“The Christmas Visitor” by Anneliese Lussert

2511129-_uy431_ss431_Title: The Christmas Visitor

Author: Anneliese Lussert

Illustrator: Loek Koopmans

Summary: When a man dressed in rags shows up at Simon’s door, Simon looks down on him and turns him away.  His ailing wife, Sarah, takes pity on the man and offers him what little she haa in hopes it would be of comfort to him.  In return, the strange visitor performs a miracle that heals Sarah.  Astounded, Simon realizes he might have missed out on something bigger and more important than himself.  Despite his discomfort, he follows the stranger on a journey and finds a treasure that transforms him forever.

Discussion Questions:2dfe5aeb4edc75940eab249e9abcd49c

  • Who is the visitor that shows up at Simon’s door?  Why does Simon turn him away?
  • Whose footprints/voice is Simon following?  Why does Simon decide to follow?
  • What does Simon have to give up in order to help the people he meets on his journey?  Do you think it is difficult for him to help others?
  • How does Simon’s character change from the beginning to the end of the story?  What lessons does he learn on his journey?
  • What connections can you draw in this story about you and and your relationship with Jesus/God?
  • Have you ever felt God calling you to do something or help someone?  Is it always easy to hear God and what he wants you to do?
  • Discuss a time when you heard God calling on you to do something or help.  How did you know God was talking to you?  Did the task require you to sacrifice something?  Did you follow his voice/footsteps and obey, even though it might’ve been difficult to do or required some sacrifices on your part?
  • What are some examples of sacrifices you might have to give in order to help others as God asks?  Why do you think God makes it hard sometimes for you to help others or do his will?
  • If doing God’s will is sometimes difficult, why do you think we should still do it?  What are some benefits of following God’s will, helping others, etc?

Lesson Plan: “Sparrow Girl” (Sara Pennypacker)


Sparrow Girl 
Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Yuko Tanaka

Based on China’s “Great Sparrow War” in 1958, Sparrow Girl tells the story of Ming Li, one young girl’s effort to save innocent birds that were hailed as the farmers’ enemies.

Discussion Questions/Classroom Connections:

  • Define “food chain” and discuss different examples of food chains in nature.  Are different links in the food chain equally important?  Why or why not?  Have students create a poster of a food chain (allow for research time) and present it to their class.  (Incorporate digital technology by letting students create food chains using a diagram or chart tool in Word or similar programs.)
  • How does this story illustrate the importance of maintaining nature’s food chain?  List some of the ways sparrows are important in the story.
  • Read the author’s note about the real-life event that inspired this book.  Why did Chairman Mao declare war on the sparrows?  What did he want the villagers to do?
  • Discuss how, in the book, even though Ming Li felt that destroying all the sparrows was a bad idea, she didn’t speak up, and neither did Older Brother.  Why didn’t they?  Talk about different kinds of governments and leadership.  What kind of government/leadership do we have in the United States?  Can people speak up against something they might disagree with?  (Is this freedom true for all people across the US, or are there some groups that might be more oppressed?)
  • Compare the US government/leadership to the kind we read about in the book.  Have students research different types of governments around the world and present findings in class.  Is there a “best” kind of government?  What are some pros and cons of each type?
  • Why is “being able to speak up” important?  Have students discuss different ways this might apply in their lives.  For example: do they feel like they can speak up if they felt a rule at home or school was unfair?  Should they be able to speak up against a parent or teacher if they thought it was unfair?  Why or why not?
  • Discuss various imagery used in the book: Ming Li’s father describing her brain as being small as a sparrow’s, her worries scratching at her like a monkey, sparrows falling from the sky like raindrops/teardrops.  Why does the author (or anyone) use imagery like this rather than just describe something plainly?  Have students start with a piece of narrative writing, and make it richer by adding some imagery throughout.

