Beyond the Bookends: Making Lasting Connections

One of the most frequently used comprehension strategies is that of making connections.  As they read, students are asked to make text-to-self connections (between the text and the reader’s personal experience), text-to-text connections (between the text and another text that was read previously), and text-to-world connections (between the text and something that occurs in the world).  When attempting to draw these types of links, the readers are actively thinking about the text, what it might mean or how it might relate to his/her life and environment.  In this way, reading becomes less of a passive activity but something that is alive and engaging.

One of the ways our family tries to take this into the next step is to see out events or activities that could really drive the text-to-world connections.  Two years ago, we planned our week-long summer vacation around a non-fiction book that my then-7-year-old had written and published for her second-grade class.  Every homeroom was assigned a continent, then students got to choose from a list of animals from that continent to research, then write about.  Because my daughter was shy, by the time she got brave enough to speak up, all the popular animals were taken, and she ended up with something called the elephant shrew.

Have you never heard of the elephant shrew?  Well, we hadn’t either.  There was very little information on this small African creature that, in my daughter’s own words, “has the body of a hamster, the legs of an antelope, and the trunk of an elephant”.  In fact, it is so unique that it belongs to a family (the macroscelididae) ALL BY ITSELF.  I know this (and more), because my daughter researched the heck out of this elephant shrew.  I mean, to this day, she’s probably still the only person outside of our family who knows about the animal and can tell you all the wonderful things it does.

The summer after her book was published, we were scratching our heads about where to go for vacation.  My daughter, quite innocently, said that she wished she could see an elephant shrew in real life — an animal from Africa that no one knows about, mind ya! — and because it was late and we were such fabulous parents we decided to humor her and Google where you can see an elephant shrew in America.  Turned out, there were only a handful of zoos in the US that housed this animal, BUT, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., “only” ten hours away by car, was one of them!

Since my husband and I both loved Washington, D.C. growing up, we decided to turn this into the Field Trip of All Field Trips.  A few minutes on Priceline later, we had a hotel (a mile or so from the zoo), and a sketchy itinerary that centered around a visit to the elephant shrew.

I cannot describe the excitement that built up around The Day We Went to See the Elephant Shrew — I am getting goosebumps just recalling it.  We had custom-made a shirt for her that said, “Got Elephant Shrew?” and she even got to bring her book.  We triple-circled the small-mammals house on the zoo map where we would find our special friend, and planned our route so it would be one of the last things we saw.  The anticipation throughout the day was unbelievable; just like on long car trips, all we heard was, “Are we almost there?  Are we almost there?”

Here are some pictures of when she finally got to meet her elephant shrews…they say pictures are worth a thousand words — I think these show just how awesome she felt.

Ella showing the book to "her" elephant shrew

Ella showing the book to “her” elephant shrew

Ella explaining to passersby why she thinks the elephant shrew is so amazing!

Ella explaining to passersby why she thinks the elephant shrew is so amazing!

Ella, her book, and the elephant shrew

Ella, her book, and the elephant shrew

The Amazing Elephant Shrew!

The Amazing Elephant Shrew!

All this to say that this is a perfect example of a reader/writer who has made lasting, meaningful connection between the text, herself, and her world.  Of all the things she’s read and written in 2nd grade, it’s safe to bet that this is THE ONE she’s going to remember for a long, long time.  (And this wasn’t the only connections we were able to draw on this trip.  Washington, D.C. was full of sights and sounds that the kids had learned about at school.  Our favorites included the Ford Theater — Lincoln was assassinated — the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial — where, again, the words that our daughters had read came alive — the Space Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Capitol Building/meeting the TN senators, and so many more.)

We have two upcoming vacations planned thanks to our now-4th-grader: a trip to the Panther Creek State Park in Morristown, TN (a recent research paper), and a visit to Zoo Atlanta to see where Ivan the gorilla (on whom the book The One and Only Ivan was based) used to play and live (I just found out today that he died about a year ago around this time of the year).  Maybe they still have one of his paintings for her to buy and remember him by.

