A new read-aloud during the holiday season is like a cup of hot cocoa. It gets me in the mood for snowflakes doused in glitter and milk carton gingerbread houses. Which of the following titles will become a new favorite for your class?
Home for Christmas by Jan Brett
Grades: Pre K - Third
Rollo the troll has had enough of chores and decides to run away from home. He has no problem finding animal families – a nest of owls, two bear cubs, and an elk trio among others – who subscribe to his idea that life is too short to work all day. However, as winter sets in and Rollo becomes cold and hungry, he returns home just in time to do his Christmas morning chores; this time with a willing spirit.
The prose is witty, but Brett’s artwork is the star of this latest Scandinavian tale. In her definitive style, the borders tell as much of the story as the rest of the page. Readers can keep an eye on Mama, Papa, and Sister troll as Rollo makes his way through the winter woodlands. While Rollo is a perfectly naughty troll that kids will love, my favorite character is the pig who is put into duty as a plow horse. He looked ready to escape with Rollo!
To reinforce the concept that changing seasons affect both people and animals, have students draw the same place during two different seasons; perhaps a nearby park or their own backyard. Ask them to include people or animals in their picture. This is also a good time to discuss the different ways people and animals adapt to their changing environments. For example, animals may migrate or grow heavier coats; people tend to stay indoors and wear more layers. One way to focus on the message of helpfulness is to have students make lists or draw pictures of ways they help at home. Home for Christmas is sure to become a class favorite.
Tea with Lady Sapphire: Sharing the Love of Birds by Carl R. Sams, Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick
Grades: Kindergarten - Fourth
I have been a fan of Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick since I first picked up Stranger in the Woods. Tea with Lady Sapphire includes the same stunning photography and feel-good message. Like Home for Christmas, Tea is also a good choice for exploring how animals adapt to winter. The breathtaking winter landscape and pictures of twenty different bird species make this a book that children will look at again and again.
Gram and the children put a snowman to work as a bird feeder when fresh snow falls. An old stump is stuffed with suet and seeds for the cardinals and woodpeckers to feast upon. Once the feeding stations are set up, Gram and the children wait inside for the elusive Lady Sapphire to appear.
Photos and information about all the birds are featured in the back of the book, making it a good resource in the science center. Have your pupils research one of the birds, telling where it lives in summer and winter and what it eats during different seasons. You can expand the project to include animals other than birds or species native to your area. Making bird feeders from pinecones coated in shortening and rolled in seeds is a wonderful way to carry out the spirit of this book. Hang these where the class can observe the variety of birds that visit the feeders. Can they identify any of the feathered visitors? Tea with Lady Sapphire is sure to spark an interest in bird watching this winter.
Snowed Under and Other Christmas Confusions by Serge Bloch
Grades: Second - Fifth
Looking for a new way to explain troublesome idioms? This holiday-themed title is packed with thirty-one expressions that kids find confusing on first encounter. They will unravel the meaning behind common idioms as they follow the boy and his dog in the days leading up to Christmas. When a blizzard threatens to delay Santa, the boy spends many anxious moments worrying if Christmas can really be canceled if “pigs fly.”
Bloch’s award-winning pen and ink drawings blend flawlessly with photographic elements to create an engaging twist on Amelia Bedelia-like confusions. Ask learners to identify other confusing expressions or provide a list. Children will go crazy drawing pictures for them. They will also have fun researching the origins of common idioms. Did you know that being “armed to the teeth,” refers to the way pirates carried their knives between their teeth? After reading Snowed Under and Other Christmas Confusions, be prepared for students’ creativity to explode!
The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
Grades: Pre K - Second
The title of this brand new book was enough to intrigue me. Was Christmas ever quiet? Turns out, it can be. This is not a plot-driven story, but rather a reflection on one of the holiday’s many moods. I loved “knocking with mittens quiet,” and “searching for presents quiet.” Children will relate to “forgotten line quiet,” and “broken ornament quiet.” Renata Liwska’s illustrations whisper “hush” and will certainly have young listeners paused in silence, at least for a few minutes.
Before reading the book, ask pupils to make a comparison chart of quiet moments and noisy ones. Ripping paper, the Salvation Army bell ringers, and a squalling child meeting Santa for the first time would be on my noisy list. Afterwards, have children illustrate one of the noisy moments and compile these into a class book.
Santa is Coming to Arizona, or Florida, or Portland by Steve Smallman
Grades: Pre K - Third
With at least twenty-one different locales represented, this series will be a hit with children when they recognize familiar landmarks and hear their town mentioned. The stories are exactly the same except with a few changes specific to a particular state or city. So while Santa flies over Austin in the Texas version, he soars above the Golden Gate Bridge in the San Francisco edition.
Although not particularly literary, children will like the personalization the series provides. Incorporate some practice in drawing bird’s-eye-view pictures and a little local geography to turn a simple read-aloud into a well-rounded lesson.
If you’re looking for more ideas to study Christmas or the winter season, consider these lessons:
12 Days of Christmas
Using the traditional song as an example, children write an updated version using their own lives for inspiration…Twelve tee shirts washing, anyone?
Christmas between the Lines
Students in grades 6-12 write a holiday-themed story without using any of the common holiday words. This is a clever way to practice vocabulary.
A House is a House for Me
After exploring different climates and the various materials used in building in them, pupils build their own mini-structures.
Suitable for 4th-8th grade, this resource uses the scientific process to classify birds, observe their behavior, and record the amount of birdseed consumed each week. They also describe seasonal changes in plants and animals.