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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Autumn Leaves: Kindergarten Story Time

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 I love autumn, and I enjoy sharing all the elements of the season with my students. In this lesson I shared the fabulous book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, which never gets old for me even though I’ve been reading it aloud for ten years! We followed the book with a discussion of all the items she was able to make with leaves, and then we brainstormed ideas of other pictures that could be created.

I then gave each student a sheet of plain construction paper, and an assortment of real leaves and acorns from my yard. Ordinarily I would take the students on a nature walk around the school grounds to collect materials for this project, but Hurricane Michael closed our school and then left a wet mess behind. As we talked about what body parts people and animals have, the students experimented with different sizes and shapes of leaves to design their own leaf pictures. And while they were making art, I was taking photos!

We ended our time together by returning to the rug and singing Autumn Leaves are Falling Down by The Kiboomers on YouTube. I chose this song because it mentions the colors of the leaves that fall from the trees, which is one of the facts I wanted the students to know.

I reinforced that concept with our line up activity: When I called a child’s name, s/he had to name a real leaf color (green, yellow, orange, brown) before lining up.

Do you share the beauty of autumn leaves with your students? Please leave a comment and share your ideas!

 

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Scarecrow Fun and Friendship: Kindergarten Story Time

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 It’s always helpful to repeat books, songs, and rhymes, with students — especially younger learners. It makes concepts more “sticky,” and the kids enjoy participating in activities that they’re comfortable with. So in this session we revisited the topic of scarecrows, mixing some old resources with some new ones.

 The students briefly saw a scarecrow at the end of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves, so for this lesson I wanted to choose a book in which a scarecrow had a more prominent role. I decided on Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long so that we could “plant the seed” of becoming a more compassionate friend as well. When the farmer places a scarecrow in the field, the other residents of the farm are put off by his scowl and decide to leave him alone. Only Otis looks past the surface, and his response is a gentle lesson in empathy.

After sitting still for a story and a discussion, it’s time to get up and move. I wrote a simple poem made up of rhyming couplets which included the body parts of a scarecrow and taught it to the students along with some simple motions. We stood up and repeated it a couple of times until everyone was reasonably good at performing it.

The scarecrow pieces on the chart match the scarecrow pieces the students were given. Click to enlarge.

Then I gave each student a sheet of blank construction paper and a set of colored cut-outs of each of the scarecrow parts from Free Kids Crafts. (There’s also a black-and-white version available that kids can color themselves.) The children used the pieces to put together a picture of a scarecrow as we repeated the poem.

We ended with a repeat of the Scarecrow Song by the Learning Station on YouTube. The students always enjoy an opportunity to get up and dance!

Our lining up activity was to have each child name and point to a body part that a scarecrow has. Some of the things I do may sound very easy, but the majority of kids at my school are at-risk students so I usually start simple and then build up to more complex concepts. I’ve found it’s a good way to allow all of the students to experience some success. I also try to include lots of hands-on manipulatives and I bring in real items for them to handle, like the scarecrows you see at the top of this post which came from my local craft store.

I’d love to hear what scarecrow activities you use with your students. Please leave a comment and share!

 

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Orchards and Trees: Kindergarten Story Time

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I’m “branching out” from apple trees in this week’s kindergarten story time to fruit trees in general. (See what I did there?)

As a callback to our last story time we began our session with the song Way Up High in an Apple Tree by The Learning Station.

 Then I shared the nonfiction book At the Orchard by Bruce Esseltine which depicts a variety of fruit trees and provides a nice opportunity for students to identify different types of fruit.

 That led us into the rhyme A Tree Starts to Grow which I got from Miss Nina’s Weekly Video Show on YouTube. I did not use her video with the students; instead I made a chart of the words and taught it to the children myself. (Click the image to enlarge it.) I always try to alternate sitting still for a story with some singing and moving so the kids don’t get too restless.

 Then I used the Epic! ebook website to share A Tree Grows Up by Marfe Delano, which is a colorful look at the life cycle of a tree. I love the close-up of acorns on the title page, and the fact that the book mentions that acorns are food for different animals as well as seeds for trees.