So, where are you heading for your next vacation?  Maybe you can draw inspiration from a book you or your children have just read, or something they’d had to research at school.  It might involve a bit of planning, and the trip might be a bit out of the ordinary, but I promise you, you’ll be making memories and connections that reach well beyond the bookends.


Thank You, Mr. Falker: Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Philomel
Publication Year: 1998
Brief Summary: An autobiographical story about Polacco’s struggles with reading and how one teacher in 5th grade helped her overcome her problem.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award, 1999 Winner Picture Books United States
Emphasis on Reading: A Children’s Choice Book Award Program, 2000 Winner Grades 3-5 Alabama
Keystone to Reading Book Award, 2000 Winner Primary Pennsylvania
Parents’ Choice Award, 1998 Gold Story Books United States
Rhode Island Children’s Book Award, 2000 Winner Rhode Island
South Carolina Children’s Book Award, 2002 Winner South Carolina
Storytelling World Award, 1999 Honor Book Stories for Pre-Adolescent Listeners United States
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 12th Edition, 1999 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Best Children’s Books of the Year, 1999 ; Bank Street College of Education
Children’s Book Sense 76 Picks, Fall 2001 ; Book Sense 76
Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson
Children’s Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson
Dealing with Alienation, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education
Educators’ Top 100 Children’s Books, 2007 ; NEA Survey
Los Angeles’ 100 Best Books, 1998 ; IRA Children’s Literature and Reading SIG and the Los Angeles Unified School District
Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 1999 ; NCTE Children’s Literature Assembly
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 1999 ; National Council for the Social Studies NCSS
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education
Teachers’ Choices, 1999 ; International Reading Association

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Discuss bullying…how does the bullying make Tricia feel?
  • Discuss different learning disabilities
  • Discuss traits such as hard work and perseverance.  How does Mr. Falker finally help Tricia over come her problem?  What are some things (academically or socially) that you struggle with and what are some ways you can keep from losing hope?  How does Tricia’s story help you?  How can she inspire you or someone who’s struggling to keep trying?

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  

Accessed at: Signal Mountain Library

Read Across the Library Challenge

Recently I posted some scavenger hunt ideas for the elementary school library.  I got to test them out with some 4th and 5th graders and most really enjoyed being able to roam the shelves and discover authors and books they have never seen before.  Yes, the “hunt” led to many messy shelves, but some kids ended up checking out cookbooks, books on science experiments, and other serendipitous finds.

I thought it’d be good to pair this kind of game with a reading challenge, to encourage kids to explore genres that they normally wouldn’t read or think they like.  Librarians could offer up different incentives each week, or book-talk various genres during the school year.  The “checklist” could be made into bookmarks or bingo cards (each month of the year could feature a specific pattern for extra challenge), or the entire class could take on the challenge.  Kids could do their own book-talks — in front of the class?  short video trailer?  Book posters?  The possibilities are endless.

Here’s the checklist in its simplest, bookmark form.  Of course, it can be changed to adapt to your library holdings.

My Read Across the Library Challenge

Name: _____________________________

Teacher: ____________________________


  • Modern realism
  • Animal fiction

  • Mystery

  • Fantasy or science fiction

  • Historical

  • Classic

  • Multicultural

  • Picture books for older readers

  • Audiobook

  • Reader’s Choice


  • A president

  • An artist

  • An athlete

  • An entertainer/celebrity

  • An important historical figure

  • Reader’s Choice

Informational, or Non-Fiction

  • Mythology

  • Holidays and traditions

  • Folktales, fairy tales, fables

  • Science; science experiments

  • Geology

  • Plants

  • Animals

  • A book about technology

  • A book about the human body

  • Architecture

  • Graphic novel; graphic histories

  • Poetry

  • Countries/states

  • World history

  • American history

Library Scavenger Hunt (Elementary)

I’ve always loved scavenger hunts and similar games (my family used to watch the Amazing Race together religiously before we got rid of our cable).  This is a hunt I’ve created for 4th- and 5th- grade elementary school students, the purpose of which is to help familiarize them with the library, the Dewey Decimal system, the different resources the library offers, etc.  And hopefully, the kids have fun in the process too!


