Cynthia Cotten, Virginia Childrens Author, fiction and poetry

Cynthia Cotten Home
Cynthia Cotten About
Cynthia Cotten Books
Cynthia Cotten Guides
Cynthia Cotten Visits
Cynthia Cotten Events
Cynthia Cotten Favorites
Cynthia Cotten Quotes
Cynthia Cotten Links
Cynthia Cotten Contact
Cynthia Cotten Blogs

(cover art, Frane Lessac, 2013)

The Book Boat's In is a picture book about a boy named Jesse, in the year 1835. Jesse is excited over the arrival of Mr. Edwards' book boat, a floating library and bookstore that travels along the Erie Canal. There he finds a book that he desperately wants but hasn't the money to buy. Jesse decides to earn the money, but he has only a week until the book boat comes back on its last trip for the season.

Background: Cynthia Cotten is the author of many children's books, including Snow Ponies, At The Edge of The Woods, and Rain Play. She grew up in Lockport, New York, on the banks of the Erie Canal. She loves learning about the history of that area.

(Reading and Language):

Comprehension Strategies

Author's purpose - What is the author's purpose?

What did you learn about the time when Jesse lives?

Characterization - What character traits describe Jesse? Give examples of his actions for these traits.


Define words you might not be familiar with, such as wharf, gangplank, jounced, livery stable, and fidgety. Come up with synonyms and read them in the sentences they appear in. Why did the author choose the words she did instead of the synonyms?

Wh- word questions: Talk about wh- words: who, what, when, where, why. "Who" questions are answered by people; "why" questions are reasons, etc. Come up with wh- questions related to the story.

Find excerpts from The Swiss Family Robinson. Contrast to what you like to read.

Are there other books about this time period that you like? Tell the class about them and why you like them.

Writing Activities:

Imagine the story is fact. Write a newspaper article telling about it.

Write a paragraph or a story about a time when you wanted something and didn't have enough money to buy it. What did you do?

Write a journal entry as if you were Jesse.

Critical Thinking:

Jesse was able to think of jobs he could do to earn the money to buy the book. What are some examples of jobs you could do?

Jesse did the extra jobs in addition to his own chores and studying. He had no time to play. Give an example of something you might work as hard as Jesse for, and tell why.

When Jesse went back to the book boat and found that the book he wanted was gone, he felt bad. Have you ever had a time when something didn't come out the way you expected? How did you feel? What did you do?


(This can be done as an interactive whiteboard lesson or worksheet)

You have _____ (cents). What can you buy? Show pictures with prices. Circle or color those items that you can buy.

This lesson could be extended with 1st and 2nd graders by asking them to figure:
--How much more money they need to buy each item or
--How much change they would get for each item that they buy

Social Studies/Economics:

Research the time period (mid-1830s).

What was going on historically at this time?

Compare and contrast school then with school today. What were schools like then? How long was the school year? What subjects were studied?

Use the library or the internet to research the Erie Canal. Research other canals. Is there a canal or other waterway near where you live?

Use the library or the internet to find out about the money in Jesse's time. Compare it to today's money. What was the same? What was different?

Find out about prices of things today and compare them to prices of the same things in Jesse's time.

Compare and contrast the wants and needs in Jesse's time to those of today.

Sort pictures from magazines, catalogs, and advertisements into either wants or needs. These could be made into posters or collages. (Art)


Using the library or the internet, find pictures of the Erie Canal and different kinds of boats that traveled on it. Draw or paint your own canal scene.

Make a model or diorama of the inside of a book boat.

Bulletin Board Ideas:

Display some of the above student art projects.

Create a mural of a shelf of books, with each student adding his or her favorite titles.


In Pixie, design a sort of Wants and Needs.

Discovery Education:

Building the Erie Canal - 7:29 - 3 segments

Why build the Erie Canal? 2:01
Construction of the Erie Canal 2:40
How the Erie Canal influenced New York 2:46

Regions of the United States: The Northeast: Environment
Transportation 2:28


How are the events in The Book Boat's In similar to your own life? To people you know? How are they different?

Does Jesse remind you of anyone? Who? Why?

Do you think the conflict in the story is realistic for that time period? Why? What kind of conflict might you have with a parent or a teacher today?

Selected Internet Resources:


Erie Canal Locks Time Lapse HD Video

3-5 - THC - Modern Marvels - Erie Canal.wmv

The Erie Canal - the Nation's First Superhighway

Low Bridge - The Erie Canal Song

The Erie to the Canal - important of the Erie Canal in the growth of our country 4:48 (good explanation of today's locks for all ages)

Modern Marvels Erie Canal (44 mins)

This guide was created with the help of Mary Jeanne Kellogg, library media specialist at John F. Pattie Elementary School, Montclair, Virginia, 2013.

Home | About | Books | Guides | Visits | Events | Favorites | Quotes | Links | Contact

© 2004 - 2019 Cynthia Cotten

Site by Emerson Web