Read Aloud Picture Books with Readers Theater Scripts for Each Month of the School Year

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Y’all, my students LOVE performing Readers Theater!  Even the less-proficient readers clamor for a part when I start passing out scripts.  And since you can reinforce so many soft skills along with the academic ones with readers theater, I try to use use it with each grade level at some point during the year.

Here are some of my favorite picture books to read aloud and follow up with readers theater performances:

The Gruffalo The Gruffalo – by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
A mouse is taking a stroll through the deep, dark wood when along comes a hungry fox, then an owl, and then a snake. The mouse is good enough to eat but smart enough to know this, so he invents the gruffalo!

I like this choice to introduce students to readers theater in September.  The story is funny and suspenseful, there’s lots of repetition which makes it easy for readers to do their part, and it’s a rhyming book that is done REALLY WELL (which is not always the case).  Plus there are lots of additional resources to use with the book:



Piggie Pie Piggie Pie – written by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Howard Fine
Gritch the Witch is grouchy, grumpy, and very hungry. The only thing that could make her happy is something extra special for lunch, and that is: Piggie Pie! Gritch zooms off on her broomstick to find eight plump piggies on Old MacDonald’s Farm.

This is a super silly book that’s great to use in October because it involves costumes/disguises and a witch, which makes it seasonal.  Performing the script is fun for kids because they get to practice using different voices (and it’s fun for me to watch them try to outdo one another making their classmates laugh!), and it also involves lots of repetition so most of the parts are easy to perform.

There are two sequels to the book: Zoom Broom and Broom Mates. The author herself has provided an activity guide for the Gritch books, and you can get a 5-day lesson plan from Mrs. Jump’s Class.



Turk and Runt Turk and Runt – written by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Frank Ansley
Turk’s parents are proud of him, the biggest, strongest, most graceful bird at Wishbone Farm. “He’s a dancer,” says his mother. “He’s an athlete,” says his father. “He’s a goner,” says his little brother, Runt.
But no one ever listens to Runt — even after people with seasonal plans and roasting pans begin showing up at Wishbone Farm, or even after the juiciest turkeys are chosen, one by one.

This is my choice for November since it’s a Thanksgiving story.  This is another book that is humorous, involves funny voices, and has some repetition.  (Are you seeing a theme in my readers theater preference?!?)  By  now the kids are getting more comfortable with performing, so they tend to really ham it up, and by this point you can add some movement rather than having kids remain in their seats (if you choose) and the kids enjoy imitating a ballet dancer, a football player, a little old lady, etc.

The author has an activity guide on her website, or you can use this activity guide from Wild Geese Guides If you’d rather have kids present this as a puppet show, you can get printable paper bag puppets for all the characters (to color yourself) from the author’s website.



One Eye, Two eyes, Three Eyes One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes: a Very Grimm Fairy Tale – retold by Aaron Shepherd, illustrated by Gary Clement
In this playful retelling of a tale from the Brothers Grimm, a young lady with cruel sisters gets help from an old woman, a handsome knight, and some magical verses — and in the end finds out she is not so alone as she believed.

December is usually too busy for reader’s theater, but in January we’re ready for another funny tale.  This story is longer and more complex than the previous ones, so it’s better to use it with more experienced “thespians” and readers.

Aaron Shepherd has a whole website dedicated to folk tales and readers theater scripts, if you don’t need a picture book version of the stories to introduce them to students.  He has a section of resources for the book, including the text of the tale, a music file for the magic song, and some color posters of the characters.



The Moon Over Star The Moon Over Star – written by Diane Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
In July 1969, the world witnessed an awe-inspiring historical achievement when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. For Mae, the young protagonist of this lyrical and hopeful picture book, that landing is something that inspires her to make one giant step toward all of the possibilities that life has to offer.

I always use this book in February since it ties into Black History Month.  In addition to using it for readers theater, it’s a nice segue into introducing students to Mae Jemison and Guion Bluford, the first African American female and male astronauts.  (Side note: We also mention Ronald McNair, the second African American male astronaut in space because he’s from our home state of South Carolina.)  This is the first book on the list that’s not humorous; by now the students are invested in readers theater, and the listeners can handle “straight” material versus comedy.