  • Students complete X number of questions depending on time and level of expertise
  • Students can work in pairs
  • You can customize these questions according to the needs and set-up your library

1. Find one of your friends and tell him/her about one of your favorite books — could be a childhood favorite, or something that you just read this summer.

Title of the Book: __________________________________________________________

Friend’s Signature: ________________________________________________________

2. Go to the Biography section in the library and browse the shelves.  Write down the title of one of the books in this area that you’d like to read, and why.

I would like to read _________________________________________________________ because________________________________________________________________________.

3. Go to the Fiction area and find a book whose author shares the first letter of your last name — or better yet, someone who has the same last name! Browse this area and write down the title and author of one book you’d like to read.

Author: ____________________________________________________________________

Title: ______________________________________________________________________

4. Choose a number from 0 to 9.  Multiply it by 100, then browse that section of the Non- Fiction books.  (e.g. 2 x 100 = 200, so I would look at books in the 200s)

a. What is the non-fiction section you chose (000 to 900): ______

b. What are some topics covered in this section? _____________________________________

c. What is the title of a book you might like to read in this section? _____________________________________________________________________________

d. What is the call number of the book you chose? ________

5. Find a book in this library that has been turned into a movie (not Harry Potter!)  

Title: _________________________________________________________________________

I preferred the book/movie (circle one) because ______________________________


6. Find a riddle or a joke and write it down.

Title of book I found it in:  ____________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

The joke/riddle:______________________________________________________________



7. Think of your favorite animal.  Then, look that animal up in one of our encyclopedias.

a. What animal did you choose?  _____________________________________________

b. Volume number and page number where you found the animal: ______________________________________________________________________________

c. Now try finding the same animal in our Non-Fiction section (e.g. animal books are in the 590s).  Write down the title of the book: __________________________________________________________________________

The author and call number :_____________________________________________

Which resource gave you more information — the encyclopedia or the book?  (circle one)

8. Find three books written by Patricia Polacco (hint: even though she writes for older students, her picture books are filed under “easy”).  

Book 1: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 2: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 3: _____________________________________________________________________

9. Find three books written by Cynthia Rylant (hint: she writes picture books, easy chapter books, and novels):

Book 1: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 2: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 3: _____________________________________________________________________

10. Write down the title and author of a MYSTERY series:


11. Write down the title and author of a FANTASY series:


12. Write down the title and author of a HISTORICAL series:


13. Help!  I am looking for a recipe to make for tonight’s dinner.  Please find me a cookbook and a yummy recipe!

Title of cookbook:____________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

Recipe name: ________________________________________________________________

Number of ingredients: ____________

Page number: __________

14. I just got a new pet!  Please help me find a book that will show me how to take care of it!

Pet: _________________________________________________________________________

Title of book: __________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

One helpful tip: _____________________________________________________________


 15. I am an aspiring artist.  Please help me find a book about a famous artist!

Title of book: __________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

Artist name:  ___________________________________________________________________

Year of birth/death of the artist: ________________________________________________

The title of a famous painting done by the artist:  ______________________________

The artist’s style (impressionism, abstract, cubism, etc.): ________________________

16. List 4 different kinds of REFERENCE books we have in this library, and how you would use them:

1. ___________________________________________________________________________

2. ___________________________________________________________________________

3. ___________________________________________________________________________

4. ___________________________________________________________________________

17. Find a book in the library about the state (or country!) in which you were born.


Name the states that border your chosen state:  _______________________________

Are there any state parks in your state?  If so, name one: ________________________

An interesting fact about the arts/literature/sports from your state: _____________________________________________________________________________

18. You would like to conduct an easy and safe science experiment.  Find a book of experiments and an experiment that uses materials you can find at home or school.

