Hilltown Families


Let this national observation month be a catalyst for learning. Families can start with fun projects at home, like Blackout Poetry and Book Spine Poetry. Explore the work of famous poets, including William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Safia Elhillo. For recommended titles, check out our posts, Six Novels Written in Verse and Books for Young Bards, and check out our archived column, One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love.

Fun under almost any circumstances, people-watching can serve as a great tool for young writers and thespians. The observations made in a particular context can help inspire or contribute to the development or portrayal of a character. Visit some of our suggested people-watching locations!

Late summer means thunderstorms and, sometimes, hurricanes, too. Our collection of storm-themed books can be used to learn courage in the face of bad weather and to find resilience in times of change that we cannot control.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in honor of this observance month, we’ve created a book list of middle grade and young adult books that address mental health.

April is National Poetry Month! In celebration of this national observation month, we’re spotlighting verse novels, stories told entirely through poetry. Verse novels can provide readers with the opportunity to explore the storytelling potential of poetry and can inspire readers to use poetry as a storytelling device.This month’s list features a collection of titles to use with readers ages 10-13, covering a wide range of topics and themes. Check out the featured titles and download your free guide…

In late winter when the days are warm but the nights are still cold, the sap starts to run in sugar maples. Throughout New England, buckets and tubing begin to adorn trees, and the steady plinking of sap dripping into buckets can be heard throughout the sugarbush. This month’s literature guide spotlights titles that can be used to learn about sugaring – both the science behind it and the role that it plays in rural New England culture.

Driven by Martin Luther King Day, this month’s book list celebrates value-based learning in the form of civic engagement and service-based learning. Spotlighting diverse stories of civic engagement, this collection of literature offers resources for learners of all ages. Download the full PDF literary guide to this month’s book list to learn more about the titles included.

From Our Library: A Booklist for Studying Seed Dispersal Fall isn’t just about leaves falling from trees – it’s about seed dispersal, too! As summer’s lush plants turn to brown, crumble, and collapse, seeds are being dispersed left and right. Studies of seed dispersal can illuminate secrets to plant reproduction, inspire seed collection, and bring learners closer to the landscape that surrounds them. Pair these titles with seed pod collection, plant dissection,… Read More

From Our Library: A Book List for Studying Bones

Bones are fascinating to study because they come directly from the insides of creatures – the very parts we never really expect to see! Their shape and structure speaks volumes about the body function and general habits of the creatures whose skeletons they compose. Simple bone studies can be done easily, and the titles included here offer a rich look at the bones of living things of all kinds.

Not meant to be exhaustive, this book list simply includes all of the relevant titles currently found within the library of our community-based education network affiliate, Dirigo Learning. Download the accompanying guide for further detail, including genre, age range, and book style for teach title as well as short descriptions of each text.

Introducing the concept of homeschooling to young audiences, Jonathan Bean’s loosely autobiographical book takes a close look at a day in the life of a busy and constantly learning homeschooling family. The concise text and dense illustrations offer up a fascinating tale of nontraditional education, and paired with our literary guide, the book offers itself as a portal into the examination of nontraditional education and personal learning style.

From Our Library: A Book List for Studying Immigration

Immigration is an incredibly important topic to study, perhaps right now more than ever. The titles included here can be used for learning about the modern immigrant experience in America, the reasons modern immigrants leave their homes, the ways in which we can empathize with modern immigrants, and even the ways in which the United States is responsible for the living conditions immigrants flee. Not meant to be exhaustive, this book list simply includes all of the relevant titles currently found within the library of our community-based education network affiliate, Dirigo Learning. Download the accompanying guide for further detail, including genre, age range, and book style for teach title as well as short descriptions of each text.

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Julia Alvarez’s Return to Sender

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" class="center "] Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.[/caption]

Tyler has grown up in rural Vermont on his family’s dairy farm – like many New England fairy farms, the Paquette family has been farming their land for generations. The farm struggles with the same challenges that every small New England dairy encounters, but the real challenge comes when Tyler’s father is seriously injured in a tractor accident and is unable to work. Without the help of his late grandfather to run the farm, Tyler’s family finds itself in a difficult position: hire migrant workers to keep the farm running, or lose the farm – and their family history with it.

