Elementary Programs Chapter

By Laura Douglas and Stacey Irish-Keffer

Section 5: Sleeper Car: Stories about Night

Section 5: Sleeper Car: Stories about Night

Feeling tired? Welcome to the Sleeper car. Find a bunk, snuggle in, and get ready to share stories about the night.

Bulletin Board

Clipart - Text on side of Engine says 'Stories about night' on top and 'The Reading Express' on bottom. Several characters are shown through window

Featured Book

Moon Rope by Lois Ehlert.

Books to Display:

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty.

The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons.

The Moon by Seymour Simon.

Moontellers: Myths of the Moon from Around the World by Lynn Moroney.

Introduction of Featured Book

Show the cover of the book, and ask the children what they think the story is about. Ask the children if they have ever looked up at the moon at night. Ask them if they have ever seen the “man in the moon.” Share that in other parts of the world and in other cultures, people may see something other than a man in the moon. Moon Rope is a retelling of a Peruvian folktale, originally called “The fox and the mole.” Ask the children if they have ever seen a mole and explain that these small mammals typically live in burrows underground. Moon Rope is the story behind the “face” we see in the moon. Before reading the story, mention that for the pictures in the book, the illustrator, Lois Ehlert, used the colors and the type of artwork that the ancient Peruvians would have used.


Moon Rope by Lois Ehlert.


Ask questions about the story, such as the ones below, to start a short discussion of the book.

“What does Fox want to do more than anything else in the world?”

“Why do the animals laugh at Mole?”

“If they really wanted to get to the moon, how would the animals get there?”

“Does anyone know why the moon looks like it has a ‘face’ on it?”

Nonfiction Topics: The Moon and Moon Myths

Use the World Book Encyclopedia, nonfiction books, and web sites to find facts about the nonfiction connections.

The Moon

The daily maximum temperature on the Moon is 250° F, a temperature that is hot enough to boil water. At night the temperature can fall as low as -250° F. The moon’s gravity is one-sixth that of the Earth. That means that something that weighs 60 lbs on earth would weigh only 10 lbs on the moon.

Because the Moon has no atmosphere, the lunar sky is black. An atmosphere is needed to make the sky blue. If we want to visit the moon, we need to carry air for breathing. Show The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons. Turn to the page that has an illustration of the moon’s surface. Read the text on that page and talk about the features on the surface of the moon. Let the children point out craters, mountains, valleys and plains on the moon’s surface. Talk about the phases of the moon and how to tell which phase the moon is in.

Moon Myths

Read the introductory verse in Moontellers: Myths of the Moon from Around the World by Lynn Moroney. Look at the two-page spreads in the book. Each recounts a legend that explains what people from different cultures see in the moon. Choose a few of these to share. Read the legend and the verse that goes with the illustration. End by reading the verse on the last page, which asks the children questions about the moon so that they can also become moontellers. If a copy of Moontellers is not available, use some of the myths from Windows to the Universe, http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/mythology/planets/Earth/moon.html.


Phases of the Moon Pies

  • Moon pies or similar round cakes
  • Chart with the phases of the moon
  • Paper plates
  • Plastic knives
  • Napkins

In advance, print out a chart showing the phases of the moon and post it in the program room. (One is available from Moon Connection, http://www.moonconnection.com/moon_phases.phtml. As the program begins, if possible, show the short video about the phases of the moon, available on TeacherTube at http://teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=14461&title=Phases_of_the_Moon. Distribute a moon pie and plastic knife to each child. Referring to pictures of the phases of the moon, start with the full moon. Point to other pictures of the moon as it begins to wane. At each phase have the children cut their pies to match the phases of the moon. Eat the pieces that have been cut off until the new moon when everything is gone.


