Ezra Jack Keats was a Caldecott Medal-winning picture book author and illustrator. His books include Peter's Chair, Whistle for Willy, and the timeless classic The Snowy Day. Use these activities and lessons to introduce students to Keats's work.
In A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats, Peter is inviting only one girl to his birthday party: his friend Amy. Rather than asking her in person, he decides to send her a special invitation, but a thunderstorm on the way to the mailbox sends Peter's plans into a tailspin. Will Amy get the letter in time? And will she come to Peter's party? This story's themes of communication and friendship are sure to resonate with boys and girls alike.
Begin a discussion with students about letters and mail. Have the students ever sent or received a letter? Ask:
- Would you rather get a letter in the mail from a special friend, or talk to them on the phone? How would you feel if you went home today and found a letter addressed to you in your mailbox?
- What kinds of things do people tell each other in letters? If you were to write a letter, who would you write to and what would you say?
Next, show students the cover of the book and read the title aloud. Invite students to make predictions about the story by asking:
- What do you think the letter to Amy is about? What might the boy want to say?
- What is the weather like? What do you think will happen to the letter?
Talk with children about the characters' feelings throughout the story. Ask:
- Why do you think Peter wanted to send a special invitation to Amy?
- Why didn't Peter want Amy to see the letter? How did Amy feel when he bumped into her and grabbed the letter?
- How did Peter feel when he finally saw Amy at his party?
Next, discuss the weather in the story and how it affected the characters and plot. Ask:
- Why did Peter have so much trouble mailing the letter? How do you think he felt on the way home from the mailbox? How do you feel on rainy days?
Invite children to talk about any birthday parties they may have had. Did they invite any friends? Did they send out invitations or ask their friends in person? Which way do children think is better, and why?
Rain in a Jar Science Activity
Rain is an important element in A Letter to Amy. Students can find out how rain works by making their own rainfall.
- Several large, clear jars or bowls
- Sheets of plastic wrap
- Ice cubes
- Hot water
- Fill each jar with hot water, supervising closely for safety.
- Help students cover the tops of the jars tightly with plastic wrap.
- Put a few ice cubes on top.
- Encourage students to watch closely to see what will happen inside the jar.
Soon students will see a "cloud" forming under the plastic and "raindrops" beginning to fall back into the water! This is because some of the hot water has evaporated and turned into water vapor. When the vapor hits the cold plastic, it condenses into drops which fall back into the water. Students have just witnessed the water cycle right in the classroom.
Watching the Wind: Combining Science and Art
In the story, a windy day caused Peter a lot of trouble. Students can have fun exploring the properties of wind with a wind sock art project.
- Empty paper towel tubes cut in half, one half for each student
- Crayons, markers, or paints
- Colored tissue paper or crepe paper cut into 1/4-inch by 6-inch strips, multiple strips per student
- 6-inch strips of yarn, two per student
- 12-inch strips of yarn, one per student
- Electric fan
- Have students decorate the outside of the tubes with crayons, markers, or paints.
- Have students smear glue along the inner edge of one end of the tube. Have them attach the ends of several tissue paper strips to the inside of the tube. The strips should be placed close together and can even overlap a bit.
- Help students punch three holes at equal points around the opposite end of the tube.
- Distribute the yarn and have students thread each piece of yarn through one of the holes and tie the ends in place.
- Have students tie all three pieces of yarn together to create a long handle.
- Begin your wind explorations indoors with an electric fan. Start by turning the fan on at its lowest setting. Let children take turns holding their wind socks in front of the fan (with the tails facing away from the fan). What happens to the tissue strips? Invite children to predict what will happen when the fan is turned higher, then try it to find out. (If you have an oscillating fan, you can also experiment with wind direction.)
- Invite children to use the wind socks outdoors on the next breezy day. Have them hold their sock by the long length of yarn and watch as the tail flies behind them like a kite. Children can also experiment by running at different speeds with their socks in hand. This is a colorful way to watch wind at work!
It's Party Time! An Activity for Language Arts and Social Skills
In the story, Peter's mother helps him include the right information on his invitation to Amy. Why not help students practice invitation-writing by having your own celebration?
