Hilltown Families


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.

Interestingly, the freedom to read has not always been seen as a freedom. Citing the freedom to read as a part of our Constitution’s First Amendment, the American Library Association hosts a Banned Books Week every year to celebrate the freedom to read. Here is a list from The American Library Association of the top 20 American novels that have been challenged. Why do you think they have been banned or challenged? How many have you read?

In this month’s Literary Guide, Megan Dowd Lambert, a Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Simmons College, explores a Whole Book Approach to Reading Picture Books with Children, which she developed in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

With this approach, Megan aims to foster children’s critical verbal and visual literacy skills; empower them to assert their own ideas and questions; enable them to read against texts; and inspire them to think about the creative process and, by extension, their own creativity.

She writes that, “The key is to keep this inquiry-based, interactive storytime approach fun and kid-centered, so I follow children’s cues to support their engagement and enjoyment. One constant source of inspiration is a desire to make storytimes in museums, schools, and libraries feel more like the playful, interactive reading I share with my six kids at home. The books we’ve read together hold, not just stories and art, but memories of the conversations they’ve sparked, and that’s why we hold them so dear.”

One of literary great Leo Lionni’s lesser known titles, “Tillie and the Wall” is a symbolic tale that encourages readers to bridge the gap (or, rather, tunnel beneath the wall) between themselves and others. Living in a mouse community where walls are the norm, young Tillie wishes to find out what’s on the other side. Much to her surprise, she learns that what’s on the other side isn’t all that different from what she already knows – save for the wall between them.

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

Centered around the shared environment of the natural world, “Once There Was a Tree” tells the story of a stump’s usefulness once a tree has died. A number of visitors utilize the stump as a resource and grow to think of it as their own – but who does it truly belong to? Explore the pages of the story while using resources offered in our literary guide in order to thinking critically about ownership in nature.

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.

Writing intersects with the natural world in many ways. Genres of nature writing include science writing, environmentally inspired literature, and works of environmental advocacy. Walks and hikes through the woods and mountains, journeys through rivers and streams, can inspire all types of artwork from poetry about the beauty of the natural world to imploring essays on our responsibility to preserve it.

And because of the natural beauty of our region, Western Massachusetts has a rich literary history. Famous authors such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all share ties to the Berkshire area. In addition, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, William Cullen Bryant, W.E.B. Du Bois- all hold historic ties to Western Massachusetts.

Those interested in learning about literary history should check out our post: 10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA. Others may want to follow in the footsteps of these authors, many of whom drew upon the natural surroundings of the Pioneer Valley in their writing.

Here are several upcoming community-based opportunities that support your interests…

Told in graphic novel format, “Nobody Particular” spotlights shrimper-turned-activist Diane Wilson’s early efforts to increase regulation of the petrochemical industry and to draw attention to the impact that such manufacturing had on her hometown. Best for teen readers, the book highlights themes of activism, trust in self, and perseverance, and inspires readers to consider the environmental impact of all that they do.

Writing is a hobby which can help kids and adults in many areas of life including academics, careers, and even relationships. In general, being able to write clearly helps people work through their own thoughts and express their emotions. Writing fiction in particular can build a stronger sense of empathy. In 2013, researchers at The New School in New York City found that reading fiction helped people perform better on tests of their ability to understand what others were thinking or feeling. Writing fiction requires a similarly empathetic process of deciding what characters feel and how those feelings lead to actions. This summer, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield is encouraging children and young adults to foster their creative and expressive abilities through a short story writing contest this summer!

A science project of vegetable seedlings is launched into space. Giant vegetables of all varieties land in town across the United States. Is it some kind of strange coincidence, or has the science project gone massively wrong somehow? David Wiesner’s “June 29, 1999” offers a creative and engaging take on the use of the scientific method and the powers of deduction. — Download our literary guide for ideas on how to use this story to support literacy and learning!

There are book clubs for people of every age and readers of every genre. Participation in a book club is almost always free, and library-hosted book clubs are sometimes able to provide copies of the book for members to check out. But what if you can’t find a local book club which appeals to you? There is always the option of starting your own club! Get started by gathering together like-minded friends with similar reading interests, or meet avid readers at a literary event.