Title of book: _________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

Experiment: __________________________________________________________________

Page number: _________________________________________________________________

Number of “ingredients/material” you’ll need to gather: ________________________

19. Find the magazine section.  Find a magazine you might enjoy reading.

Title of the magazine: __________________________________________________________

The title of an article in the magazine you might want to read: ________________________________________________________________________________

Skim the article…what is one thing you might learn from it? ________________________________________________________________________________

20. Your school is celebrating World Day by putting on an International Fair.  Which section of the library could you find books about different countries, their customs, foods, etc.? 

Section of the library where country books are located: ________________________

Title of a book about a country you’d learn more about: _____________________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: _______________________________________________________

Skim the book and write down one interesting fact about the country chosen: ________________________________________________________________________________

PB&J Best 50

Best 50 Picture Books This Library Girl Can’t Live Without


This summer has been a bookworm’s dream come true.  Not only did I get to read picture books, I got to read over 200 of them, most of them award-winners and honorees.  The process of narrowing them down to my Best 50 is no easy task; I don’t envy those who compile best lists for a living!

As a place to start, I approached this project from a collection development point of view, selecting material that would be appropriate for any elementary school library.  I wanted to make sure the books span across different genres and appeal to both younger and older readers and a variety of interests.  (Note that some of these books can fall into more than one category.)  The selected books have great stories and illustrations that draw readers in, take them back to their childhood, allow them to explore feelings associated with events and characters’ actions, or give a sense of wonder and discovery.  At the same time, they are valuable resources that provide curricular support to classroom teachers and other school personnel (for example, counselor/psychologist, music or art teachers).  Additional criteria are applied to the specific genres, as discussed below.  I will also provide a short rationale for each of the titles selected.

  • Multicultural/International Titles: I felt it was important that the collection reflected the increasing multicultural nature of our schools and communities.  Research shows again and again that minority readers long to identify with characters they read about, so it is crucial that they have access to books that portray their culture and heritage with respect and authenticity.  As well, as children – regardless of their ethnicity – learn about various cultures and traditions, they will come to recognize the many commonalities we all share as human beings and be able to celebrate the differences.  The stories provide windows to other worlds, helping reduce ethnocentrism and increase understanding of difficult social and global issues.  The books I selected in this category are authentic (both in text and images), void of stereotypes, and teach readers tolerance and appreciation of other cultures.

  • Traditional Tales: Not only do folktales, fairy tales, fables, and other forms of traditional tales familiarize children with literary elements and lead to the development of their language arts skills, they also show kids that they can face the world’s many problems heads-on (G. K. Chesterton said it best: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.  Children already know that dragons exist.  Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”), that they are capable of handling tough times.  These stories often cross international boundaries and show commonalities from one culture to another, and teach morals and life lessons.  In short, traditional tales make up an important part of any school library collection.  For this list, I selected both traditional adaptations/retellings of fairy tales, as well as a couple of examples of fractured fairy tales and metafiction.

  • Informational Books: Thanks to the impending implementation of Common Core State Standards and its mandate on a 50/50 fiction/non-fiction reading ratio by the 4th grade (and 30/70 by the 12th grade), informational books have been brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention and interest.  Because informational books can cover such a wide range, my selections included biographies, books about animals and science, books for older readers, and poetry.  (Note again that some of these books — such as the  poetry titles — could belong to one or two of these categories.)  Criteria used for this category include accuracy and currency of data, readability and age-appropriateness of the text, and the design and availability of organizational aids (such as index, glossary, timelines, well-captioned pictures, references, etc.).  Pages ideally provide well-researched information that are uncluttered and easy to find, and or the books should encourage further research or inquiry.

  • Stories of Childhood and Friendships: I also wanted to include a variety of books that celebrate childhood and friendships.  Many of these stories feature imperfect, tenacious characters who are brave enough to be who they are, even if this means being a little different from everyone else.  Readers will see themselves in these books and realize that it’s okay and perfectly normal to be afraid of the dark (like the little boy in Lemony Snicket’s The Dark), to get mad (like Sophie in Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry), to be a little mischievous (like Max in Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things or Olivia in Ian Falconer’s Olivia), or to be serious and proper (like Elliot in Tony Buzzeo’s One Cool Friend).  I also love books that showcase friendships, also at times imperfect, but so important in a young person’s life.  These stories teach the true meaning of friendship and the art of compromise, forgiveness, and love.

