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Many parents and teachers would love to use more trade books in the classroom, either to replace or supplement textbooks. Many times, however, it seems to be too much trouble to find titles that accurately match up by grade level, historical period, or by geographical region. In addition, many educators want a short book summary or even warnings about potential inappropriate language or other questionable issues, in order to make appropriate selections.

In my own homeschool planning, I have found several excellent resources to help in my quest to find great books to use in my curriculum. These literature guides are the map to help me match up titles that go along with the topics, people, region, or time periods that were are studying—and they save me lots of time that is better spent teaching or reading with my children.

Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson

An author who advocates the Charlotte Mason approach to education wrote this book, and the titles do reflect Judeo-Christian values. It includes lists of books for many areas and subjects including: animals, art and architecture, bible/spiritual teaching, biography, crafts, hobbies, domestic arts, dance, drama, geography, history, horticulture, humor, language, literature, poetry, rhymes, math, misc. music, outdoor activities other than group games, physical education, reference, science, technology, and special days and seasons.

All Through The Ages: History Through Literature Guide by Christine Miller

According to material in the book’s introduction, this guide is a glorified list of books, commonly available from public libraries and homeschool catalogs, which are useful for learning history using literature—real books—rather than textbooks. Christine Miller has taken suggestions from many resources, catalogs, and other literature resource guides to create a comprehensive (and chronological) resource for all educators. Each section (historical era or geographical region) is subdivided by reading level.

Honey For A Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt

This resource includes an indexed list of the best children’s classics ever and an extensive annotated bibliography of books worth reading, arranged by their suitability for various ages. However, Mrs. Hunt also provides insightful articles and ideas for family reading, nurturing young readers, parenting, and what makes a good book. This resource is definitely based on Christian principles.

Let The Authors Speak: A Guide To Worthy Books Based on Historical Setting by Carolyn Hatcher

This guide is unique in that it can be referenced specifically by setting, author or title, as laid out in the table of contents and index. It is also arranged by reading/age level, which makes it very user friendly. As with the other resources, the author gives a brief summary of the book as well. There is also a great section about the use of ‘living books’ and how they are a superior way to educate children and teens.

Turning Back the Pages of Time: A Guide to American History Through Literature by Kathy Keller

This tiny resource packs a big punch! It is limited to American History, but the chronological list includes biographies, classics, historical fiction, and some non-fiction titles arranged by grade level. All titles have been screened from a Christian perspective and are historically accurate, although suggestions are included from both secular and Christian sources. Sections include: Early Explorers, Early Indians and Pilgrims, Colonial America, American Revolution, Westward Expansion, Civil War Era, Progressive Era, World War II, General US History, and Cookbooks.

Although there are probably many resources available that adequately give book suggestions, I have personally used these specific guides and have found them to be extremely helpful. The books are easy to use, and most of the titles are easy to find. I also like the summaries and suggestions by grade level. Most of all, I like the convenience of using these literature guides—the research and legwork has already been done for me, and I can do what I do best—TEACH!

*Originally posted at the National Writing for Children Center on September 29, 2010


Originally posted at the National Writing For Children Center

Lapbooks are very popular in many homeschooling/educational circles, and for good reason. Children who create something tangible after reading a particular book or learning about a certain topic are far more apt to retain that knowledge. It is motivating to be able to hold in their hands or ‘on their laps’ their very own special reminder of their learning experience. Besides that—creating a lapbook is fun, and the educational and enjoyment possibilities are endless! However, for today, I will concentrate solely on lapbooks that are related to children’s literature and timeless picture books!

What Exactly Are Lapbooks?
Lapbooks can be as complex or unique as the fingerprints of those who make them! But the general definition of a simple lapbook is a single manila folder refolded and creased in such a way as to form a small, portable ‘learning center’ that can be opened and filled with mini activities, games, reports, charts, pictures, flip books, etc. inside that are created by the students themselves as they learn about the topic(s). In other words, a lapbook is a type of graphic organizer.

Families who enjoy scrapbooking will find lapbooking to be a perfect way to enhance learning—but anyone can create a lapbook that is interesting, fun, and effective. In addition, a lapbook can the organizer to pull together relevant topics from many subject areas—all based on one particular book.