A complex tale of love, loss, and learning how to be a family, Half a World Away follows Jaden, a boy adopted from Romania, halfway around the world to get a new sibling. Struggling to understand and be accepted by his family, Jaden spends his time in Kazakhstan learning, growing, and changing. Using our literary guide, families can delve into the rich themes and topics that the story presents.

A unique offering within the realm of children’s literature, The Black Book of Colors is a book about colors – without any colors! Designed to give seeing readers a taste of what it’s like to experience colors and read books without sight, the book pairs sensory-rich descriptions of a rainbow’s worth of hues with tactile illustrations, and is a great read for all ages.

Books support literacy and learning. And when you have too many books in duplicate and falling part, they can even support creative-free play! This month in “What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community,” Carrie shares ideas for ways to play with your books!

In anticipation of April’s celebration of National Poetry Month, young poets can share their work through community art workshops and poetry contests! Offering young writers a space in which to share their voices, these upcoming events and contests provide unique opportunities to explore creativity.

In our first literary guide created specifically for teens, an exceptional graphic memoir is paired with suggestions for critical analysis of cultural expectations for gender and sexuality. “Honor Girl” is a story of first teenage love, coupled with the difficulty presented by challenging assumptions of heteronormativity; it’s an important read for teens!

More than just a biography of the amazing Jane Goodall, Me… Jane emphasizes the importance and long-term positive effects of curiosity-driven learning and engagement with natural surroundings. Written in a way that makes these ideas accessible to even the very youngest of readers and enhanced by educational activities detailed in out literary guide, this book belongs on every family reading list.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Crunch chronicles the life of 14-year-old Dewey Marriss, left to help care for his siblings and run the family bike repair business when gasoline runs dry. Weaving together a mystery and the adventure loved by readers near Dewey’s age, the story highlights themes of self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Just in time for the seed-distributing days of fall is our literary guide for “A Seed is Sleepy,” an incredibly rich textual exploration of the world of seeds. Using our guide, families can learn about the science of seeds by finding hands-on place-based ways to connect with the environment.

From museums to bookstores, landmarks to landscapes, western Massachusetts is rich with resources for exploring the world of children’s literature and picture book illustration. Drawing inspiration from the pages of a favorite picture book, families can embark on place-based studies of children’s literature, local history, and the local landscape.

One of Ezra Jack Keats’ many beloved children’s books, “Whistle for Willie” perfectly encapsulates the play-based discovery that leads early childhood learning. Using our literary guide, families can explore the book and engage in meaningful play-based learning sparked by themes within the story!

Weaving together creative free play, hands-on natural science learning, and a child’s sense of time, George Ella Lyon and Vera Rosenberry’s “The Outside Inn” makes a fantastic family read. Use our accompanying literary guide to begin engaging in meaningful learning, using the story as a catalyst!

Bird enthusiasts rejoice – the next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series is Farley Mowat’s “Owls in the Family!” Inspired by true events in author Farley Mowat’s childhood in northern Canada, “Owls in the Family” is charming, humorous, and full of adventures involving creatures of all kinds. Young chapter book readers can be supported in both the development of literacy skills and understanding of natural science using our literary guide as a resource!

Not just another book about pirates, “Tough Boris” teaches an important lesson about human emotions. Appealing to sailors and land-lovers alike, the story is rich in interesting vocabulary and relies heavily on the visual clues provided in its illustrations. Read the accompanying literary guide to find resources to guide your reading of this great book!

Humor meets the brutal truth in Todd Hasak-Lowy’s “33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt.” Paired with supporting activities from our literary guide, the story encourages tween readers to engage in critical self reflection as they – and those around them – grow and change.

More than just a tale about a farmer who wishes to sew quilts rather than sowing seeds, “Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt” can be used to raise discussion about gender roles and cooperation – not to mention opportunities to connect the story to concepts in math, art, and history, too!

Looking for ways to enhance family reading time? Summer is the perfect time to explore books as a family, and to expand stories and create opportunities for deeper learning together. Hilltown Families offers a wealth of resources for supporting families in this endeavor, beginning with the very first featured title in our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series of literary guides!

Designed for use with readers at a 5th grade level, our literature guide for Lois Lowry’s “Gathering Blue” offers families support in adding insight, visualization, and even mastery of a new skill to a great summer read!

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