few picture books, starting with brand new work by award-wining children’s book creator, Arthur Geisert…

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Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ “McElligot’s Pool”

Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ McElligot’s Pool

McElligot’s Pool is not one of Dr. Seuss’ best-known books, but it is certainly one of his most creative and most beautiful! Blending true Seuss-ian creativity with environmentalist undertones, the story follows a young fisherman through the many different imaginary marine scenarios that could be playing out in the dark water below his fishing pole. McElligot’s Pool is a farm pond scarcely larger than a puddle and filled with human detritus (an alarm clock, a boot, a tea kettle, a tin can, and so on), and while it seems likely that the small, dirty pond holds no fish at all, the narrator’s youthful imagination is not bound by the constraints of environmental reality (nor any other type of reality) and takes readers on a fantastic underwater trip around the world.

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Literary Guide for Anthony Browne’s “Zoo”

Literary Guide for Anthony Browne’s Zoo

Download literary guide for Anthony Browne’s Zoo.

A family outing to the zoo serves as a catalyst for deep thought in this 25-year-old work of children’s literature. Author and illustrator Anthony Browne, known as one of late 20th century England’s best children’s writers, has transformed a quintessential (and perhaps stereotypical) family adventure into a thought-provoking examination of humans’ regard for the natural world in Zoo. Within the book’s pages, illustrations in which humans seem to be animals and animals seem almost human haunt a text dripping with the narrator’s disdain for the lackluster creatures found within the concrete confines of the zoo.

The story is extraordinarily extraordinary without presenting as such: what was (and still is) a very common family experience reveals itself to be something that is conceptually much greater, and experientially (for the characters) much less. The family of four featured in the cover illustration argue their way through traffic and pay exorbitant prices in order to gain the privilege of interacting with nature, the absence of which is subtly included in the first few pages’ illustrations. Though seemingly excited about their destination, the family engages only passively with their surroundings, failing to get a map and looking at some “boring” animals before searching for their favorites. Creature after creature is met with criticism from the narrator and his kin, while the creatures themselves are depicted as disengaged from reality within their unnatural surroundings. Even the creatures that promised excitement (tigers, for example) leave much to be desired, and by the end of the day, the family favorites are the cafeteria and the gift shop.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Ruther Heller’s “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones”

Literature Guide for Ruther Heller’s Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones

Download literary guide for Ruther Heller’s Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones.

As a nonfiction text that looks very much like most fiction books, Ruth Heller’s Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones is filled with rich illustrations and vocabulary and draws readers in with its alluring, picture-book-like structure. This fun, upbeat, and informative text pairs the inherent wonder of childhood with a collection of fascinating facts, and despite its appearance, it is a great example of a rich nonfiction text for young readers.

The text within the book is short and simple, and draws meaty sentences out over the course of several pages, thus allowing young readers to digest each piece of information on its own while working to piece together a larger idea. There are few words, but the ones that are there convey important information and essential vocabulary. The rich, detailed illustrations appear to be simply artwork, but provide readers with accurate images of the many species mentioned in the book. Young readers can gain much knowledge (and entertainment!) from an endless close examination of the pictures alone.

The book’s simplistic nature makes it ideal for readers ages 5-8, but it can be read and enjoyed by readers of any age. Using our literary guide, educators of all kinds can use Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones as a tool for helping readers strengthen their observational skills as a tool for comprehension of texts. Critical thinking questions, extension activities, and mini-lesson help readers to build their knowledge base, share their thinking, and stretch their learning to connect to numerous skills and ideas.

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Books for Young Bards

Books for Young Bards

April is National Poetry Month! Time to indulge in poetic forms of all kinds and kids’ books serve up odes of opportunities. Picture books are notorious for revealing in rhyme and rhythm, but novels can deliver a powerful poetic punch too, and ought to be a part of any reader’s well-stocked library bag. Highly accessible, novels in verse have an intimate and immediate feel to them, and often make good read-aloud books, even as they are perfect for savoring in quiet. Has your family had a healthy serving of poetry today? Try one of these middle-grade grade novels and satisfy their cravings for couplets. Read the rest of this entry…