Because this book is a multiple award-winner, there are lots of extra resources available:



The Little Red Hen The Little Red Hen – written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

In March I’m ready to introduce readers theater to my beginner readers, so this simple story is great for second grade and sometimes even first grade.  We can then riff on the traditional story by enjoying variations like The Little Red Hen Makes Pizza and The Little Red Pen.  Of course there are many other traditional versions of The Little Red Hen, like the one by Paul Galdone (an oldie but a goodie) or the one by Heather Forest (with lots of fun rhymes), but I like the Pinkney retelling (his second appearance on this list!) with its oversize format and its use of color in the text to denote the different animals speaking.



Clara Caterpillar Clara Caterpillar – written by Pamela Duncan Edwarts, illustrated by Henry Cole
A carefree cabbage caterpillar named Clara, who becomes a common cream-colored butterfly, can′t possibly compete with a catty, conceited caterpillar named Catisha, who becomes a captivating crimson-colored butterfly. Or can she?

Spring is a great time for a story about caterpillars and butterflies, so we read this book along with Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert in April.  If you didn’t catch it in the book summary above, this book is FULL of alliteration!  Many of the words are new to (and a little difficult for) my students, so using it in the spring after they’ve had time to develop their reading skills a bit makes sense.  This author/illustrator duo have also published Some Smug Slug, Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke, Dinorella, and Rosie’s Roses (among others) if you’re looking for other books to teach alliteration.  Here’s an activity guide that can be used with any of their alliteration books.



The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors – written by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex
Tells a humorous story of how the rock, paper, and scissors found each other and formed a battle game.

You know I have to end the year on a humorous note, and this book fills the bill.  Just be prepared for games of rock, paper, scissors to randomly break out all over the room!  (I bow to the inevitable and give everyone 5-10 minutes to get it out of their system before I even begin reading!)  And yes, that is the same author of the book The Day the Crayons Quit!

Harper Collins put out an activity guide, and you can get a classroom activity packet from Stories by Storie.  If you’d like to have students make popsicle stick puppets, you can use this printout of the characters to color and cut out.



BONUS: You’ll want to bookmark this huge collection (769 pages!) of printable readers theater scripts adapted from picture books by James Servis.  I just found this resource while writing this post so I haven’t used any of the scripts myself yet, but I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at them.

Check back for my next post (or subscribe to the blog using the link on the left to receive updates by email), which will feature some tips and tricks for using readers theater activities with students.  In the meantime, if you have a favorite book or two that lends itself to a fun performance, please share in the comments!

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Valentine Books and Activities for Students

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Love – or at least like – is in the air, and valentines are changing hands.  Valentine’s Day is a big deal in elementary school, and these books and activities will help you celebrate with your students without getting too mushy!

This is Not a Valentine  This is Not a Valentine – written by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
A book for when you care about someone, but not in a romantic, sugary kind of way; for when want to show you like someone every day, not just one day a year; for when you have a true friendship and want to make sure the other person knows how you feel.

This is a great book to reinforce the idea that Valentine’s Day isn’t just for boyfriends and girlfriends but rather for all friends.  The illustrations depict an inclusive classroom, and the ideas for showing someone you care are meaningful and practical for the elementary audience.


Valensteins  Valensteins – written and illustrated by Ethan Long
The members of the Fright Club are all wondering what Frank K. Stein is making with his scissors and pink paper.  Of course, the kids will know right away but that won’t stop them from giggling at all the wrong guesses before the valentine is revealed!

Choose this read-aloud for your younger students who want a silly story for Valentine’s Day.  This book is part of the Fright Club series, which features funny/scary stories about ghosts, werewolves, and of course Frankenstein for your readers and listeners.  You can find somefollow-up printable activities at the author’s website.


