The LitWits Kit for BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates - LitWits Workshops

Pat the (Dust) Bunny

Remember the baby book, Pat the Bunny? This little board book invited toddlers to experience a child’s world in simple, sensory ways: stroke bunny’s fur, feel Daddy’s scratchy face, try on Mommy’s fancy ring. Nice, right? Getting hands-on with learning starts early, and as more and more educators are learning, it never actually ends. If we can touch, smell, actually FEEL the setting and moments in a book’s story, we’re going to remember it better and want to read more.

(An exception may be the parody zombie version of Pat the Bunny. When Googling any fondly remembered icons of childhood, proceed with caution.)

This hands-on stuff is par for the course at our LitWits workshops and in our resulting LitWits Kits – we’re always coming up with ways to bring stories to life in sensory ways. So when it was time for us to share Doris Gates’ classic Dust Bowl tale, Blue Willow, we decided to “borrow a page” from Pat the Bunny. 

Our own booklet project lets kids get their hands into the dust storms, willows, river plants, cotton crops, tule fog and adobe mud of Janey Larkin’s world. We happily called it Pat the San Joaquin Valley’s Post-Dust Bowl Agricultural Environment — you can shorten that to Pat the Valley.

Our kids loved this project! We talked through each element as we glued it down, which also gave us a chance to discuss things like the Dust Bowl, cotton growing, tule fog, alkali, and adobe brick making.

(For more fun, hands-on ways to teach Blue Willow, check out the whole LitWits Kit!)


  •  white glue or glue sticks
  •  colored pens – green and brown for cotton stems, plus an assortment for cover design
  •  raffia for fastening booklets together
  •  card stock for booklet – plan on one page light blue per child, and 1⁄2 page cream for the cover
  •  card stock or pocket folders for background (we used the folders for stashing handouts and notes)
  •  squares of black construction paper 3.75 x 3.75 (backgrounds for alkali and tule fog) – 2 per
  •  book quotes printed on white regular paper
  •  map image of San Joaquin Valley for background

Textural Elements

  • dusty dirt in a bowl (dust bowl, get it?) – a pinch per
  • sprigs of flat-leafed plant suitable for gluing into book as greasewood* – 2-3 per
  • piece of white chalk (alkali) – 1 per
  • willow leaves* or substitute – 2-3 per
  • cotton ball – one for cotton fields, one for tule fog – 2 per
  • adobe mud made from dirt, dried grass or straw, and white glue or Mod Podge – make up enough in a small bowl for about a tablespoon per

*Because we live here in California, it was easy for us to find these plants in our own backyards. Of course it’s FINE if you just use something that looks similar!


Cut apart the quotes.

Cut the cream booklet covers and blue pages in half lengthwise.

You may want to assemble and hole-punch the booklet covers and pages for the kids, to save time. Just fold four pages inside one cover and punch two holes along the “spine.” Poke a strand or two of raffia through the holes and tie. (Raffia is much more agricultural than staples).

The LitWits Kit for BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates - LitWits WorkshopsDIRECTIONS

Distribute the booklets, if you’ve made them ahead of time, or help kids construct their own. As they decorate the cover with the book’s title, ask them to name some environments from the story. What do they remember of those places? Prompt them to use as many adjectives as they can.

Then build the pages of the book one quote at a time, reading, discussing and gluing down them on the left hand pages, and creating textural landscapes to match each quote on the right.

Glue the map to card stock, and the booklet on top of the map.

We  hope you and your kids enjoy this project. For more Dust Bowl fun and learning, check out our LitWits Kit for Blue Willow.

Happy reading!

Becky and Jenny

Jenny Walicek

  • Lisa Craddock

    May 31, 2018 at 7:54 am Reply

    I love this!

    Also, thanks for the warning about googling cherished childhood icons. ; )

    • Jenny Walicek

      May 31, 2018 at 12:50 pm Reply

      Thanks Lisa and you’re welcome! You can just imagine the horror!

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