If ever there were a month for spontaneous outbursts of snowdrop-covered verse and dandelion rhymes – it’s now. After a long, grueling winter, to see the ice recede and flowers push up and bloom, to hear birdsong in the morning and to leave heavy coats behind, is poetic glee. Spring itself is living poetry. What a glorious time to share some couplets with a couple of kids, so here are six new books for young bards.  Read the rest of this entry…

Here is a new book filled with humorous rhymes and fantastically bizarre cars. Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems is the work of the 2011-2013 US Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, and award-winning children’s poet, Douglas Florian. Together, they have created a collection of futuristic automobiles, from the Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow and the Caterpillar Cab to the Eel-ectric Car and The Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy, which will have readers wheeling with delight.  Read the rest of this entry…

Literary Guide for Ann M. Martin’s “Rain Reign”

Literary Guide for Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign

Download literary guide for Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign.

Appropriately titled with a homonym pair, Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign is told through the eyes of a young girl on the Autism spectrum whose two loves in life are homonyms and rules. Rose’s love of these things, unfortunately, often stands in the way of her ability to connect with those around her – including her father, a single parent with little patience for Rose’s needs. Through Rose’s narration, readers learn about the thoughts that drive her mind and the compulsions that fuel the behaviors that those around her cannot seem to understand.

Rose learns how to forge a deep connection when her father brings her home a dog, who she names Rain due to the very special triple homonym nature of the word (it matches both reign and rein). Rose cares for Rain herself, taking her responsibilities as a pet owner very seriously. But when a hurricane hits Rose’s home in upstate New York, Rain is lost in the storm. With homes destroyed, power lines downed, and roads (such as Rose’s) washed out, it’s nearly impossible for Rose to search for Rain. Showing incredible resilience and determination as a result of her intense love, Rose pushes herself to search long and hard for Rain – encountering new opportunities and challenges she couldn’t have imagined.  Read the rest of this entry »

Recommended Fiction Titles with Autistic Characters

Literary Guide for Bernard Waber’s “Courage”

Literary Guide for Bernard Waber’s “Courage”

Download literary guide for Bernard Waber’s Courage.

Raising strong, resilient children is a theme in communities perhaps more than ever right now. There are a great many traits that such children must learn to possess before adulthood, and Bernard Waber’s Courage belongs in the library of anyone striving to cultivate strength and resilience in children.

Waber’s sweet, simple story – created late in his career – is a study of courageous acts both great and small. Rather than preaching the importance of courage or spotlighting the immense acts of courage shown by others, the story focuses on everyday courage – the kind that young readers can easily understand, connect to, and replicate in their own lives. Written in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the book serves both as a tool for supporting readers in recognizing their own everyday courage and as a catalyst for future courageous acts.

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Local Literary Musings: A Winter Piece

Local Literary Musings:
William Cullen Bryant’s A Winter Piece

Remember Cummington native William Cullen Bryant, who was featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead? After a career in New York, Bryant returned to his childhood home in Cummington when he was 71. Bryant’s early poetry is very much influenced by the landscape of the Western Massachusetts Hilltowns of his youth. In fact, Bryant’s A Winter Piece is a reflection on this time of year.  Even though the summer is gone, Bryant notes in his poem how winter has an unexpected beauty that is still marvelous to behold.  Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise the Freedom to Read

The Right to Read

Interestingly, the freedom to read has not always been seen as a freedom. Citing the freedom to read as a part of our Constitution’s First Amendment, the American Library Association hosts a Banned Books Week every year to celebrate the freedom to read. As they write on their website, “Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Here is a list from The American Library Association of the top 20 American novels that have been challenged. Have you read any of them?  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: 5 Books in the Area of Mindfulness & Empathy

Reflections of a Year in Reading

Reading up on mindfulness and empathy is a powerful way to understand and reflect on our own mindfulness practice and our how to work within our current divisive paradigms.

As those who know me well can attest, I love to read. Like the house could be burning down but please just let me finish this chapter first love to read. With 2016 at a close and much confusion and uncertainty in the current morass, I have been reflecting on some of the best books I read last year on the practice of mindfulness and empathy, especially those that I am still pulling lessons from now to help me in my daily practice and daily existence.

Below are five of my favorite books that I read in 2016 on the areas of mindfulness and empathy.

