Ponder Perspectives and the Passage of Time with Brenden Wenzel’s A Stone Sat Still
A Stone Sat Still
Written and Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Published in 2019 by Chronicle Books
Grades PK-3 / All Ages
“A stone sat still / with the water, grass and dirt / and it was / where it was in the world.” Caldecott Honor winner Brendan Wenzel’s new picture book, like his previous two (They All Saw a Cat and Hello Hello), invites readers to slow down and to ponder the world from new angles. Using mixed media illustrations and lyrical text, Wenzel explores the roles of a stone at the edge of a sea, across seasons, and over decades. While the illustrations in this thought provoking book speak for themselves through color changes, varied perspectives, and changes in scale, the text provides another modality for considering perspective. Employing opposites, descriptive adjectives, and alliteration, Wenzel describes the stone from the point of view of the different animals who engage with it. A snail sitting on the stone finds it “rough,” while the porcupine perched atop it finds it “smooth.” Across the pages and over time, the sea level rises: “And the stone was an island / and the stone was a wave / and the stone was a memory / and the stone was always.” The opportunities for reflection are immense – savor the opportunity this book provides to reflect on identities and perspectives, change and continuity, memory and connection.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Oral Language Development: “A Story.” Toward the end of the picture book, Wenzel describes the stone as a “story.” The structure of this picture book invites readers to construct their own narratives around the illustrations, which feature many different animals. Ask your students to each select a favorite page in the book and to take some time to consider the story that the image conveys to them. Ask the students to think about what they see in the image, considering what the animal is doing, how the animal came to be there, and what the animal might be planning to do next. Students can then tell the story that they see in the image to a partner or to a small working group. This activity is an opportunity to build oral language. If time allows, extend the activity by inviting students to draw two more related images – depicting what happened before the illustration they have selected and what happened after.
A Study of Opposites & Perspectives. On a subsequent reading of A Stone Sat Still, ask your students to note the opposites contained in the text. Create an anchor chart to record the pairs of opposites that students notice. Next read Brendan Wenzel’s Hello Hello, adding the opposites that students note in this title. Extend the study by reading other books that play with concepts of opposites and perspective, such as Susan Hood’s Double Take! A New Look at Opposites, Jen Arena’s Marta! Big and Small, Anna Kang’s You Are (Not) Small, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Black? White! Day? Night!: A Book of Opposites. Take time to discuss how each of these titles emphasizes shifts in perspectives and record any new pairs of opposites on your anchor chart. Next, invite your students to select a pair of opposites on the list to illustrate – provide mixed media materials such as paints, colored pencils, and collage materials so that students can emulate Wenzel’s artistic style. Or, if time allows, have students work in pairs or small groups to create a picture book featuring opposites that can be shared with their classmates and with younger children in your community.
Change Over Time. Read A Stone Sat Still as part of a text set that explores change over time. Additional texts to explore include Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon and Island, Susan Goodman’s On This Spot: An Expedition Back Through Time, Jeannie Baker’s Home, Brian Karas’s An Oak Tree Grows and Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. To examine historical changes in your community, invite a local historian to visit your class, asking them to share drawings and photos that depict change over time. If a visit is not possible, they may be able to direct you to online resources to share with your students. Set up a camera in the classroom to look out a window and use the time lapse feature over a specific duration of time to document how change is always happening right outside your classroom. You may wish to extend this discussion toward possible future changes, taking up the topic of climate change and rising sea levels.
Nature Observation. After reading A Stone Sat Still, show students the Book Trailer created by Chronicle. Invite students to discuss the visual impact of this video, which helps to emphasize the range of animals that live near and interact with the stone and highlights their various vantage points and perspectives. Consider the question posed in the video: “When is a stone more than a stone?” Select a location in the natural world near you that you and your students can conveniently visit. Collaborate with your art teacher to provide students with a lesson on perspective. Equip students with paper, drawing materials and clipboards. Spend time quietly observing nature in this location; students can sketch what they see from different angles and perspectives. Perhaps they will observe some animal activity in the area and you can speculate what kinds of animals may visit this spot throughout the day. After opportunity for quiet observation, ask students to list adjectives that describe what they see. You might then choose to use these adjectives to co-compose a description of this spot, using Wenzel’s text as a mentor text.