Below is a lapbook we created based on the book The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Many of the printables were found at www.homeschoolshare.com

Resources/Books About Lapbooking

Hear are a few websites and books that have great tutorials or information on how to create lapbooks:

Homeschool Mom- Lapbooks (Many links to other sites filled with lapbooking information.)

Templates by Homeschool Share

Lapbooks by Homeschool Share

*Homeschool Share (HSS) is an on-line cooperative effort of several homeschooling moms to provide free but quality literature-based unit studies and resources. The content on this site is unbelievable!

Lapbooks to Enhance the Learning Experience by Lynda Altman at Bright Hub
Ms. Altman includes information on how lapbooks can be used in the classroom and at the high school level.

Fundamentals of Lapbooking by Carrie Kerr at Bright Hub
This is another article showing how lapbooks can be used in the classroom.

Lapbooking for Everyone at Easy Fun School—This site includes lots of lapbooking links.

Lapbooking at Squidoo

A Journey Through Learning Lapbooks and Unit Studies (Literature Lapbooks)

Dinah Zike at Dinah-Might-Adventures

Big Book of Books and Activities – An Illustrated Guide for Teachers, Parents, and Anyone Who Works with Kids! By Dinah Zike

The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook by Tammy Duby and Cyndy Regeling

A Few Book Suggestions for Literature Lapbooks:
This is a very incomplete list of books that lend themselves well to lapbooking.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Katy and the Big Snow
Little House on the Prairie series
If You Give a Mouse A Cookie
A Cricket In Times Square
The Courage of Sarah Noble
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Goodnight Moon
Mirette on the High Wire
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
The Napping House
Little Toot
The Duchess Bakes a Cake

Authors and Lapbooks
In a previous article about Creating Learning Guides and Instructional Activities for Trade Books, I mentioned how authors should consider offering additional resources or learning guides for parents and teachers that can go along with their books and provide more learning opportunities for students. I now propose that authors/publishers should also consider offering printables, graphs, mini-booklets, activities, etc. along with their books that can be used for the purpose of creating lapbooks.

For example, check out Harper Collin’s book activity guide page for Good Night Moon. One industrious mom used this page to create a lapbook based on Margaret Wise Brown’s timeless classic. She also pulled together additional  materials from here and here to make a very neat learning resource.

(Image from www.myschooltime.com)

So whether you are a parent, teacher, or author, literature lapbooks just might figure into your future creative plans!

Animal Identification – What’s in a Name?


Baby Names
A calf is a baby cow, right? Yes, but it is also what we call a baby whale, antelope, elephant, and giraffe! In addition, while a baby bear is called a cub, the same infant identity belongs to a fox and a lion. Moreover, while almost everyone knows that a baby kangaroo is a joey, many people have no idea that a baby swan is a cygnet or that a baby turkey is a poult. How many animal baby names can you identify?


Animal groups are also fascinating to learn about, and I was very surprised to find myself stumped when it came to naming many of the units. For example, I had no clue that a group of rabbits is a warren, several donkeys make up a pace, a cluster of cats is a clowder, foxes make up skulk, or that a bunch of giraffes create a tower. Hippos make a bloat, elk assemble in gangs, and ferrets make up a business—while alligators create a congregation!


Males and Females
We can all identify a lion and lioness as the male and female cats of the majestic pride, but how many of us know that a male swan is a cob and the female is a pen? Or how about this one? Did you know that a male kangaroo is a boomer and his mate is a doe? Along with other kangaroos, they create a mob. However, the same identities belong to a male and female rat, and they live in colonies.

Learn More: Websites, Resources, and Books

Learning the various labels for baby animals, their mothers and fathers, and the names of the groups they live in might make an interesting research project for your students. Below are a few links, books, and resources to get you going!

