Target Grade Level / Age Range:


Estimated Time:

45 minutes

Virtual Learning:

Use this document to convert the lesson into a virtual learning module for your students. Use the steps outlined to create the different elements of a Google Classroom or other online learning platform. You can also send the steps directly to students in a PDF, present them in a virtual meeting, or plug them into any other virtual learning module system. 


Students will learn features of books including authors, illustrators, fiction vs nonfiction, writing perspectives, the purpose of a story, and will analyze these features in agricultural books.


  • Assorted agricultural children’s books (plan at least five short books with various characteristics – fiction, nonfiction, A-Z book, sequential story, etc.)
    • Suggested titles from IALF’s Lending Library:
      • Click Clack Moo; Cow’s That Type
      • Clarabelle; Making Milk and So Much More
      • A Year on the Farm with Casey and Friends
      • Always Be Careful on the Farm
      • Diary of a Farmer
      • Eating the Alphabet
      • Everybody Brings Noodles
  • White board, poster paper, or other classroom note-taking materials

Essential Files:


  • Author: the writer of a book, article, or report
  • Illustrator: a person who draws or creates pictures for magazines, books, or advertising
  • Fiction: literature that describes imaginary events and people
  • Non-fiction: writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography or history
  • First person perspective: a writing perspective where the main character in the story is narrating their story, the “me” perspective
  • Second person perspective: a writing perspective where the narrator appears to be writing about the audience, the “you” perspective
  • Third person perspective: a writing perspective where the narrator tells a story about the characters, the “he/she/it/they” perspective
  • Author’s purpose: the reason or intent in writing
  • Main idea: what a text is mostly about; a short summary or central storyline

Background – Agricultural Connections:

This lesson is the first in the Bushel of Stories unit. This unit was written to teach students about books, how authors write books, and how to in turn write their own. Students participating in this lesson unit may also be eligible to compete in the Bushel of Stories writing competition. Please visit: for more information about the competition.

This lesson, Book Basics, teaches some of the main characteristics of books. In this lesson, you will use a variety of agricultural books (suggestions noted in the materials section), review them as a class, and discern their features. The main features of books covered in this lesson are author, illustrator, fiction or non-fiction, perspective, purpose, and main idea.

The author and illustrator for most books should be listed on the cover of the book. The author wrote the words and the illustrator made the pictures. Some books may be unique in that they were written by a team of people at a company so no names are listed or multiple names are listed. Sometimes books are both written and illustrated by the same person. Some books have more credit information in a summary at the beginning of the book (usually within the first couple of pages, called the colophon). This will list copyright date, publisher, and more. This section of a book won’t be covered explicitly in this lesson, but if a book being used in the lesson has this section, it may be a good idea to point it out and tell students that other information about the book is listed there.

Fiction and nonfiction books might not be as spelled out for students. If the books are library books, the school librarian can help point out to the class what to look for in the call number on the book’s spine, or what section of the library it is in. For storybooks in the classroom setting, more inferring might need to be done about the text itself. For some books, like Click Clack Moo, it will be simple. Cows can’t use typewriters in real life, so this book must be fiction! Again, if a book has the colophon, students can read this section to see what other notes are available. An easy way to remember fiction verses nonfiction is that Fiction is Fake.

The next feature to discuss with the class is the writing perspective. In some books, the main character appears to be telling the story. They might say, “I went to school,” or, “My family,” to show what is happening with them specifically. This is called first-person perspective. Other books might be written from the perspective of a narrator that knows what is happening with all of the characters but is not one of them. They might say, “The students,” or “Jack and Jane,” but would not use “I, me, we, or you”. This is called third-person perspective. Other books might be written in a way that the narrator is talking to the reader directly. They might say, “You think,” or “You are,” to engage the reader in a unique way. This is called second-person perspective and is much less common than first and third person perspective in storybooks. Think that first-person perspective is the “I” perspective, second-person perspective is the “you” perspective, and third-person perspective is the “he, she, they” perspective.

The purpose of a story may also take discussion and inference. The author’s purpose is the reason why they wrote the story. The reason could be to entertain, to educate about a certain topic, to persuade, or to satirize a condition. To understand which purpose the author is going for, a reader may need to analyze multiple parts of the book. Is the title silly or does the text include jokes? What types of illustrations are in the book, or are there any illustrations? What does the content of the book include?

The main idea of a story will be the takeaway message from the book. This may be a short summary of the book with only the main details. The main idea should be able to be summarized into one or two sentences.

For further reading on parts of books, please refer to the Sources/Credits section below.

This lesson also touches on the importance of accuracy in books. Even fiction books have elements of truth that give the story credibility. Books about agriculture oftentimes fall into the same tropes that make the story less believable. Most of these tropes come from romanticized ideas of antiquated farmsteads. They likely include an old, white, male farmer in bib overalls and straw in his mouth; a solitary red barn with several different kinds of animals milling around it, and a tractor with no cab. A modern farm will likely be specialized, and only produce a couple of products in a larger scale. So instead of having one cow, one pig, two chickens, and a goat, the farmer is more likely to have 100 cows and no other livestock. Specializing in 1-2 types of production help the producer learn more about it and produce it efficiently and well.

Books about agriculture may also misconstrue scientific facts related to farming, like how a corn plant grows (ears grow midway up the stalk), how a cow is milked (with automatic milking machines in a parlor), or how many eggs a chicken produces a day (about one). These minor details give credibility to a story and should be paid attention to. If a potentially incorrect illustration or statement is found in a book by the class, that could be a great opportunity to ask a question and do some research to find the answer.

In this three-lesson unit, students will use the same writing graphic organizer document. Students will complete one section during lesson one, two sections during section two, and the remaining sections and the final writing portion during lesson three. For an example of how the graphic organizer should look completed, please reference the Writing graphic organizer 3-5 – completed sample.docx document.

Interest Approach – Engagement:

Draw a Venn Diagram on the board. On one side, write “modern agriculture” and on the other write “historical agriculture.” Tell students you will be sorting themes into three categories: modern agriculture, historical agriculture, and both. Explain to students that it’s common for books to use historical agriculture themes but present them as modern agriculture. Today we will try to pick out which things are modern and which are not.

Write the following list of terms on the board in one list. One by one, sort through them and ask the class which section of the Venn Diagram they should go into. Guide them to the correct answers.

Modern Agriculture


Historical Agriculture

Tractors with cabs

Producing food and fiber for human use

Tractors without cabs

Specialized – 1-2 types of crops or livestock


Diversified – several types of crops and livestock

Large barns with lots of technology


Small red barns with little technology

1/3 of farmers are women


Old men in bib overalls


  1. Draw a grid on the class whiteboard or similar display. Create column headings for book title, author, illustrator, fiction or nonfiction, perspective, purpose, and main idea. Create rows for each book title you plan to include in the lesson.
    1. An example could look as follows:

