The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel is a heartwarming Christmas story about the Rockefeller Center Tree. This story is set in New York City during the Great Depression. Times are hard, Henry’s parents are out of work, and the family lives in a cold shack. Eight-year-old Henry couldn’t be more excited when his dad asks him to go to New York City with him to sell Christmas trees. It is there that Henry makes a Christmas wish for a nice warm home. Through the kindness and generosity of the construction workers from the Rockefeller Center, Henry’s Christmas wish comes true.
Teaching with The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel
I highly recommend The Carpenter’s Gift for grades 2-5. This story is inspiring and rich in theme. Plus this book presents a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about the Great Depression and analyze how the setting influences the story.
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Importance of Setting
Pairing an informational passage about The Great Depression with The Carpenter’s Gift is a great way to build schema and enhance student’s understanding of the the story. The passage below is leveled for middle to upper elementary students to read independently.
This text gives students that extra needed context to understand the hardships faced by Henry’s family, along with so many others during the 1930s.
Comprehension questions are also included with this passage, so students can practice close reading this informational passage and citing text evidence.
After reading this nonfiction passage, students will have a deeper understanding of the setting and can analyze how it impacts the story. Pose questions to guide students toward a deeper understanding of the importance of the setting. Ask students: how did the Great Depression impact Henry’s family? How would this story have been different if it was set in modern day New York? Why is the Depression-era setting important in The Carpenter’s Gift? These questions really challenge students to think deeply about the story.
Aside from being a wonderful book to teach students about the importance of the setting, I cannot think of a better Christmas mentor text for teaching theme than The Carpenter’s Gift. Theme can be a difficult concept for 3rd, 4th, and even 5th grade students. Using a picture book with a rich storyline is a vital tool in helping kids learn to infer themes. Before teaching theme, I recommend making sure students know the story VERY well.
After identifying story elements, analyzing the importance of the setting, and summarizing The Carpenter’s Gift, I pose deep questions to build comprehension and get students thinking thoroughly about the text. These questions encourage students to search for deeper meaning. Only when students show mastery of these higher order thinking questions can they be ready to infer the theme.
I like to use anchor charts for students to refer to when learning to infer themes. Remind students that theme is not usually explicitly stated by the author. It must be inferred by readers. Students must know that themes differ from the main idea of the story in that the theme is a general life lesson. Ask students, “What do you think the author, David Rubel, wants you to learn from this book? What lessons from The Carpenter’s Gift can you take and apply to your own life?”
When using The Carpenter’s Gift to teach theme, it is important to keep in mind that there can be MORE THAN ONE theme. This can be confusing for students who are used to reading shorter stories or passages. However, this is an important lesson for upper elementary students in particular, as they transition from short stories to novels, which almost always have more than one theme.
Class Building and Applying Lessons from The Carpenter’s Gift
After discussing the theme of giving, I like to challenge students to give an unexpected gift or act of kindness during the holiday season.
The best presents are the ones you don’t expect.The Carpenter’s Gift
Students wrote their ideas in a star to remind them of the generosity and kindness shown in The Carpenter’s Gift.
Many students thought of a special homemade gift they could make for a friend. Others named generous acts of service they could do at home. What was most touching was seeing how many students thought of ways they could give to a classmate who least expected it.
This turned out to be a wonderful class-building activity. Don’t listen to the negative stories about kids today. They are NOT true! The compassion shown by these kids never ceases to amaze me.
The Carpenter’s Gift Book Companion
If you are interested in the book companion that includes this full week of activities for The Carpenter’s Gift, it is available for purchase in my store. This product includes my nonfiction passage about The Great Depression, resources for teaching students to identify themes, answer deep questions, learn vocabulary, summarize, and more. My comprehension printables are also included in this book companion, making it easy to assess student’s overall understanding of the book through multiple choice and short answer questions.
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I hope you enjoy!
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