Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Arsenal II

“We read to know we are not alone.” C.S. Lewis

My escapades as a substitute teacher may be eliciting apprehension among new and aspiring substitute teachers*. Inexperienced substitute teachers are often at a loss of what to do when they haven’t been provided with enough work for the students. There are plenty of websites with canned lessons, but one of the easiest ways is by reading aloud and creating a project around the book. The best part is that the students will not only respond positively to the book and the project, but to the substitute teacher. Win, win, win.

Yoko by Rosemary Wells is an excellent way to begin a conversation about different cultures. Yoko is teased about her sushi lunch, which seems “gross” to the other students. Reading it can lead to a discussion about tolerance. Afterwards, have students write and draw their favorite food(s) from their cultures. This book is good for kindergarten through second-grade classes.

Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis (illustrated by Laura Cornell) is fantastic, evidenced by the fact that I’m willing to put an actress’s book on my list. The rhyming is quirky, and it’s a fun way to get children in touch with their moods. The end of the book has a wheel to match moods with facial expressions. After reading (and playing with the wheel), have preschool to second-grade students draw a picture of their mood at that moment or their mood at another time.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts (illustrated by Noah Z. Jones) does a wonderful job illustrating the predicament of a child wanting something he can’t afford. When he finally gets a pair of the shoes he’s desired, and they’re too small, what will he do? Stop before the end to get the students’ opinions. After the reading, find out if they think the boy made the right decision, and why. Good from first to fifth-grades.

The Three Silly Girls Grubb by John and Ann Hassett is a funny take on, Three Billy Goats Gruff. I prefer these girls and donuts to goats and grass. What happens to the boy, Bobby under the bridge is hysterical. Preschool to third-grade kids will appreciate this whacky take on the classic.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner (illustrated by Mark Buehner) is a quick, whimsical read for wintertime, even with its gender bias (The only snowwomen are mothers). Do a snowman project with the students afterwards. Preschool to third-grade will enjoy the story and the project.

How I Became a Pirate** and Pirates Don’t Change Diapers by Melinda Long (illustrated by David Shannon) are hilarious, and good for any age. When I was in charge of Word Study in fifth-grade, I read these books as we created a pirate vocabulary list, and then the students wrote pirate stories. For third to fifth-grades, you can do something similar. With younger students, have them draw pirate pictures after reading.

Not Norman by Kelly Bennet (illustrated by Noah Z. Jones) is about a boy who thinks he wants a better pet, until he realizes that Norman the goldfish is perfect for him. After reading aloud, have the children draw Norman, their pet, or the pet they wished they had. This book would work well from preschool to second-grade.

Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth is a touching tale of generosity for third to fifth-graders. The villagers shun three monks until they set out to make “soup” from stones. Curiosity takes over the villagers, and soon they’re providing ingredients for the soup. Stop periodically to ask questions about why the villagers behave the way they do at different times. After the book is done, have a conversation about generosity by asking them to explain the line, “You have shown us that sharing makes us all richer.”

The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon will entrance students of any age. Beautifully written. See how a princess locked up in a tower (for protection, according to her father) finds a unique way to use red yarn in order to break free. I’d have preschoolers up to second-graders draw either the princess in the tower or the red “wolf” wreaking havoc on the village.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child is a lot of fun for preschoolers to second-graders. See how an older brother tricks his sister into eating her least favorite foods. Then have the students draw and rename their least favorite foods.

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressia Cowell and Neal Layton is about a girl and her well-worn (from love) rabbit, and their adventures. A princess who can have anything in the world decides that she wants the dog-eared bunny. See how Emily Brown handles the problem. It’s wonderfully done. I’d read this in preschool to second-grade classes, and then have them draw their favorite part of the book.

The Spider and the Fly by Tony DiTerlizzi, “Based on the cautionary tale by Mary Howitt” is one of my favorites, and a great lesson on vanity. Be sure to also read the letter from the spider near the end. Each year, I read this to the fifth-grades around Halloween, but it’s good any time of the year, for any age. All groups can draw a black and white picture with pencil based on the illustrations.

Sometime in the future, I’ll provide more tricks for substitute teachers to fill in a sparse day. I’ll also write a post that shares ideas for grades six through twelve. As wonderful as these picture books are, most don’t work past the fifth-grade. There are also a couple of teaching tool links on the right side of my blog.

* Read this post to see how a school day can run without complete plans, and view the comments for reactions. There are also a couple of links to previous posts that share non-book ideas to make up for inadequate plans:


** In this post, I used a quote from this book:



  1. Thanks for sharing! I love reading books to my class and I haven't heard of some of these!

  2. Thanks, Ginger. If you read any of them, let me know what you think.

  3. Hi

    I learned something new today.

    Jamie Lee Curtis wrote a kid's book and from the evidence of your lovely succint summary of each of these books, hers ain't bad either.


    This (and part 1) are such impressive lists.

    Take care

  4. Thanks, Old Kitty. Jamie Lee Curtis has a bunch of good ones. Normally I'm bitter over famous people writing children's books, grabbing large advances that they don't always make back in book sales. Meanwhile, the average first-time picture book writer gets about 2.5k, with another 2.5k for the illustrator.

  5. Great post - I'm currently homeschooling,and I'll definitely be ordering the books on your list!

    http://jessicavitalis.com (Stop Pinching Your Sister!)

  6. I'm glad you liked the list, Jessica. I have a Part I to this as well. And I've compiled another list I'll post soon.

  7. "Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly."

    My sister owns the book I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato. It's based on the TV show 'Charlie and Lola'.

    I have also read 'Stone Soup'.

  8. Brooke, I'm friends with the illustrator on Facebook (or should I say "friends"). Recently, he was tagged because someone got the spider as a tattoo. Pretty cool.