 I brought in a couple dozen brown and green acorns from my yard, and the last few minutes of our time were spent examining the acorns and describing how they feel. Our “lining up activity” was for each student to place his/her acorn in the correct cup (brown acorns in the brown cup, green acorns in the green cup) on their way to the door. I sent the acorns back to the classroom to be used in the math center for counting and sorting.

Do you have some additional resources to recommend? Please leave a comment!

 

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Apples: Kindergarten Story Time

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This week my story time focus shifted from animal farms to fruit tree farms. My theme was apples, and it was a multi-sensory experience for the children.

 I started by reading aloud At the Apple Farm by Rachel Albanese, which is a nonfiction account of a mother and daughter visiting an orchard to pick baskets of apples. I had a real basket with a couple of apples in it for the students to pass around while we reviewed what we just learned about apple farms.

 Then it was time to get up and dance to the song I Like to Eat Apples and Bananas. I used a music video from the Tumblebooks website, but there are also a few versions of the song on YouTube, including the one by The Learning Station.

 Once again I used the Epic! ebook website to share I Eat Apples in Fall by Mary Lindeen. This book shows children of different ethnicities picking and enjoying apples, and it also highlights the different colors of apples, which led into our apple tasting.

 I brought in bags of red (Red Delicious) and green (Granny Smith) apple wedges and gave the students one of each to touch, smell, and taste. We then used paper apples to chart each child’s preference to determine which flavor was the most popular.

The students ended our time by “picking” a paper apple off of a paper tree and placing it in the appropriate basket (red apples in the red basket, green apples in the green basket, yellow apples in the yellow basket) on their way to line up at the door.

Do you use apple books and activities in your story time? Please leave a comment and share!

 

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Three Billy Goats Gruff: Kindergarten Story Time

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This week during story time I transitioned from farm animals to folk tales by sharing a folk tale about a farm animal. Most young children just can’t resist the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the group at my school was no exception.

Why is this story so popular?  Maybe it’s because the younger, smaller goats must rely on a bigger and older protector (much as young, small children must do); or because the bullying troll is punished at the end of the story, which doesn’t always happen in real life but is so appreciated when it does; or because the repetitive rhythm of the “trip-trap trip-trap” and the delicious sense of fear when the troll threatens to gobble the goats up is impossible to resist.  Whatever the reason, my audience was literally ROFL when the flannel billy goat butted the flannel troll off the flannel bridge and then stomped on him at the end of the story.

  Yes, this tale has a rather violent ending but I’ve never yet shared it with a group who was upset or frightened by the ultimate demise of the troll.  I like using the text of the OLD version (original copyright date 1957) of The Three Billy Goats Gruff written by P.C. Asbjornsen and illustrated by Marcia Brown.  The language really flows well as a read aloud, and the Big Billy Goat Gruff is a worthy hero and defender.

  I also used the audio version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff from the EPIC! website. (If you haven’t signed up for a free educators account yet, you should do so immediately.) Playing the audio version while using the flannel board set allows me to focus on what I’m doing or what the students are doing with the figures as we act out the story.

  And I actually began the lesson with a nonfiction book about goats from the EPIC! site so that we could review what we remembered about farm animals and then transition into the fictional story. The book I used was titled Goats and is part of the Blast Off Readers series. I like it because it touches on the facts about goats (young goats are called kids, male goats are called billy goats, goats eat grass, etc) that are relevant to the folktale.

I ended the session by having the students line up on one side of our story carpet so they could trip trap across the “bridge” to the library door. The students practiced the littlest goat’s response to the troll’s announcement that he was going to gobble him up: DON’T EAT ME! I’M TOO LITTLE!  Then the troll (aka me) knelt down midway across the carpet and waited for each kid to walk by. (See what I did there?) Some of the students were a little shy about replying to my threat, but most of them loudly told me off before scampering off to “eat their grass.”

Do you have a favorite Billy Goats Gruff story, and/or a creative way to use it during story time?  Please leave a comment or tweet me @LibraryLoriJune and share!

 

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