Here Comes Valentine Cat  Here Comes Valentine Cat – written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Cat does NOT like Valentine’s Day. It’s much too mushy, and no way is he making anyone a valentine—especially not his new neighbor (Dog) who keeps throwing bones over the fence and hitting him in the head!

Your students will have fun making predictions and writing their own valentine messages from Cat to Dog when you share this book.  My introduction to this Here Comes Cat series from Underwood and Rueda was the book Here Comes Santa Cat, and I was instantly in love!  The expressions on Cat’s face in EVERY illustration are absolutely spot on, and the stories are brimming with humor.  See for yourself in this Valentine Cat read-aloud video from Brightly Storytime.


Love Ruby Valentine  Love, Ruby Valentine – written by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Lynne Avril
Ruby works so hard preparing treats for her friends that she sleeps right through Valentine’s Day.

This book sends a lovely message about doing for others, as opposed to thinking only about what you’ll get on Valentine’s Day, and provides an important reminder that you can show appreciation for your loved ones any day of the year.  You might need a little practice with the rhythm of the rhyming text, and there’s a lot of small detail in the illustrations so it’s best to use a document camera if you’re sharing the book with a group.

Our follow-up activity when reading this book is to use origami paper to create valentines that fold up into their own envelopes.  You can find the directions at the Tinkerlab website, which includes a great step-by-step photo tutorial.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll share your winning Valentine read-aloud books in the comments!


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Read Aloud Polar Bear Nonfiction Books

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Nonfiction Polar Bear Books

My last post was focused on polar bear fiction books and included a variety of activities to go with them, so today I’m going to share some nonfiction titles that make good read-alouds.  Criteria for inclusion in this list includes narrative style with nonfiction text features, large format for group sharing, and of course plentiful facts for learning!

Day in the Life of a Polar Bear  A Day in the Life of a Polar Bear – by Sharon Katz Cooper
Follows a mother polar bear throughout her day with her cubs as they hunt for food, swim, play, bathe, and go to sleep.

I like this book because it includes action-packed photos that actually relate to the information being shared, rather than just stock photos of random polar bears walking around.  The text is quite child-friendly and lends itself to a chronological retelling by students (perhaps even using a Judy clock to reinforce the skill of telling time).  Includes a “Polar Bear Lifecycle” diagram and some critical thinking questions.

Do You Really Want to Meet a Polar bear  Do You Really Want to Meet a Polar Bear – written by Marcie Aboff, illustrated by Daniele Fabbri
The hero of our story, a bored student researcher, decides to visit the Arctic and learn about polar bears firsthand.

This book (which is part of a series that includes a dozen other animals) is a great introduction to an animal research project, and presents a perfect opportunity to compare primary and secondary information sources.  It’s also told in the second person, addressing the listening audience directly.  The author includes a collection of simple facts, along with a glossary and a bibliography of additional books and websites for curious readers.

Polar Bears Hunters  Polar Bears: Hunters of the Snow and Ice – by Elaine Landau
Learn all about the life of a polar bear, including its characteristics, habitat, diet, mating season, and threats to its way of life.

The text in this book is a little more dense than the previous two, but it’s still relayed in a second-person conversational style that will grab listeners’ attention and put them in the center of the action.  Most of the photos are large and clear (although the book itself is not oversized) and there are a few nice closeups of the clawed paw and hollow fur.  The author includes a page of fun facts about polar bears, along with a glossary and a bibliography of additional books and websites for further exploration.

A Polar Bear's World  A Polar Bear’s World – by Caroline Arnold
Find out what happens in a polar bear’s world when mother and her two cubs venture from their warm den into the Arctic  world.

Physically, this is the largest of these four books, measuring almost 11″ x 11″ and it features cut-paper illustrations (versus photos) that are easily seen in a group setting.  The main story is told in narrative fashion, with caption boxes providing additional facts and statistics on each page, and follows a mother and her cubs for the first two years of their lives.  Labeled illustrations of other arctic animals the bears encounter are included, although no other information about them is provided.  The author does include a map of their native habitat, a list of polar bear fun facts, and a glossary.  The author also shares a variety of follow-up activities for her books on her website.

