Summer Read Aloud Beach Themes – Mermaids

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School is out for the summer in most locations, but many teachers and librarians are still working with students in summer programs.  I myself am involved in summer school within my district and have chosen a beach theme for my library.  Hey, if I can’t enjoy the sand and sea for real, at least I can pretend!  This means I’m looking for beach books to use in read-aloud sessions with my elementary students.  In order to bridge the gap between humans and the ocean, I’m introducing the theme with the topic of mermaids!

I guess I myself am somewhat fascinated by the idea of mermaids, and since I loved to swim as a child (and still do!) my parents sometimes teasingly called me a mermaid.  There’s a definite allure to the idea of diving underwater and exploring the wonders of the sea, and who better to serve as a guide than a mermaid?  In my last large school library book order I purchased a few new mermaid books to go along with the ones we already have.  Here’s a look at our Mermaid Collection and how I’m using these books with kids.  Click the book title links to look inside each one.  Click the author and illustrator links to go to their official webpages (or the closest thing I could find).  For each book I’ve included a summary, my favorite things about the story, and some ideas and resources for extension activities.  Note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, so if you use the link and make a purchase I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Cover Image for Oona  Oona – written by Kelly DiPucchio, Illustrated by Raissa Figueroa

Well this is officially the MOST ADORABLE mermaid I’ve ever seen, and these illustrations just made me want to buy all the books Figueroa has illustrated, as well as order some art from her Etsy shop!  The hair, the stripy tail that is giving me subtle clownfish vibes, the expressions on her tiny face – it’s all just perfection.  In fact, the whole color palette for this book sets the tone for underwater adventure as this determined mermaid and her otter sidekick embark on a quest to retrieve a shining crown resting in the deep, dark rift.  The delightful twist after the recovery makes Oona’s tenacity all the more admirable, and provides a satisfying ending to the tale.

    • Writing Prompt: How Would You Get a Crown? – students will explain (with writing, drawing, or both) their plan to retrieve the crown
    • Wooden Spoon Mermaids – allow students to use simple craft supplies to create their own mermaids
    • Whale Songs – Oona listens to the whale singing when she needs comforting during a frightening event.  Students will listen to whale songs and learn about how these ocean giants communicate.  I found a short video explaining whale communication and put it in a YouTube Whale Playlist with some other videos of actual whale sounds for kids to enjoy.

Cover image for The Mermaid by Jan BrettThe Mermaid – by Jan Brett

I have been a fan of Jan Brett for over 30 years, and I’m always awed by the details she includes in her artwork and her knack for telling two stories at once by using the margins of her illustrations.  This book is a clever retelling of the Goldilocks tale, influenced by a trip Brett took to Okinawa.  Instead of bears, we have Papa (Otosan), Mama (Okasan), and Baby Octopus, and of course the intruder is an adventurous young mermaid named Kiniro who is traveling with her puffer fish friend.  When reading this book to a large group, you really need to be able to show the images on a large screen using a document camera so the audience can appreciate all the small details, including just what type of hat Baby Octopus is wearing on his head and what is happening to the Octopus family while Kiniro explores their home.  This is another book where a crown features prominently, and the ending here – just as it did in Oona – reveals the generous nature of our heroine.

    • Inspiration for The Mermaid – Brett shares the factors that influenced her choices for the book
    • Create a Crown – students will use card stock and craft supplies to design a wearable crown worthy of a mermaid king or queen
    • Under the Sea Research – students will learn about some of the sea animals and seashells found in the illustrations of the story
    • Sy the Giant Pacific Octopus – Brett modeled her octopus artwork on this octopus (in the video below) after having an “arms-on experience” at the aquarium

Cover for Mermaid Dreams Mermaid Dreams – by Kate Pugsley

In this simple story, Maya goes to the beach with her parents but is too shy to join the other children playing in the sand.  She falls asleep on her turtle float and dreams of the creatures below the waves, including a friendly mermaid.  They explore together until Maya wakes up to a real girl inviting her to pretend to be mermaids together.  The illustrations are childlike, and the endpapers totally remind me of an “I Spy” book.

    • I Spy – create a list of items for kids to look for in the illustrations
    • Stamping or Sponge Art – provide rubber stamps and ink, or sponge stamps (kids can even cut out their own) and paint for students to create their own undersea illustrations
    • Greeting Cards – tell students that as an artist, Pugsley designs greeting cards to sell.  Allow them to take their art a step further and design and stamp their own greeting card for someone.