Moon Collage

  • Heavy duty aluminum foil
  • Craft sticks
  • Dark blue or black construction paper
  • Yarn
  • Scrap construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Crayons or markers

In advance, cut circles out of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Also in advance, cut the yarn to various lengths. Distribute a piece of blue or black construction paper, a foil circle, and a craft stick to each child. Demonstrate that when the aluminum foil is pressed with the craft stick lines show through on the other side. Allow each child to draw an image on the foil circle. Glue the “moon face” onto the construction paper. Use crayons or markers to illustrate the story about the image in their moon. Use scrap construction paper and yarn pieces to finish the collages.

Professional Resources

Enchanted Learning


This site provides information about the moon and its phases, along with printable sheets and craft activities related to astronomy.

Universe Today


This personal site offers a great selection of activities for kids to learn more about the moon, as well as other information such as a calendar of the moon phases for the year.

Windows to the Universe


This site, hosted by the University of Michigan’s University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, offers teacher resources, images, and information about the solar system, Earth, and the universe.

Featured Book

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeannette Winter.

Books to Display:

Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards.

The Big Dipper by Franklyn M. Branley.

Star Gazer by Ben Morgan.

The Underground Railroad by Raymond Bial.

Introduction of Featured Book

Show the cover of the book, and ask the children what they think the story is about. What might the “drinking gourd” mentioned in the title be? Why would the slaves use the constellation to find their way north instead of writing down directions or following a map? Most slaves were not allowed to learn to read and so needed another means of navigation. They used the lyrics from the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” to provide directions and the Big Dipper as their signpost.


Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeannette Winter.


Ask questions about the story, such as the ones below, to start a short discussion of the book.

“How did Joe help the slaves?”

“Why did Molly and James and their family decide to escape?”

“What is the drinking gourd?”

“What was waiting for them at the end of their journey?”

Nonfiction Topics: Underground Railroad and the Big Dipper

Use the World Book Encyclopedia, nonfiction books, and web sites to find facts about the nonfiction connections.

Underground Railroad

The group of people who helped slaves escape to freedom was referred to as the Underground Railroad even though nothing was underground and there was no railroad. It was called that because people worked quickly, quietly, and secretly. People along the Underground Railroad provided safe passage and a place to hide during the day before leading the slaves to the next stop on the road to freedom.

Most slaves could not read and therefore could not follow written directions or read a map to find their way north. While there was no formal system of directions, codes, and signs, some slaves may have used the lyrics from songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” to help them remember the path to freedom. The “drinking gourd” was the constellation known as the Big Dipper.

Big Dipper

Why was the Big Dipper important on the Underground Railroad? The Big Dipper points to the North Star, or Polaris, which is the star they needed to follow to get to Canada or a free Northern state. It stays above the horizon all night long and is comprised of very bright stars that are easy to see and recognize. The Big Dipper has been given many different names by different cultures. Some of these are mentioned in The Big Dipper and You. There are 88 officially recognized constellations in the northern and southern skies. Find the Big Dipper and other constellations on a map of the heavens. One can be printed out for specific months at Kids Astronomy, http://www.kidsastronomy.com/astroskymap/ constellations.htm.

Reader’s Theater

Harriet Tubman and the Road to Freedom

Use the script available from Scholastic at http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3751241 to perform the story of the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.


Constellation Tube

  • Black construction paper
  • Styrofoam sheets or pieces of cardboard
  • Paper towel tubes or cardboard mailing tubes
  • Rubber bands
  • Pictures of constellations
  • Markers and crayons
  • Light source, such as an overhead projector or bare light bulbs
  • Scissors
  • Sharpened pencils

Constellation tube that rolls up. The outside is brown with stripes, the inside has a map of drawn constellations


In advance, cut circles that are larger than the paper towel tubes out of the black construction paper. Cut enough for each child to receive three circles. Center the end of the paper towel tube on the construction paper circle and trace around it. Cut four slits from the edge of the black construction paper circle to the edge of the circle that was drawn in the center of the paper. Distribute a cardboard tube to each child. Use markers and crayons to decorate the tube. Distribute three of the precut black construction paper circles. Allow the children to look at the pictures of the constellations and choose their favorite. Use the pencils to draw their constellation onto the black circle making a dot for each star in the constellation. The constellation must remain inside the center circle. Use the pencil point to carefully punch a hole through each dot. Fit the black circle over the end of the paper towel tube and press down on the flaps until the paper is flat across the opening. Secure the paper to the tube with a rubber band. Look through the roll at a bright light to see the constellation.

