How Rocket Learned to Read
A Basketful of Easter Activities

Big Bear's Big Boat

By Eve Bunting   

Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Hello friends,

How are you today? Are you in the mood for a book full of bright, cheery colors? We have just the thing: Big Bear's Big Boat , by Eve Bunting, who must be one of the most prolific children’s book authors of all time, and illustrated by one of my new favorites, Nancy Carpenter (Doesn't Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine sound very intriguing?). 

Big Bear's Big Boat - Off the Shelf

After Big Bear outgrows his little boat as described in Little Bear's Little Boat , he has the opportunity to build a new boat just to his liking. And he wants one just like his little boat, only bigger. Then, one after another, friends come along and make suggestions for more and more features… In the end, it’s not so much a lesson as a gentle reminder that sometimes you know what's best for yourself. Without getting too philosophical, that can be a very hard lesson to learn, and certainly not just for kids. 

Big Bear's Big Boat - Off the Shelf

Big Bear’s story comes to life with pen and ink illustrations that recall Beatrix Potter or Ernest Shepherd but are thoroughly modern thanks to the flat, digital color (If you are interested, here is a tour of Nancy Carpenter’s studio!). 

Big Bear's Big Boat


In this Issue


Sweet Potato Boats

Sweet Potato Boats - Big Bear's Big Boat - Off the Shelf

Sweet Potato Boats - Big Bear's Big Boat - Off the Shelf


Sweet Potato Boats


  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • sliced carrots for masts
  • slices of mozzarella cheese
  • sugar snap peas, for oars (optional but cute)
  1. Pierce sweet potatoes several times with a fork and cook in microwave until done. Cooking times will vary depending on size of sweet potatoes and microwave ovens, roughly 7 to 12 minues.
  2. Set sweet potatoes aside until cool enough to handle. Halve sweet potatoes lengthwise and scoop out centers, leaving skins and about 1/4 inch of flesh. Place scooped-out sweet potato in a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in pizza sauce, diced tomatoes, milk, garlic powder, and shredded cheese. 
  3. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the skins. There will probably be left-over filling; this can be placed in a small oven-safe dish and baked alongside the boats. Place boats on a baking sheet or in a baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
  4. Cut square cheese slice diagonally for two triangle sails. To assemble the boats, stand carrot stick up in sweet potato filling, and prop cheese sail against carrot mast. Serve quickly before sail gets melty!


Additional Activities


Styrofoam Boats

This is the type of open-ended activity that we love. With the same four basic supplies plus any others your young reader decides upon, every boat creation will be unique! Try floating them in the bathtub or kitchen sink, or take outside for puddle or pond sailing. 

Styrofoam Boats - Big Bear's Big Boat - Off the Shelf

Styrofoam Boats - Big Bear's Big Boat - Off the Shelf

Styrofoam Boats


  • Pieces of styrofoam
  • Straws
  • Aluminum foil
  • Permanent markers
  1. Lay out supplies, and let your reader build their perfect boat!


More from Off the Shelf

Big Bear joins a sloth of literary bears like Pooh (of course), Otto the Book Bear, the mom and cub in Blueberries for Sal, and the little seen bears in We're Going on a Bear Hunt and The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

One Year Ago: And Then It's Spring is a simple story, with quiet, poetic text that reflects the feeling most of us have this time of year as we anxiously wait for the brown of late winter to turn to the green of early spring. Text by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead. 

Two Years Ago: Too good to only come out at Easter (although it makes a lovely Easter basket addition), The Tale of Peter Rabbit is Beatrix Potter's classic tale of mischievous Peter and his adventures in Mr. McGregor's garden 


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