San Diego Zoo: Animal Bytes

Enchanted Learning: Males, Females, Babies, and Groups

Scholastic Lesson Plans for Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? By Eric Carle

Examiner.com—Lapbook Plans for Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne

What are Baby Koalas Called
What Are Baby Koalas Called?: A Book about Baby Animals (First Facts) by Kathy Feeney

A Crash of Rhinos a party of jays
A Crash of Rhinos, A Party of Jays: The Wacky Ways We Name Animal Groups by Diane Swanson

A Paddling of Ducks
Paddling of Ducks, A: Animals in Groups from A to Z by Marjorie Blain Parker

Originally published at The National Writing For Children Center

Labor Day: A Look At How It Came To Be

by Amy M. O’Quinn

When most of us think of Labor Day, we automatically associate it with a long holiday weekend and time off from the job. It is a day to relax, spend time with family, say goodbye to summer and hello to autumn, squeeze in one more picnic or vacation, or attend a hometown celebration or parade with friends.

Labor Day is always observed on the first Monday in September, yet how much do we really know about this special day set aside to recognize those who toil daily to keep our country moving and growing socially, civically, and economically? Let’s take a closer look at this “workingman’s” holiday!

How Did Labor Day Begin?

The very first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 in New York City in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. There is some discrepancy about who first proposed the holiday, but some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” (From the U.S. Department of Labor website).

Others believe that it was actually Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. (From the U.S. Department of Labor website).

Regardless of who actually proposed Labor Day, it became an official national holiday in 1894, not long after the Pullman Strike, and is dedicated to honoring the working class of American citizens. However, until Labor Day became a federal holiday, laborers who chose to participate in parades had to forfeit a day’s wages. (From history.com) Nevertheless, since that time, all fifty states have made it an official state holiday as well!

Find Out More

Labor Day is a great time to teach about community workers and different kinds of jobs as well. To find out more about this important (yet often underemphasized) holiday, check out these links:

http://www.theholidayzone.com/labor/books.html (Lists books about Labor Day)

http://www.educationworld.com/a_sites/sites045.shtml (A large collection of Labor Day links)

This post originally published at the National Writing For Children Website here.

Journaling Nature

by Amy M. O’Quinn

Keeping A Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth

Charlotte Mason’s Ideas

I have written before about Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth-century educator, and her views on the importance of giving children a well-rounded education. Therefore, in addition to presenting the regular core academic subjects, she also advocated exposing children to living books, poetry, classical music, fine art, Shakespeare, nature study, etc. In a (very simplified) nutshell, Miss Mason’s vision was to foster a ‘love of learning’ in all children and give them a liberal (broad) education, regardless of their economic background or social class. Today, I’d like to explore her suggestion that students spend as much time out of doors discovering the nature around them, and that they record their findings in a nature diary or journal—basing their entries on what they see, hear, touch and smell, rather than what they read about in textbooks.

Why Nature Study?

Many teachers and parents think that nature study is a great idea, but they also feel it is just too impractical and difficult to work it into the learning schedule. I agree that while it takes time to prepare the children for an outing, decide on a place to go, and actually keep up with everyone as they explore, the result is worth the effort. And in fact, nature study forms the basis of more extensive nature and science studies later on; the students have a knowledge base to build upon. Plus, most children have a great curiosity about the world around them—they just need to have this innate interest encouraged.

Realistically, nature study doesn’t have to be difficult or too orchestrated. It can be as simple as watching birds build a nest, identifying leaves that have fallen to the ground, or watching as a butterfly emerges from a cocoon. As Catherine Levison, a ‘Charlotte Mason method’ proponent and writer states, “…Charlotte Mason strongly insists on children being outside daily and that makes nature observation become unavoidable. Even without deliberate effort children will learn about the natural world if they are provided ample time to experience it first hand.”

Observe and Explore

Once the children find something that ‘strikes their fancy,’ let them use their senses to become familiar with the specimen, object, or topic. A good field journal might also provide more information if the parent/teacher needs identification assistance, but in my opinion, very young children are simply content with discovery, observation, and very basic knowledge. However, if a group/family prefers a more structured form of nature study, there are many books that provide a scope and sequence or outline of suitable topics for all ages. One of the most popular books on the subject is The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, a huge tome of information and nature lessons, which was first released in 1911.

