There is something so appealing about the artwork and stories of American children’s writer/illustrator Robert McCloskey. Although his work is largely from the mid-twentieth century, it is not difficult to see why a modern child would instantly be drawn into his books. Each of his stories has a strong sense of place, making them perfect for geography and history lessons. Children also easily identify with the characters, whether animal or human.
While G loves Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, his very favorite by McCloskey is Lentil. Lentil is a barefoot boy with tousled hair from the fictional town of Alto, Ohio. He cannot sing no matter how hard he tries, so he learns to play the harmonica. In doing so, he saves the day when the town grouch tries to debunk the community’s efforts at welcoming home the town’s most important citizen, Col. Carter. There is a great lesson here about the value of learning anything new, regardless of how trivial it may seem. The story has built-in fun with American folk songs, train travel and brass bands. There are several details on each page to stop and talk about. This is a fun read with a tremendous collection of possible activities. In fact , all my boys have loved Lentil.
History and Math – We naturally combined these two activities together as Lentil introduced us to the folk song “She’ll Be Driving Six White Horses.” Of course, we had to learn all the verses and sing along. Although, with my pitiful singing voice, I admit G did ask me to stop after awhile. Then, we counted out six of his white(ish) horse figures. We also figured out how many we would need to take away if we had counted seven, or eight, or nine…you get the idea.
Geography – This was easily covered with our laminated placemat and a variety of United States puzzles. We are neighbors to Lentil, so it was easy to pick out all the surrounding states. We also decided to create our own map with Citiblocs. I really thought he would be much more interested in building each street and landmark, but really he wanted to hurry and get something down so he could reenact Lentil walking down the street playing his harmonica.
Music – The entire story is music, so we had to experiment with it all. Not only did we listen to brass bands, marching bands and jazz, but we also blew a little horn ourselves. Then, we just had to test out how the harmonica sounded in the bathtub. Here we talked about acoustics a bit, but G was mostly interested in making noise.
Sensory Play- Sensory bins are taking over my kitchen, so it was no surprise that we found a bowl to use for yet another one. This time with lentils. I don’t think G remembered what lentils were from our last fall/winter diet, so this was a new experience for him. We got out measuring cups and scoops, and just enjoyed covering our hands in the tiny, flat legumes. And, of course, we made LENTIL STEW! Our recipe will be coming up.
Other projects- G was thoroughly enjoying Lentil, but I felt we had to leave Alto, Ohio at some point, so there were other ideas in my head that we didn’t get to THIS TIME. The Alto residents decorate the streets with American flags, so a decorating day or parade could be lots of fun. Col. Carter promises to build Alto a new hospital, so why not build a sensory bin full of dirt, rocks, construction trucks, etc, or maybe just build a hospital with blocks?
Let us know if you have enjoyed Lentil as much as we have.