If you have a favorite nonfiction polar book to use with students, I hope you’ll share it in the comments!


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Polar Bear Books and Activities for Learning in the Library

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Polar Bear Fiction Books

We haven’t had any snow (yet) this year, but that won’t stop us from enjoying some polar bear fun in the library!  After all, February 27 is International Polar Bear Day and these animals need our help.  Polar bears happen to be one of my all-time favorite animals, thanks in part to the amazing polar bear exhibit we used to have at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC.  There was an underwater viewing window in their habitat where I would gaze completely enthralled at the playful bears, just longing to swim with them.  That exhibit closed long ago, so now I have to settle for tuning into a polar bear zoo cam.  (I’ve included links to a few at the end of this post.)

Polar bear live cam image

In the meantime, I can enjoy sharing polar bear books like these with my students:

The Bear Report  The Bear Report – written and Illustrated by Thyra Heder
Sophie seems a little bored by the polar bears she’s supposed to be reporting on, but when one (named Olafur) appears and takes her on a tour of his home she becomes a big fan. Includes an author’s note about her trip to Iceland.  And may I say, I really love these light-infused illustrations!

It’s obvious that this book makes a great introduction to a unit on researching and writing about animals, and the idea of Sophie taking a tour of a polar bear habitat provides a natural introduction to using videos as information sources in addition to using print resources.  Along with presenting facts (in narrative style) about polar bears, this book also touches on whales, seals, arctic foxes, and glacier mice as well, which makes it a good segue story into other polar animals.  And there’s also a mention of the northern lights, which would make a perfect prompt for a watercolor project.

You can also share a video school visit presentation by the author.

  You’re Snug With Me – written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry
A mother bear has given birth to two cubs, and as they snuggle cozily together she shares a lyrical description of what the world is like beyond their warm den.  Try to use a document camera or ebook version of this story when sharing with students, because the dazzlingly intricate illustrations deserve close-up examination.

As someone who enjoys zentangle and mandala drawing myself, I was immediately inspired to pick up a pen and create some drawings of my own, so I searched out some line-drawing clip art of polar animals to give my students so they could try some patterns themselves.  If your kids don’t have time to draw their own patterns, Teaching Books has some coloring sheets available for download.  The author also provides some activities on her website.

Note there are two other gorgeous books in this series: You’re Safe with Me about a mama elephant, and You’re Strong with Me about a mother giraffe.

Hush Little Polar Bear  Hush Little Polar Bear – written and illustrated by Jeff Mack
Follow a little polar bear through his dreams to places anyone would love to visit: the beach, the farm, a waterfall, the jungle, and more until finally he drifts into the home of a sleeping girl who dreaming of polar bear travels herself.

The rhyme scheme of this book totally lends itself to singing the words (to the tune of Hush Little Baby), although it’s a bit long for a performance.  Naturally it makes a wonderful bedtime book to send home with your younger students, and it would make a sweet bedtime song.  You can find instrumental versions of the song on YouTube.

I like to use this book as the basis for an art exercise, where I read the words to the students but I don’t show them the pictures.  Students then either activate prior knowledge about the locations in the story or use their research skills to find out about them.  They then create their own illustrations to share with the class.

Three Snow Bears  The Three Snow Bears – written and illustrated by Jan Brett
A retelling of the Goldilocks story substituting polar bears for woodland bears, Brett incorporates elements of the Inuit lifestyle into this entertaining story.  As we enjoy the tale of Aloo-ki investigating the bears’ igloo and then getting caught by them, we also follow the story of the bears’ day out as well as the adventure her own huskies have when they float out to see on a loose patch of ice.

This is another book that students will want to get a good look at, as the drawings in the margins are rather small, so a document camera or a small-group setting would be best.