Other choices include:

The Kid’s Nature Book: 365 Indoor/Outdoor Activities and Experiences by Susan Milord

Nature For the Very Young: A Handbook of Indoor and Outdoor Activities by Marcia Bowden

Small Wonders: Nature Education for Young Children by Linda Garrett

Journaling Nature

After the exploration phase, a great way to preserve knowledge (and the memory) is to record the findings in a nature notebook or journal. Once again, this can be as simple as using notebook paper in a three-ring binder or a composition book, or as ornate as creating a handmade journal and using high quality watercolors and page protectors. The possibilities are endless, and the process is just as vast. It truly depends on the child, the age level, artistic capabilities, or how much time the parent/educator wants to allow for the project.

The child might make a simple drawing or sketch of what he has seen, then perhaps color it with crayons, markers, colored pencils or paint to make it more realistic. He can label the drawing/parts with both the common and scientific (Latin names), genus and species. The location, date and weather or temperature might be included as reference. Other ideas are leaf rubbings, or gluing down flowers, twigs, bark, feathers, or photos taken on the outing. Descriptions, measurements, and impressions are all good to record as well, if applicable. It is also a wonderful idea to revisit and rethink the topic or specimen at different seasons in order to make comparisons. There is no one right way to create a natural journal, and each child’s journal will be as unique and special as he is!


Here are some sites/blogs that explain in great detail or give ideas on how to create a nature journal:









Ready-Made Nature Journals or Books About Nature Journals

Ready-made journals or scrapbooks are also available to those who want the convenience. In addition, there are many choices and samples of individual nature journals that are sure to inspire and give you lots of ideas. Below are a few suggestions:

My Nature Journal by Adrienne Olmstead

Nature Log Kids: A Kid’s Journal to Record Their Nature Experiences by DeAnna Brandt

A Backyard Nature Drawing Guide by Douglas S. Farnham

The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie

Drawn to Nature Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie

Exploring nature and creating journals to record what they find is an excellent way for children to process the world around them. Charlotte Mason wrote in her book, Home Education (Vol. 1), “Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” (p. 61).

Yes, nature study and creating nature journals or notebooks does take time and require a bit of effort on the part of the parent/educator. But young children who are given this gift will benefit greatly in so many ways. Appreciating the beauty of nature and learning about the world around them should ideally be an important, and enjoyable,  part of every child’s education!

Our Awesome America: Historic Symbols

by Amy M. O’Quinn/Originally posted at the National Writing For Children Center website

Picnics, parades, patriotism and fireworks are on everyone’s mind as the Fourth of July approaches, and Americans everywhere will proudly fly the Stars and Stripes to commemorate our country’s quest for independence and freedom!

Yes, Old Glory will definitely be the star of the show in July since it is America’s most well-known icon, but there are many more symbols that represent this great country of ours as well—the Statue of Liberty, the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Liberty Bell, Mount Rushmore, the Great Seal of the United States, the Bald Eagle, etc. We can also include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Pledge of Allegiance, our National Anthem, the Supreme Court, and of course, Uncle Sam. The list goes on and on, but how many historic American symbols, landmarks, documents, songs, or organizations can your children name? How many can YOU name?

Do You Know. . .

How much do you really know about the Great Seal of the United States? According to information on the Great Seal website, America needed an official symbol of sovereignty to seal and authenticate her international treaties and transactions. The new nation needed a symbolic signature others would recognize and honor. Thus, the Great Seal was created in 1792, the mid-way point between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Here is a bit of Mount Rushmore trivia from the Mount Rushmore National Park website. Did you know that the monument designer originally put Thomas Jefferson on George Washington’s right, but after eighteen months of work, he changed plans, dynamited Jefferson off the mountain, and placed him on the left? Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt, the most controversial choice on Mount Rushmore, had died only eight years before work on the monument began?

Find Out!

For a fun family project, why not explore and research American’s symbols and landmarks to learn more about these famous icons and why they are so important in our country’s history?

To get started, check out Capstone’s Picture Window Books series on American symbols. A few of the titles include:

Mount Rushmore by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

Our American Flag by Mary Lynn Firestone

The Great Seal of the United States by Norman Pearl

The U.S. Supreme Court by Anastasia Suen

The Declaration of Independence by Lori Ann Mortensen

Dig into America’s past, and you might just be surprised to discover many fascinating facts you never knew!

