"The Family Under the Bridge" was written by Natalie Savage Carlson and illustrated by Garth Williams. The book was published in 1958 and is a Newbery Honor book for children age 7 and older. The Christmas season in Paris is the setting for the book and the narrative is about a hobo, Armand, who has disdained family for a carefree existence. Armand’s way of life is challenged when he meets a woman and her three children who are living at his spot under the bridge.
Ask your students to write a biography of the author Natalie Savage Carlson. The author was born Oct. 3, 1906 in Kernstown, Virginia. She had her first story published when she was 8 years old and she died on Sept. 23, 1997.
Help your students find France on a world map or globe. Use a mapping program to check the distance between where you live and Paris, France. Research various country facts about France such as exports, number of people who live in France or important events in French history. This is an activity where you can help your students practice Internet and library research skills. Embassies, tourist bureaus and trade organizations are also places to find primary materials for this information.
Treat your students to a taste of Paris by bringing French bread, butter, preserves and grape juice to the classroom for a European snack. Be sure to offer food alternatives for those who have food sensitivities and allergies. Talk to the students about how the French people would buy their bread fresh from the market every day. Tell the students about various foods that the French eat like snails (escargots) and goose liver (pâté de foie gras).
Play French music to the children or learn simple songs in French. Go beyond the usual Frère Jacques or Alouette to teach the children about French history and culture. Use songs like the French national anthem La Marseillaise or, since the book is set at Christmas time, seasonal holiday songs like Un Flambeau, Jeannette Isabelle (Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabelle) and Les Anges dans Nos Campagnes (Angels We Have Heard on High).
Learn and teach your students a few basic words and phrase in French like “Bonjour” for “Hello” and “Au Revoir” for “Goodbye.” Create dual language French and English cards to place on familiar objects such as chairs and tables. Provide bilingual tapes for the children to listen to during free time.
Talk with your students about homelessness in your community. Suggest that the students bring in food for the local food bank or personal items like toothbrushes and toothpaste for local homeless shelters.