Wild Buildings and Bridges: Architecture Inspired by Nature by Etta Kaner

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Are you planning a STEAM challenge? Does it involve design and construction? If so, read Wild Buildings and Bridges: Architecture Inspired by Nature. In this book, author Etta Kaner explains how nature influences design. She pulls on her experience as a classroom teacher to deliver this information. Kaner engages the audience with thought provoking questions and illustrated examples. Step-by-step directions invite learners to experiment with architecture. Readers will feel compelled to study nature after reading this intriguing book.

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Response to Literature


AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Explore/Create: V.B.2 Learners construct new knowledge by persisting through self-directed pursuits by tinkering and making.

  • Prepare for lesson by creating three design stations based on the experiments in the book. Provide directions and materials at each station.
    • Station 1: “Test a Truss”
    • Station 2: “Why are Honeycombs Made of Hexagons?”
    • Station 3: “Making Water in the Desert”
  • Read the directions for each station with learners. Invite them to choose a station to explore.
  • Provide books on bridges, honeybees and plants and animals of the desert for further study. Offer graph paper and pencils to design a structure based on nature.
  • Enrich learning by following the Where’s Rodney by Carmen Bogan activity.

Share your designs with #AASLstandards!

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco

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Think of a favorite author who is also an illustrator. Do you ever wonder about their process? Do they write the story and then work on the illustrations? For Virginia Lee Burton, the illustrations took center stage. Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton is a biography that reads like a Disney movie. The vivid colors and imaginative drawings invite us to see “Jinnee” at work. She moves through the pages as if she is performing a ballet about her life as an illustrator. Children will enjoy reading the inspiration behind Burton’s classics with this beautiful book.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Explore/Share: V.C.1 Learners engage with the learning community by expressing curiosity about a topic of personal interest or curricular relevance.

  • Collect copies of Virginia Lee Burton’s books. Show learners the covers and ask what they notice. Some will notice all books were written and illustrated by the same author.
  • Vote on a book to read aloud. After the reading, ask learners what questions they have about the author. Write questions on chart paper.
  • Say, “I have a biography about Virginia Lee Burton. Let’s read it to see if we can find some of the answers to your questions.”
  • Read Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco. Refer to the chart paper when questions are answered.
  • Ask learners to share the names of authors and illustrators they are curious about.
  • Demonstrate how to search for biographies with the online catalog.
  • Introduce the following blog posts and website to learn about other authors:
  • Celebrate National Author’s Day by inviting learners to write a note to their favorite author. They could write a formal letter, or post a note on social media. National Author’s Day occurs every November 1st. It’s a day to thank authors for sharing their work with us.

Online Resources:
Great Websites for Kids:
Video Interviews with Top Children’s Authors and Illustrators:
18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators:

Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien

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Imagine you have a learner in your classroom from another country. They speak their native language. How do you include them in your conversations to learn their perspective? Someone New illustrates how to welcome diverse learners in the classroom. Three different scenarios describe what it looks like and feels like to see a new student. American children tell their stories with open honesty. We hear ideas that readers can connect with. The narrators notice that the new students are uncomfortable, but they don’t know how to help. Because they are empathetic, they find ways to talk with their new friends. The casual narration invites readers to see what the children think. We see them process their thoughts. The illustrations add depth to the story by helping us read emotions. This relevant story deserves a prominent place in any collection.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Include/Grow II.D.2 Learners demonstrate empathy and equity in knowledge building within the global learning community by demonstrating interest in other perspectives during learning activities. 

  • Ask learners to think about a time when they were in a group discussion. Did they notice someone sitting quietly? What did they do to include them in the conversation?
  • Introduce the story Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien. Explain that while you read, their job is to notice how the children in the book engage with the new students.
  • Ask learners why it’s important to make connections with other students. What can we learn from other people? Why do different opinions matter?
  • Explain that sometimes, people don’t share their opinions during group discussions. Ask why that might be. Brainstorm ideas to make sure everyone contributes in a discussion. Think about different ways people can contribute without using words. Develop strategies to listen to different opinions and add to the discussion.

Extend this lesson by reading I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien. It’s the same story as Someone New. However, this time, immigrants tell the story. Children will hear a different perspective and build empathy after reading this relevant story.