Children love the unusual! So why not surprise them with a science exploration after dark?

Discover Nature at Sundown by Elizabeth P. Lawlor

There are all kinds of enjoyable learning opportunities just waiting in the shadows, and everyone will have fun—all while experiencing the nocturnal side of nature!

Time for Kids: Spiders by the Editors of Time for Kids

Spiders, especially wolf spiders, are very common and easy to spot in your yard at night. According to the experts at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the spiders have a green ‘eye shine’ that is caused “by a tapetum in the eye which reflects light rays back through the eye retina and probably enhances the spider’s night vision.” For a neat activity, use a flashlight or small light that straps around the forehead and walk slowly through your yard, casting the beam towards the ground. You will be amazed at all the beautiful jewel-like glitters you’ll see. These are actually the spiders’ eyes! Shine the light closer to the ‘glitters’ and you’ll probably find a spider. Is it a wolf spider or some other kind? Find out!

Fireflies by Megan E. Bryant

Fireflies or lightning bugs are fascinating creatures that sparkle and flicker in the summer woods. Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence, and the bugs light up to attract a mate. For a fun activity, catch and place several fireflies in a jar with a mesh top for a few minutes. Children love to examine these extraordinary insects and are captivated and delighted by their ability to produce cold light. Discuss the phenomena of bioluminescence before gently releasing the fireflies.

A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations–and How You Can Find Them in the Sky by Michael Driscoll

Few things are lovelier than a clear night sky filled with twinkling stars. In addition, studying the heavens with a young stargazer makes for a priceless memory. Although there is a plethora of scientific information concerning navigation, the atmosphere, telling time by the stars, mythology, or seasonal changes that would be interesting to pursue, simply looking upward at the stars and finding constellations or ‘pictures in the sky’ is a pleasurable pastime. How many constellations can you identify? Check out a book or find a relevant website and start gazing at the stars.

Hear and There Book: Night Sounds by Frank Gallo

Whooo, whooo do you hear hooting or calling out in the night? Owls, spring peepers, frogs, crickets and katydids all make interesting sounds that are fun to identify. As you walk around outside in the evening, do you hear noises that are familiar? Now, listen really hard. Do you hear animal calls or sounds that you may not have noticed before? Find out what they are and read about the insect or animal you have identified!

Forest Bright, Forest Night by Jennifer Ward

Exploring at night is an awesome way to generate enthusiasm, creativity and a love of the outdoors. While in the dark, you might just shed some light on a new way to learn and spark the interest of your child to find out more about nature at night!

Written by Amy M. O’Quinn/Originally posted on the National Writing for Children website

Kids in the Kitchen: Fun AND Learning

by Amy M. O’Quinn/Originally posted at the National Writing For Children website

Children learn by doing! This age-old maxim is certainly true, and the theory works in the kitchen as well as in the classroom. Almost all children, especially when they are young, enjoy helping their parents cook and dish up yummy culinary delights. Yes, it can be messy. Yes, you could probably do the job in a fraction of the time without little helpers underfoot. However, consider the rewards of letting your kids don an apron and wield a whisk:

  1. First and foremost, children learn about teamwork and how to follow directions. And most importantly, you are not just creating meals together—you are creating memories!
  2. Children learn about safety and cleanliness, but they also learn about good nutrition. With childhood obesity becoming an ever-growing epidemic, children need to be exposed to healthy foods and habits.
  3. Surprisingly, many young adults do not know their way around a kitchen. Children who learn important culinary skills at a young age are already one-step ahead of the crowd. Cooking is a life skill that will pay off big dividends in the years to come. Learning how to be self-sufficient is also a big booster to self-confidence. Moreover, learning how to chop, stir, mix, roll, pour, and cut, etc. develops fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination.
  4. The kitchen is a classroom!

Below is a list of just a few educational things children learn while cooking:

History: Many families heartily embrace their culture and heritage, and learning to cook ethnic foods that the family has enjoyed for generations is a way to connect the present with the past, while ensuring knowledge for the future. Children can also learn about the history and origin of various other foods as well. In essence, cooking is universal.