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Molly Bang’s The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher The grey lady is out for a day of errands, stopping by her local farmer’s market for what appears to be the season’s final quart of delicious strawberries. She is quite pleased with her purchase, and nestles it safely inside a reusable mesh shopping bag before beginning her journey home. It’s not too long, however,… Read More

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Rebecca Rupp’s After Eli
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="215"] Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.[/caption]

Daniel Anderson’s older brother Eli was killed while serving in the American military in Iraq, and three years after Eli’s death, Daniel is still working out how to feel and how to move forward after such a monumental event. In order to try to find meaning in death – not only Eli’s, but all deaths – Daniel has created a Book of the Dead. His Book of the Dead is really an old binder, but it’s filled with names of the deceased and their causes of death, all of which Daniel processes to find meaning in both their lives and their deaths – with the hope that he will someday be able to find meaning in Eli’s death and the hole that it has left in his life.

Daniel’s Book of the Dead has been years in the making by the time his story begins, right at the kickoff of what turns out to be one of the most transformative summers of Daniel’s life. Whether its all of his studies of creative causes of death or simply the time that has passed, Daniel finds himself suddenly able to open his eyes and truly see the world around him. He makes friends, begins to see the good in others, and even begins to better understand the impact that his brother’s death has had upon the other members of his family. Luckily, Daniel’s summer of awakening isn’t just a moment, it’s a beginning – and by the story’s end, his momentum is leading him away from his Book of the Dead and towards whatever is next.

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide to Anne Mazer’s, The Salamander Room

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.[/caption]

The Salamander Room is told through the imagination of a young boy who desperately longs to bring an amphibian friend home with him. Beginning in the woods, the story starts when a small, orange salamander is discovered underneath leaf litter. The boy, whose imagination drives the story’s development, believes the salamander finds his hand cozy and perhaps even preferable to its natural habitat – and from this assumption ensues an explanation of the many creative measures that could be taken in order to make the salamander feel at home in his bedroom. The boy first imagines that the salamander can live happily right in the drawer of his bedside table, but prompting from an adult allows him to think through all of the salamander’s many needs, and the unintended consequences that meeting these needs might have. For example, insects will need to be introduced into his bedroom so that the salamander has a food source – but what will happen when the insects breed and overpopulate? Well, of course, the roof of his bedroom will be taken off so that birds can fly in to keep the insect population in check!

The Salamander Room bridges the gap between fiction and nonfiction, using imaginative storytelling to teach readers about habitat and the interconnectedness of nature. Resources included in our accompanying guide support the use of the text as a tool for reading and comprehension skills, as well as a catalyst for science-based learning. Get a copy of the book from your local library – salamander season has just begun!

Don’t miss out on the accompanying Critical Thinking Questions & Community-Based Learning Map, created by Robin Huntley, M.Ed., Founder and Director of Dirigo Learning, a Community-Based Education Network™ affiliate for Midcoast and Central Maine. This learning guide is filled with Resources for Self-Directed Learning about Salamanders and Their Habitats, including audio/visual materials on vernal pools, a project that will help your learner link art and science through a “literrarium,” and a web-based guide to help you identify local salamander species. Download the Learning Map here – and get out there to have some salamander fun!

A lovely narrative of life on a Vermont farm during sugaring season, Jessie Haas’ Sugaring also serves as a resource for learning the process of making maple syrup – from tree to table! Utilize the story and its accompanying community-based education guide as a catalyst for literature-based studies of maple syrup and the centuries-old tradition of sugaring.

A short and sweet tale of a very young trapper’s change of heart, Prize in the Snow can serve as a catalyst for both learning animal tracks and signs, as well as an examination of the ethics of animal trapping and hunting – all within a community-based context!

