Picture Book 10 for 10: My Top Ten Favorite Books About Community

I am excited to participate in this year’s Picture Book 10 for 10 hosted by Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning and Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community.

Here’s my list of ten books to share with students as you work to build and strengthen your classroom community throughout the year:


One of my new favorite picture books is Because You Are My Teacher written by Sherry North and illustrated by Marcellus Hall. Throughout this story, the students experience wondrous adventures together as they learn about the world – a learning community at its finest.


Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelusky, & Lane Smith also helps to reinforce the idea of community and its importance in our learning as students and teachers work together to meet their goals.


Each time I read the book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, I am inspired by Alice’s dedication to her dreams and her quest to make the world more beautiful. She learns the meaning and value of community in her travels and at home.


The Mitten by Jan Brett is a fun reminder that community members need to share and look out for one another.


The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord is another book that helps students focus on the idea of what a community is. In this story it takes a village to succeed, through cooperation and each person using his/her unique abilities and resources.


Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes illustrates what can happen when there are problems in communities as well as what can happen when those differences are resolved. Communities are strongest when everyone feels valued.


Nora the Nonapus, written and illustrated by fifth-grade students of Estes Hills Elementary in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, provides some unique insights into the feelings various members in our community may have. It covers the insecurities and embarrassment that often come from being “different,” how bullying hurts others, and the bravery it takes to stand up and do what is right.


Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is another favorite. In this story, community is created as a young boy takes time to listen and learn about the people around him, building friendships and sharing memories along the way.


Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is another story that illustrates the importance of sharing our skills and talents with those around us. Just like snowflakes, we are all different. Bentley’s community (and the world!) was blessed by his love of snowflakes through the research and pictures he shared.


The Impossible Patriotism Project by Linda Skeers is a favorite book to share around President’s Day. However, its message is fitting during any time of year. It’s important to remember those missing from our communities. Communication is key to keeping those bonds strong.

And there you have it, my (current) top ten, which I am sure will change the next time I discover a new favorite book. 🙂

What stories do you like to share with your students to help the community building process in your classroom?

First Friday Freebie #9: Flower Seeds and Lifelong Dreams

Each time I read the book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, I am inspired by Alice’s dedication to her dreams and her quest to make the world more beautiful.

Over the years, these themes have quite naturally become a part of the way my classes commemorate Patriot Day, September 11th. Although young students today have no personal memories of that event, they can still join others in service and work to promote beauty, happiness, and good in the world.

This month’s freebie is an activity based on the story of Miss Rumphius to help students identify practical ways they can change the world for the better.

Click here or on the picture below for a pdf of the activity: includes directions, worksheet, templates, and examples of completed display.



See previous September 11th posts for other books, activities, and resources.

Grandparents’ Day

I was so blessed to grow up around my grandparents. They all played important roles in my life, and I would not be who I am today without their love and encouragement and the many lessons they shared along the way.

Needless to say, I’ve always been delighted when Grandparent’s Day rolls around each year. It gives me another opportunity to let my grandparents know just how much I appreciate having them in my life.

At the school where I used to teach, we had a “Grandparent’s Day” of our own a little later in the fall. It was a day for students to invite their grandparents (biological or “adopted”) to school for the morning to share what we’d been up to in the classroom and have some special one-on-one time as they engaged together in a learning activity and ate lunch. Each year I also worked in some type of discussion about the differences between the experiences of the students and their grandparents in areas like education, communication, transportation, or technology. My students were fascinated by the changes that had occurred over the past few decades… and sometimes the grandparents made amazing discoveries of their own when they saw what and how their grandchildren were learning.

* * *

The following books are ones I have enjoyed reading with my students as we shared about our own experiences with our grandparents. These stories provide opportunities for meaningful class discussions about how grandparents influence our lives, what we can learn from them, how their lives differ from ours, the types of challenges they face, and the importance of having and sharing memories.

Tom by Tomie dePaola


Big Mama’s by Donald Crews


dear juno by Soyung Pak


Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman


When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant


Lighthouse: A Story of Remembrance by Robert Munsch


“I Remember!” Cried Grandma Pinky by Jan Wahl


Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox


Grandpa’s Teeth by Rod Clement

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Looking for some ways for your students to learn more about how things have changed during their grandparents’ life times? Visit the following sites to learn more about the inventions, discoveries, and advances over the years:

National Museum of American History interactive timeline – view iconic artifacts that illustrate key events in our country’s history

Key Moments in Consumer Electronics: A Timeline – from Pong in 1972 to the iPad in 2010

NASA’s Apollo Program vs. The Future of American Human Spaceflight

American History Timeline


Activity Ideas:

Working with their grandparents or researching on their own, students can

  • Compare and contrast two time periods and complete a graphic organizer like this.
  • Create a timeline to show some significant historical and personal events from their grandparent’s childhood to today.
  • Write a narrative to share a family story.
  • Put together a memory box of items that bring family events to mind.
  • Write a letter to a grandparent.

In Remembrance

As I turned the calendar today, the date jumped out at me.

September 11, 2011

It is hard for me to believe that ten years have passed. Life is so different than it used to be, but our younger students haven’t known it any other way.

The following is a collection of resources that can be used to teach about the location and/or events of that fateful day:

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein

“Man on Wire” Remembers Twin Towers  – pictures and videos

The Little Chapel that Stood, by A. B. Curtiss  [click here and here for lesson plans based on this story]

Lesson Plans

9/11/2001: The Day that Changed America

9/11 Education Materials

Remembering September 11

September 11: Bearing Witness to History

September 11th Theme Lesson Plans

Teaching 9/11: Lessons to Inspire Your Students

Another text I like to use as a tie-in to Patriot Day and the President’s call to Americans to commit to serving our communities and nation is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.

Miss Rumphius’ mission to make the world more beautiful is a great way to inspire students to create their own plans for how they will positively impact our world.

Moments of silence, increased vigilance, and a focus on service to others… what better way to honor and remember those who our nation has lost.

The Answers to Life’s Questions

I love this book… for its artwork, its touching story, and the pondering of life’s great questions it leads its readers to.

The Three Questions written and illustrated by Jon Muth is based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. You can see his original version here.

Whether used for an interactive whole-class read-aloud or as the focus of an inquiry in small-group sessions, the three questions presented and pondered by the main character Nikolai will provide plenty of food for thought and possibly lead to some great debates.

As you and your students discuss the story and the answers Nikolai is looking for, make sure to utilize the illustrations and the insight and power they bring to the text.

Using a chart (see Three Questions worksheets) will further help your students visualize Nikolai’s debate and the truth that the answers to these questions are ever changing as we continue through life. The second page of the worksheets could be used during group discussions. Prep for this activity by copying some of the key illustrations from the text. Then have students identify the pictures that best answer Nikolai’s questions.

For example, a copy of the picture of the pandas below could be cut out and used to answer “Who is the most important?”

But as Leo the wise turtle tells Nikolai, there were other most important people and times and things to do that led Nikolai to be ready and available to help out the pandas when they were in need.

As you change out the pictures during your discussion (or create multiple charts), your students will begin to realize the deeper meanings of the story: Each moment of our life is important and so is each person that we spend time with along the way. Making the most of every opportunity to do good to those by our side is always the right thing to do. The answers to life’s questions come with seizing the day (moment by moment) and acting with others’ best interests in mind.

To help students further connect to these truths, use the first worksheet (see Three Questions worksheets) and have them identify and illustrate the answers to these questions from situations in their own lives.

Do you have a favorite activity you use with this story or another text that illustrates these truths?

Here are some of mine: