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From In Praise of Books


A book is a garden you can hold in your hand,

An orchard you can take on your lap.


A book is a companion who sleeps

Only when you are asleep,

And speaks only when

you wish him to.


A book is a tree that lives long

And bears delicious and abundant fruit

That is easy to pick and perfectly ripe

At all times of the year.


A book obeys you by night and by day,

Abroad and at home;

It has no need of sleep

And does not grow weary from sitting up.




(Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahral-Jâhiz, known to his friends as al-Jâhiz, was born in Basra in 776 and was the leading literary and intellectual figure of his age.)


This poem appears at the beginning of the book Clever Ali by Nancy Farmer and illustrated by Gail de Marcken. Orchard Books, 2006, ISBN#0-439-37014-0


 In 1991, I received the Connecticut Christa McAuliffe Fellowship for my program Using Children’s Literature to Teach Science. This program originated from a 1990 workshop I presented at the SMART Center, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT.  During the summers of 1991-1993, the workshop was used as curriculum for children entering 3rd grade in Project 2000, an enrichment program at Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT.

Over the years, I have presented this hands-on workshop to over 2000 teachers at the following levels.


STATE:                 Peabody Museum Fellows & Literacy Mentors Programs 1998

                             Connecticut Elementary Science Day, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2004

Connecticut Science Educators Annual Conference, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2005

REGIONAL:          Science is Elementary, Purchase College, SUNY, 1997-2002

NATIONAL:                   NSTA Philadelphia 1995; St. Louis, 1996; San Francisco 1996;

Las Vegas 1998; Orlando 2000; San Diego 2002; Philadelphia 2003; Atlanta 2004; Anaheim 2006; St. Louis 2007

NCTM 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006

INTERNATIONAL: Soviet-American Conference of Science Teachers, Moscow State University, Russia, 1991

                             NSTA International Conference, Oaxtepec, Mexico, 1993

A.P.P.L.E. Program (American Professional Partnership for Lithuanian Education), Vilnius, Lithuania, 2004  


From the beginning, I have used literature as part of my teaching style. My mother was an English teacher and one of my earliest memories is sitting with my twin sister on the stairs listening to Mom read Thornton Burgess stories to us.  My parents were renovating an early 1800s farmhouse and this was the only place to sit. My sister, Penny Brown, is a school librarian at Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy, Los Angeles, CA and we have collaborated on professional development since 1991. Many of the activities presented here have originated with her. In the Table of Contents for each section, there is an asterisk next the title of the activity that she has written.

Each children’s picture book is linked to a simple, basic science activity. By showing teachers how to “hook” their students by reading a familiar or new story and then doing a related hands-on, minds-on science activity, I have helped teachers feel more comfortable with teaching science.  Sometimes the story comes before the activity, and sometimes it comes after the activity. The activity will stand alone, as will the reading of the story, but if the hook captivates the mind of the student, the memory of the science concept should last in the student’s mind.

As a result of the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship funding, I was able to print 1000 copies of a booklet describing 15 of the most popular activities representing the major disciplines of science. The rest of the activities have been printed in various workshop packets or are “just in my head.” My children, my husband, and my colleagues have been after me for years to compile them and to have them printed before they are lost. A sabbatical has given me the necessary time to accomplish this task. It had been on my summer “to do” list for many years, but it had never been completed. I look forward to sharing my work with all the national and international schools in our Sacred Heart Network, and I hope to send a copy of the completed work to the newest Sacred Heart School in Uganda.

One of my favorite memories is of two fourth grade girls running into the middle school lab at Greenwich Country Day with a piece of yellow paper being used for a notice being sent home. Earlier in the month, I had read them Mem Fox’s Possum Magic. It is the story of an opossum whose grandma makes her invisible so she is safe from snakes; the setting of the story is Australia. She gets tired of being invisible, but her grandmother cannot remember the “magic” she used. However, it is some kind of food. They travel around Australia (a geography lesson, too) eating wonderful foods until she eats the right one.

The activity uses goldenrod paper, an acid-based paper which changes color when sprayed with Windex™. The ammonia (base) in Windex™ reacts with the acid in the paper and the paper changes color from yellow to bright red. As the ammonia evaporates, the yellow color returns. The students used it in class to write hidden messages with a wax crayon or scotch tape.

The girls were cleaning the white board in their homeroom, and accidentally sprayed some of the cleaner on the notice. They made the connection to their science lesson. They remembered! I tell my students continually that magic is science in disguise. I present my lessons around the big ideas that I hope students will remember five years from now.

My gift to this program is connecting the story to the activity. Sometimes I find the story first, or sometimes I have an activity waiting for a story to be discovered to match it. Picture books go in and out of print quickly, but teachers can find a similar book to use with the activity. Sometimes, a title clicks in their heads when they see a certain activity, and they choose to use a favorite book. The most important outcome is that more science has happened in so many classrooms.

In the original workshops presented during my fellowship year, I taught teachers an activity using a “blubber mitt” with Helen Lester’s Tacky the Penguin. Almost fifteen years later, teachers come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re the Tacky lady!”

Math is the language of science and has always been part of each activity. In 2005 I collaborated with a group of teachers at the NCTM Annual Meeting in Anaheim to present “Math is the Language of Science.” In 2006 we presented “The Terrific Trio: Literature, Science and Math” at the NCTM Annual Meeting in St. Louis. In 2007 we added “The Terrific Trio: Part II at the NSTA Annual Conference on Education in St. Louis.

Using the PDF format, this program can be shared electronically. In the summer of 1993, Pat Young (then Head of the Lower School at Greenwich Academy) took several of the activities on her visit to a small village in Africa. She found them to be highly successful. I have found the same response in Russia, Mexico, and Lithuania. Children’s picture books are universal and transcend any language barrier. Everyone loves to be read to! This program was used at Greenwich Academy by girls who visited schools in Port Chester in an after-school program and with families at a local soup kitchen.

As I reach the twilight years of my career, the opportunity to compile and publish these activities has assured me that a piece of my teaching style will be preserved. I have loved all my years in the classroom, and all the students I have taught from Preschool to high school students to college biology students. I have loved teaching teachers that there is an easy way to get more science in every classroom, regardless of their background or experience. Science concepts can so easily be hooked to favorite stories, AND every teacher is comfortable with his/her literature selections.