Picture Books

The Tooth Fairy Wars

  • Ask students to write stories about losing their first tooth or the most memorable time they lost a tooth. They can also interview family members to get their first or most memorable tooth losing stories. Share the stories with the class.
  • Have students research to find out how the Tooth Fairy became part of US culture. Also, what are the traditions surrounding losing teeth in other cultures? One helpful book is Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby Beeler. For example, in Spain and Mexico the tooth fairy is a mouse named Perez! (That’s another story with a fascinating history!) Have small groups of students make PowerPoint presentations of different tooth traditions, perhaps assigning each group a different region of the world. The groups can teach the class about their findings. (Helpful hint about the Tooth Fairy history in the US: Look for a 1927 play by Esther Watkins Arnold called The Tooth Fairy and especially a short story of the same name by Lee Rogow, published in Collier’s magazine in 1949.)
  • Kate and Jake made their Tooth Fairy into a small, very by-the-book employee of the 15th League of Enchanted Commerce in a business suit. Have students come up with their own versions of the Tooth Fairy, preferably quite different. They can even use animals, as in the Spanish tradition mentioned above. Ask students to illustrate their new Tooth Fairies and make these into a class art gallery.
  • The amount of money left under a child’s pillow by the Tooth Fairy has gone up. Have students research and graph the amount over time in the United States. What is the current average? Is the amount different in other countries with a similar tradition?
The Tooth Fairy Wars

Illustrator Jake Parker © 2014

The Llamacorn Is Kind
Llamacorn Saves the Day

  • Read The Llamacorn Is Kind to your class and cue them to say the refrain in unison as you read: “But the Llamacorn is kind.”
  • Discuss the characteristics of the different one-horned beasts in the world of Llamacorn. Why does Llamacorn make such a good friend? Have students come up with new one-horned creatures and write descriptions of their personalities. They can also illustrate their descriptions. Try a new medium such as oil pastels or scratchboard. Consider having students write and perform a class play with all of the new creatures.
  • Ask your students what it means to be kind. Who do they know who is kind? What are some ways this person is kind? What are some ways different students in the class are kind? Make a class brainstorm list of ideas for being kind. Teach students the idea of “random acts of kindness.” What does it do for a class, a home, or even a society when individuals are kind? As a class, create a daily kindness project and carry it out.
Llamacorn Saves the Day

Illustrator Elisa Pallmer © 2020

The Secret-Keeper

  • Ask each student to make a list of five happy secrets and then pick a favorite to illustrate and share with the class.
  • One kind of happy secret is a nice surprise. Help your students come up with ideas for nice little surprises they can plan for someone in their family. Have them follow up with a journal entry or sharing activity in class.
  • Read the Greek myth King Midas’s Ears, a very old (and very funny) folktale about secret keeping. Ask your students: Why did the barber have so much trouble keeping the secret? Have you ever had trouble keeping a secret? Should a secret ever be told?


Water Sings Blue

  • Not all sea animals are represented in this book of poems. For example, there are no poems about dolphins or sea stars (starfish). Ask your students to write poems about sea animals that aren’t in the book and make a class book of new ocean poems. Students can also illustrate the poems. Notice that although almost all of the poems in the book are rhymed, there’s a haiku hiding on the jellyfish page (not with standard syllable counts, but with short, long, short lines). Let students use whatever poetry form they like best, including free verse.
  • People may worry about endangered species on the land, but what about in the ocean? Have students research ocean animals that are endangered, perhaps starting with sea turtles and coral reefs. They could also study overfishing as an environmental issue and problems relating to sea animals and plastic waste, oil spills, and other pollutants. Take a look at the Great Pacific garbage patch, for example. What are some possible solutions to these problems? What can your students do to help?
Water Sings Blue

Illustrator Meilo So © 2012

Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems

Kate and her publisher, Sounds True, worked together to create a story hour kit with ideas for class or library group activities.

Monster School

  • Have students create a new monster child or re-envision themselves as Monster School students. They can write their own monster poems about the students, whether in rhymed or unrhymed verse. Students can illustrate the poems using collage, clay, or found object sculptures for a fun 3D take on monster kids.
  • One of the poems in the book is called “Cafeteria Food.” Have students write menus with their own Monster School dishes. They could even write recipes. Tie this to a science lesson/experiment about how mold grows on food.
  • Use “Fernanda Kabul” to start a conversation about bullying at school. Discuss cyberbullying as well. Research to find articles for students to read or video clips to watch about bullying. Discuss/brainstorm strategies about how not to bully and how to handle bullying.
  • Read “Monster Mash” with your class and talk about how their ancestors come from many places. Have students fill out family tree charts and interview relatives to find out which countries their ancestors are from. Use pins or stickers on a map to show the different countries representing the heritages of students in the class. (This activity works best in a diverse class.)
Monster School Ghosts

Illustrator Lee Gatlin © 2018

Board Books

Board books are for toddlers. Here are some home activities you can try when
reading the books with small children. Most are appropriate for a 2- to 4-year-old.

