Judge a Book by Its Cover, Part 1

Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.

Louise Fresco

Let’s face it, as language teachers, at some point or another, we  all  teach  about food. Maybe it’s because food is an easy, tangible topic, or because it’s easy to connect to our students’ lives. Or maybe we’re all just hungry. But I tend to agree with Louise Fresco—food is about identity.

We have strong memories of favorite family recipes and foods traditionally eaten at the holidays.  So how do I evoke these strong emotions associated with food in my third grade students during a standard fruit unit? Is it possible to get across the importance of food in cultural identity with novice level learners?  To answer these questions, I would have to go beyond asking students to memorize the list of fruits found in my curriculum.


La sorpresa de Nandi, Eileen Browne

After spending a few class sessions learning the names of fruits and how to describe them with basic adjectives (small, round, juicy, sweet…), I gathered my class to the reading rug to share one of my favorite third grade stories—La sorpresa de Nandi.  In this story, a young girl in Africa decides to surprise her friend by bring her a basket full of local fruits. As she walks to her friends house, animals keep stealing the fruits from her basket one by one until it is empty. The story ends with a great surprise to both Nandi and her friend Tindi,  but  you wont find any spoilers here.

Prior to reading the story, we had a class discussion in Spanish about the cover of the book where I asked my students to describe what they saw:

  • What do you see on the book cover?
  • What colors did the illustrator use?
  • Where do you think girl lives? Why?
  • What fruits do you see?

It is when the students started naming the fruits that the conversation got interesting. They correctly identified the pineapple and orange, but couldn’t figure out the four other fruits. A green pear? A red apple? A plum, lemon, grape, tomato…? Even after they had exhausted their Spanish and began to excitedly shout out guesses in English, they still didn’t know what Nandi was carrying.

The suspense created by discussing the book cover gave my students great motivation to listen to the story. They loved discovering the new tropical fruits (passionfruit, guava, mango and avocado for the curious ones out there) and found humor in the story (not an easy task for novice speakers). And with such energy and enthusiasm generated from the cover of this book alone, I knew we couldn’t just say goodbye to Nandi when we closed the book.

By the end of the lesson, I  began mentally planning out subsequent lessons and a possible interdisciplinary project about La Sorpresa de Nandi. But, just like my students, you’ll have to wait until next time to see what happens. Make sure to come back next week to  hear more about how Nandi inspired my students to develop intercultural competence!


  1. Thanks for sharing! I have had success with this story with grades 2 – 8. They definitely have interest in the fruits and always ask if they can try them, which I have never done, but might be a fun extension of the story. Then we can talk about flavors (sweet, bitter, tasty, gross) and the way they feel (soft, hard, squishy, etc).

    The students also have interest in learning about the animals and I have tied this story into units on animals and habitats around the world (although the food aspect is a little more suited to the story).

    I look forward to seeing what else you do with this story (and blatantly stealing your ideas for my own classroom 🙂 )!

    • My students always ask if we can have a fruit tasting after we read the book. The problem, I always tell them, is it’s very hard to find guavas and passion fruits in our area. And then, of course, there’s the whole allergy and food sensitivity issue to deal with. So I encourage them to seek out these fruits (and juices, jellies, candies, etc) in the grocery store with their parents. Feels like a cop out though. 🙁

  2. I hadn’t heard of this story, so thanks for sharing it. I’m in the middle of a fruits unit w my 1st graders (fruits + adjectives + I like/don’t like, I want … please/ thank you, etc), and was going to move into a unit on breakfast and what they look like in a few Spanish-speaking countries to work on some cultural comparison stuff, but this is another lesson/extension I’m going to look into now. Thanks!

    • Your first graders will love it! The illustrations are beautiful and the language is simple, yet engaging. When I read it with my third graders, I asked them to do a silent applause (waving both hands over their head) any time they heard a fruit vocabulary word. Just another little fun thing to try. If you end up reading it with them, let us know how it goes!

  3. Thanks Dorie! This book is wonderful. I have made thematic unit base on La Sopresa de Nandi. We learn about animals and fruits but mainly this unit is to get closer to other cultures in Spanish, to develop a positive attitude toward other cultures and to be different, also creativity and imagination.
    We focus on Africa, but we make Nandi to travel to another region such as Central America, or the US, we talk about the differences and retell the story in a different environment. At the end of the thematic Unit we represent the story live for the children’s families, so we do theater to.

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