Brett always scrupulously researches clothing when she’s drawing characters from other cultures, and the designs she used in this book can be compared to the Indian patterns in You’re Snug With Me.  For this book she traveled to Iqualuit, capital of the Nunavut Territory in northern Canada, to meet and learn about the Inuit people. Read her newsletter to learn more about how she prepared to write this book.

This makes a great addition to a fairy tale comparison unit, but it’s also a fun stand-alone story.  You could also compare it to similar books by Brett, such as Trouble With Trolls (inspired by a trip to Norway), and The Mitten which has a Ukrainian influence.  Or you could contrast it with her Three Little Dassies which features bold African printed clothing, and the Persian folktale The Tale of the Tiger Slippers.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favorite nonfiction Polar Bear books.  In the meantime, please share your favorite polar bear books and resources in the comments, and here are the links to the Polar Bear Cams I promised you:









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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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Spooky – But Not Too Scary- Books to Read Aloud

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October is the month when thoughts turn to pumpkins, ghosts, witches, and spiders.  Oftentimes our younger students want to be swept up in the thrill of a spine-tingling story, but they don’t want it to be so scary that they actually become afraid.  Here are some just-right books for younger listeners:

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara
This book became an instant favorite with me when it debuted.  The simple orange, black, and translucent white color palette won it a spot on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008 list as well as starred reviews from Booklist and Horn Book.  (Yes, I still remember that 11 years later.  That’s how big an impression this book made on me!)  The illustrations of the girl and her cat reacting to the ghosts and then catching them are amusing, and the sight of the white cat in his black cat costume is delightful.  This one never fails to please young audiences.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything written by Linda Williams and Illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Our title character is traveling through the dark woods when she realizes she’s being followed by some creepy clothing items.  She bravely tells each “You can’t scare me!” until she’s finally confronted by a huge jack-o-lantern who sends her hurrying home.  She ultimately conquers her fear and puts the pumpkin-headed man in his place — literally!  The audience will enjoy repeating the refrain “Clomp clomp wiggle wiggle shake shake” with you, and adding movement to the chant can give energetic children a chance to move a little as well.

 Bone Soup: a Spooky, Tasty Tale by Alyssa-Joan Capucilli
The tale of Stone Soup gets a seasonal makeover in this version of the folktale favorite.  The witches and monsters are absolutely not scary looking, but the ingredients (slimy sludge, old toenails) used in their bone soup deliver the “ick” factor nicely.  Bonus: The author includes a recipe in the back of the book listing the creature ingredients and their corresponding human ingredients.  For example, you can substitute 3 Tablespoons of olive oil for the juice of a toad and 2 carrots for wrinkled fingers.  A tasty tale, indeed.

Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette
The bouncy, repetitive text in this counting book is just begging to be read aloud, and the titular ghost encounters one surprising creature after another as he slip-slides through the house.  The audience is given an opportunity to guess who will appear around each corner before he/she/it is revealed, and can repeat the “monster” noises that signal each encounter, which keeps them engaged in the story.  Note that this is a lift-the-flap book, so you could even have audience members take turns revealing the surprises.

 Pumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming
Rhyming books – when done well – make great read-alouds, and this one is definitely done well.  The playful rhymes (toothless hags with tattered rags) will appeal to older listeners as well as little ones.  I’m a big fan of Denise Fleming and her handmade paper illustrations, and the technique is quite effective here. The theme of trick-or-treating has become somewhat outdated as more organizations host fall festivals instead, but the thrill of donning a costume and collecting candy is still a popular one.

 The Too-Scary Story by Bathanie Deeney Murguia
This reads well as a bedtime story, but can also be used for a story time session since there is so much to notice and discuss.  Grace wants a SCARY store but Walter doesn’t want it to be too scary, so every time Papa introduces a plot twist (creatures, footsteps, growling) Walter puts a benign interpretation on it while Grace’s imagination runs wild.  Ultimately the darkness in the room makes even Grace nervous, and Walter finds his courage to confront the frightening shadow.  Bonus: Students will enjoy looking for the little owl on each page spread.

What are your favorite read-alouds for younger readers?  Please share in the comments!


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