Literature in Context: A Community-Based Education Guide
to Cynthia Rylant’s Life

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="198"] Download the Learning Map, which links this book to local opportunities for community-based learning.[/caption]

Beautifully detailed and metaphorical illustrations accompany deeply emotional wisdom in this work from an award-winning author and a talented illustrator. Rather than reading as a true story, Life offers up simple yet universally applicable life advice. Centered around the idea of allowing life to happen and adapting to change in order to survive (and love life!), the book pairs simple suggestions and thought-provoking questions with relatable experiences had by species from all around the world. Even young readers will see the clear link between the words and the natural images they are paired with – a connection that encourages deep thought and reflection. In addition to serving as a lesson for self love, the book encourages empathy and understanding, allowing it to serve as a catalyst for community-based learning opportunities existing within the practice of kindness.

Eve Bunting’s beautiful words tell an emotional and thought-provoking story – one that sheds light on both the intense love and immense loss that are left when a loved one dies in a war. This powerful book can be used to spark meaningful discussion of veterans and their service around Veterans Day, and our accompanying guide details resources for learning about veterans and their experiences through community-based resources.

Shy Mama’s Halloween beautifully illustrates the experience of learning a new and unfamiliar culture. Though the book is set in the past (mid-20th century), the story itself is timeless, capturing the uncertainty, nervousness, and even excitement that accompany new experiences. In the story, an immigrant family prepares for Halloween – a holiday that they’ve never celebrated before because they’re new to the United States and, in their home country of Russia, Halloween… Read More

Dig into apple season with this perfect fall book! A young narrator brings readers into his home to share a family tradition of applesauce making, all the while teaching about the overlap between the change in natural seasons and the change in seasonal culture.

Derived from the true stories of the countless native students who endured boarding schools in Alaska, “My Name is Not Easy” paints a portrait of a school trying to save students though cultural abandonment and assimilation. The story’s many narrators endure this experience in a variety of ways, teaching readers about their own culture and life experiences as they do so. Best for mature readers, this book tells important truths that are often overlooked in American history.

Beautifully blending nature and childhood imagination, this lesser-known work of Dr. Seuss’ is surely one of his best! Incredibly detailed illustrations and Seuss’ characteristic rhythmic, rhyming text tell a tale that is as engaging as it is unrealistic. Take advantage of the warm weather and use this fish-centric text as a catalyst for aquatic exploration!

In this fantastic and creative work of children’s literature, a family trip to the zoo serves as a reminder of the human need for authentic experiences in nature. Best if read with older children, the story can spark discussion of ways to engage respectfully and authentically with the natural world during the coming summer months.

Sparking studies of eggs of all kinds, Ruth Heller’s “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones” is a dense, informative, and beautiful nonfiction text. Basic enough for the youngest of readers but information-filled enough for older ones, too, the story can be used to promote explorations of the local landscape during the egg-filled springtime.

Told through the eyes of a young girl on the Autism spectrum, “Rain Reign” is a beautiful story of determination, love, and building connections across differences. A story well-suited for middle grade readers, “Rain Reign” is complex and deep – and in addition to its literary merit, it lends itself as a catalyst for studies of everything from ethics to map-making.

A lesser-known work of Bernard Waber but an essential title for the libraries of strong, resilient children, Courage spotlights the everyday acts of courage enacted by people of all shapes and sizes. The simple story structure invites young readers to develop connections to the text and challenges readers to consider the role that courage plays in their own lives.

While in the summertime it seems easy to explore a multitude of activities, the wintertime provides the space for quieter activities, new hobbies, or creative outlets that encourage reflection. The intense winter storms and their impact on travel keep us inside to discover new activities or pastimes. Winter days feel quiet and reflective as our time indoors beckons us to think more about how to spend our time intentionally. Let’s take a look at the art of letter writing and how Epistolary Novels can help us connect our interest in correspondence with literature.

Poet and Cummington native, William Cullen Bryant, was very much influenced by the landscape of the Western Massachusetts Hilltowns of his youth. In fact, Bryant’s “A Winter Piece” is a reflection on this time of year. The poem is a meditation on this season, and one to read on a quiet winter’s day or perhaps before a winter walk in the woods. Here we share a link to the poem, inviting you to read the poem and then visit the very location that inspired this great poet.