  • Special Curricular Interest: I included three books that didn’t seem to fit into any particular category but could be of special curricular interest to teachers.

Some Reflections About the Selection Process: As I mentioned before, having to choose 50 “best” books from what is already a best list of sorts has been quite the challenge.  The books, first and foremost, had to be excellent representations for their categories.  I also tried to have as much variety in the collection as I could, to appeal to different reading interests/levels as well as support the development of language arts, sciences, and of course, the Common Core State Standards.  I also tried to showcase as many different authors and illustrators as possible, but had to make some allowances for some books that particularly stood out to me (e.g. Kevin Henkes, Allen Say).  That said, I dare say that this list will continue to grow and divide and change as I dive further into the world of picture books, so that one day it is not just the “Best 50 Picture Books”, but “Best 50 Multicultural Books”, the “Best 50 Traditional Tales”, the “Best 50 Poetry Picture Books”, and so on and so on.  I love that the possibilities are endless, that there are so many wonderful works out there that it’s nearly impossible to pick favorites, and I take back what I said in the beginning — I do envy those who get to do this for a living after all…I envy them very much.

Without further ado, here are the books:


  1. Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

  2. Tea with Milk by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

  1. Tree of Cranes by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1991)

  2. How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman; illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1984)

  3. Smoky Night by Eve Bunting; illustrated by David Diaz (Roaring Books Press, 1994)

  4. Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Polacco (Philomel, 2001)

  5. Blues Journey by Walter Dean Myers; illustrated by Christopher Myers (Holiday House, 2003)

  6. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow Books, 1982)

Traditional Tales

  1. Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young (Philomel, 1989)

  2. Little Red Riding Hood retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Holiday House, 1983)

  3. Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton, 1997)

  4. Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton, 1986)

  5. Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs retold by Randall Jarrell; illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1972)

  6. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka; illustrated by Lane Smith (Viking, 1992)

  7. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka; illustrated by Lane Smith (Viking, 1989)

  8. The Three Pigs by David Wiesner (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

Informational – Biographies, Presidents, Animals, Science, Poetry, Older Readers

  1. Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)

  2. John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith (Hyperion, 2006)

  3. Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer; illustrated by Christopher Bing (Handprint Books, 2000)

  4. So You Want to Be President by Judith St. George; illustrated by David Small (Chronicle Books, 2000)

  5. The Wall by Peter Sis (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007)

  6. Moses by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006)

  7. Electric Ben by Robert Byrd (Penguin, 2012)

  8. What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

  9. Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins; illustrated by Vicky White (Candlewick Press, 2011)

  10. Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

  11. First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Books)

  12. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

  13. Animal Poems by Valerie Worth; pictures by Steve Jenkins (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2007)

  14. Mirror, Mirror by Marilyn Singer; illustrated by Josee Masse (Dutton, 2010)

  15. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian (Harcourt, 2007)

  16. Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

  17. Red Sings from Treetops, a year in colors by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Stories of Childhood and Friendship

  1. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (Harper & Row, 1963)

  2. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1991)

  3. Owen by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1993)

  4. Olivia by Ian Falconer (Atheneum, 2000)

  5. Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam, 1995)

  6. A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee (Harcourt, 2008)

  7. One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo; illustrated by David Small (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012)

  8. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead; illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2010)

  9. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel (Harper & Row, 1970)

  1. George and Martha by James Marshall (Houghton Mifflin, 1972)

  2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Harper & Row, 1963)

  3. When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang (Scholastic, 1999)

  4. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (Viking Press, 1936)