Science: Cooking is really a science in itself. Children will learn first-hand about chemical reactions, how temperature affects food and cookware, what ingredients will combine well and those that will not. They also learn about the different food groups and how to classify. In addition, the five senses will get a good workout as the children learn about eye-appealing colors and combinations, or tastes/smells such as sweet, salty, bitter, bland, sour, pungent, sharp, and textures such as smooth, rough, grainy, soft, etc.

Math: Many parents discover that cooking is a great way to teach fractions, measuring, weighing, ordinal numbers, counting, geometrical shapes, symmetry, etc.

Creativity/Art: When children are allowed to experiment and try new skills in the kitchen, they develop creativity. An appreciation for pleasing colors, composition, and presentation is also fostered. Who knows, you might just be training a future chef, baker, or food artist.

Reading/Literature: Studying a recipe definitely enhances reading skills and comprehension and emphasizes the importance of following directions. But there are also many ways to incorporate great literature while learning to cook. For example, after reading Homer Price, make doughnuts. How To Make An Apple Pie and See the World is a great lead-in for baking pies. The Duchess Bakes A Cake might inspire cake baking and learning about yeast. And the Little House on the Prairie books definitely inspire learning about good old-fashioned vittles and down-home cooking. It might also be fun to plan a ‘theme’ meal and use relevant recipes and cooking skills to prepare for a special memory-making occasion. The ideas are endless!

Here are a few more suggestions for books that lend themselves to cooking activities, but you can find a whole list of books that contain recipes at Cooking Up Reading:

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

-If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff

-If You Give a Moose A Muffin by Laura Numeroff

-Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

Cook-a-Doodle-Doo! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

-Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

-Country Bear’s Good Neighbor by Larry Dane Brimner

Other Books/Resources/Websites:

Earth’s Kids – Cooking For Kids

Modern Mom – Cooking Projects for Kids

Fork and Bottle – Books and Cookbooks for Kids

Children’s Recipes

Family Fun – Cooking With Kids

Cooking With Kids Website

PBS – Parent Helpers

Nick Jr. – Recipes

Scholastic’s List of Kid Cookbooks

Kid’s Cooking Activities Website – List of Best Kid Cookbooks

Mollie Katzen – Kid’s Page

Cooking With Children Can Be Easy (Kathy O’Reilly)

So now that you know that cooking with kids can be educational as well as fun, what are you waiting for? Grab your apron, preheat the oven, round up your kids. . . and start cooking!

Written by Amy M. O’Quinn/Originally posted on the National Writing for Children website

Why Learning Guides Are Important

Authors write books. Educators purchase many of those books to use in the classroom or for other instructional purposes. It is a wonderful partnership, and everyone benefits—the author, the teacher, the students, and the publisher. But there is something else to consider.

Teachers are increasingly using more and more trade books in the classroom along with or in lieu of traditional textbooks to teach everything from A to Z. There are books on every subject or topic imaginable, and these ‘real’ books written by (usually) one author who is passionate about the topic appeal to students on many levels. Whereas textbooks can be a bit dry and tend to summarize, ‘real’ books are exciting, compelling, informative, and immediate.

However, teachers (and librarians) often want some sort of learning guide or additional instructional activities to go along with the books they have chosen. Many authors and publishers are catching on to this trend, and they are delivering just what ‘the teacher ordered.’ They are discovering that if they create learning guides for their book(s), they will probably sell more copies to teachers and librarians. Again, everyone benefits!

I’ve noticed that many children’s authors, especially those who write non-fiction, have all kinds of links, activities, and lesson plans to coordinate with their books right on their websites. And some publishers, such as Sylvan Dell, are doing the same. In fact, Sylvan Dell provides a page on their website that aligns all their titles to science and math standards for every state.

So if you are an author, consider creating a simple learning guide or some instructional activities to go with your book(s). These can be as basic or as complex as you want to make them, and you can easily make these available to educators via your website. Perhaps you can even include links to resources you found during your research. Carla McClafferty’s website is an excellent example. Just remember, teachers love it when much of the educational legwork is done for them. Instead of starting from scratch, they get to do what they do best—teach!

