The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Over and Under the Pond

51740024Over and Under the Pond

Written by Kate Messner

Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

Published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

Grades PreK-5

ISBN: 978-1-4521-4542-6

Book Review

“Over the pond, cattails rustle and shush in the wind…Under the pond, a caddisfly larva builds a home of her own–a secret shelter of pebbles and sand.” As with their earlier companion texts, Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal take readers on a lyrical, information-packed journey–this time focused on the ecosystem of a mountain pond. In Over and Under the Pond, a young, inquisitive boy is out in a canoe with his mother while they paddle along the pond. When he asks her, “What’s down there?” she responds by describing the hidden world of animals that they are paddling over. This exchange launches the over/under pattern across the text which describes the natural life surrounding them, including whirligig beetles that loop and twirl and painted turtles on a waterlogged tree. Messner includes playful sound words that pop off the page and that young children will love to chorally participate in reading, such as “swish-bump.”  Christopher Silas Neal’s mixed media illustrations mirror the calm feeling of skimming along the surface of a pond and peering down below. Close readers of the illustrations will notice the ways the palette changes across the pages as day turns to night. Backmatter includes an explanatory note from the author about ecosystems and a helpful “About the Animals” section that provides further details about each animal named in the text. Sure to inspire the nature-enthusiast in every child, Over and Under the Pond is a welcome addition to the growing body of picture books that both mesmerize and inform.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Text Set: Over and Under, Up and Down. Along with Over and Under the Pond, gather the two previous picture books by Messner and Neal–Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. Let children explore these texts prior to engaging them in read alouds. Encourage them to notice and name what they see and what it makes them wonder. Which ecosystems are familiar to them and which are entirely new? You may then want to engage your class in a structured KWL (Know-Wonder or Want to Learn-Learn) chart to record what they know and want to know based on their exploration of the texts. Following each read aloud you can add information to the last column indicating what they learned about each ecosystem. Use the over and under/ up and down pattern as an invitation for student writing. What local environment can they write about using those patterns such as Over and Under the City Street or Over and Under the Ocean?

Researching Ponds and Pond Animals. Either before or after reading Over and Under the Pond, engage the class in coming up with a shared definition for a pond.  The Young People’s Trust for the Environment has a student-friendly definition and further information about ponds animals. Additionally, the back matter includes an “About the Animals” section that provides further details on each animal in the text. For younger students, have each student select their favorite animal to illustrate and to write the most interesting thing they learned about that animal from the book. For older students, use the back matter as a launching point for further research about ponds and pond animals. If possible, extend this research by visiting a local pond or by viewing video clips of what lives over and under ponds.

Family Stories. At its heart, Over and Under the Pond is a story about a mother and son enjoying an afternoon together. Use the book as an invitation for students to write their own afternoon stories about themselves and an adult in their lives. Who will they write about? Where will their afternoon story take place? What will they say to each other? How can students show the story of an afternoon together across pages to show day turning to night?  After composing and illustrating, invite family and friends to share in a writing celebration that honors the hard work students have done.

Sound Words for Effect. Draw students’ attention to the sound words written in italics on particular pages such as splash-gurgle-sploosh. Support students to think about why Kate Messner chose to add sound words, or onomatopoeia, to her story about an afternoon at a pond. How do the sound words help transport us to the pond with the boy and his mother? What other sound words do they think Messner could have added? Pair Over and Under the Pond with Denise Fleming’s onomatopoeia-rich In the Tall, Tall Grass and her alliteration-filled In the Small, Small Pond. Grow a collection of sound words that students can use in their own writing.

Using Senses to Understand. Our senses help us make sense of the world around us. Have students imagine what they would see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste at a pond. This is ideally explored at a pond, but you can also get creative to enhance your students’ sensory systems by creating a pond life sensory bin, downloading images of ponds, and by listening to tracks of pond sounds. You can also set up a science center with water that has dirt, leaves, and sticks in it to represent a pond and have magnifying glasses available for further discovery. Have students record their sensory observations in drawing and writing and then use those jottings for other kinds of writing such as pond poetry and pond picture books of their own.

Playing with Perspective in Illustrations. During a repeated reading of the book, explore with students the varied perspectives across the illustrations that support our sense of being over or under. Have students share the techniques that Christopher Silas Neal used to achieve those effects such as showing the underside of a turtle and the bottom of the canoe with the boy and his mom peering down. Conversely, Neal also includes an illustration as if we are up in the trees alongside a woodpecker looking down at the canoe far below. Have students select their favorite illustration to emulate by trying to create their own scene that uses the same effect. As students illustrate their writing throughout the year, use Over and Under the Pond as a mentor text for playing with perspective in illustrations to create a dynamic visual effect across pages.

Mixed Media Illustrations. Have students analyze the illustrations taking note of what kind of material they think Neal used to create the visual effects of being over and under a pond. Gather many different materials for students to illustrate their own environmental scenes using more than one material in their representation such as colored pencils, cray pas oil pastels, watercolor, crayons, and tempera paint. Gather other books by illustrators that use mixed media methods such as Philip Stead’s Ideas are All Around, Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia, or Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White for students to make comparisons about how illustrators use a variety of materials and methods to tell and enhance stories and ideas.  

Critical Literacy.

Illustrator’s Choices: Representing People. Illustrators make many choices about how they want to represent people in picture books. One purposeful decision made by Christopher Silas Neal is to illustrate the mother and son with darker skin tones. Consider as a class the importance of this decision in light of statistics about representations of people of color in children’s literature each year. In what ways does Christopher Silas Neal stand on the shoulders of Ezra Jack Keats who wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day as well as many other picture books with the character Peter? Pair Over and Under the Pond with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Poem for Peter written as a tribute to Keats. One of the things Keats advocated for was the everyday life of childhood represented in illustrations with children of color. Following a discussion of representations of people, consider taking stock of your own classroom library to notice whether you have the everyday life of childhood represented in illustrations that include and feature children of color.

Further Investigation

Online Resources

Kate Messner’s Site

Kate Messner on Revision

Christopher Silas Neal’s Site

The New Yorker article by Christopher Silas Neal: Sketchpad: Mr. Prince

Interview with Christopher Silas Neals on Apartment Therapy

Young People’s Trust for the Environment

Life at the Pond’s Edge Video

The Hidden Life in Pond Water Video

Pond Life (no narration sounds of pond life)

Classroom Bookshelf entry on a Poem for Peter

Diversity Gap in Children’s Literature: Lee and Low Books Infographic


(Recommended in the Further Reading section of Over and Under the Pond)

George, L.B. (1996). Around the pond: Who’s been here? New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

Franco, B. (2009). Pond circle. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Reid, G. K. (2001). Pond life. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Loewer, P. (2016). Pond water zoo: An introduction to microscopic life. New York, NY: Atheneum Books.

Sidman, J. (2005). Song of the water boatman and other pond poems. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Other Books by Messner

Messner, K. (2010). Sugar and ice. New York, NY: Walker Children’s.

Messner, K. (2011). Over and under the snow. Ill. by C.S. Neal. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Messner, K. (2013). Wake up missing. New York, NY: Walker Children’s.

Messner, K. (2015). Eye of the storm. New York, NY: Walker Children’s.

Messner, K. (2015). Up in the garden and down in the dirt. Ill. by C.S. Neal. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.


Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.