Cover for The Little Mermaid The Little Mermaid – by Jerry Pinkney

In this modern variation on the traditional tale of The Little Mermaid, Pinkney substitutes a friendship for a romance as Melody trades her voice to the Sea Witch for the opportunity to meet a girl who lives on land.  The girls enjoy an adventure-filled day together before Melody is called back to family to save them from the Sea Witch.  The author’s note amusingly explains that “while my research of the natural world was extensive, I used no live models for the mermaids.”  This is a book best shared with a document camera if reading to a large group; otherwise students will miss many of the details of the illustrations, which beautifully change from cool blues below the ocean to vibrant yellows above the water.  I also appreciate that this story includes mer-people of both sexes.

    • Compare and Contrast – have students note similarities between this and the traditional tale (either a printed story or a movie version)
    • Giving Up Your Voice – Zion tells Melody she should never give up her voice for anything.  Discuss the deeper meaning of “your voice” and what it means for individuals today.
    • Seashell Jewelry – the mer-people in this story wear beautiful seashell necklaces and bracelets.  Allow students to create their own shell jewelry to wear.

Cover for Sukey and the Mermaid Sukey and the Mermaid – written by Robert San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

As a South Carolina resident, I’m partial to this Sea Islands folktale passed down from African American slaves and filled with Gullah dialect.  Sukey toils hard at her chores under the watchful eye of her stepfather, until one day she meets spends a stolen afternoon on the beach and meets a mermaid – Mama Jo – near the shore.  When Sukey worries aloud that she’ll be punished for wasting the afternoon, Mama Jo gives her a gold coin to appease her parents.  Mama Jo continues to watch over Sukey until the young woman chooses to marry a good man, a final gift from her “mermaidy godmother.”  The illustrations are done with Pinkney’s signature scratchboard technique.

    • Gullah Culture – give students a taste of Gullah life with these resources from SCETV
    • Scratchboard Art – allow students to create their own scratch art mermaid illustrations, either from scratch (no pun intended!) or using commercial scratch cards
    • The Pinkneys – explain that Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney are father and son who both create children’s picture books.  Allow students to share interests they have in common with a parent or grandparent.

Cover for Mermaid and Me  Mermaid and Me – by Soosh

In what apparently started out as an Instagram challenge, Soosh created a series of mermaid watercolors that eventually became the illustrations for this book.  In it, a girl who doesn’t fit in well at school is surprised to encounter a real-life mermaid (who looks more than a bit like her) who becomes her friend.  The two take turns enabling one another to enjoy adventures underwater and on land, until the day Mermaid becomes tangled in an abandoned net.  The ending provides an environmental plea as well as a message about friendship and inclusion, and the epilogue is a sweet glimpse into the future.

    • Draw Your Mer-Person Twin – allow students to imagine what they would look like as a mer-person and then draw it on paper
    • Coloring Pages – I usually prefer for kids to create original art rather than use printed coloring pages, but Soosh has provided some mermaid coloring sheets on her site
    • Ghost Nets – provide some background on the dangers of discarded nets, and inspire students with the Ghost Net Exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum which includes the largest collection of ghost net art in the Southern Hemisphere.

Cover for Aqualicious  Aqualicious – by Victoria Kann

I’m always in favor of sharing series books with kids because it helps them with the sometimes difficult decision of what to read next.  I also appreciate that for such a “girly” series, Kann includes the boys by giving Peter a role in the story.  When Pinkalicious discovers a tiny mermaid named Aqua at the beach, she immediately gets excited about showing her new friend the human world, even when Aqua isn’t comfortable with some of the activities.  When the brother and sister finally agree to take Aqua home, she reveals that she doesn’t live in the ocean at all.  This story provides several opportunities to discuss the importance of listening to our friends and respecting their wishes.

    • Aqualicious Curriculum Guide – provided by Victoria Kann
    • Design a Castle for Aqua – using whatever building materials are on hand, students will design and construct a castle for Aqua, just like Pinkalicious and Peter built her a sand castle.  (If no blocks, Legos, etc. are available, students can design a castle on paper.)  Students will build it to scale so that it fits one of our our mini mermaid dolls.
    • Mermaid Show Videos – students might be interested to know that there are mermaid shows in various locations similar to the one Aqua performs in.  Here are clips from the show hosted at Ripley’s Aquarium.