Snails Are Just My Speed! A Toon Book by Kevin McCloskey

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Do you have the book Snails Are Just My Speed! by Kevin McCloskey in your collection? If not, I highly recommend getting a few copies. Learners and educators are going to love this book. As the stamp on the left-hand corner of the cover implies, you’ll hear giggles while reading this Toon Book. The presentation of information is quite remarkable. My favorite page is an infographic of sorts that shows different animals moving as if they are in a race. A fly is in the lead, while a snail hitches a ride with a tortoise in last place. Each animal tells how much faster they are than the animal directly behind them. Math mixes with science to engage readers on this double-page spread. The illustration may inspire learners to design a pictograph with this format.

What page is your favorite? Please share in the comment box below.

Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework For Learners: Inquire/Think I.A.1 Learners display curiosity and initiative by formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic.

  • Draw a large snail on chart paper. See directions at the end of Snails Are Just My Speed! by Kevin McCloskey.
  • Ask learners what they wonder about snails. Direct them to write their questions on sticky notes and place them on the chart paper. Read the questions to the whole group.
  • Ask the following questions as you read the book:
    • What can we expect from this book? (cover)
    • Here the author compares a snail to a camper. How are they the same? How are they different? What questions do you have about snail’s shells? (pg. 1)
    • Here the author points out how fast animals are in a fascinating way. What do you notice about how he shares this information? (pgs. 2-3)
    • What questions do you have about predators? (pgs. 4-5)
    • What questions do you have about mucus? (pgs. 8-9)
    • How does mucus help snails? (pgs. 10-15)
    • Here the author compares the mucus of a snail to that of a person. What is different? What is the same? (pg. 16)
    • What questions do you have about farming snails? (pg. 18)
    • What do you notice about where snails live? (pgs. 20-21)
    • The author is comparing snails to different objects. What is the same? What is different? (pgs. 22-23)
    • Why do you think the author used the title “Map of a Snail” for this page? (pg. 24)
    • What information can you gather from the illustration of a snail reading an eye chart? (pg. 25)
  • Ask learners to turn and talk with their neighbor about a fun fact they learned from the book.
  • Tell learners that they will draw a snail and illustrate what they learned from the story. They can use any text feature they want to share information. Some may want to find a picture of a snail using Photos for Class (an AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning). They can upload the picture to an app like SeeSaw (an AASL Best App for Teaching and Learning) to add text bubbles and labels.

Check out Toon Books’s website for more teaching ideas and fun activities for learners (http://www.toon-books.com/).

Mentioned Resources

Photos for Class (https://www.photosforclass.com/)

SeeSaw (https://web.seesaw.me/)

Toon Books (http://www.toon-books.com/)

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus

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How many times have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? At least once, right? It’s amazing to consider how one book continues to touch so many lives. What does it take to write the great American novel? In Alabama Spitfire, readers get an idea of what makes an author noteworthy. Young Nelle Harper Lee was a reader, a writer and an observer. She watched her father, a lawyer, fight cases in the courthouse. She wondered about her reclusive neighbors and wrote stories about them. These childhood experiences prepared Lee to write a book we all know and love. Children will appreciate the illustrations that have a cinematic feel to them. The interesting storyline will compel readers to make observations and write. Who knows, maybe one day they will write the next great American novel!

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework For Learners: Curate/Think IV.A.2 Learners act on an information need by identifying possible sources of information.

  • Introduce Alabama Spitfire by asking the following questions: 
    • What is your favorite book? Do other people love the book as much as you do? How do you know? What do you know about the author of your favorite book?
  • Explain that you are going to read a picture book about a noteworthy author. Point to her name in the title. Tell learners that Harper Lee wrote a book that’s pretty famous. Read the subtitle and state the name of the notorious book.
  • Tell students that while you read, they have a job to do. They need to consider what made Lee such a great writer.
  • Write “Nelle Harper Lee” on a piece of chart paper after reading. Ask learners what Harper did to become such a great writer. Record responses on the chart paper.
  • Ask students if they would like to learn about other authors.
  • Model how to search for biographies about a favorite author using the online catalog. Look at the results of the search together and ask what they notice. Identify the books to read. Point out call numbers and the titles. Model how to check if books are available. Tell learners they will need to record the title and the call number so you can help them find the book in the library.
  • Locate the books and give learners time to read.
  • Divide students into groups and invite everyone to share what they learned. Learners will consider any similarities between the authors. Next, they will write the author’s name on a sticky note and include what made them a writer. Post all sticky notes on a poster with the title “What Makes a Great Writer?” Invite learners to organize the sticky notes in a fashion that makes sense to them.