- Blank postcards
- Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
- Party supplies
- Have a party for an upcoming birthday, a special event, or simply to celebrate friendship and sharing. You can invite another classroom to join you.
- Encourage students to tell you what information they think is important to include in their announcements (they might like to look in the book for reference).
- Help students create invitations that include the date, time, place, and theme of your party. Have students write the party information on the left side of the postcard and another student or guest's name and classroom number on the right side.
- Have students decorate the front of the postcard with party symbols such as hats and streamers.
- Help students deliver their completed invitations.
- On the day of the party, encourage students to thank their guests for coming to join in the fun.
Birthday Wish Graph Math Activity
When it's time for birthday cake, Peter's friends suggest several wishes for him to make, but Peter makes his own wish before he blows the candles out. Revisit this part of the story and use it as a springboard for a fun graphing activity.
- Chart paper
- Large rectangles of tagboard in various colors
- Colored construction paper
- Large sticky notes
- Removable adhesive
- Discuss the end of the story with students. What do they think Peter wished for? What kinds of wishes have they made on their own birthdays? Write students' ideas on a sheet of chart paper.
- Cut several cake shapes from the large rectangles of tagboard and let students decorate them.
- Cut candle shapes from the colored construction paper. You will need one candle for each student.
- Give each student a candle and have them label the candles with their names.
- Choose several wishes from the list students created earlier. Write each one on a large sticky note and attach the wishes to the cake shapes.
- Help students read each wish. Then have them attach their candle to the cake with their favorite wish using removable adhesive.
- When all the candles have been placed, help students count the candles on each cake and interpret the results. Which wish was the most popular? Which was the least popular?
- Try the activity again, using different wishes from the list.
Explore weather vocabulary from the story with this easy, on-going word wall activity.
- Index cards
- Bulletin board for a word wall
- Look through the book with students for words related to weather. Words they might find include: rain, clouds, lightning, thunder, and wind.
- Write these words on index cards and attach them to a bulletin board to begin a weather word wall.
- Invite students to suggest additional nouns and descriptive words for the wall, such as snow, storm, sunny, warm, cold, and so on.
- Encourage students to observe the weather each day and record it on your classroom calendar using a word from the wall. If students cannot find a word to match the day's weather, it is time to add a new word to your collection!
Postcard to a Pal: Combining Language Arts and Art
Invite children to send messages to special friends by creating a post office right in the classroom.
- Shoeboxes, one per student
- Paints or collage materials
- Postcards or writing paper
- Give each student a shoebox and invite them to decorate their shoeboxes with paints or collage materials.
- When students are done decorating, help them cut a slit in the lid of the shoebox.
- Assign each student a different number and have students write their names and numbers on their boxes to create "addresses."
- Assign each student a secret "Postcard Pal." Have students write their pal's name and "address" on the right side of a postcard.
- Have students write messages to their Postcard Pals. They might like to write about what makes their pal a good friend. Then have them flip the postcards over and draw pictures of how they like to spend time with their Postcard Pals.
- Encourage students to deliver their mail by matching the name and number on the postcard to the correct mailbox address. When all the postcards have been delivered, let students open their mailboxes to find their Postcard Pals' messages.
- You might like to keep a supply of postcards in your writing center so students can send one another messages throughout the year.
Variation: You can also try sending the postcards through the real postal service. Be sure to copy the postcards onto heavy paper for durability, and have children seal the front and back together well. Children can design and send postcards to friends, relatives, or even to family members at their own address — and then watch to see when it arrives! (Note that the postcard is not regulation size and therefore will require a letter-rate stamp.)
- Dear Juno by Soyung Pak
When Juno cannot read the letter he receives from his Korean grandmother, he discovers a way to send messages in a language both of them can understand.
- Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James
This delightful story unfolds in epistolary form, as a little girl discovers a whale in her pond and writes to her teacher asking just what she should do about it.
- Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters From Obedience School by Mark Teague
This humorous take on letter writing features a clever dog who tirelessly writes to his owner to spring him from obedience school.
- The Jolly Postman: or Other People's Letters by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
As this fairytale postman delivers mail to familiar friends such as the Three Bears, children can pull each actual letter from its envelope and see it for themselves!
This lesson is adapted from Teaching With Favorite Ezra Jack Keats Books available from Scholastic Professional Books.