Book title






Main idea

Click Clack Moo




A Year on the Farm


Always Be Careful on the Farm


Diary of a Farmer


Eating the Alphabet

  1. Tell the class that you will be reading and analyzing the characteristics of several books today. Have students read any of these books before? Are they excited to?
  2. Next, hand out the writing graphic organizer worksheet. Tell students that they will need this worksheet for multiple days, so they will need to take care of it.
    1. The first section of the graphic organizer includes space to list ideas for a story of their own. As the class reads through books today, they may add ideas to that section, but they should not work ahead.
  3. Start with the first book, analyzing the cover first.
    1. Where does is list the author and illustrator? What are their names? Write the names on the grid accordingly.
    2. What does the cover art look like? Does this look like it will be a silly book or a serious book? What else do you think about the cover?
    3. Next, open the book and point out other features if they are present, like a table of contents, dedication, or book summary.
    4. Read the book aloud to the students, stopping periodically to ask questions about the text. Is this book real or made up? Who is telling the story? Is it a character in the book or someone else, like a narrator?
      1. Use this time to fill in the table with the fiction/nonfiction and perspective aspects of the book.
      2. Reinforce vocabulary words like fiction, nonfiction, first person perspective, and third person perspective when explaining these concepts.
      3. Point out how the reader’s perspective might be different from the writer or narrator’s. Ask students about their perspective on the book and how they might think about it differently than the author, narrator, or characters in the story.
    5. At the end of the book, ask the class what the purpose of the story might be. Why was this book written? What did the author want you to get out of it? Is it educational about a specific topic? Was it for fun? Or was it maybe to teach a lesson about how to be nice?
      1. For example, the purpose of Click, Clack, Moo is entertainment.
      2. Note the purpose of the book on the grid.
    6. Next, ask students what the main idea of the book was. The main idea is the big picture of the story, or the main thing that a person should take away from the story.
      1. For example, the main idea of Click, Clack, Moo is that farm animals communicate a variety of demands with a farmer using a typewriter.
      2. Note the main idea on the grid.
    7. Were any characteristics harder than others to pick out? If so, spend a little more time discussing it and how to find it.
    8. Then, move onto another book. If time allows, read the full book. If not, skim through main parts just enough to glean necessary characteristics.
      1. Try to read two very different books in full to point out the differences and discuss any similarities.
    9. Once the characteristics of all books have been noted on the table, reiterate what each of the characteristics are, and how to find them.
      1. Consider writing the definitions of each vocabulary word on the board.
      2. Use a couple of the books to point out each characteristic.
    10. Point out that each of the books are related to agriculture!
      1. Examine how the books portray agriculture. For the books that show crops, does it correctly display how the plants grow? For books that show livestock, do they correctly display how they live and are cared for? Are there any stereotypes in the book, like an old man farmer with bib overalls and straw in his mouth? Are the buildings and equipment shown in the books modern, or are they ideas adapted from generations ago?
        1. Agriculture books are especially susceptible to inaccurate or outdated stereotypes and ideas. Barns, tractors, and farms shown often times mirror a farm of the 1950s instead of the 2020s. Talk with students about this and help them identify some of those things. Tropes to look for:
          1. Stereotypical older, white, male farmer with bib overalls
          2. Tractors without cabs
          3. Farms with several kinds of animals living together in one space
          4. Farms with one of each type of animal
          5. Farms with animals living outdoors (especially chickens and pigs that are more susceptible to disease and predators)
        2. Modern farms have become more specialized, so a farmer will generally raise lots of one type of animal. This helps them learn a lot about this one area, do it well, and do it efficiently. Small hobby farms may still mirror older farms, but that is not where the bulk of our food is coming from today.
          1. Use books like Clarabelle, a Casey and Friends book, or a My Family’s Farm book to show more accurate depictions of modern farms.
        3. Reiterate that even in fiction books, accuracy is important. Even silly fiction books or fantasy books have elements of truth that help the reader “buy in” to the story.
    11. Wrap up by asking students what they learned about book characteristics and the vocabulary words specifically.

Did you know? (Ag facts):

  • The average farm size in Iowa is 355 acres (an acre is about the size of a football field)
  • 95% of Iowa farms are family-owned

Extension Activities:

  • Ask students to bring their favorite book to class (a classroom/library book or book from home) and do a brief share out of that book’s characteristics (author, illustrator, fiction or non, perspective, purpose, and main idea)

Suggested Companion Resources:

  • My Family’s Farm book series



Chrissy Rhodes

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • c. Provide examples of specific ways farmers/ranchers meet the needs of animals
  • d. Explain the value of agriculture and how it is important in daily life.

Iowa Core Standards:

  • English Language Arts
    • 3 rd Grade:
    • Reading Standards for Literature
      • 1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. (RL.3.1)
      • 5. Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections. (RL.3.5) (DOK 1,2,3)
      • 6. Distinguish their own point of view (perspective) from that of the narrator or those of the characters. (RL.3.6)
  • 4 th grade
    • Reading Standards for Literature
      • 1. Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. (RL.4.1)
      • 2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text. (RL.4.2)
      • 5. Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text. (RL.4.5)
      • 6. Compare and contrast the point of view (perspective) from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations. (RL.4.6)
  • 5 th grade
    • Reading Standards for Literature
      • 2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text. (RL.5.2)
      • 6. Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point (perspective)* of view influences how events are described.
      • 9. Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics. (RL.5.9)