animals, black history, history, spotlight

Spotlight: Saving the Day/There’s a Lion in the Forest

Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written by Karyn Parsons
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

For ages: 4-8
Our world is full of inventions we use every day but rarely think much about. The traffic light is a crucial technology that has helped save countless lives. It was invented by Black American Garrett Morgan, whose story is told in verse in this brand-new children’s book. Morgan was born to a farming family in 1870s Kentucky, where he seems to be underfoot while the adults and big kids do essential work. The young man’s strength comes in the form of mechanical genius, breaking down and rebuilding all sorts of devices to understand how they work. For example, after studying with a tutor, Morgan invents the zigzag stitch after breaking apart a sewing machine. 

As a burgeoning inventor, Morgan looks at the world differently than most people. He searches for common problems and thinks about potential solutions. One constant that we see affecting Morgan from childhood is the danger of the newly invented automobile. Cars swerve around each other, and there are no safety precautions at dangerous intersections. After almost getting run over himself, Morgan comes upon the idea of color-coded lights. 

If the author’s name, Karyn Parsons, seems familiar, you may remember her as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. At age 55, Parsons is currently running the Sweet Blackberry Foundation, a group she founded to create literature and cartoons promoting important figures in Black American history. She penned a middle-grade novel, How High the Moon, about her mother’s childhood in the Jim Crow South, and Flying Free, about the Black airplane pilot Bessie Coleman. All are worth checking out!


1. Have students write journal entries about a time they felt they couldn’t contribute at home or school. Have them describe how it made them feel and what they did to build their self-esteem.

2. Create a timeline of Garrett Morgan’s life. Students should take notes using online research or library books. Then use a printable timeline template to fill in these details.

3. Have students brainstorm in groups to identify a problem they notice people regularly having at home or school. Then, they can continue working together and plan, design, and construct a device that could solve the problem. This would make for a fantastic PBL unit with wonderful presentations at the end.

There’s a Lion in the Forest (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Written & Illustrated by Mônica Carnesi

For ages: 4-8
The Amazon rainforest is full of life, from the tiniest bugs to big cats. Toucan hears a roar one day and assumes there must be a lion in the forest. But lions don’t live in tropical rainforests, right? So Toucan joins his friends Capybara and Coati to investigate and see if they can find the “king of the jungle” in their midst. Throughout their journey, they catch glimpses of parts of animals they think are a lion, only to discover its another jungle creature entirely. 

We’ve been introduced to many animals by the end of the book, and *spoiler alert* the real culprit behind the roar is the Golden lion tamarin, a monkey with a magnificent mane like a male lion. The book is a beautiful blend of charming cute illustrations and writing with perfect, accurate scientific information about these animals. There’s a great section at the end that talks about the real animals featured in the story and provides information about their status as endangered due to the destruction of the Amazon. 

Brazilian writer-illustrator Mônica Carnesi has provided a South American twist on the Chicken Little story. The text showcases the exact repetition in those classic children’s stories which serve to build fluency by presenting refrains to young readers. The story’s structure is also perfect for questioning and making predictions during that first read. 


1. While reading, have students track their predictions about who is making the roaring sound. Write these predictions either on chart paper, or students can individually record them with evidence. After finishing the books, students can share their thinking and help model how to use text evidence.

2. Have students write a similar story about animals hearing a different sound. Make sure their writing includes at least three clues about the animal before their characters learn the truth.

3. Students can pick an animal from the book they liked. If you choose, they can group based on their choices. Then guide students through researching and writing about their chosen animal. Use a menu for students to decide how they want to present their findings.

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