#1 Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens
Tops & Bottoms is the tale of a rabbit who lives on a bear's property. Through a series of cleverly made, self-serving deals with the bear, the rabbit grows and harvests a variety of vegetables, each time taking the crop's best parts for his own family. This time, Bear, you take the tops and I'll take the bottoms. Deal?... and off the rabbit goes to plant carrots and the like.
Use Tops & Bottoms to teach theme. The story contains several, including ones involving work ethic, the lengths one goes to help one's family, and the "little guy" besting the "boss man." Be sure to include the illustrations to help students discover and understand certain themes. For example, the bear wears boots throughout the story, adding to the impression that he is "the big boss." Some say there are even ties to plantation owners and the struggle of slaves, so even though the story is written at a third grade level or so, some pretty deep and meaningful discussions can be brought out.
#2 Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming
In Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!, Mr. McGreely does battle against three little bunnies who continue to break into his garden and eat all of his vegetables. Mr. McGreely goes to great lengths to protect his garden... fences, moats, walls, you name it. But the bunnies always figure out a way to thwart his efforts.
Use Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! to teach onomatopoeia. Each time the bunnies break into Mr. McGreely's garden, a slew of snappy sound words accompany the illustrations, showing their sneaky exploits.
If you are interested in my literature unit for Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!, you can see it HERE.
#3 The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
The Gardener is one of my favorite books with which to teach. Set during the Great Depression, Lydia Grace is sent to the city to live with her Uncle Jim and help in his bakery. The story is told through the letters that Lydia Grace writes back to her family. Though at first Lydia Grace is unsure of her new environment, her positive attitude and spirit help to change more than just herself.
Use The Gardener to teach character growth. Though Lydia Grace is the main character, use the details in her letters to infer changes in Uncle Jim. The clues can be subtle, as Uncle Jim never says a word, but the change is profound.
If you are interested in my literature unit for The Gardener, you can see it HERE.
#4 Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
In Weslandia, the main character, Wesley, a sort of social outcast at school, develops (with a little magic, of course) a brand new plant he calls a swist. Wesley's backyard gets filled with the new plant, and Wesley begins using parts of the plant for food, shelter, and various gadgets. Wesley eventually develops products from his plant that he sells to the same kids who bullied him! A whole new civilization is born in Wesley's backyard.
Use Weslandia as a companion to your science unit on plant growth or even in conjunction with your economics unit. (Yeah, it's that versatile.) Integrate engaging projects with students' plant learning, like asking students to develop a new plant of their own, with diagrams and explanations of its parts, needs, and uses. Extend the project into the economics realm by having students use their plant as their natural resource to create imaginary products to sell.
#5 City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems
Oh City Dog, Country Frog, how I love thee. Seriously, this simply told, touching story from Mo Willems (yep, the pigeon author) and illustrator Jon J. Muth (how this book didn't win the Caldecott I'll never know), takes the reader on a journey of friendship, at times full of love, and at times heart-breaking. Though the story travels through all four seasons, it begin in spring and ends in "spring again." The text is minimal, but very powerful, which makes it a perfect choice to reread and use multiple times during the year, even with upper elementary.
Use City Dog, Country Frog to teach how to create mental images. (Use it for a lot of things, actually.) The concise style paired with Muth's illustrations compel readers to use their five senses to dig into deeper understanding. After reading and discussing, try rereading the book once more, asking students upon completion to draw and explain their "lasting" mental image, the image seared into their mind that they will remember until they are old. (Yes, it's that good.)
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What are some of your other favorite picture books to use during the spring?