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really) by Barry Wittenstein

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When you cut yourself, what’s the first thing you do? Reach for a Band-Aid, right? Before the 1920s, Band-Aids did not exist. Josephine Knight was accident prone and needed to save her cuts from infection. Her husband, Earle Dickson, wanted to help. He applied his background knowledge with cotton to solve the problem. The Boo-Boos That Changed the World delivers an interesting narrative about Band-Aids. Children will enjoy the comical way the author pretends to end the story when there is more to tell. The cartoonish illustrations add to the story of this great invention known worldwide.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Curate/Think IV.A.2 Learners act on an information need by identifying possible sources of information.

  • Read The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really) by Barry Wittenstein.
  • View old Band-Aid commercials and images by searching the online resources located at the end of the book.
  • Tell learners that you need their help finding information about other great inventions that solved a problem. Where would they find this information? What word(s) would they use in their search?
  • Model how to use the online catalog. Demonstrate how to identify available books and record the call number and title. Explain that you can help them find their books with that information. Tell learners to summarize the books they read.
  • Model how to use the library databases to find articles about inventions. Demonstrate how to read through the article and summarize what the article tells the reader.
  • Ask learners to curate their favorite resources about one invention by creating a flyer for patrons. Explain that you will give the flyers to learners who ask about the invention.

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

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How do we keep our family history alive? In this insightful and poignant book, Junot Diaz examines just how we keep our stories alive.  In an age when immigration is a debate in our nation and tops the headlines each day, we consider the story of Lola, who immigrated as a baby. She cannot remember “The Island” that she came from, since she left when she was a baby.

To bridge the past with the present, Lola’s family brings the “The Island” to her, by sharing all kinds of memories – from the wonderful to the heartbreaking.  It is a story of sharing, imagination and the importance of our stories.

Throughout this story, Lola starts to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Note: This book is also available in Spanish under the title “Lola”.

Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Explore/Think V.A.3 Engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth.

How much do we really know about our family history? How far back in history can we imagine? How is the story of your family history conveyed over time?

  • Invite learners to begin an inquiry process with their own family members to understand the story of their own family.
  • Suggest that learners  interview members of their family and friends they have known over time to unfold deeper understandings.
  • Provide learners with books and technology to research a country of origin to investigate how their family story connects with information from that culture, geographical region and societal norms.
  • Invite learners to share this information with one another or to another family member to continue their own story.
  • Learners can consider how their history might shape their future.  Ask the question, “How can your history influence your future?” and “How will you continue to share your story?”
  • Invite learners to explore how we can begin to understand “our own story” when we may not have family to share with us. What steps might they take?

How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 10.37.29 AMAre you teaching learners how to code? If so, you must add How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk to your lesson plans. A young girl, by the name of Pearl, narrates the thought process behind coding.  She begins by introducing her robot friend, Pascal. Readers will see how Pearl directs the robot to build the perfect sandcastle. Terms like “loop” and “sequence” are defined with appealing illustrations. A “Guide to Coding” at the end of the book further defines coding terms.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Explore/Create V.B.1: Discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection by problem solving through cycles of design, implementation, and reflection.

  • Ask learners the following questions while reading How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk:
    • What big problem did Pearl want to solve? (pg. 5)
    • What does a coder do? (pg. 6)
    • What small problems does Pearl solve? (pg. 7-24)
  • Engage learners by asking if they would like to create code to make a robot to move.
  • Model how to find the “Star Wars” page on Code.org (https://code.org/starwars).
  • Demonstrate how to navigate through the tutorial.
  • Point out the “</> Show Code” tab so learners can see what code looks like.
  • Invite learners to explore the Star Wars coding activity.

Check out girlswhocode.com, and consider starting a club in your library!


I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About A Simple of Kindness by Kerascoët

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I Walk With Vanessa is wordless book that provokes a conversation about bullying. All readers will relate to the concern of finding a way to stop aggressive behavior. When a new girl at school feels alone, a bully decides to make her feel worse by yelling at her. Another young girl witnesses this and is shocked and saddened by what she saw. After pondering for some time, she comes up with a brilliant plan that is sure to make Vanessa feel better. Learners will immediately connect with stories of their own. The wordless platform encourages readers to voice their experiences around bullying.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Include/Create II.B.1 Learners adjust their awareness of the global learning community by interacting with learners who reflect a range of perspectives.

