Delaware Teacher of the Year
Claymont Elementary School
One of the easiest
ways to integrate economics with language arts is to use a
trade book. Choosing the book carefully will provide a
time-effective method of teaching concepts from both content
Tops and Bottoms by
Janet Stevens (1995) is a trade book that provides numerous
opportunities to integrate social studies and language arts
instruction. This modern fable has been used with students
of all ages, from primary to high school students. The colorful pictures with their subtle details
appeal to a wide audience and provide rich vocabulary. Bear dresses in business clothes, brogues,
and ties, giving the appearance of being wealthy despite his
lazy ways, sleeping the days away in his Adirondack chair
on the big, wide porch of the run-down house.
Hare lives with his family in a cozy underground hole
filled with clever furnishings, including a cola can table,
his own Adirondack chair made from clothespins, and a ladder
made from soda plastic rings.
This folktale is a
sequel to Aesop’s “Hare and the Tortoise.”
In Tops and Bottoms, the readers encounter
Hare again; he is described as a rabbit down on his luck,
penniless after losing a bet to a tortoise.
Readers make the connection to the earlier story of
the lazy rabbit who was defeated and outwitted in a big race
with a tortoise. Now,
however, he has a family to support. He goes to see Bear, a neighbor who has inherited wealth and a large
field which he bought from Hare when Hare needed the money
to pay off his debt. Hare
tells Bear that he has an idea; the two of them can be partners.
If Bear agrees, Hare will take all the responsibility
for planting and harvesting a crop.
Bear is given the right to choose what part of the
plant he wants even though the sleepy Bear is unaware of what
Hare intends to plant. Hare
had disturbed Bear in the midst of his nap; Bear, a bit dazed,
confused, and still sleepy, asks for tops.
Hare and his family prepare the field, plant, water,
weed, and harvest the crop of carrots.
Hare brings the carrot tops to Bear.
Bear feels cheated. So Hare agrees to plant another crop, and Bear
chooses the bottoms this time. When he receives inedible parts
of the third crop, Bear has learned his lesson.
He vows to never again be Hare’s partner, and he gets
busy farming his own land.
Hare runs down the road with his family and his profits;
he and his family start their own vegetable stand.
IDEAS TO DEVELOP
The idea of a sequel
appeals to readers who are accustomed to movie sequels. After talking about how the Hare has changed since the story of
the “Hare and the Tortoise,” students can write their own
sequels. How successful will Bear be working on his
own? Does Hare start
a chain of vegetable stands?
Does Hare continue his trickster ways?
Students can write a story describing what has happened
to Tortoise, or they can write the further adventures of Bear
or Hare. Suggest students weave the three basic economic questions
and productive resources into their stories. Hare uses his children to provide the labor;
the issues of child labor can be discussed.
What was the opportunity
cost of Hare gambling his money in a bet with the Tortoise?
Readers can explore
the structures of business: the sole proprietorship, partnership,
and the corporation. What
are the advantages and disadvantages of each for both Hare
and Bear? What are the ways entrepreneurs finance their
businesses? Bear has
played the role of a venture capitalist. Would Hare have been a candidate for a bank loan? Why or why not? Point out that Hare repays his debt and reinvests his profits
in a new business. Will
Hare and Bear be competitors or will Bear be a supplier
idea of Hare as a trickster can lead to analogies with other
folktales. Some readers will say that Bear was lazy and
deserved to be tricked; others feel strongly that Hare should
have been honest. The author’s rich choice of wording may be
used to support opinions:
“Hare and Mrs. Hare put their heads together and cooked
up a plan.” The difference of opinions can lead to a valuable
discussion of ethics. Was Bear cheated? Should Hare have disclosed what he was planting?
Bear allowed Hare to use his land.
Did he deserve to be tricked?
Could Hare have found a way out of debt if Bear had
not allowed him to use his land? Role playing the different sides of the issues
provides opportunities for students to explore their views
on what is fair and ethical.
If Bear and Hare were to write a partnership agreement,
the story would have had a different ending.
Challenge the students to write an agreement for Bear
and Hare. Is shaking
hands and saying, “It’s a done deal!” enough of a partnership
agreement? Does a
handshake seal a deal? Look
at the elements of repetition in the story.
Why does the author use repetition?
Why is the phrase, “It’s a done deal,” used before
each crop is planted?
of a folktale are evident in Tops
and Bottoms; students can identify the lesson or moral
of each story. A close look at the Hare as a trickster and
Bear as the tricked one gives the reader the opportunity to
examine the risks each main character assumed.
A study of proverbs can be linked to this tale.
(A related geography lesson is to locate the countries
from which different fables and proverbs have come.)
Also, quotes about partners, ethics, and hard work
can become story elements and morals for folktales.
Discuss the changes
in Hare from the original “Hare and the Tortoise” to his role
in Tops and Bottoms. The hard work of Hare in this story can be compared
to the Ant in the “Ant and the Grasshopper” or the Hen in
the “Little Red Hen.” What
motives did Hare have to change from his lazy ways in “Hare
and the Tortoise”? Integrating economics across the language arts curriculum can help
teachers find time to cover more social studies without sacrificing
providing students with time to practice critical language
arts skills. And they need to consider how to build students’
needed language arts skills and strategies so that their students
can do what is asked of them. Teachers just need to look at
the books they have in another light, with a new spin.
TWO OTHER MODERN FOLKTALES
FOR INTEGRATING ECONOMICS AND LANGUAGE ARTS:
Once Upon MacDonald’s Farm by Stephen Gammell (2000)
The Principal’s New Clothes by Stephanie Calmenson (1989).
S. (1989). The Principal’s
New Clothes. New York: Scholastic.
S. (2000). Once Upon
MacDonald’s Farm. New York: Simon and Schuster.
J. (1995). Tops and
Bottoms. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.