After 20 years as an elementary teacher, I “retired” last year to begin a new adventure with my husband. We moved from the Pacific Northwest to Northern Arizona and started our own business, publishing quality, family-friendly literature, and educational curricula for all types of learning environments.
We named our company Shine-A-Light because, like many, we are very concerned about the ever-increasing darkness that seems to be finding its way into families, schools, entertainment, etc. We wanted to do our part to prayerfully “shine a light” into those main foundations of our culture.
Although I am excited about this journey, there are a few things I miss about being in the classroom. Reading to my students is at the top of that list!
So, I thought I’d share my favorite pieces of literature that are currently sitting on my bookshelf, looking quite forlorn, and wondering why I have not picked them up in quite some time! Please, use these with your own children or students and allow me to live vicariously through you! I have ordered them by the months I used them in the classroom, but feel free to enjoy them when they work best in your schedule!
I Love My Little Storybook, by Anita Jeram was a staple for the beginning of the year. I used this book often with my 4th graders when everyone was talking about all the places they had gone over the summer. I would encourage my student to share their travels differently by asking them where they went “in a book” during the break. For instance, if they read Harry Potter, they would share with the class that they visited Hogwarts that summer, made three great friends named Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and found the Sorcerer’s Stone. This book lends itself perfectly to model how to do this.
Apples to Oregon, by Deborah Hopkinson and How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, by Marjorie Priceman were also favorites for this time of year! Being from the Northwest, this is apple season! When I taught 1st and 2nd grade I milked the apple theme as much as possible! There are so many choices out there for apple books, but these two lent themselves to a variety of uses at so many levels. Both stories have great imagery and voice, but if your curriculum includes westward expansion or geography, these are must-reads!
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White always refreshed me and gave me that extra little jumpstart I needed as I was usually already exhausted by October and counting down the days until Thanksgiving! This book is a classic for a reason, and I always read it in October because it was a nice follow-up to the friendship unit I taught at the beginning of September, and a perfect companion to the spider unit I started in the fall. If you have not already, please show your children or students the 1973 version of the movie. I have yet to see the 2006 remake because I love the original so much!
Thank You Sarah, by Laurie Halse Anderson is filled with humor and wonderfully detailed illustrations. It is a great book for teachers than want to read a Thanksgiving book but just cannot handle one more story about the Pilgrims! This would be a fantastic piece to compare and contrast how people made their voice heard before e-mail, texts, Twitter, and Facebook! It’s also a great book to use when teaching the lost art of writing a letter!
Okay, I have hundreds of titles to list for this month, but I will highlight the book I never go a Christmas season without reading: The Night the Stars Danced for Joy, by Bob Hartman. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby when you read it. This is a story about the birth of Christ told from the perspective of a small shepherd family. It has spiritual, relational, and historical implications that allow this book to be useful in kindergarten classrooms up through high school.
Goin’ Someplace Special, by Patricia C. McKissack is a picture book that again lends itself to use in all grade levels. It follows a young African American girl on a bus ride to “someplace special”…someplace she feels most welcome during the difficult Civil Rights movement. Her journey takes her to the public library in Nashville, TN where the library board members had quietly voted to integrate all their facilities. This would make a fantastic research project for middle to high school students. It would also make a fascinating screenplay adaptation for aspiring filmmakers!
February was always a crowded month for me! So many holidays and themes to fit in! When I felt like I had time to read a chapter book or do a novel study, I always chose Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, but please do not go through a President’s Day celebration without reading Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers, by Karen Winnick. It again can be taught in conjunction with a lesson on letter-writing, or a starter for a higher level compare and contrast lesson on the current political climate or the way the presidential office has changed over history.
Because March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’ birthday we would of course highlight his books all month; my favorite being Horton hatches the Egg. There are so many things you can do with this book, but at the elementary level we would focus on the character trait of faithfulness and then do a mock “debate” on the justification for the animal that eventually emerges.
If you teach 4th-6th grade, or have kids that age, I’d highly recommend The Four Corners and its sequel, The Four Corners of Darkness, both by C.S. Elston. Not just because they’re written by my husband, but because they tell a truly fantastic tale of a family, on the brink of emotional separation at the start of the first book, that then find themselves transported to a world where they are physically separated. In a struggle to reunite, they each find strength in the bond that ties them together. The second book has the same family choosing to go back to that foreign world to help others escape, too. I was teaching 4th grade when my husband was writing the first one, so he took the opportunity to get feedback and direction from his target audience, which served to make this fantasy adventure story even more enjoyable! *If this sounds interesting, keep reading to see how you can get your own free copy!*
I always ended the school year with a unit on birds so, naturally, I had to read Trumpet of the Swan, also by E.B. White of Charlotte’s Webb fame. It was so fun to watch my students really get behind Louis and cheer him on as he overcame his challenges with the help of friends and family. This “old” book has so many themes that can be applied to our current social climate: acceptance, diligence, honesty, responsibility, and morality…just to name a few!
Although I never taught high school, I still cherish the books I was “forced” to read during that time. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, The Chosen, by Chaim Potok and A Separate Peace, by John Knowles still remain on my bookshelf and near and dear to my heart. If I did teach high school, however, I would implement my husband’s books from his Gift of the Elements series. The Gift of Rio and The Gift of Tyler could both easily be used in any language arts course or even a Bible class. Both books are included in the giveaway as well…which brings me to the most fun part!
Big Giveaway & Free Opportunity
If you go to our website and sign up for our newsletter anytime between now and Labor Day, you will be e-mailed a code that will give you $10 off of any order on our site!
Even better, the first 125 people to sign up will also receive an author-signed and numbered, limited first edition hardcover copy of either The Four Corners, The Gift of Tyler, or The Gift of Rio.
We will email the winners and ask them to put the three books in order of preference and then we will give them out on a first-come, first-serve basis while the supplies for each book last. And, the best part is, we’ll even cover the shipping on those 125 books!
But wait…there’s more! We will also be giving away a grand prize!
Everyone who enters will be put in a drawing for a Premium Single-Family Annual Membership which gives the winner one free download of all digital content on our website (a $245 value) along with a 15% discount on every other product in the store which lasts for the duration of the membership! Giveaway ends September 7th so don’t delay…enter today!