Teachers Can Also Create Learning Guides

However, if learning guides are not available from an author or publisher, teachers can still create their own to align with state standards.

  1. First, review a list of standards for your state. Most educators are already very familiar with these standards, and they can easily be found online as well. Since I live in Georgia, I went to the georgiastandards.org website and chose to review educational standards for fourth grade. For residents of other states, you can simply go to your state’s Department of Education and follow the links to the appropriate grade level.
  2. Next, you can match up specific standards with a book or books that apply. Or if you have a special book you really like, you can probably find a standard that correlates, especially in the areas of language arts and social studies. Most of the time, the spectrum is rather broad.
  3. Have fun coming up with activities and lesson plans that will enhance the book’s content, reinforce learning concepts, and provide an enjoyable alternative to run of the mill worksheets.

An Example of a Learning Guide/Instructional Activities for Fourth Grade

A Fourth of July on the Plains

Written by Jean Van Leeuwen

Illustrated by Henri Sorenson

Pre-Reading Activities:

Meet the Author: Jean Van Leeuwen  (Give brief biographical information about the author and perhaps look at her website.)

Meet the Illustrator: Henri Sorenson (Give brief biographical information about the illustrator.) Show a few illustrations from the book and discuss the medium used.

Story Summary (from the publisher): Young Jesse and his family are with a wagon train traveling from Indiana to Oregon when they stop to celebrate the Fourth of July, but Jesse is too young to go hunting with the men, so he comes up with his own contribution to the festivities.

Background: This story is based on an account of a July 4th celebration along the Oregon trail in 1852, as recalled in the Diary of E.W. Conyers, 1905 and combined with the lively memories of Jesse A. Applegate, a seven-year-old traveler, as told in Recollections of My Boyhood, 1914.

Set the Scene: Discuss the setting of the story and view photographs of a plain. Discuss the Oregon Trail and geographical features encountered along the journey.

Vocabulary Words: Introduce new vocabulary words/terms.

Meet the Characters: Introduce characters and give their ages if relevant.


Read the book aloud or let students alternate reading orally in small groups.


What was it like to travel in a wagon train? Talk about and make a list of some of the things Henry and the other travelers experienced. What were some of the dangers? How long had they been traveling? Would the students be willing to face the hardships of such a journey, regardless of the adventure? Why or why not?

Patriotism: Why was a Fourth of July celebration so important to the travelers? What are some things we do to celebrate in modern times? What did the travelers do to celebrate the day? How did Henry and his friends participate? What happened to make Henry declare that they got their cannons after all?

Creative Writing: Have students pretend they are part of Henry’s wagon train and write a diary entry about the Fourth of July celebration—including all five senses.

Summarizing/Sequencing: Discuss the events of the story. Let students orally narrate what happened. What was the climax? Make a list of the events in the order they occurred.

Map Work/Math:

Trace the route of the Oregon Trail on a U.S. map. Pinpoint the general area of the story. Identify the states along the trail and calculate the number of miles covered in the journey. If the wagon train traveled an average of fourteen miles per day, how long would the trip take, etc.?

In Conclusion

The suggestions above are just a sampling of learning opportunities or instructional activities that can be used with the book, A Fourth of July on the Plains by Jean Van Leeuwen. Notice how well they correspond to the Georgia educational standards for fourth grade listed below. And there are many more standards I could have chosen as well.

SS4H6 The student will explain westward expansion of America between 1801 and 1861.

a. Describe territorial expansion with emphasis on the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the acquisitions of Texas (the Alamo and independence), Oregon (Oregon Trail), and California (Gold Rush and the development of mining towns).

SS4CG5 The student will name positive character traits of key historical figures and government leaders (honesty, patriotism, courage, trustworthiness).

ELA4R3 The student understands and acquires new vocabulary and uses it correctly in reading and writing.

ELA4LSV1 The student participates in student-to-teacher, student-to-student,

and group verbal interactions.

SS4G1 The student will be able to locate important physical and man-made features in the United States.

