Lavender blank background

Units August 24, 2023

Whole Book Approach to Born on the Water


Lesson Summary: Kindergarten students use the Whole Book Approach to analyze a text set and Born on the Water to understand the system of enslavement and how people who were enslaved engaged resistance, resilience and hope to survive and thrive. Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by the Educators from Lowell Community Public Charter School team as part of the 2022 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately two weeks.


I can tell the difference between an author and illustrator—and name them for a story. Students will complete a two-column notes chart for the set of picture books.

I can look at various elements of the book art and tell why they are important. Students will help the teacher label a poster of book parts.

I can analyze an illustration and talk about the connection of the picture to the text. 

Unit Overview

Read-aloud storytime is a treasured part of Kindergarten.  Too often young learners are “read to” instead of “read with.”  This unit uses the Whole Book Approach which treats the picture book as an art form and invites children to analyze and critique all the physical elements of a picture book to help make meaning of rigorous text. This approach to story time was developed by Megan Dowd Lambert, in association with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  We encourage teachers to read her book Reading Picture Books To With Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See for examples of techniques to use.  Many picture books about enslavement and resistance contain difficult text for 5- and 6-year-old students.  Using the illustrations as a springboard, these concepts are more accessible to understand.

The unit uses a text set that addresses enslavement and themes of resistance, resilience and hope, which is also developmentally appropriate for the target age (5–7-year-old’s).  The daily lessons introduce various elements of picture book design and provide an opportunity to discuss the importance and impact of these elements for the respective stories.  The book elements include: the jacket and covers, endpapers, front matter, typography, page design, gutter, frames, trim size, orientation, and back matter. The second week of the unit concludes with a detailed analysis of these elements in Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson. Students will complete text reflection responses for each story in the text set and each poem in Born on the Water. The reflections will ask students to use details from the stories to identify the emotions of the characters, describe why characters act in particular ways, and make text-to-self connections. 

The culminating lesson (Day 11) involves a class discussion to review each of the books in the text set to make some syntheses of their learning about enslavement, resistance and resilience.  Students then create their own collage posters to illustrate their understanding of what it means “To be born enslaved” and “To be born on the water”…
One word about the lesson plan design: The Whole Book Approach focuses on student discussion of the illustrations and the connection of the art to text.  The approach encourages students to drive the discussion.  Given their young age and limited experience discussing such weighty topics, questions in bold are written for potential use to help guide the discussion, as needed.  After implementing the lessons as written, it became clear that the writing component of the Performance Tasks should be completed in a separate time slot later in the day. The story discussions are invaluable and will take a while.  Don’t skimp—and do the writing later when the children’s energy is fresh.

Performance Task:

Students engage with text reflection responses for each book in the text set.  Performance tasks appear at the end of each daily lesson. Performance Tasks for each lesson [.pdf] [.docx]


Performance Tasks rubric [.pdf][.docx]

Rubrics for each performance task are also located at the end of each lesson.


Please help us understand your needs better by filling out this brief survey!

Will you use this lesson plan in a class you teach?
By sharing your email address, you are opting in to receive updates from the Pulitzer Center Education team.