Photos and Perspectives. As an extension of the activity above, provide students with digital cameras or tablets with a camera function. Invite them to take pictures of the area from various angles/ perspectives. They can lay on the ground and point the camera to the side or to the sky, zoom in and pan out, and take photos from many different angles. Compile their photos into a slide show to view back in the classroom. Discuss what various perspectives allow them to see.
“Have you ever known such a place?” Just before the conclusion of the book, author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel poses a profound question: “Have you ever known such a place?” Gather your students together and discuss this question – what do they think the author is asking? It is likely that students will have different interpretations of this question – encourage the sharing of different perspectives. Next, invite your students to answer this question, providing time for them to think, draw, and/or write in advance of conversation. Have students partner up with 2-3 classmates sitting nearby to share their responses to the question, describing “such a place.” Following this activity, you may want to share The Story Behind A Stone Sat Still, a video in which Brendan Wenzel describes the location that was the inspiration for the story. Be sure to wait until students have had plenty of opportunity to develop and share their own interpretations!
Duet Model: A Stone Sat Still and A Stone for Sascha. Pair a reading of A Stone Sat Still with Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book A Stone for Sascha. A Stone for Sascha explores the concepts of loss and continuity, as a young girl mourns the loss of her beloved family dog. Invite your students to consider how these books help us to think about what changes and what stays constant in our lives and in our world over longer stretches of time. Consider your student population carefully before initiating this book comparison, as a discussion of loss and spirituality is likely to be intense and to have different impact on different students depending on their experiences.
Text Set that Invites Contemplation and Mindfulness. To support student happiness alongside their literacy skills, focus your read-alouds throughout the year on living a joyful life. One way to do that is to read books that invite a sense of contemplation and mindfulness. There are many recent works of children’s literature that support students through powerful narratives to contemplate the beauty and mystery of the world around us including Round by Joyce Sidman, Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson. We also encourage you to read books that invite contemplation of big questions in life such as What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada and The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater. Finally, there are many recent titles that invite students to contemplate the gift of waiting or looking for something worthwhile including Waiting by Kevin Henkes, Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems, Wait by Antoinette Portis, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett. This teaching invitation originally appeared in Katie’s entry on M.H. Clark’s Tiny Perfect Things.
Author/Illustrator Study: Brendan Wenzel’s Picture Books. Brendan Wenzel is the author and illustrator of three picture books: They All Saw A Cat, Hello Hello, and A Stone Sat Still. Additionally, he is the illustrator of several other picture books, listed on his website. Read Wenzel’s books and use the resources listed in further explorations below to learn more about Wenzel, his artistic style, and his themes and commitments. Note Wenzel’s interest in animal and ecosystem conservation. How is this reflected in his books and illustration? How do Wenzel’s books help us to see the world in new ways?
Arena, J. (2016). Marta! Big and small. Ill. by A.N. Dominguez. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Baker, J. (2004). Home. New York: Greenwillow.
Barnett, M. (2014). Sam and Dave dig a hole. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Becker, A. (2018). A stone for Sascha. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Campoy, F.I. & Howell, T. (2016). Maybe something beautiful. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Chin, J. (2018). Grand Canyon. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
Clark, M.H. (2018). Tiny perfect things. Seattle, WA: Compendium Books.
Henkes, K. (2016). Waiting. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Hood, S. (2017). Double take! A new look at opposites. Ill. by J. Fleck. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Kang, A. (2015). You are (not) small. Ill. by C. Weyant. New York: Two Lions.
Karas, B. (2014). An oak tree grows. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.
Seeger, L.V. (2016). Black? White! Day? Night! A book of opposites. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Sidman, J. (2017). Round. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Sidman, J. (2016). Before morning. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Slater, D. (2017). The antlered ship. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books.
Messner, K. (2017). Over and under the pond. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Wenzel, B. (2018). Hello Hello. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Wenzel, B. (2016). They all saw a cat. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.Yamanda, K. (2018). What do you do with a chance? Seattle, WA: Compendium.
Filed under: Picture Books
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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