Reading "Tops and Bottoms" in Grades K-3: Three Activities

Reading "Tops and Bottoms" in Grades K-3: Three Activities
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Meet the Book

Author and Illustrator Janet Stevens has created a delightful book for elementary students about a lazy bear and an ambitious hare.

Her notes indicate that the book is an adaptation “with roots in European folktales and the slave stories of the American South.” It reminds the reader of the fables of Aesop that provide a moral or lesson.

The illustrations are certainly worthy of the Caldecott Honor book award that Stevens received. It is the kind of book that children will pick up just to examine the pictures.

Literature units for Tops and Bottoms will give you ideas to use with this entertaining book.

The First Reading

With your students in front of you, show them the book and ask if they notice something different. The book opens vertically! The detailed illustrations cover two full pages.

Before reading, tell your students that you want them to listen for ways that the bear and the hare are alike and different.


1. How many times did it take for Bear to realize that Hare was tricking him? Explain.

2. Notice the scarf on Bear and the jacket on Hare. What makes them appropriate for each animal?

3. Should Bear get any of the vegetables when he hasn’t helped? Why or why not?

4. Hare does not own the land; should he get any of the vegetables? Why or why not?

5. To make it fair, what would be the best solution for Bear and Hare?

6. What lesson can people learn from the book? Spend some time talking about how hard work pays off!

Act It Out

This will be an activity that will bring lots of giggles!

For the second reading, choose students to act out the story as you read. A fair way would be to have the students put their names on slips of paper and drop them in a hat. Choose students to play the lazy Bear, the ambitious Hare and several to play the mama and baby bunnies.

Graphic Organizer

Draw three columns on the board. Label the left column “Bear”. Label the right column “Hare” and label the center column “Both”.

Review the concept of adjectives. They are words that describe a noun. In pairs, students should brainstorm words that fit in each column and write them on scrap paper. After ten minutes, pull the students together to fill in the graphic organizer with adjectives. For younger students, eliminate the partner brainstorming and do this as a whole group activity.


Using the words from the graphic organizer, students will write two sentences about Bear and two sentences about Hare. Then write two sentences including both characters in each sentence.



Use index cards to add a picture or word of a vegetable on each card. You may need to use the same vegetable more than once to have enough for every student. Use the illustrations from the book to give you ideas from each category. Pass the vegetable cards out and have students move to the designated area of the room marked “Tops” or another area of the room marked “Bottoms.”

Get Them Cooking!

So many objectives can be presented in this unit: using descriptive language, role playing, learning about vegetables and using a graphic organizer. You may even want to culminate your literature units for Tops and Bottoms by making vegetable soup!