Little Naturalists

  • Read The Adventures of John Muir or Henry David Thoreau in the Woods. Go for a little nature walk or take your family to a state park for a picnic or short hike. Teach your child the names of a few birds, trees, and rocks.
  • For John James Audubon Painted Birds, act out the little poem in the book using arms for wings, a hand pointing outward from the nose for a beak, two rounded hands together for an egg, etc.
  • After reading Johnny Appleseed, eat an apple together and plant a few of the seeds in a cup filled with dirt. Put it near a window and remember to water!
  • Read Ansel Adams and His Camera with your small child. Then teach your child to take nature photos in the backyard or on a walk in the park. Point out beautiful things like trees and clouds. What can your child find to photograph?
  • After reading Georgia O’Keeffe Loved the Desert, watch video clips on YouTube about desert animals. You can download pictures of desert animals and flowers to color, too.
  • Read Jane Goodall Is a Friend to All and then show your child YouTube clips of Jane Goodall with the chimpanzees. Try imitating the chimp sounds with your child.
  • Read Beatrix Potter Wrote Stories. Then tell your child you will now read one of Beatrix’s stories. Read Peter Rabbit together. Eat some carrot sticks with your lunch and pretend to be nibbling rabbits!

Illustrator Seth Lucas © 2019

Little Poets

  • Find some fun ways to say “I love you” with your child to celebrate Shakespeare’s words about love. Teach your child a few new ways to say “I love you” from the book. How does your family say “I love you”? Do you have any pet names like “Pumpkin” or “Chickadee”?
  • For What’s In Emily’s Garden? (Emily Dickinson), go for a garden or park walk with your child and try to find some of the things from the book. Bring the book along and show your child how the real bird matches the book, for example.
  • Miracles Everywhere is partly a book about gratitude. Teach your child about the wonderful world by going for a walk and using statements like “I’m so glad for this wonderful world!” Point to some of the nice things you see and name them. Ask your child what nice things they see and like. You can also play your child the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
  • The last line of Silly Time (Lewis Carroll) asks children if they can be silly. Make silly faces or do silly dances with your child after reading the book.
  • Read Two Roads (Robert Frost) to your child. Then go for a walk, maybe in the park, and play a little game of “Which way should we go?” Change directions with a zig and a zag and giggle about it.
  • Teach your child to say “Nevermore!” on cue every time you come to the word as you read the book. (You can also teach your child to say “Nevermore!” around the house instead of “no,” but you may be sorry!)
Little Poets

Illustrator Carme Lemniscates © 2020

Goodnight Mr. Darcy

Read your child Goodnight Moon for a few nights running. Then tell your child you are going to read a new story that is a lot like Goodnight Moon, only it has people in it instead of bunnies. The people are from a famous book. Teach your child the names of the characters as you go.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Runaway Princess

  • The Runaway Princess twists various traditional fairy tale plot points. There are quite a few fun books out with fairy tale twists. Two picture book that play with the story of the Three Little Pigs are The True Story of the Three little Pigs, by A. Wolf (Jon Scieska) and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas. Two clever versions of Cinderella are Prince Cinders by Babette Cole and Cinderhazel by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, but there are many more. Your students can track down other twisty tales to share, and they can also write their own versions of well-known fairy tales. Two ways to start are as follows:
    • Ask “What if?” to change an important plot point. For example, what if Cinderella didn’t lose her glass slipper?
    • Ask “What if?” to throw something fun into the mix. For example, what if the seven dwarves in Snow White were a soccer team?
  • Another kind of fairy tale variation doesn’t involve deliberate twisting: sometimes the same old fairy tales are told differently in different countries and cultures. (Studying these is often a state language arts standard in the primary grades.) For example, there are many versions of the Cinderella story in print, among them Hmong, Chinese, Korean, and Egyptian variations. Your students can research sets of these tales and compare them. It’s important to include a study of where the story first started and how it traveled around the world and changed if that is known.
The Runaway Dragon

Illustrator Jonathan Bean © 2009

The Runaway Dragon

  • Meg’s magical pet is a dragon named Laddy. What magical pet would your students like to have? Ask them to come up with a pet and write a poem to describe it. They could also design costumes or create avatars of the pet using apps.
  • There is a lot of problem solving involved in The Runaway Dragon. Have students identify key problems and how the characters solve them. What other solutions can your students come up with for solving those problems? You could expand this idea to think about problem solving in other popular books or books you have read aloud to your class, as well.

The Red Flower

  • Have students research to find the difference between a book or movie that’s a mystery and one that’s a thriller. Use this information to categorize a set of books or movies the class is familiar with. As readers or viewers, which do they prefer, and why? Note that Aubrey thinks she’s dealing with a mystery, but you might argue that the story turns out to be a thriller. What do your students think?
  • What would your students do if they woke up one morning with the red flower “tattoo” or some other magical mark? Have them write stories about the meaning of the mark and the adventure it leads to, whether a mystery, a thriller, or another genre.
Red Flower

Illustrator Chris Bodily © 2019

If you have other ideas for activities, please let me know!