SS4G2 The student will describe how physical systems affect human systems.

e. Describe physical barriers that hindered and physical gateways that benefited territorial expansion from 1801 to 1861 (SS4H6a).

SS4CG4 The student will explain the importance of Americans sharing certain central democratic beliefs and principles, both personal and civic.

SS4CG5 The student will name positive character traits of key historical figures and government leaders (honesty, patriotism, courage, trustworthiness).

M4P1. Students will solve problems (using appropriate technology).

Map and Globe Skills

If you are an author, creating a learning guide is a great idea. It does not have to be complex, but you know your book(s) better than anyone else does, and you can provide teachers with some guidance for using your work in the classroom. Moreover, you increase your chances for more sales if you have additional resources for educators and librarians.

If you are a teacher, the sky is the limit. Using trade books in the classroom is a refreshing change for both you and your students. You can easily align your choices to state educational standards, all while choosing books that are fun and interesting to reinforce or introduce new topics or events. With just a little bit of planning, you can create learning opportunities and activities that your students will remember for years!

Good readers get the big picture. They comprehend the meaning of the text and better understand what the author is trying to convey. In addition, learning to identify a character’s point of view in a simple picture book or story is a great way to introduce  children to an important aspect of being a good reader.

It will also prepare them for heavier literature when they get older when identifying a character’s point of view is vital to understanding the plot and the underlying meaning or theme of the story. It is a skill to develop through the years, and having a basic working knowledge of this device will also help students learn about the first person, second person, third person, omniscient, and limited omniscient points of view as they mature as readers and writers.

Point of View (POV):

POV is simply the standpoint or position from which the reader gets to observe, consider, or ‘hear’ the story. For this particular article, I would like to concentrate on a first person narrative POV from a well-known children’s story.

A Simple Way To Teach POV:

Almost everyone knows the story of The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. The pigs are the victims and the wolf is the villain. We ‘hear’ the story from the viewpoint of the three little pigs, and we feel sorry for them—right down to the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins! The wolf is a mean, evil character, and we are happy to see justice served in the end. Obviously, he deserves what he gets!

So gather your students around and read the traditional story of The Three Little Pigs. Or have them act out the story with parts—using appropriate voices and simple costumes if possible. My children always use a high, squeaky voice for the pigs and a low, growly voice for the wolf. Discuss the elements of the story and the perspectives of the characters. Who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’? Who is right and who is wrong? How did the pigs feel and react when the wolf came to each of their doors?

A Twist:

But what if there is a chance that the traditional tale we all know and love might not be the ‘real’ story! What if the wolf has a different version of the story to tell? What about his POV?

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs:

Here is where the fun begins! Purchase or check out Jon Scieszka’s hilarious book, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs from your local library and read it to the students. As Alexander T. Wolf, the narrator, tells his audience on the very first page:

“Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story.”

Of course, in this version, we hear from Alexander T. Wolf. He claims that he had a cold and all that he wanted to do was borrow a cup of sugar from one of his neighbors when all the trouble began. According to him, he was framed!

Now discuss the differences in the two stories and the POVs. Compare and contrast. Make a comparison chart if possible.

The Verdict:

So who is telling the truth, the pigs or the wolf? Who is more believable? Why? Should Alexander T. Wolf have been put in jail?

No matter whose side the students choose, they should all be able to determine the differences in the POV of the characters in the two tales and how it changes the whole story, depending on WHO is doing the telling or whose side is championed!

If you like using the idea of the Big Bad Wolf versus The Three Little Pigs to teach POV, you might also find the book, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, by Eugene Trivizas to be another great resource to use with this lesson. As the title implies, the roles of the characters, as well as the POVs, have been switched. Another fun read!

Other Ideas:

Have students re-tell classic stories—but have them change the POV for some interesting twists.

Cinderella versus her stepsisters.

Little Red Riding Hood versus the wolf.

Goldilocks versus the three bears.


Scholastic’s site for fractured fairy tales and fables

Defendant Testifies: The Wolf’s side of the story

Literature guide to The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Nancy Polette

More fractured fairy tales

Lesson plans/ideas

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