Guest Speakers

Invite a local astronomy buff to talk about stargazing and constellations. Plan a night to go outside and view the stars through a telescope.

Web Sites

Kids Astronomy


This site has a great collection of games and activities, as well as printable constellation maps, for kids.

Professional Resources

The Underground Railroad for Kids: From Slavery to Freedom with 21 Activities by Mary Kay Carson.

Songs for Teaching


This site has the lyrics for “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” as well as downloadable music and lesson plans.

The Underground Railroad


Scholastic provides teacher guides, curriculum activities, slide shows, and primary resources related to the Underground Railroad.

Featured Book

The Starry Night by Neil Waldman.

Books to Display:

My Brother Vincent Van Gogh by Ceciel de Bie.

Vincent Van Gogh: Art for Children by Ernest Rabott.

What Makes a Van Gogh a Van Gogh? by Richard Muhlberger.

Introduction of Featured Book

Show the cover of the book, and ask the children what they think the story is about. Ask more questions such as the following.

“Does this painting look familiar?”

“What is an artist?”

“What kinds of things do artists create and what materials do they use?”


The Starry Night by Neil Waldman.


Ask questions about the story, such as the ones below, to start a short discussion of the book.

“What kind of art does Vincent create?”

“Where are some of the places Bernard takes Vincent?”

“Where did Vincent take Bernard at the end of the book?”

Nonfiction Topic: The Starry Night

Use the World Book Encyclopedia, nonfiction books, and web sites to find facts about the nonfiction connections.

The Starry Night

Read an excerpt from author’s forward to the book. The author talks about how as a child he imagined giving Vincent Van Gogh a tour of New York City. Talk about how most of the paintings in the story are painted in the style of Van Gogh but were not actually painted by Van Gogh himself. Show a reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and ask the children to talk about what they see in the picture. How does the painting make them feel? What does it make them think about the night? Show some of Van Gogh’s other night-inspired works, like “Starry Night over the Rhone,” “Café Terrace at Night,” and “Crescent Moon.” Discuss how they are alike and how they are different from each other.


Play “Vincent” by Don McLean on Legendary Don McLean. This song, inspired by a book about Van Gogh’s life, was played daily in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam during the 1970s and mentions several works of art, including “The Starry Night.”


Finger Painting

  • White cardstock or finger paint paper
  • Finger paints
  • Smocks or old T-shirts
  • Small bowls
  • Butcher paper or other table covering
  • Tables
  • Wet wipes

In advance, cover the tables with butcher paper or other disposable coverings. Ask children to bring a smock or old shirts but have some extras for those who forget. Before the program begins, have the children put on smocks, aprons, or old shirts to protect their clothing. Distribute the cardstock or finger paint paper. Distribute finger paints in small bowls and encourage the children to create their own masterpieces. Provide wet wipes or a sink for washing hands.

Scratchboard Art

  • White cardstock
  • Crayons
  • Black crayons
  • Wooden skewers or styluses

Distribute a piece of white cardstock, an assortment of colored crayons, and a black crayon to each child. Cover the cardstock with a variety of colors to make an interesting pattern. Use the black crayon to completely cover all of the colors. Use the wooden skewer, a stylus, or old pencils to scratch away the black crayon wax to create the painting.

Web Sites

National Gallery of Art


This site has interactive art activities for children.

Professional Resources

Princeton Online: Incredible Art Department


This teacher site provides links to a variety of activities and games related to art.

The Story of the Book


The author of The Starry Night tells the story behind the book.

Van Gogh Gallery


This site provides information on Van Gogh and his work, including background on “The Starry Night.”

Texas Reading Club 2010 Programming Manual / Catch the Reading Express!

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 14, 2011