Other Resources:




Lesson Plan: Courage (1st & 2nd Grades)

Lesson: Courage

Grade: 1st & 2nd

Content Objectives:

  • Students will discuss what it means to have courage.
  • Students will analyze the pros and cons of taking risks.
  • Students will make text-to-self connections.
  • Students will make text-to-text connections.
  • Students will practice using KidPix and saving content onto their H: drive.


Owen by Kevin Henkes

Courage by Bernard Waber

Video: (if time allows)

Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt http://bkflix.grolier.com/lp/node-33981/bk0097pr

Before the read-alouds/video:

  1. Discuss being courageous/brave with students. Define what it means to have courage and ask students about times in their lives where they have chosen to be courageous even when they felt scared inside. Brainstorm with students about different times and reasons people choose to be brave or not. Are there pros and cons to being brave?  Can being courageous/brave be dangerous at times?  Record students’ ideas on the whiteboard.  (Text-to-self connections)
  2. Tell students that we are going to read a couple of stories about courage, and watch a video about a squirrel who is terrified of everything. Encourage students to watch and listen for ways that his life is positive because he doesn’t do anything, and the way it’s negative because he doesn’t do anything.

Read-alouds (+ video, if time)

Computer: KidPix — have students draw a picture of a time when they were courageous.  Demo this on Smartboard.

Exit ticket (if time allows): Have kids complete the following sentence (either with words or drawing) – “Courage looks like…” on a post-it and post it to the whiteboard as they line up.  Read a couple of them while we wait for the teacher.

Work Samples:


“Courage is…going up to the water slide for the first time!”


“Courage is…dancing on stage.”

"Courage is...swimming underwater."

“Courage is…swimming underwater.”


Multicultural Display at Hampton

One of the projects I took on during my first couple of weeks at Hampton was to create a multicultural display for the media center. I thought this would be a relevant project given the diverse population at the school.  It also gives me an opportunity to run an analysis of the current multicultural collection and create a consideration file for Jenny.

Here are some pictures of the display and a link to the consideration file I created:

CAM01261 multicultural display1

CAM01251 CAM01252 CAM01253

CAM01254 CAM01257


The Keeping Quilt: Patricia Polacco


The Keeping Quilt

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication Year: 1988

Brief Summary: Patricia Polacco tells the story of her Jewish immigrant family and how four generations have been bound together by one homemade quilt. 

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Sydney Taylor Book Award, 1988 Winner Younger Readers United States
Best of the Bunch, 1988 Association of Jewish Librarians
Not Just for Children Anymore!, 1999 Children’s Book Council
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 California Department of Education
Teachers’ Choices, 1989 International Reading Association

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

  • Why do you think Polacco chose to keep only certain parts of the illustrations in color, while other parts remain in gray scale?  How did she use color in this book to highlight the theme of her story?
  • How has the quilt played a role in the characters’ lives? (Comprehension)
  • This story is a real story based on Polacco’s family.  Traci, Polacco’s daughter, was the last to get the quilt at the end of the book.  Can you make a prediction of who the quilt might be passed onto next?  How do you think the quilt will be used in this person’s life?  (Prediction)
  • What are some traditions Anna’s family keeps? (Comprehension)  What are some traditions your family keeps?  (Self-to-text connections)
  • Does your family have something that has been passed down from one generation to the next?  What is it and why is it important/special in your family?  Write a short story about it and illustrate. (Self-to-text connections)
  • Class Keeping Quilts: Have each student draw or write something that is important to him/her on a piece of square, colored paper. Connect all the squares into a “quilt”.  Have each student talk to the class about his/her square and its significance.  This could be done on actual quilting blocks that can be made into a quilt and given to the teacher/librarian as a gift.  (Art teacher)
  • Individual Keeping Quilts: Have each student make their own quilt (at least 9 squares).  What pictures/writings would they include?  Have students share about the significance of their drawings/writings.
  • Math connection: bring in some quilt samples or show the class pictures of various kinds of quilts.  What geometric shapes do students see in quilts?  Have students create their own quilting patterns using pre-cut shapes.

