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?

Prepare for Launch: International Literacy Day is coming!

“Lift Off to Literacy” is the International Reading Association‘s theme for this year’s International Literacy Day, September 8, 2014.

Chosen to help inspire students to reach for the stars, this theme is also a challenge for teachers to help launch students’ literacy habits “by devoting an additional 60 seconds of literacy activities each day for 60 days. Celebrate ILD and share the message that developing a habit of reading, writing, listening, and speaking leads to lifelong literacy success.”

The IRA is offering free printables, an activity kit, and more. Check out the resources here and prepare for “Lift Off!”

How will you include an additional 60 seconds of literacy activities in your class each day?

Here are a few of my ideas:

  • See how fast your students can alphabetize the class list – on paper or by physically standing/sitting in alphabetical order.
  • Collect food labels and have students do a quick sort by brand, certain ingredients, or number of servings.
  • Share a poem.
  • Make lists of rhyming words.
  • Post a picture and have a “Caption this!” contest.
  • Try out some tongue twisters.

Olive and other Miss Takes

Misunderstandings can lead to all kinds of trouble, embarrassment, and (thankfully!) occasionally adventure, but they are not something that we want to abound in the classroom.

Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier illustrates the importance of both correct spelling and comprehension when learning new vocabulary. It’s a great story to open up the lines of communication with your students and encourage them to seek help when in doubt. It also shows how initiative and creativity can aid the learning process.

book resources:

Scholastic – Miss Alaineus lesson plan (K-5th)

ReadWriteThink – Learning to Learn with Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster (3rd-5th)

slideshow introducing vocabulary, strategy and skill (5th)

McGraw-Hill – interactive online activities

Creating Vocabularians: Word Connoisseursstrategies for strengthening students’ vocabulary and celebrating words

*in case you’re wondering where the blog post title comes from 🙂

Celebrating Us

By the end of September, students should know their classmates. But do they know the other important people in your school community?

I loved using Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelusky, & Lane Smith to help reinforce the idea of community and its importance in our learning.

This story emphasizes that learning can be fun and reminds us that there are many people (like custodians, nurses, and librarians) who help make our schools run. (ha ha… guess I’ve read a little too much Dr. Seuss lately)

After reading this book to my 3rd graders, I would provide them with opportunities to interview some of these key people and then share with the class so that all of us could get to know the members of our school community.

This activity sheet provides some questions to guide the interview and a space to draw a portrait of their chosen community member.


  • Prearrange times (10 minutes or so) and meeting places for the interviews.
  • Send students out in pairs or groups of three – or invite the interviewees to your classroom.  The interviews will be more successful if students do not feel alone or intimidated by new surroundings.
  • If your students need practice, use this activity first. They can interview a friend to become more familiar with this process.
  • If your students do not know who each group interviewed, hang the unlabeled portraits first for a fun guessing game. Identities can be revealed during your interview sharing time.


Additional Activities:

Diffendoofer Day game

printables, games, and teaching ideas

an elementary school’s Diffendoofer Day celebration

video of story

Stories of Life

Another successful set of writing prompts to use in the classroom focuses on the students themselves.

What better topic do we know in-depth information about  than our own experiences?

Providing students with prompts that connect to their lives can help to eliminate that feeling of not having anything to write about and instead help students focus on the abundance of life experiences they face each day.

The following autobiographies and biographies provide rich examples of life stories for students and can serve as mentor texts as students take on the task of writing about their own lives:

Bill Peet: An Autobiography, by Bill Peet


Flora and Tiger: 19 very short stories from my life, by Eric Carle

When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant


A Picture Book of Helen Keller, by David Adler

My Name is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter, by Jeanette Winter


Rocks in His Head, by Carol Hurst


Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin


Cleopatra, by Peter Vennema and Diane Stanley


Additional Resources:

Scholastic: Writing an Autobiography

Telling a Story About Me: Young Children Write Autobiographies

How Do Kids Write an Autobiography About Themselves?

What’s in a Name? (part 2)

So many good books on this topic…

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi

My Name is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits

Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes

Three Names of Me, by Mary Cummings

Andy That’s My Name, by Tomie dePaola

These could be used in conjunction with the art project I shared in yesterday’s post, be part of an exploratory unit for a small-group session, or be the focus of some great discussion-starting interactive read-alouds.

And for more information and ways to use names as learning moments in the classroom, check these out:

The Name Game, by Donna M. Jackson

Using Name Walls to Teach Reading and Writing: Dozens of Classroom-Tested Ideas for Using This Motivating Tool to Teach Phonological Awareness, Letter Recognition, Decoding, Spelling, and More, by Janiel Wagstaff

Visual Literacy in Action: What’s in a Name?

Our names, like our faces,  can reveal a lot about us. The following is an activity that I loved to do with my class each year as they were getting to know each other.

It is easily adaptable: older students can have fun exploring script and various types of bubble letters while younger students can be supplied with their names already written (and possibly cut).

It is a great discussion starter as students brainstorm and use their creative juices to illustrate themselves in a unique way.

This activity also creates an amazing visual display for those first few weeks in the classroom.

Supplies: sheets of white paper and black construction paper for each student, pencils, various colors of construction paper (scraps work well), scissors, and glue


  • Step 1: Fold white sheet of paper in half (long way).
  • Step 2: Write name along folded edge, making sure that the letters touch the edge of the paper. This can be tricky for people with names that include letters which fall below the line (such as g, j, y). Students may choose to use capital letters or find other creative solutions if this is the case. I encourage my students to play around with lettering (script, bubble letters, etc.) until they find a style that suits them.

  • Step 3: Cut out name and unfold paper to reveal the mirrored design.

  • Step 4: Brainstorm a list of your likes, talents, hobbies, etc. (things that could help someone get to know you better).
  • Step 5: Lay your name cut-out on the black sheet of construction paper and look at it from different angles (right-side up, upside-down, sideways).  Use your creative eye. What do you see? How could you use your name to illustrate one of the items or activities from your brainstorming in step 4?
  • Step 6: Using your name cut-out and construction paper, create a picture of something that will help others get to know you better.
  • Step 7: After playing around with the placement and deciding on your final design, glue your name and other picture components onto the sheet of black construction paper.