As a FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member, I got pretty creative in the name of connecting kids to healthy food in school. I donned vegetable costumes in the cafeteria, danced around in the garden in front of a live audience of 30 children, and hauled five-gallon buckets of compost through the hallways, to name a few. One of the most memorable moments was when I dressed up as the Very Hungry Caterpillar and read the popular book by Eric Carle to my second grade students. Through cute illustrations that teach counting skills, the book ultimately imparts a lesson about how food helps us grow. For the lesson, I was lucky enough to find The Very Hungry Caterpillar at my school’s library in Vernon, CT, but many service members around the nation are not so lucky.
FoodCorps service members are placed in high-need schools that are often strapped for resources as well as personnel. Here in Connecticut, several of our FoodCorps schools do not have a library, or even a space for books at all. Those that do have libraries have lost funding for librarians, meaning that in-class reading time is even more important. This year, one of our national funding partners, C&S Wholesale Grocers, made possible the donation of books for all 225+ FoodCorps AmeriCorps service members around the country. Sourced through FirstBook.org, the brand-new, high-quality books meant that hundreds of kids were able to access books while learning about food in the garden or classroom. At Parkville School in Hartford, where over 90% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and there is no space for a library, teachers often purchase books for their classrooms with their own money. FoodCorps service member Allie was able to choose 15 books to use in her lessons—and those books are now part of the classrooms at Parkville.
Books are an essential resource for all classrooms and are especially important for the FoodCorps lessons our service members deliver to elementary-aged students. Starting a lesson with a relevant book connects to English Language Arts standards. Stories can also teach us about more than just the English & Language Arts — they can also teach us how to navigate the world around us.
When service member Alyssa read Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens to her Pre-K students in Hartford, they were transported all the way to a farm (where animals talked!). The book shows students which vegetables grow above and below the ground, while teaching an underlying lesson about kindness and work ethic—something that would’ve been difficult for Alyssa to teach without the book as a guide.
At the same time that some books take us to another world, other books connect us to characters that seem similar to ourselves or communities that seem similar to our own. After receiving Sylvia’s Spinach by Katherine Pryor, a book about a child that originally doesn’t like spinach but learns to love it after giving it a second chance, one of Katie Alderman’s students came up to her a week later and said that she related to Sylvia, because after the lesson, she “tried pineapple again and liked it!”
Katie Alderman serves in New Haven, where she co-teaches a bilingual Spanish/English class of kindergarteners once a week. Thanks to C&S Wholesale Grocers, Katie was able to order many books in both English and Spanish, making these stories accessible to her whole class.
Books can take us to new lands, bring us home, and create shared stories that connect people across generations and locations. Using these stories helps FoodCorps service members bring their lessons to life.