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Literary Explorations of Ice Harvesting

Henry David Thoreau & “The Pond in Winter”

Ice harvesting is embedded within the history and cultural traditions of New England. So much so, in fact, that it also influenced the literary reflections of  writers such as Henry David Thoreau who described the harvesting of ice in his chapter, “The Pond in Winter,” from Walden. As you explore ice harvesting through  living history demonstrations and artifacts from the past, read Thoreau’s chapter on  “The Pond in Winter” for historical understanding from a literary perspective.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Leo Lionni’s “Tillie and the Wall”

Literature Guide for Leo Lionni’s Tillie and the Wall

Download the full guide to Tillie and the Wall.

One of beloved author and illustrator Leo Lionni’s lesser known works, Tillie and the Wall tells a fantastically symbolic tale of a young mouse and the power of curiosity. Told through somewhat simplistic text, the story is accessible to young readers yet includes deep symbolism that older readers can engage with.

Lionni’s classic style of illustration (a mixture of cut paper, collage, and traditional hand-drawn images) echoes both the story’s simplicity and below-the-surface complexity, and the book’s images add additional layers to the embedded symbolism. Read the rest of this entry »

4 Books that Explore the History of Thanksgiving

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Slice of History
Four Non-fiction Titles for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving ties us to those colonists who nearly four hundred years ago celebrated their first harvest in a small coastal community now known as Plymouth. The holiday also ties us to the Wampanoag Indians who were vital in helping the Pilgrims survive their new world.

Every year Americans prepare their feasts of thanksgiving, each celebration an echo of that very first feast in 1621. Here are four non-fiction books that give interesting perspectives about our national holiday, dispelling some of the more romantic myths and introducing some fascinating facts. This year along with your harvest feast, go ahead and have a slice of history too.

1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving written by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, with photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. In this photo essay, the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast is re-enacted at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, MA.  Recorded by National Geographic photographers over three days, the book dispels the more romantic myths of pilgrims dressed in buckles and hats, and Indians wrapped in blankets. And instead gives “a new look,” a fresh perspective, to the beginning of our national holiday. Historically accurate, with full-color photos, the book brings this important piece of history to life, and in particular, gives voice to the Wampanoag Indians’ role in helping the pilgrims to survive. (Published by National Geographic Children’s Books, Washington, D.C., 2001. ISBN: 0-79-22702-74. 48 pages.)

Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners (The pilgrims thought about food all the time. They had to!) written by Lucille Recht Penner with illustrations selected by author. This book explores the customs, manners, and eating habits of the Pilgrims, from their first years surviving in the wilderness to their later years as successful farmers and hunters. Filled with details about the Pilgrims’ struggle for survival and how smelly, messy, and perilous it was, the book portrays their daily life, while specifically focusing on food. The book also highlights how Pilgrim survival depended on the help of native peoples. Line drawings and photographs accent the information, and with chapter titles like “Bugs for Dinner” and “We All Scream for Pudding,” readers’ curiosities will be piqued.  Pilgrim menus and recipes included. (Published by Perfection Learning, Iowa 1997. ISBN: 0-75-69410-91. 117 pages.)

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message adapted by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr. In this children’s version of the Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, readers can hear a message of gratitude that originated with the native peoples of New York and Canada. Traditionally spoken at the beginning of each day and at special ceremonies, the Thanksgiving Address expresses a reverence for nature and recognizes the unity among all living creatures. The message stretches the idea that there isn’t just one day of the year for giving thanks, but sees every day as an opportunity for thanksgiving. The message is also written out in the Mohawk language. Bold, color-block paintings provide a vibrant landscape for reading. (Published by Lee & Low Books, New York, 1995. ISBN: 1-88-00001-56. 24 pages.)

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, written by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner, is told in an easy conversational style and illustrated with lush drawings full of detail and historic relevance.  The book introduces a little known heroine, Sarah Hale, (who is also responsible for penning “Mary Had A Little Lamb”), and her crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Noticing how Thanksgiving was losing its importance in American traditions, Hale spent 38 years writing magazine articles and petitioning four different presidents until her perseverance and pen power finally won out. President Lincoln was persuaded by her argument that a national holiday would re-unite the union, and in 1863 he made it official. ”A Feast of Facts” outlines more information about Thanksgiving, Sarah Hale, and 1863 in history. (Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2002. ISBN: 0-68-98478-74. 40 pages.)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

Download literary guide for Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen.

