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For the Love of Elephants

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When my younger daughter initiated a study of elephants (her favorite animal), I didn’t anticipate the emotional reading we had in store. Along with silly stories and scientific facts, we read stories of animal cruelty and elephants’ bravery. My daughter loves elephants even more now (and understands why we shouldn’t ride on them!), and her affection is tempered by a burgeoning respect for the dignity of all creatures, great and small. By looking at elephants across different cultures, throughout history, and from different disciplinary perspectives, we all came away with new-found appreciation for these impressive animals.

  1. Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert and Robert Andrew Parker
  2. Big Beasts: Elephant by Stephanie Turnbull
  3. Watch Elephant by DK
  4. Elephants by Sydnie Meltzer Kleinhenz
  5. Elephants: An Affectionate Portrait by Jean Brody
  6. Elephants Can Paint, Too! by Katya Arnold
  7. Elephants of Africa by Gail Gibbons
  8. Elephants of the Tsunami by Jana Laiz and Tara Cafiero
  9. Elephants: From Trunk to Tail by Lucy Sackett Smith
  10. Endangered Elephants by Bobbie Kalman
  11. Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh by Amy Novesky and Belgin Wedman
  12. Support The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee
  13. Mission: Elephant Rescue by Ashlee Brown Blewett and Daniel Raven-Ellison
  14. “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” by Patricia Thomas and Wallace Tripp
  15. Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley


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Indian Food for Thought

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(Image includes a page about India from Usborne’s Sticker Dolly Dressing: Costumes around the World.)

My husband and I suggested studying a country each month, beginning with India, largely because we wanted to take our girls out for Indian food. This unit contains a lot of folk and fairy tales from ancient India, but one of the things I love about this unit (and unit studies more generally) is the interdisciplinarity. We read folk tales about mathematics and played related games on our own, explored the geography of a nation and its neighbors, and investigated the animals who turned up in so many stories. I was conscious, as I selected these texts and pursued them with my children, of the complicatedness of studying other cultures; as the Indian feminist Uma Narayan says “[t]hinking about food has much to reveal about how we understand our personal and collective identities. Seemingly simple acts of eating are flavored with complicated, and sometimes contradictory, cultural meaning.” We approached India as outsiders and came away with a cross-disciplinary perspective that gave us a glimpse into the subcontinent—and food for thought about our own place in the world.

  1. Anklet for a Princess: A Cinderella Story from India by Lila Mehta, Meredith Brucker, and Youshan Tang
  2. A Bucket of Blessings by Kabir Sehgal and Surishta Sehgal, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong
  3. The Elephant’s Friend and Other Tales from Ancient India retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams
  4. Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh by Amy Novesky and Belgin K. Wedman
  5. Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
  6. The Gifts of Wali Dad by Aaron Shepard and Daniel San Souci
  7. Grandma and the Great Gourd by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters
  8. The Hallowed Horse by Demi
  9. I is for India by Prodeepta Das
  10. Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India by Gerald McDermott
  11. The Monkey and the Crocodile by Paul Galdone
  12. Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami and Jamel Akib
  13. National Geographic Animals: Indian Rhinoceroses (use search function for more animals)
  14. No Dinner! The Story of the Old Woman and the Pumpkin by Jessica Souhami
  15. One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi
  16. Listen to Putumayo Presents India
  17. The Rajah’s Rice: A Mathematical Folktale from India adapted by David Barry and illustrated by Donna Perrone
  18. Rama and Sita: A Tale from Ancient Java retold and illustrated by David Weitzman
  19. The Road to Mumbai by Ruth Jeyaveeran
  20. Stories from India by Anna Milbourne and Linda Evans
  21. The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman and Fred Marcellino
  22. The World Factbook: India by the Central Intelligence Agency