 

Cover for The Mermaid's Gift  The Mermaid’s Gift – written by Claudia McAdam, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner

I’m sharing this book here because it does include a mermaid, but I believe it would fit better into a unit on Folk Tales and Legends better than it fits a summer beach theme. Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.

I’m working on a page of instructions, resources, and supplies for the Mermaid Extension Activities I’ve listed here if you’d like more information about those suggestions, and I’ll link to it when it’s ready.  I hope you’ll also leave a comment to share your favorite mermaid books, crafts, and activities!

 

 

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Family Reunion Picture Books – Teaching Resources

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Now that travel and gatherings are becoming safer for folks, it’s likely that many families will be planning holiday reunions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  If you’d like to tap into the excitement (or trepidation) that students might be feeling about that, you can’t go wrong with these four picture books:

Going Down Home with Daddy – written by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter

In this Caldecott honor book, Lil Alan looks forward to the annual family reunion at the farm where Daddy grew up, but everyone is supposed to share something special and Alan worries about arriving with empty hands.  As he goes on a tractor ride, enjoys family meals, attends church services, and listens to his relatives share memories, he realizes he can use the gifts of their land to pay tribute to his family’s roots and strength.  Lyons use of imagery and metaphor keep the language lively, and Minter’s illustrations are awash with pattern and symbolism that reinforce the idea of family values and traditions.  There is so much to notice and ponder in this beautiful book, you’ll want to allow plenty of time for discussion after you share it.

Teacher’s Guide from Peachtree Publishers – we all know that some teacher’s guides are kind of lame (summary, superficial discussion questions, coloring sheet) but this one is PACKED with thinking questions, cross-curricular activities, and links to additional resources.  And don’t miss the information about the Adinkra symbols used by Minter in the illustrations!

 Enjoy a video read-aloud performed by the author

Author Website for Kelly Starling Lyons (includes a page of activities for kids)

Visit The Brown Bookshelf which was cofounded by Lyons and celebrates black authors and illustrators

Illustrator Website for Daniel Minter – enjoy his beautiful fine art, and see page spreads from his other books

The Relatives Came – written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

“Early one morning the relatives pile into their rainbow station wagon and drive down the twisty mountain roads to spend the summer with their relatives. The weeks that follow are filled with hugging and laughing and eating and sleeping and enjoying one another, until it’s time for the trip back home.”  This is one of my all-time favorite books ever, in large part because of the happy marriage between the poignant text and the exuberant illustrations that make me grin every time I look at them.  (The station wagon hitting the mailbox

 

Ruby’s Reunion Day Dinner – written by Angela Dalton, illustrated by Jestenia Southerland

“Everyone coming to the reunion is bringing a signature dish, and Ruby wants to contribute something too.  How discouraging that everyone tells her she’s too small to work in the kitchen!  What can she prepare that is special enough to share and simple enough for her to make?”  For the listeners who really look forward to the family feast (and really, who among us doesn’t?) this book is a love letter to down-home cooking, and the emphasizes the importance of food in family traditions.  Dalton’s descriptive language will have your mouth watering as you read: “The crack and sizzle of chicken and catfish frying up…the slow babbling of collard greens simmering…the zing of Aunt Lena’s pickled okra that crunch when you bite them…”  Delicious!

Enjoy a read aloud video performed by the author and illustrator, courtesy of TeachingBooks

Author Website for Angela Dalton

Illustrator website for Jestenia Southerland

Family Reunion – written by Chad and Dad Richardson, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin

Not all kids get excited about attending family reunions, and this book (written by a father and son) acknowledges that reluctance.  Aaron is sure it will be boring, and he’d rather stay home and play video games, but from the first welcoming hug from PopPop he’s drawn into the spirit of the gathering.  As Aaron participates in the the dance party, the church service, and the family stories, he realizes how enjoyable – and meaningful –  family get-togethers are.  Bonus: The whole book is written in haiku format!


Enjoy the book trailer!

View some page spreads from the book

Hear from the authors about their inspiration for the story, and see photos of them and their family

Illustrator page for Ashleigh Corrin


Do you have other family reunion books you like to share with students?  Can you recommend other resources or activities for these books?  Please leave a comment and tell us about them!

 

 

 

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Looking for Library Makerspace and Learning Center Ideas?