Jerry Pinkney

kids with Jerry Pinkney

This weekend my family and I were fortunate enough to attend Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.  It is the first major exhibition in the country that celebrates Pinkney’s 50-year career as an illustrator and artist.  We got to see more than 140 of his beautiful watercolors, some from his children’s books, some from works that were commissioned by various clients (USPS, National Park Service, etc.).  I got to attend a lecture, and my kids got to take a picture with him and have their personal favorites autographed.  Pinkney’s artistic genius is indisputable, but I was touched by how gracious and humble he was about his achievements.  He talked frankly about his struggle with dyslexia and how he overcame his reading challenges through art — as he does in this interview below:

Here’s the video that is shown at the exhibition:

It seems like everyone has their own favorite Jerry Pinkney book…or two or three.  For me, it is nearly impossible to pick, but I was especially touched by The Patchwork Quilt (written by Valerie Flournoy) and Back Home (written by his wife Gloria Jean Pinkney) — the pictures and sentiments in those books remind me so much of the times I spent with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.  The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless book, is even more fascinating now that I heard his explanation of the process by which it was created, down to how he and his editor/publisher decided on the ingenious cover.  He felt, after the project was completed, that the work — not necessarily the artist — deserved some sort of recognition, and I wholeheartedly agree.  My 9-year-old’s favorite was Sam and the Tigers: A Retelling of ‘Little Black Sambo’ (written by Julius Lester, with whom he worked on the Uncle Remus series), because she finds it hilarious that everyone’s named Sam and that the tigers melt into a pool of butter.  My 7-year-old loves The Tortoise and the Harebecause she “really liked the moral.”  The geek in me loves that the story consists of one sentence, “Slow and steady wins the race”, but it starts with just one word.  As the race progresses, he restarts the phrase, adding words one at a time until the phrase is complete by the end of the book — reinforcing the idea that oftentimes the process is more important than the result, or the speed at which you achieve it.  I hope it serves as an inspiration to students who might be struggling — whether it’s with reading or something else — that they can persevere through the difficulties as the tortoise has, as Jerry Pinkney has, and find victory at the end.

Other titles to consider for your own Jerry Pinkney collection:

The Ugly Duckling: Pinkney adapts the classic story by Hans Christian Andersen, about an ugly duckling that turns into a beautiful swan.

The Talking Eggs (written by Robert D. San Souci; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney): A folktale with Creole origins tells the story of kind-hearted Blanche, who warms up the heart of an old witch and alters her life, while her lazy sister and mother are punished for their greed.

Little Red Riding Hood: a retelling of the classic Grimm Brothers folktale in which a “sweet little girl”, on her way to deliver chicken soup and raisin muffins to her ailing grandmother, meets a sly, scheming wolf.

Puss in Boots: In this retelling of Charles Perrault’s folktale, a clever cat helps his poor master change his fortune by gaining the respect of a king, taking over a sorcerer’s castle, and winning the heart of a princess.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (written by Rudyard Kipling; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney): inspired by the Jungle Book, this book tells the story of Rikki, a courageous mongoose who risks his life to protect a boy and his parents from two evil cobras, Nag and Nagaina.

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses (written by Julius Lester; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney): Pinkney, in his High Museum lecture, talked about his love for old Westerns and his appreciation for horses, and how this was reflected in this book.  In his research, he found that there were many cowboys of African American descent (as well as Hispanic), and this realization inspired this book, based on real-life accounts of Texas cowboy Bob Lemmons, a former slave turned expert tracker/herder of wild mustangs.

Sweethearts of Rhythm (written by Marilyn Nelson; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney): The story of an all-female jazz band, made up of interracial musicians, that toured the country during the 1940s.  Pinkney talked about experimenting with collages and using mixed media for this project.


For more information on Jerry Pinkney and his works, visit his website.

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