Set in the early 20th century, Molly’s Pilgrim illuminates the multiple meanings and cultural roots of the word pilgrim. The story features a Jewish family who immigrated to the United States from Russia, likely to flee the pogroms.

Molly, the title character, has just moved with her parents to a small and culturally homogenous community. She doesn’t yet speak English fluently, and her parents are even less fluent than she is. Molly’s biggest challenge is fitting in at school. As the only Jewish student, she is teased and taunted for her difference in appearance, her accent, and her lack of knowledge about American cultural traditions – especially Thanksgiving.  Read the rest of this entry »

On the Trail: Nature and the Woodland Forests

Exploring Literature, Art & History through Nature Trails

Hiking is an engaging way to explore seasonal patterns with family and friends. It requires very little gear, just walking shoes, a water bottle, and a map! You can also bring a trekking pole to keep your footing steady. Art activities such as sketching, painting, and journaling encourage hikers to thoughtfully observe the macro and micro patterns found in their surroundings. Like Henry David Thoreau on his hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine, take a moment to reflect on your engagement with the outdoors. Bring a notebook with you to write down your thoughts, ideas, questions, and observations. Prefer sketching to writing? Use your sketchbook and pencil to sketch the different trees, wildflowers, and water features you encounter on your path. Each time you venture outdoors, follow the same format until you have a notebook or sketchbook filled with different places and trails, filling your notebook with nature-based inspiration.

Chesterfield Gorge, West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Explore nature and the woodland forests through reading and literature. Here are recommended titles and poetry available through your local library:

  • Walking with Thoreau: A Literary Guide to the New England Mountains by William Howarth
  • “The Rivulet” (poem) by William Cullen Bryant
  • The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau
  • Wild Moments by Ted Williams

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Sept/Oct), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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16 Picture Books That Celebrate Apples

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Bushel of Books about Apples

‘Tis the season when orchards bear autumn fruit, and cider is poured into eager cups, and the smell of pie beckons from the oven. ‘Tis the season for apples.

Hand-picked from dozens of titles, here’s a bushel of picture books that celebrate the apple. There are a few new books, books about the life cycle of apples, apple–picking, and America’s mythic hero, Johnny Appleseed, plus some apple arithmetic, and books with apple pies baked into their stories. Enjoy!  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Download literary guide for Once There Was a Tree.

Natalia Romanova’s Once There Was a Tree tells the story of life after death in nature. Beginning at the end of a great tree’s life, the book spotlights the many visitors and inhabitants who benefit from what the former tree’s stump and roots have to offer. Beginning and ending with human visitors, the chain of use includes bark beetles, ants, and even a bear! Each visitor to the stump gains something substantial from it and begins to feel ownership of it – though each, unbeknownst to them, ends up sharing it with all of the others. In the end, the stump remains and, though many have utilized it as a resource, it continues to offer itself to the world. So who then does it belong to? All of the visitors feel that it is theirs, yet each of them has taken advantage of a different part of the stump. Without realizing it, the people and creatures who feel they own the stump have actually shared it – allowing the stump to truly belong to everyone and, ultimately, to the earth itself.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Download literary guide for This is My Home, This is My School

Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School introduces young readers to the idea of self-directed learning. Centered around a somewhat chaotic household and its many inhabitants, the story points out that, for the homeschooled narrator, home and school are one and the same – making home a place for living and a place for learning. Based on the author/illustrator’s childhood, the book helps readers see the ways in which a family can use their everyday experiences to support the acquisition of almost any kind of knowledge.

Beginning with pages that repeat the story’s title, the book follows the narrator through a quick tour of his home, wherein it is learned that his siblings are his classmates, his mom is his teacher (and dad the substitute), his kitchen is his cafeteria, his back yard is his playground, his family van is his school bus, and all of the rooms of his home (as well as the outdoor spaces nearby) serve as his classrooms. Readers see family members (students!) engaged in a wide variety of activities during the tour, from traditional “school-style” activities like computer research and worksheets to less structured activities like basement science experiments, cooking projects, family music jams, treehouse building, and stream exploration. Read the rest of this entry »

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