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The Classroom Kettle

Posted by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris on May 7, 2020 9:28:55 AM

May you find the strength to continue to rise until you can clear away some of this new “noise” and hear, once again, the sweet “normal” of the classroom kettle.


"This really is a crazy situation!"

In the classic Jewish folktale, Too Much Noise (retold by Ann McGovern and illustrated by Simms Taback; Sandpiper Books, 1992) the man in the story, Peter, finds his home too noisy. The kettle whistles, the floor squeaks, the leaves brush against the roof. In an effort to find some peace in his noisy home, Peter visits the wise man in the village to get advice. The wise man tells him to take a cow into his home. 

Peter does this and the mooing of the cow joins the other sounds. Much to his dismay, Peter has to revisit the wise man to say that his home is actually noisier. 

So, the wise man sends him home to adopt a donkey which, of course, makes his home still noisier.

This process of visiting the wiseman and bringing another animal inside to live repeats until the kettle and the floors and the leaves are drowned out completely by the sounds from a cow, a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a chicken. 

When we read this story and the first animal moves in, we find ourselves thinking, “This is really a crazy situation.” As the story continues and yet another and another animal moves in, our hearts bleed for poor Peter.  “How much more can he take?!” we think.  

Recently, we had a Zoom conversation with a district curriculum leader to problem-solve and plan summer professional development, all of which she must now provide virtually. She described the lengths to which she and her district are going to meet the technology, food, and instructional resource needs—to name a few—of the more than 40,000 children in their vast district. As she spoke, we were thinking, “This is really a crazy situation!” Then the conversation shifted to figuring out how to take a full summer of professional development to virtual formats for thousands of teachers. Then we thought, “How much more can she take?!” 

Staring down the unknowns

All over the United States (and  beyond), stalwart educators work from virtually connected dining rooms, kitchens, and spare bedrooms while toddlers crawl over them, yesterday’s oatmeal is dried in their hair, and their grocery delivery melts on the front porch. These intelligent and compassionate souls are McGyver-ing completely novel solutions to a relentless volley of incomprehensible and urgent needs. Today’s “noise” makes yesterday’s “noise” look like a little light housekeeping, and yesterday’s “noise” was not at all for the faint of heart.  Like Peter, we are all longing for the halcyon days of our much quieter noisy.  But unlike Peter, we have no easy or immediate way to reclaim them. 

When we are staring down unknowns, when we feel confused, helpless, or overwhelmed, we turn to books to give us insight into our experiences and the experiences of others. Just as Too Much Noise offers us some perspective on the escalating normal of today’s “classroom,” our favorite books both comfort and inform us.

Books to help us through

Here are six titles that may offer you and/or your students some wisdom, some comfort, or some insight.

Some Things Are Scary written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Jules Feiffer (Candlewick, 2000).

This is Scary

The young boy in this story encounters a host of scary events, from being kissed by his aunt to things he imagines—”Thinking you are never going to get any taller than you are right now is scary.” This sometimes funny and sometimes poignant book normalizes being scared and can help children make space for and name their feelings.

Each Kindness written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012)

This dear text has already become a classic. The teacher in the story uses a bowl of water to show students concentric ripples and illustrate the way that kindness spreads. “This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple into the world.” At a time when it is easy to be focused on ourselves, each kindness is a salve, both for us and for the recipient. This book is an invitation to kindness, and there seems no better time to teach children to accept it.

All the World written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane Books, 2009)

The social distancing going on around the world, and the knowledge that many are experiencing similar stressors, can ironically lead to some sense of connectedness. This gorgeous, large-format Caldecott Honor Book explores all the ways we are the same all over the world. The rhyme and the meter of the text give it a lyrical quality, while the profundity of the message and the intricacy of the illustrations will touch your heart. “A fire takes away the chill / All the world can hold quite still”

My Diary from Here to There written by Amada Irma Pérez and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (Children’s Book Press, 2002)

This biographical story, presented in both English and Spanish, chronicles the author’s childhood move from Mexico to Los Angeles. In moving detail, she records events in a diary, such as this reflection where she thinks about the people she misses in Mexico, “... they’re here in your pages and in the language that I speak; and they’re in my memories and my heart. Papá was right. I AM stronger than I think…  In addition to helping children understand how they can hold fast to the ones they love while being separated from them, this book serves as a mentor text for writing to log our experiences and understand our lives. Use My Diary from Here to There to illustrate the power of personal writing. Who knows? Your students may later use their diaries to publish a book, just as the author did. 

The Knowing Book written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Boyds Mills Press, 2016)

the knowing book

This book is sound advice for living, expressed with gentleness and honesty. It offers a satisfying and comforting read for thinkers of any age. The Knowing Book is really perfect for pretty much any important life event or milestone. 




“. . . look up.

The stars have always been above you, 

Are above you now, 

And will always be above you.

You will come upon 

delicious things and dark things, 

But all the paths you take 

Will join to lead you home."

We wish you connection despite physical isolation. May your hands and hearts land on books that bring you the most precise comfort. May you find the strength to continue to rise until you can clear away some of this new “noise” and hear, once again, the sweet “normal” of the classroom kettle.


Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris are the authors of the Who's Doing the Work? professional book and Who's Doing the Work? Lesson Sets, Grades K-2They are the writers and thinkers behind Burkins and Yaris—Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy, where their blog and their instructional resources have drawn a national audience and made them thought leaders in the field of literacy instruction. Their most recent publication is Who's Doing the Work Lesson Sets, Grades 3-5.