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Honesty-Themed Books For Your Reader's Workshop

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
                                                                                                                     -Thomas Jefferson

Emptying my dad's change jar out on the living floor is one of my favorite childhood memories. My sister and I were always fleecing my father for his spare change. Early on, we learned about the power that pennies could wield at Dan's Convenience Store down the road. And on hot summer days, we rode our bikes around one-armed or no-handed while we slurped down orange sherbet pop-ups that we'd bought with our begged spare change. Spare change meant sugar, bike rides, and sticky fingers when the ice cream inevitably dripped down our hands and handlebars.

So when I discovered The Hard Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers, published in 2003, my own happy childhood memories were triggered. Instead, my students and I found a beautifully written book that provides a window into a household with a very different reality. 

Emma Turner is a little girl who loves books. She loves reading them and writing them. She dreams of owning her own "store-bought" book, but she and her family are migrant workers. There isn't money for extras like store-bought books. Emma decides she'll use some of the money she makes picking apples to purchase her own book. But then, her mother announces that she won't be picking apples this year because she'll be going to school for the first time. Emma is devastated, until she discovers that her classroom is filled with real books. Emma is in heaven! The only rule is that she can't take the books home with her. 

Emma breaks the rule and takes the book home. She has to confess to her teacher about what she has done. Her mother, realizing that this honest action was very hard for Emma, gives her money from the hard times jar for her very own book, because hard times aren't just about not having bread or milk. Sometimes, hard times are about doing hard things, like being honest when you've done something wrong. 


This book has become one of my new favorites in my Empathy Project (you can read about that HERE or HERE). However, good children's literature is rich with multiple themes. Honesty is a big lesson in this picture book. I'll be using this book over the next week to teach about theme. 

One of my favorite ways to teach my students about theme is to have them reflect on theme over the course of several picture book read alouds.  We begin by placing a sticky note on a designated page in our reader's notebook. They date the sticky note, and write their definition of honesty. Then we read the first picture book, The Hard Times Jar. We discuss the theme of honesty and how it played out in the book. Then they place a second sticky note, write the book title at the top of it, and write a new definition of honesty, based on the book we just read together. They also write a statement of how their thinking changed. 

Next, we read 3-4 more books with an honesty theme. Each time, we add another sticky note and our thinking about the theme in our reader's notebooks. The most powerful part of this is when students explain how their thinking changes every time we read a new book. 

Finally, I give them a sentence strip. They place their sticky notes in order from first to last in order to see the evolution of their thinking. They describe this evolution with a discussion buddy. At the very end, they write about it in a very short essay. I use that essay as a reading and writing assessment. 

My students love this approach because they get to talk about their thinking. I love it because I can see how their thinking develops over time. 

I've made a featured freebie for the month of December, just for you! You can snag the theme bookmarks I give my students for free. They're like an anchor chart on a bookmark. Simply click the picture.


You can hear more about honesty-themed books by listening to our latest Book Talk-Theme Talk episode. My podcast buddies had a ball talking about these books and our ideas for how to use them in our classrooms. Click the picture to access the episode.

OR, you can read about the other honesty-themed books I'll be using in my theme talks by visiting my podcast buddies' blog posts below. They've written about some fantastic books and have included some great teaching ideas to go with them!





1 comment

  1. Loved your trip down memory lane with your dad's change jar. Can just picture you and that little corner store. I used to go to one too, just across from my school. Great book choice The Hard Times Jar, for reading to your kiddos, wonderful creative ideas.

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