  5. The Dark by Lemony Snicket; illustrated by Jon Klassen (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013)

Special Curricular Interest

  1. Black and White by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, 1990)

  2. Hurricane by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 1990)

  3. Tuesday by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 1991)

Tree of Cranes: Allen Say

Tree of Cranes

Author/Illustrator: Allen Say

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Publication Year: 1991

Brief Summary: A young mother teaches her little boy (Allen Say) about an American holiday called Christmas and the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award, 1992 Winner Children’s Literature United States
PEN Center USA Literary Award, 1992 Winner Children’s Lit United States
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 1991 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson
Children’s Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson
Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, 1994 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Kirkus Book Review Stars, 1991
Notable Children’s Books, 1992 ; Association for Library Service to Children
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education
Sharing Cultures: Asian American Children’s Authors, 2001 ; ALSC American Library Association

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library; brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core/etc.

  • What are some of the mother’s feelings about America?  How can you tell?  Discuss the word “nostalgia” and “homesickness”.  The mother looks Japanese…why do you think she might be homesick for America?
  • Talk about Japan and its traditions and how these might be different from some of the traditions we have in the U.S.  Japanese people might not celebrate Christmas — why?  what do they celebrate instead?  Do you know of American families that might have different holiday traditions as well?  (e.g. Jewish families don’t celebrate Christmas either!)
  • Survey the class about different holiday traditions that the students hold at home.  Ask students why certain traditions are significant to their family — religious or not.  If students have unique traditions/celebrations, discuss how these might have come about.
  • Read alongside Grandfather’s Journey and Tea with Milk in sequence (Journey, then Tea with Milk, then Tree of Cranes).  Discuss how Allen Say based these books on his family.  His grandfather’s experiences is based on Allen Say’s life; his mom is the child in the first book, the young woman in the second book, and the mom in the third book, in which she taught Say about American Christmases.

Accessed at: Personal Library

Tea with Milk: Allen Say

Tea with Milk

Author/Illustrator: Allen Say

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Publication Year: 1999

Brief Summary: A young woman who grew up in America returns to Japan with her parents and tries to adjust to her new life.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education
Booklist Book Review Stars, March 15, 1999 ; American Library Association
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 1999 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Capitol Choices, 1999 ; The Capitol Choices Committee
Children’s Books of Distinction, 2000 ; Riverbank Review
Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson
Children’s Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson
Children’s Literature Choice List, 2000 ; Children’s Literature
Not Just for Children Anymore!, 2001 ; Children’s Book Council
Notable Children’s Books, 2000 ; ALSC American Library Association
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, March 1999 ; Cahners
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education
School Library Journal Best Books, 1999 ; Cahners
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, May 1999 ; Cahners
Smithsonian Magazine’s Notable Books for Children, 1999 ; Smithsonian
Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association, 2000 ; Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library; brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core/etc.

  • Social Studies: Discuss immigration…what is it?  What might it be like if you have to move to a foreign country?  What are some difficulties you might encounter?  What are some good things that might come out of leaving for a new country?
  • We’ve read stories about people who immigrated to America, but in this story, a Japanese-American girl must go with her parents to Japan and start a new life there.  What kind of things does she have to get used to?
  • Why do you think the parents want to go back to Japan?
  • Social Studies: talk about Japan and its traditions and how these might be different from some of the traditions we have in the U.S.
  • Students research their families background/heritage.  Are there students whose families — parents, grandparents, or further back — have immigrated to the US, or have moved to a different country? Students can make a poster about their experience
  • Students can interview their parents/grandparents about their feelings about leaving their homeland. Make a chart of what they miss about their homeland, and what they love about their new country.
  • Read alongside Grandfather’s Journey and Tree of Cranes in sequence (Journey, then Tea with Milk, then Tree of Cranes).  Discuss how the child in the first book is the young woman in the second, and the mom in the third.
  • Have you travelled outside of the country before?  What was it like?  What did you see/learn/experience? Have students make travel brochures about a place they have visited and would like to promote to their friends (does not have to be outside of the country!).

Accessed at: Personal Library