Social Studies

Celebrate America with “Seed by Seed”

Posted by on Jul 3, 2013 in Biography, Early Learning, Holiday, Key Ideas and Details, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading, Self Smart, Social Studies | 2 comments

seedbyseedWhat better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than with a slice of apple pie and a beautiful picture book about an American legend? Seed by Seed: the Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman written by Esme Raji Codell and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins is one of the most thought-full biographies I’ve read. Codell and Perkins invite children to leave behind the world of concrete, cars, and screens, and enter a time when one man made a huge impact on our country, seed by seed.

John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed, planted so many seeds across America that chances are the apples you eat are descendents of his trees. His legend of humble generosity is a story every child should know. I love the five examples Johnny Appleseed planted that we can follow:

“Use what you have.
Share what you have.
Respect nature.
Try to make peace where there is war.
You can reach your destination by taking small steps.”

And I just want to hug the book every time I read the end:

“Seed by seed, deed by deed,
Johnny Appleseed changed the landscape of a nation.
And now it’s your turn.
One small deed, every day.
What seed will you plant?”

Pick this book to use in your classroom as a biography, as part of a unit on apples, in an American legends unit. Codell, who knows what works in the classroom (remember the terrific book about a teacher’s first year called Educating Esme? That’s her!) has great ideas in the back of the book, including a recipe for apple pie. There’s also a fantastic free teacher’s guide on I’d have students help me make a yummy apple treat to share as we discuss the five examples of Johnny Appleseed. Connecting what Johnny did in his life to each of those ideas will be a good Common Core Key Ideas & Details lesson (plus you can put a checkmark next to Range of Reading).  You can talk with your students about putting these examples into place in your classroom. Seed by Seed could inspire your students to plant seeds of kindness, and those seeds could spread through your school, your community, your nation. That is as wonderful and American as apple pie.

Have a happy Fourth of July!

For more information about the author, please visit
For more information about the illustrator, please visit

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Drummer Boy of John John

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Art, Biography, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Music Smart, Onomatopoeia, Print Concepts, Range of Reading, Social Studies, Vocabulary | 0 comments

drummer-boy-of-john-john-largeMaybe it’s the vibrant art or maybe it’s the tropical setting of Trinidad, but on this snowy March day, I am in love with Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood with illustrations by Frane Lessac. Knowing that it’s a biography (so it hits the Common Core standard of Range of Reading) that incorporates music and art makes me love it even more.

It’s almost time for Carnival and everyone in Winston’s town is getting ready to celebrate with calypso music. Winston wishes he were in a band, because the best band in the parade will get free rotis from the Roti King. (Is your Craft and Structure Common Core Standard alarm ringing? Lots of interesting word choices in this book!) But Winston has no gourds full of seeds that go “shoush-shap/ shukka-shac” and no bamboo to pound on the ground with a “click clack/ rappa-tap” (Check Print Concepts off on your Common Core score card). When Winston throws his mango pit into the junkyard, he hears a “pong ping pang” as the pit hits old metal. Winston makes his own instrument from the dented metal containers – the first steel drum. Winston’s friends hear this music and form a junkyard band. They paint pots, pans, tins, and cans rainbow colors and experiment with the dents and bumps in the metal to make different pitches. Winston’s band is crowned the best band in the Carnival parade, so they all feast on rotis and mango lemonade.

This book has so many tie-ins for art, music, and social studies. (I wish I’d found it a month ago, so I could’ve used it for Carnival/Mardi Gras, but it’s a fun lesson any time of year.) Students can use recycled cans, jars, bottles and containers to make their own instruments. Paint them in the tropical rainbow colors Lessac used in her art. Play a clip of steel drum music for students (you can get cd’s from your local library or use this Youtube clip: Steel Drums in Trinidad and Tobago. Bring in mangos for students to taste after they try dancing under the limbo pole like the Roti King does. Use your recycled instruments to play a “listen and repeat” rhythm game to build listening skills. Winston Simon began with junk from the junkyard and ended up touring London and Paris with the Trinidad All Stars Percussion Orchestra. Who knows where tin cans and this inspirational book might take your students?