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Several years ago I crowdsourced a collection of ideas for using Learning Centers in the Library Media Center.  It was amazing how the folks in my PLN generously shared their most popular activities, and all of our students benefitted from it!

In light of the changes we’ve seen recently in the way students are learning, I feel it’s time to revisit these suggestions in order to update them as well as add to them.  Some of the links are broken now, most of the ideas don’t have an accompanying photo, and many of them don’t provide enough detail to easily recreate them in your own library.  But most importantly, back then we weren’t really talking about STEAM or Makerspaces, but those are a huge part of what librarians provide now and any list that doesn’t acknowledge that is woefully out of touch!

And it’s not just the ideas that need an upgrade.  At the time, wikis were the hot new curation tool of choice, but there are other, more effective options out there now that avoid some of the drawbacks of wikis.  (For example, the endless scrolling to view all the ideas!)  Some of the platforms I’m considering using this time around are Wakelet, LiveBinders, Padlet, and Destiny Collections.

So for the next few weeks I’ll be working on a new and improved version of the Library Learning Center collection, and I’d love to have your input.  Please leave a comment with your suggestions and links for great activities, and/or your opinion on the perfect online curation tool for the project.  I’ll be sure to give you credit for your ideas!

 

Lightbulb image created by me using Word Art
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Folk Tale Fun with Piggie Pie and Readers Theater

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Psst….Psst….Have you heard about the book Piggie Pie by Margie Palatini?

It’s been a big hit in my library this past week!  Not only is it fun to read aloud, with all the repetition, alliteration, and puns but kids love connecting the dots between this book and other folk tales and songs they’ve heard before.  Gritch the Witch fantasizes over several disgusting dishes (including the tongue-tangling boiled black buzzard’s feet) before deciding on Piggie Pie for lunch, and the hunt for the main ingredient begins.  But the clever pigs have a plan to escape her, and the ending provides a delightful and diabolical twist.

You’ll want to follow the book up with a Readers Theater version of the story, and Palatini kindly provides one herself, complete with illustrations from the story.  It even includes a quiz at the end about the meanings of the colorful expressions Gritch uses throughout the book!

Whether you do or don’t celebrate Halloween, this makes a nice seasonal story because it includes a witch, a scarecrow, and some costumes, but it doesn’t use the “H” word.  And the silliness makes it appropriate for younger listeners as well as older kids.

Which Margie Palatini book is your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

 

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The WWW is Back in a New Format!

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  Long-time readers of this blog will remember the WWW (Weekly Wednesday Website), an idea I came up with back in 2010 as a way to share a weekly internet resource with my teachers.  Each Wednesday I sent out an email featuring a relevant website, with an explanation of how to use it and suggestions for integrating it in the classroom.  A few years later I changed schools and I stopped sending out the WWW, but I’ve always thought it was one of my better ideas so I’m bring it back.

This time around I’m expanding the scope of the WWW from a single site sent in an email, to a weekly newsletter of resources for teachers to use themselves and/or share with their students.  Content will include websites for students to use independently, free tech tools for teachers, information about seasonal or timely events, tips and tricks to enhance virtual/hybrid learning, links to activities and lesson plan ideas, articles and blog posts about teaching, and self-care resources.  What better tool to curate such a collection than Wakelet?

  I’ve been a fan since Wakelet burst onto the scene a few years ago because of the way it integrates so successfully with Twitter.  I get daily professional development on Twitter courtesy of the people I follow there, and Wakelet provides an easy way to save and organize the tweets I want future access to.  My respect for the Wakelet support team has grown as I’ve watched how responsive they are to feedback from educators, and the number of new features they continue to add is astonishing — especially when you consider there are no fees of any kind for users!

This is just one of the many ways to use Wakelet, and I’ll be sharing more ideas in the future. For now, my newsletter is Public and I’ve set it to Copy, so feel free to use it and re-mix it and share it yourself if you like.  You can click this link to view, save, and copy it.

 

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AASL Conference 2021

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Anyone else wishing you could be at the AASL National Conference in Salt Lake City this year?  Even though I can’t make it in person, I can still learn from those who are presenting by:

How are you hacking the AASL Conference this month?  Please share in the comments!

 

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If You Share Google Docs, You Need “Make A Copy”

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Ever shared a Google Doc with someone and then realized they were editing your original document when your intention was that they would work from a copy instead?  Did you know that you can force users to make a copy before they can access your document?  This quick screencast video will show you how!

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