Chester’s Way

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Chester’s Way, by Kevin Henkes

Most people love Henkes’ seminal character Lily, of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse fame. I think she’s obnoxious, and I’m glad this book gives us a chance to learn more about Chester.

First, an aside. I believe Sheldon’s character from The Big Bang Theory is based heavily on Chester. I think these portions are particularly relevant: “Wilson wouldn’t ride his bike unless Chester wanted to, and they always used hand signals.”, “Chester duplicated his Christmas list every year and gave a copy to Wilson, because they always wanted the same things anyway.”, and “One day, while Chester and Wilson were practicing their hand signals, some older boys rode by, popping wheelies. They circled Chester and Wilson and yelled personal remarks.”

Dr. Cooper does not find your personal remarks amusing.

Anyways. This is a great beginning-of-the-year-let’s-be-friends kind of book, and Kevin Henkes is brilliant as always.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:


  • Recognize literary elements (character). This book provides a great opportunity to discuss author’s craft, especially if you’re reading this book as part of an author study. Henkes uses very precise, particular, and sophisticated vocabulary when he talks about Chester. Contrast this with the language he uses in Birds or Kitten’s First Full Moon.


  • Read appropriate level texts that are a “good fit.” Many primary students would not be able to successfully make it through this book independently, due in large part to fantastic words like “diagonally,” “miniature,” “swung,” and “reminded.” However, if a teacher reads the book aloud to the group first, the book will now be accessible to more students because they are familiar with it.
  • Reread text. See above!


  • Tune in to interesting words and use new vocabulary in my speaking and writing. I know a several primary teachers who have a Kevin Henkes author study at some point in the year, and the thing that’s so striking to me is what a sophisticated vocabulary Henkes uses in this book. This is a great book for introducing your class’ word collector.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Japanese Cherry Blossoms

This Friday, we read the section of Hugo Cabret where the automaton dips its pen into ink and draws a startling image. This inspired me to do this art project with our class.

Our results were quite lovely. They brighten up our hallway!

If you’d like to do a similar project, here’s the rubric we used, aligned to Washington state standards.

Japanese Cherry Blossoms rubric


Videos from today’s Hugo Cabret

This morning, we watched videos featuring automatons. The first automaton is the inspiration that Brian Selznick used in his book.

Today, when we were reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo and Isabelle went to the movies. They watched a newsreel, then The Clock Store, then The Million. Here are clips of the videos below:


Safety Last!

Tomorrow, we’re going to reach a part in Hugo Cabret that includes a reference to Harold Lloyd’s “Safety Last.” You can watch this silent movie, filmed in 1923, by clicking the link below.

We watched this today during our snack transition from reading to math. We are learning as a class how Ms. Houghton posts to our website so we can make our own posts too!


The Huckabuck Family

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

The Huckabuck Family, by Carl Sandburg

I believe this book is taken from Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories. You can read tons of the stories online here. Read more about Carl Sandburg here.

I have a special part in my heart for David Small, the illustrator of this book. Small, who also wrote the excellent books Imogene’s Antlers and That Book Woman, is pretty amazing at writing books about folks who live around the time of the Great Depression and usually spend most of their days in a rural setting. He also had a pretty insane childhood, which you can read more about in his autobiographical graphic novel Stitches.


Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!



Heinemann Microgrant: Please Vote!

I’m applying on behalf of Wildwood and Federal Way GATE teachers for a $500 microgrant through Heinemann. Please vote on our project — you will need to create a user name, but I can’t tell you how much this would mean to my students!

Here are the details of our grant:

Your Name: Shannon Houghton

School Name: Wildwood Elementary

Project Description: Our students love music and are fascinated by instruments, yet most of them have never had the opportunity to see these instruments in person, much less have a chance to play them! This grant will fund a school membership to Soundbridge, a popular local field trip that aligns with our third grade science curriculum. The membership can be used by all classrooms in our school, and the grant will cover transportation for one team of students. Additionally, to ensure that we’re making our field trip experiences as meaningful as possible, we’re investing in professional texts on science instruction, which our district is deeply lacking.

How I Will Use the Funds:
$150 transportation costs
$75 Soundbridge membership fee (visit — this membership is valid for a full year and can be used by multiple classes)
$50 additional admission fee / program fee
$170 professional texts (including shipping; prices taken from Heinmann Spring 2011 catalog: The Essentials of Science and Literacy, Writing in Science, Science Notebooks, Science Workshop, The New Science Literacy, Questions, Claims and Evidence, and Doing What Scientists Do)

Why this is important to me: Our district is completely shifting its focus on science toward an inquiry-based approach. There have been few additional resources and professional development opportunities to help teachers and students deepen their understanding. This grant will not only impact me and my 25 students, but the resources will be shared with students and teachers throughout the district (21 elementary schools) to ensure all students have access to high quality science instruction.

You can vote between February 15 and March 14. PLEASE take five minutes to vote. The funding would be HUGE for us!