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Specific Novel & Picture Book Activities - "S"


The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Readability: ages 10 and up - can be read aloud to 7 year olds and up a few pages at a time

A few themes: friendship, outcasts, growing up

A few uses: Teaching: classic novels, growing gardens, life in the early 1900's, colonialism...

If you want to read a classic novel to your class, this is the one. The Secret Garden has everything a good read has, mystery; suspense, humor, and a happy ending. It also is a novel that has endless possiblities for journal activities since it covers themes such as friendship, outcasts, and growing up. Even though it was written 87 years ago, it's message still can ring loudly in today's children.


  1. Ask students to record the words that Burnett used to describe Mary Lennox while you read aloud The Secret Garden.
  2. When you get about half way, ask your students to continue recording the descriptive words, but on another piece of paper.
  3. When finished the book, get your students to draw two pictures, one of how Mary Lennox looked at the beginning of the book , and another of how she looked at the end of the book.
  4. Around these pictures ask students to transfer their descriptive words to the appropriate picture.

Additional uses: Use it for teaching units on classics, growing gardens, life in the early 1900's, or colonialism.


Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt

readability, 9 and up, read aloud- 6 and up

A touching story about Selina, a young Mennonite girl, and her family being forced to move to Ontario from Pennsylvania during the Civil War. Her grandmother is too weak to move with them, so as a special keepsake she gives Selina a bear paw quilt top. Many of Selina's memories and the memories of her ancestors are imbedded in the different fabrics of this gift forever. This wonderful book reminds us all that quilts are precious record of stories and memories, especially during Selina's time.

Make a class paper quilt

  1. Ask students to draw one of their precious memories on a different coloured, square piece of paper.
  2. Glue all of these memories together to form a quilt.
  3. Hang up in classroom.
  4. Get each student to write up their memory as a speech.
  5. Every day have one or two students give read their memories to the class.


Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind

by Suzanne Fisher Staples

readaloud grade 8, readability grade 8

In present day countries all over the world it is the custom for girls to get married as young as 11. This book harshly describes one girls life and struggles with her culture. Shabanu is a member of a nomadic tribe that wander the Cholistan desert in Pakistan. She is a happy young woman who is responsible for taking care of the camels and helping her mother with household chores. Suddenly Shabanu's life changes when she is told that she will become the fourth wife of a wealthy landowner. Staples has succeeded in writing a beautiful and powerful book. Venture into it slowly and with a box of tissues at your side.

Throughout this book, there are many places that Shabanu and her tribe visit. Using the descriptions that Staples provides, pick one major stop and build a dioramic representation of it. Use real sand for the ground and make sure you take account the weather that was also described.


Shizuko's Daughter

by Kyoko Mori

Shizuko's Daughter is a beautifully written novel that explores the Japanese culture through the eyes of a young woman. The book begins with a jolt; Yuki Okada's mother is preparing for her suicide. Just as we are thrown into this story, Yuki is thrown out of her own life. Her mother was her best friend and her father remarries only after a year to a cruel and spiteful woman . After much heartache and tumbles, Yuki eventually learns to move on with her life.

Throughout this book there are many important objects that have important symbolic ties to Japanese culture (eg: sake, funeral wands, wedding wands, different flowers, cicadas, etc.). List the symbolic objects described in this book and research the history and symbolism behind them.


Siwit - A Whale's Story

by Alexandra Morton

readability grade 4, read aloud grade 1

A beautiful story and photograph collection of Siwit's (a killer whale) first year of life. Through this comprehensive book students can learn many facts about the killer whale from their preferred environment to what they like to eat. An interesting fact that I learned from this book is that killer whales usually travel in family pods, and each family pod has a specific sound that they produce when they need to gather or to inform lost killer whales that they are entering the wrong pod.

The author, Alexandra Morton and her late husband photographer, Robin have used their scientific backgrounds to produce an informative and exciting classroom resource.

Whales communicate with each other using very distinctive sounds that can be seen as a specific language. Many scientist are in the process of recording these sounds and interpreting them into English...

  1. Listen to some whale sounds through the internet at the following site: http://whales.ot.com/
  2. Draw/write down what you think the whales are saying.

Here's another website you can visit with your class, take a look at some whales on-line. http://www.SeaWorld.org/


Soda Jerk

by Cynthia Rylant

read aloud grade 8, readability grade 8

A young man gets a job as a soda jerk at Maywell's drugstore, which leads him into a world of watching and listening. The events and people that he encounters in his work day result in personal growth and self knowledge. Each poem in this book is a wonderful, lyrical snapshot told through the eyes of a young adult. The realism of every story rings clearly, which can pull readers into their own road to discovering themselves.

Think of all the strange people and events that you have encountered. Write a poem describing it as though you were actually looking at the person or living through the event. Take into consideration the age you were when you saw this person or when this event occurred.


Sometimes I Feel Like a Mouse

by Jeanne Modesitt

grade one, kindergarten

There are many different ways that people can feel. This book introduces children to twelve ways, and emphasizes that it is okay to have all of them. The beautiful, bold illustrations pair up the feelings to animals, which may make it easier for children to understand what the feelings actually are. This is a peaceful and charming book that is great for any age group who is having problems expressing their feelings.

Photocopy the phrase "Sometimes I feel like a .............. , .........................". Have students fill in the sentence with an animal and an appropriate feeling word that they remembered from the book or thought up themselves (eg: Sometimes I feel like a cat, warm.). Display these around the room, and every morning ask a few children how they feel and feel like.