For more information about the author, visit:
For more information about the illustrator, visit:


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Let’s Talk About Race

Posted by on Jan 17, 2013 in Art, Body Smart, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Holiday, Math Tie-In, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Print Motivation, Range of Reading, Self Smart, Social Studies | 0 comments

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” – Maya Angelou.

Next Monday we celebrate the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What better way to honor his dream of a nation where our children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” than with a wonderful children’s book celebrating our differences and our similarities.

Let’s Talk About Race is written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour. “I am a story,” Lester writes. “So are you. So is everyone.” Our race is just one part of our stories. “To know my story, you have to put together everything I am.”

How does your story begin? When were you born, and who is in your family? What is your favorite food, your religion, your favorite color, your nationality? All of these things are a part of our stories. But, “some stories are true. Some are not. Those who say ‘MY RACE IS BETTER THAN YOUR RACE’  are telling a story that is not true.”

Lester goes on to tell a story that is true: if you press your fingers gently below your eyes, you can feel the bone beneath your skin. And if you press gently on a friend’s face, no matter what their skin color, you will feel the bone there, too.  “Beneath our skin I look like you and you look like me…” Instead of focusing on the stories we can make up about each other based on eye color, skin color, and hair texture, we can find out the true stories, the rich and complex stories, of each other.

After you read Let’s Talk About Race with your students, talk about race! And talk about all the other wonderful parts of our stories, from favorite foods to hair color to pet peeves. You can make a questionnaire based on all the elements Lester talks about for students to answer. Next, challenge students to find someone else who had the something the same on his or her list. You can integrate this into a math lesson by graphing some of the answers, like eye color, or get out the art supplies and let students make cool representations of themselves. If your students can “identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe”, you’ll hit the Common Core State Standard of Craft and Structure using a book with a truly worthwhile main purpose.

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Grace for President

Posted by on Oct 10, 2012 in Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Key Ideas and Details, Michigan Author, People Smart, Social Studies, Technology | 0 comments

“Red” voters, “blue” voters, undecided voters, here’s one thing we can all agree upon:  Grace for President written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham wins for Most Fun Picture Book for Early Elementary Students to Explain How the Voting Process Works.

This book gets my vote for so many reasons:

1. When Grace’s teacher shows a poster of all the past American presidents, Grace asks the question so many of us have wondered over the years, “Where are the girls?” Grace decides to “be the change” and run for president. Her teacher encourages her by holding a school election. Hooray for encouraging participation in the democratic process!

2. The language is not watered down, even though this book is aimed at early elementary students. We still learn about electoral votes, representatives, constituents, polls, and rallies, all in ways that make sense to kids. The author’s note at the end gives more information about the Electoral College and how it works. Woohoo for working important information into an entertaining story, and for helping us teach the Craft and Structure Common Core State Standard!

3. Grace runs against a boy, Thomas. Nice kid, but when he calculates the electoral votes and sees that the boys hold more votes than the girls, he assumes the race is his. Thomas doesn’t do much campaigning while Grace goes all out. I love that “even before the election, Grace made good on her promises.” (Don’t you wish all candidates were like Grace?) In the end, a boy casts his votes for Grace because he thinks she is the best person for the job, and Grace wins because of her hard effort, not because of her gender. Yay for focusing on what really matters! (Discuss with your class all the things Grace did to win the election and you’ll be working in the CCSS of Key Ideas and Details, too!)

4. LeUyen Pham’s illustrations include kids from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Woohoo for celebrating the diversity of our nation!

After you share Grace for President with your students, you might find one or more of them become inspired to run for office. Consider creating a position (President of the Week, Commander in Chief of the Line, etc.) for which your students can campaign and run. Talk about voting based on credentials vs. popularity. Students can create posters, give speeches, and cast ballots. If you’d rather not have student elections, consider casting votes in other kinds of elections. Our library is encouraging students to Vote for Books and we used SurveyGizmo to build an online poll (check out our candidates here:

If the talk turns to our current presidential race, TimeforKids online magazine is a fantastic resource for nonpartisan information. In fact, I prefer to get my news on the candidates from places like TimeforKids rather than many adult-targeted news sources because there’s no mudslinging! Now that deserves a huge woohoo!

For more information, visit Kelly’s website at and LeUyen’s website at And remember to vote this November!

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