  • Introduce the story by asking learners to look at the cover and read the title. Ask what they can expect to learn from the book.
  • Explain that this is a wordless story, so they will need to look closely at the illustrations and think about what is happening.
  • Ask the following questions as you read the story:
    • What is happening on this page? (title page)
    • How do you think the little girl feels about moving to a new place? (title page)
    • How is Vanessa feeling about being in a new class? How do you know? (pages 1-2)
    • Why do you think the children don’t notice her? (pages 1-4)
    • Why is the boy yelling at Vanessa? (pages 5-6)
    • How is the girl in the yellow dress feeling about the boy yelling at Vanessa? (pages 7-8)
    • What is the girl in the yellow dress saying to her friends? How do the friends feel about it? (pages 11-12)
    • What do you suppose the girl is thinking about? (pages 13-18).
    • What do you think the girl is saying to Vanessa? (pages 19-20)
    • How does Vanessa feel now? How do you know? (pages 23-28)
  • Invite learners to share their own experiences of bullying. Ask for examples of people helping others who were bullied.
  • Create a toolbox of ideas for learners to prevent bullying. Divide learners into groups to create pamphlets or slideshows to share with other classrooms.

Tip: Take a look at the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning and Best Apps for Learning to find the best platforms for your learners. 

Extension Idea: Pair this book with “Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson. Ask learners to think about how they would make a new student feel welcome in their classroom. 

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth

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How can we introduce the concept of mindfulness with our students? Self regulation and focus are key to learning in all settings, yet often we struggle with just how to begin the conversation.  Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, is an engaging book, told through the eyes of a little boy and girl as well as Stillwater, their panda friend. Stillwater seems to have just the right story to share that matches an emotional challenge.  This book serves as a wonderful platform from which mindfulness can be explored.

Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Explore/Think V.A.3 Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth

Have learners work with you to identify and list a wide variety of different emotions. Consider having them research mindfulness techniques that would help a friend with a strong feeling. They could also write or find a story that would support a friend with handling an emotion. Learners can consider their own authentic audience – who could they teach mindfulness practices to?

Some ideas include:

  • Partner older and younger learners as meditation buddies
  • Learners could introduce the idea of a cool down station in classrooms/libraries.  They could develop activities, short stories or mantras to help their peers
  • Learners could consider how they can bring mindfulness strategies to the whole school

There are so many opportunities, whether you intend to follow a single lesson , or build it out to become a mindfulness unit. We would love to hear your ideas!

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, March 1st 2005 by Scholastic Press

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

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What would you do if you had to get rid of 3,186 tons of trash? This was a problem that Lowell Harrelson thought he could handle. He rented a barge, loaded it with trash from New York City and Long Island, and shipped it to North Carolina. He had an innovative plan for the trash once it reached land, but NC refused the delivery. What was Harrelson to do?
In All That Trash by Meghan McCarthy, we learn about the true story of trash that traveled for two months. McCarthy does an exceptional job making this piece of history fascinating. Readers will enjoy the illustrations that enrich the engaging storyline. Information and pictures at the end of the book answer questions readers may have about the news event.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Curate/Create IV.B.1 Learners gather information appropriate to the task by seeking a variety of sources.

  • Invite learners to ask questions they have about the trash business. Record questions on chart paper.
  • Divide learners into groups to find answers to their questions using books and online resources.
  • Ask learners to share an interesting resource and describe it. Model how to record their ideas with Synth, a podcasting tool learners can contribute to.

Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter To Our Planet by April Pulley Sayre

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Think of a time when your whole being fully appreciated nature. What did you see? What did you hear? In Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter To Our Planet, we see incredible images of our beautiful home. Gorgeous photos of plants, animals and landscapes support the story told in poetic form. The message of appreciating Earth will inspire readers. Resources and ideas to make a difference are included at the end of the book.
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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Explore/Think V.A.3 Engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth.

  • Read the story and simply appreciate the pictures and the poetic storyline.
  • Ask learners to share what gifts of nature they are thankful for.
  • Explain that they will write and publish a love letter to Earth. They will use the Book Creator app (an AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning) to craft their pages.
  • Model how to use the tools in Book Creator to write an electronic book. Learners can go outside and draw pictures or take photos of nature with the app. They can use the text feature to write about what they see or the audio feature to talk about their sightings. Compile their pages to make one book.
  • Share the book with one of the organizations mentioned at the end of the book.
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