The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Rain School

Rain School

Written and illustrated by James Rumford

Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010
ISBN 978-0-547-24307-8

Will they give us a notebook?… Will they give us a pencil? Will I learn to read like you?” Thomas is bursting with questions as he follows the older children, heading to school for his first time, in the country of Chad. When he arrives, Thomas finds a teacher, but no school building. “We will build our school,” she says. “This is our first lesson.” And so Thomas and the children construct their school house from mud bricks, saplings, and grasses. Seated on wooden stools at mud desks, immersed in the smells of the earth and the fields, the children eagerly learn to read and write, cheered on by their loving teacher. Author and illustrator James Rumford draws on his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad to transport readers across the globe into the heart of this one room schoolhouse. Concise prose, warm earth tones, active flowing lines, and splashes of vibrant primary colors, along with the illustrative use of varying perspectives envelop the reader in the African landscape. Nine months of school pass quickly for the students and the last day arrives just as the heavy rains begin, washing away the school house and the mud desks. Yet, as the author reminds us, although the school has disappeared, the knowledge gained by the students will live on. This strikingly beautiful picture book is a true tribute to the enduring power of education and the constructive energy of community.

Teaching Invitations
Preschool-Primary Grade (PreK-2)
  • Schools Around the World. As a class, read at least two of the books listed below about schools around the world. In pairs, have students draw or paint pictures of children attending school in another country.
  • A Historical Survey of Schools. Have students interview a parent, grandparent, or neighbor about his/her elementary school. Create a common set of questions as a class, which might include some of the following, and compare and contrast the results.
    • Where was it? When was it built? How big was the building? Who spent the money to build the school? How many students were in a class? Was it more like the school in Rain School or more like your school today? What lessons were the most memorable?
Intermediate Grades (3-5)
  • James Rumford Author Study. Complete an author study on James Rumford. As a class, read through his body of work. What kinds of topics does he write about? What kind of people does he write about? What text-to-text connections do you see among his works? Using his picture books as mentor texts, in small groups, research a topic or person and write a group book to show what you’ve learned. Compare and contrast the different books written in class.
Middle Grades (6-8)
  • Relationships Between Communities and Their Schools. In Rain School, the school year ended because the rainy season began. When does your school being and end? Why? Does it still make sense in the 21st century? Research the length of the school year in different parts of the country and in different countries around the world. Prepare small group presentations advocating for a particular school calendar, and invite your principal, superintendent, and school board members to attend.
Critical Literacy:
  • Deconstructing Rain School. Students at any age can begin comparing and contrasting their knowledge about Africa with the illustrations and content of this book. Whose perspectives are highlighted in this text, and how does it match against what readers know and assume about Africa and African people?
  • Investigating Schools and Charitable Organizations in Africa. Research, compare, and contrast various charitable organizations that build schools in Africa. What are their stated goals? What kinds of success have they seen? How are they funded? What role does the local African community play in the building of the school? How do they go beyond building the physical structure to setting up a school structure/culture? Is there one organization that as a class you would like to raise money to support? The more questions or deeper you go, the more this becomes an activity for older students.
  • Reading Across Genres. Have your middle school students read this New York Times Op-Ed piece from the summer of 2010 and conduct research on building schools in Afghanistan. Do they agree or disagree with Kristof, and why?

Further Explorations

Online Resources:
Schools for Africa
Build a School in Africa
Save the Children – Rewrite the Future Programs
United Nations Education Programs
Central Asia Institute (Greg Mortenson’s Organization)
Pennies for Peace (An extension of the Central Asia Institute)
Books for Africa
Global Fund for Children:

Atinuke. (2010). Anna Hibiscus. San Diego, CA: Kane Miller.
  • A charming chapter book series chronicling the daily escapades of a young girl living in a multicultural family in Amazing Africa.
Jackson, Ellen. (2003). It’s back to school we go! First day stories from around the world. Illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press.
  • This nonfiction picture book provides information on schools around the world, introducing each nation with a fictional snapshot of a child on his/her first day of school.
Lauture, Denize. (1996, 2000). Running the road to abc. Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins. New York: Alladin Paperbacks.
  • A fictional narrative about students in rural Haiti running miles each day to attend school.
Mortenson, Greg and Roth, Susan. (2009). Listen to the wind: The story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea. Illustrated by Susan Roth. New York: Dial Books.
  • A picture book version of Three Cups of Tea, informing young readers of Greg Mortenson’s efforts to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Rurrs, Magritte. (2009). My school in the rain forest: How children attend school around the world. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mill Press.
  • A nonfiction photographic essay depicting schools around the world.
Winter, Jeanette. (2009). Nasreen’s secret school. New York: Beach Lane Books.
  • A Global Fund for Children book, this nonfiction picture book tells the story of one girl’s experience attending a secret school for girls during the Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.


  1. This sounds like such a wonderful book. I am hoping that I will actually be able to read it. What a powerful statement about education and literacy! MSM