Thursday, September 20, 2012

Months of the Year with Maurice Sendak

"Chicken Soup with Rice" is a wonderful little book from "The Nutshell Library" I grew up reading and am now reading with my own daughter.  We all know Maurice Sendak from his classic "Where the Wild Things Are", his illustrations for "Little Bear" and numerous others, but I wanted to focus this article on "Chicken Soup with Rice" because of a fun lesson I've done with Alice, you can do with yours. 


Pages of card-stock weight paper, pencils, crayons, tag board, skinny punch, string and tape. 

The skinny punch is a hole punch with a small diameter.  It is more of a specialty item that can be found at craft supply stores if you don't already have one.  Just as will staplers and other hole punches there are inexpensive ones ranging all the way up to extremely costly.  If the pages you make are small enough one you hold in a single hand much like you would with a larger-diameter punch will work, but you have more options and versatility if you can get a palm punch like the one shown here.  Obtain the smallest diameter you can find that is big enough for the diameter of your string.

A copy of "Chicken Soup With Rice - A Book of Months" from the "Nutshell Library" by Maurice Sendak and published by Harper Collins Publishers.


  • Describe or list and depict elements of each of the seasons including relevant holidays within the appropriate months of the year.
  • Practice writing and spelling each of the names of the months of the year correctly.
  • Make a record of some of the family's traditions.
  • Use one writer's masterful work to inspire student's own creative expression and picture book.
  • Introduce or Increase Familiarity of students with the work of Maurice Sendak.


You'll need to prep the book some what ahead of time.  There will be 12 pages in the book, plus a front cover so that is a lot of work to illustrate fully for anyone, let alone a preschool or kindergarten student.  You'll want to make your pages pretty small to avoid frustration and tedium, but big enough your child can write the name of the month.  Consider the larger handwriting of new writers in your size choice.  For Alice, I chose to cut 3 standard pages into 7, 4 inch strips (one is for the front and back covers of the book and to create an extra page for a dedication if she wishes). 

Punch holes as shown.  If you have a hand held punch you'll need to cut your strips in half and the cut the holes evenly along the edge of the left margin of the booklet.  You can finish binding now and give to the kids later (but then the spacing of your holes needs to be precise so even if they turn pages over, they can still work), OR you can finish binding the books now (but then they are harder to store in filing cabinets which is often best in classroom situations if you will be extending the project throughout the year).

Add lines on each of the pages ahead of time where they can write the title for each month.

Binding the Books:

If you have a needle your string will fit into, this will work great.  If not use a small piece of tape to tightly wrap around the end of the string.  This will keep the string from fraying the way and help either you or your kids to thread your string through the holes you punched in the paper. 


Stitch as you would normally for a simple stitch and then double back to fill in the gaps between stitches.

If you would like to use thin ribbon and leave a bow, you'll want to start and end in the middle of your stitching area rather than at one end or another.

Lesson Activities Introduction:

Read "Chicken Soup With Rice". Take your time and savour the rhythm and rhyme of the book.

Afterward, Talk about it. Ask your child/students why does Sendak choose to have the boy "slipping on the sliding ice" in January? Why is he swimming in the "cool and fishy deep" in July? Brainstorm holidays and some of the important things that people think of when they think of that different months and seasons.  Ask kids if they have any special traditions during any of the specific months - like. . . Chocolate Shake Day or Pie Day or maybe there is an annual trip that is taken at a specific time.

Additional Writing Objectives:

It can be a lot of fun for slightly older kids to (advanced K writers and up) to write a sentence for each month, or write a poem for each month. Again, this will require smaller printing so I would only do this where they do the physical writing themselves with more practiced writers. You might have them write "My favorite thing about. . ." or a Haiku or word cloud. You name it, just so long as it is fairly short. More advanced writers might like to make their own book-long poem following the same rhythm and rhyming patterns Sendak used himself. "Every season of the year is great when you live in Washington State. . ." Make the writing part of the book fit the objectives and age of your kids.

Bonus Math Extension:

As an extension you can even incorporate a graph and survey a class full of kids or the family members (including extended family and friends) and decide how many people agree that "all seasons of the year are nice for sipping Chicken Soup with Rice!", how many would prefer chicken soup only when it is cooler weather and how many just don't like chicken soup at all. Create small graph grids that will fit on the back page of the book for the kids to fill in with their information and just bind in this extra page.

Monthly Activity:

Follow the introduction by re-reading the page for the month your are currently in. Then brainstorm specific things that are important for that particular month.

For example, as I write this, it is September. It is a month when for many kids, school begins (although for us many schools begin in August these days).  leaves start to change color and the weather becomes cooler. It also happens to be the month of Alice's grandfather's birthday and the month of the Autumnal equinox. Accept anything from your kids that are reasonable for your circumstances. Are there any special holidays? Traditions? Outdoor chores or harvest from you home garden that have to happen this month that don't often happen the rest of the year? Write these things down for your kids.

Now, write down the name of the month correctly where your kids can clearly see it in order to copy it into their books. Then, have the kids illustrate the page for that month with small pictures representing different things from their brainstorm session.

Repeat for the rest of the months. You can do one page/month, or speed things up. For ideas about how to make sure not to miss the summer months see: Notes and Variations Below.

Notes and Variations:

In a preschool classroom setting, I might choose to do the previous month in another few days, and then revisit the book and lesson each month until summer. In a month like February or March, have them do the one more of the summer months and then again in May do the lesson twice so you are finishing off both May and the final missing summer month. Bind the book and enclose it as a parting gift to the parents (they'll LOVE it! because it will show how their child's handwriting and artistic abilities have advanced over the year).

In an older classroom (such as Kindergarten or first grade), you may need to spend less time on it so they just get their months learned, but you could still complete the book by season. Complete September, October and November early in October. Do December, January, February as soon as you return from Winter Break, the spring months in February and the summer months in April. You can then package it as a special project to be displayed at open house. If you do the book in 3 month seasonal blocks like this, at the point the kids brainstorm, you COULD split them into three smaller groups and give each group the job of doing the brainstorming for the class on that groups particular month. Each group then shares their list with the rest of the class just before they start their illustration time.

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