This week, in honor of Earth Day on Tuesday (April 22), I did books about nature, gardening, and recycling. An exciting thing happened though: one of my regular participants, who is now in Kindergarten, asked if she could read Biscuit Goes to School by Alyssa Capucilli aloud to the group. There were a few minutes before storytime started, so I said yes. She did an amazing job, even holding up each page so the other kids could see the pictures. Afterwards, one of my other regulars asked if she could read I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems, so I told her she could read at the end of storytime, just before the craft. She did a wonderful job too! I was so proud of them both, for their developing reading skills, and especially for their bravery. I told them I know a lot of adults who would be too scared to read to a group like that, and it’s true.
Go to Sleep, Gecko: A Balinese Folktale by Margaret Read MacDonald; illustrated by Geraldo Valério (Amazon.com link)
One of my favorite folktales to read-aloud and perfect for Earth Day. Gecko complains to Elephant that he can’t sleep because the fireflies keep shining their lights on and off all night long. When Elephant confronts the fireflies they say they have to shine their light because Buffalo leaves poop in the road that someone might step in. But Buffalo says he is filling the holes that Rain washes out, and Rain says she is making puddles so there will be mosquitoes for Gecko to eat. The part about poop in the road always gets appreciative giggles, and the kids like joining in on the Gecko’s repeated cry of, “Geck-o! Geck-o! Geck-o!” Great story about the interconnectedness of things in nature. I love the last line, “Some things you just have to put up with.”
Bob and Otto by Robert O. Bruel; illustrated by Nick Bruel (Amazon.com link)
Another favorite of mine, and one my daughter has asked to hear over and over. Bob, a caterpillar, and Otto, a worm, are best friends who like to play together at the base of big tree. But one day Bob decides to climb high up into the tree. Otto doesn’t want to follow. Instead he digs deep down under the tree and crawls all around the roots. When the two friends meet again, Bob has transformed into a butterfly. Otto wishes he had followed Bob, so he might have grown wings too instead of just being a “big fat worm.” But Bob tells him that all his digging is what made the tree grow leaves, so he could eat and grow wings. Sweet story about friendship, as well as the importance of earthworms. This one got snatched up at the end.
Flora’s Surprise by Debi Gliori (Amazon.com link)
When Flora’s family plants a garden, Flora plants a brick in a pot and says she is growing a house. As the seasons pass, everyone else’s plants grow and blossom, but Flora’s house never grows. But at the end of winter, they are all surprised to find that someone (a bird) has discovered Flora’s brick, and that it has become a perfect house after all. Large, colorful illustrations and simple text make this a great book for gardening themes for toddlers on up. It was quickly snatched up too.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback (Amazon.com link)
I hadn’t thought of this as an Earth Day book until I saw it in a list somewhere, but it fits well with the “ReUse” part of the “Reduce, ReUse, Recycle” motto. When Joseph’s coat gets old and worn, he turns it into a jacket, and then a vest, a scarf, a necktie, a handkerchief, a button, and finally…a story. The charm of this book is in the cutouts that give hints to each new thing Joseph makes. The kids loved trying to guess what was coming next. This book won the Caldecott Medal in 2000.
Elephants Have Wrinkles
I did this one to go along with Go to Sleep, Gecko. I ask the kids where else elephants have wrinkles and we add in a new body part each time, while singing the song faster and faster. Click on the triangle for the tune:
Elephants have (pat legs on each syllable)
Wrinkles, Wrinkles, Wrinkles (clap hands on each syllable)
Elephants have (pat legs on each syllable)
Wrinkles (clap hands on each syllable)
Everywhere! (stomp feet on each syllable)
On their nose! Oh-oh! (touch your nose, and mime a trunk)
Repeat Elephants have wrinkles…
On their legs!
On their nose!
Two Little Blackbirds
I did this one after Flora’s Surprise:
Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill (hold up two thumbs)
One named Jack and the other named Jill.
Fly away Jack (put one thumb behind back), fly away Jill (put other thumb behind back).
Come back, Jack (bring thumb out in front), come back, Jill (bring other thumb out in front).
Two little blackbirds sitting on a cloud, One was quiet (whisper), and the other was loud (yell)…
Two little blackbirds sitting in the snow, One was fast and the other w…a…s…s…l…o…w…
Two little blackbirds sitting on a gate, One was early, and the other was… (pause)…late…. (I drag out the pause until the kids are all yelling “late!”)
INSTRUMENT PLAYALONG WITH A CD: I meant to play You Are My Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell from Sing Along with Putumayo, but that track wouldn’t play (I know from many past experiences that you should always check to make sure the song plays ahead of time, but I didn’t get a chance). Instead we did a totally random song from the same disc, although it’s a goofy one that I love: Bellybutton Song by Music for Aardvarks & Other Mammals.
CRAFT: Model Magic Earthworms
To fit with Bob and Otto, we made earthworms out of Model Magic, a nontoxic Crayola air dry clay. I mixed white and red Model Magic ahead of time to make a rosy-pink color. I gave each child a hunk of the clay and a plastic knife to add the little ridges in the earthworm’s body. I also put out other colors so they could add eyes. They ended up adding all kinds of things, and each worm was completely unique.
Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Harry Bliss (Amazon.com link)
Another great worm book, and one I shared with two second grade classes this week. A funny look at the joys and perils of being a worm. The kids especially loved the part where the worm gets so hungry, he eats his homework, then has to write, “I will not eat my homework” ten times, and then eats that too. The other Diary of books are great fun too.
Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker (Amazon.com link)
I read this one to second grade too. It’s a heavy and fairly lengthy story, and I wasn’t sure how they would take it: they were uncharacteristically quiet at the end. But several kids, mostly girls, said it was their favorite. It’s based on the Sparrow War, a true event that took place in China in the 1950’s, when Mao Zedong decreed that all the sparrows should be killed to prevent them from eating the grain. The death of the sparrows and other birds left the insects free to ravage the crops, and a terrible famine ensued. Sara Pennypacker makes this the backdrop of a story about a little girl who bravely saves seven of the sparrows, and hides them away until the farmers in her village realize the terrible mistake they have made. The second graders seem fascinating by true stories, although I was sad to have to tell them that in this case it was the more hopeful part of the story that was fiction. It is a vivid portrayal of the importance of understanding the complex interactions between every living thing, and how even small environmental changes can be devastating. (This is the same message conveyed by Go to Sleep, Gecko in a much lighter, sillier way).
The EARTH Book by Todd Parr (Amazon.com link)
Simple book about easy environmental things kids can do, and how they help the Earth: “I use both sides of the paper and bring my own bags to market because…I love the trees and I want the owls to have a place to live.” Some of the connections may not be immediately clear to kids, for example, turning off the lights and shutting the refrigerator door to help the polar bears. But it’s nice to have a concrete list of ways kids can have an impact, and the colorful, multicultural, artwork is eye-catching and fun.
What are your favorite books for Earth Day?