The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Exploring the Past and Imagining the Future with Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More

Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More

Written and illustrated by Johanna Schaible

First U.S. Edition, Published by Candlewick Studio, 2021 

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2213-5

Grades PreK and Up 

Book Review

Rare is the book that has the potential to prompt so much thinking in so few pages for such a wide audience. Originally published in Sweden in 2020, Johanna Schaible’s Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More is a picture book for humans of all ages, from young children with an emerging concept of time to adults pondering their own life experiences in the past, present, and future. Front and back end pages immerse the reader in the vast universe, black pages dotted with white stars and planets. In the first half of the book, Schaible moves from billions of years ago to millions of years ago to thousands of years ago to the very present, each successive page turn revealing increasingly smaller pages. At the center of the book, is a child’s darkened bedroom, the lights just turned off. In the smallest two-page spread, the reader is plunged again in the vast darkness of the universe and the command: “Now! Make a wish!” The second half of the book moves forward from the fixed past to the possible future, each page turn revealing a slightly larger page and a question for the reader to answer, ranging from the immediate (“What time will you get up in the morning?”) to the distant (“What will you look back on when you are old?”) and everything in between. The illustrations of contemporary life and the future reveal people with a range of skin colors, though all appear to be able-bodied. Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More offers young people and their grown-ups moments to imagine what their future life might be. It also opens up fascinating portals to the past and explorations in concepts of time, geologic time, evolution, ancient architecture, and more. Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More is an invitation to all of us to consider the past and dream about the possibilities of a future filled with “so much more.” 

Teaching Ideas and Invitations 

Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!

K and Up  

Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More as Mentor Text. Have students use the book format from Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More as a mentor text. What are some of your students’ hopes and dreams for the future? Drawing on the questions in the second half of the book, ask kindergarten and first graders: when will they get up the next day, where will they be in the afternoon, and what will they do tomorrow evening? Older students can take on the other questions in the second half of the book, built on more complex notions of time (next month, your next birthday, ten years, when you’re a grown-up, old age). Provide time for students to write and illustrate their books.  

Alternative Book Formats Text Set. Read Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More along with other picture books with playful book formats, such as Water Land: Land Forms Around the World written and illustrated by Christy Hale, First the Egg, Lemons are Not Red, Green, Blue, and Red, all written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Work with your school or public librarian to collect a diverse range of other picture books that delight and surprise their readers with innovative formats. Have students compare and contrast how each book “works.” Using these books as mentor texts, have students write and illustrate their own innovative books on topics of their choice. Be sure to have plenty of extra glue, tape, paper, paint, and cardboard available!

Grade 1 and Up 

Solar System Text Set on Concepts of Time: Your students likely have only an emerging sense of time, given their young lives and their developmentally appropriate focus on the present. Use this Solar System Text Set Model to find out a little more about what your students already know about time and what questions they have about time, to contextualize your instruction in telling time with scientific concepts. First read aloud Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More. Have your students list the questions that they have about the passing of time. They may even have questions about vocabulary associated with time ((years, hundreds, billions, etc.). Next, read At the Same Moment, Around the World, written and illustrated by Clothilde Perrin. What new questions do your students have about the concept of time? Finally, read Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time by Steve Jenkins.  

Duet Text Set on Change Over Time: After reading Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More, read aloud A Stone Sat Still.  How does each book show the process of time passing? What clues are offered to the reader in each text? What are some of the ways that time shapes the earth and the mountains, rivers, and seas? What are some of the ways that time shapes your community? What is the story of one location within your community over time? Have students select a spot in your town, city, or county that all students in class have some familiarity with- the closer to your school the better. Work with your local historical society or public library to locate paintings, drawings, and photographs of that spot over time. Students could also photograph or sketch the same spot on school property at different times of the day across the school year, to compare and contrast change in short periods of time. 

Grade 2 and Up 

Earth’s Infancy Text Set.The first sentence of the book begins at the beginning of our planet. After reading Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More, provide students with the opportunity to explore how Earth took shape. Provide students with the opportunity to explore Older than the Stars by Karen Fox, illustrated by Nancy Davis, The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and It Started with the Big Bang: The Origin of Earth, You, and Everything Else, written by Floor Bal, illustrated by Sebastian Van Doninck. Invite students to create their own illustrations of the universe’s formation and/or Earth’s infancy.   

“Millions of years ago, dinosaurs lived on Earth.” This second sentence in the book invites readers to consider the millions of years in which dinosaurs walked our planet. After reading Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More, provide students with the opportunity to explore the millions of years of dinosaur history. Dinosaurs are a topic many young children are fascinated with and knowledgeable about, but not one that often makes it into the school curriculum. Provide students with the opportunity to explore different dinosaurs of interest, drawing upon the resources listed below. Students can create dinosaur trading cards to demonstrate their learning, or line the hallway outside of your classroom with dinosaur portraits.   

“Thousands of years ago, people built some very large things.” On this two-page spread in Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More, author-illustrator Schaible shows the partially constructed Pyramids of Giza. How were those pyramids built? Engineering-minded students may enjoy exploring Colossus: The World’s Most Amazing Feats of Engineering, which spans the ancient world through to today. But you might want to focus specifically on engineering feats of the ancient world, using the resources listed in the Further Explorations below. Additionally, partner with your school librarian to find developmentally appropriate articles from subscription databases that students can read independently. Have some students paint a map of the seven continents on an old white sheet. Hang it on a classroom wall or some other area in your school, and have all students work in small groups to populate the map with pictures and information of ancient statues, walls, and buildings from each continent (excluding Antarctica).  

So Much More? The second half of the title of this book – “and Will Be So Much More” is evocative. What will be so much more? The first half of the book portrays important moments in our geological past, and then positions readers to think about their future. What do students think the author’s intentions are by writing that the future “will be so much more?” Provide students with time to think and brainstorm – with words and pictures – what they wish for the future.   

Duet Text Set on Geologic Time: After reading Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More, provide students with time to make a list of questions about geologic time and the Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. Next, do a read aloud of Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon. Using anchor charts for different parts of the Earth’s geological history, provide students with the opportunity to compare information from each book, gleaned from text and illustrations, that show what happened during these different stages. Have students list their remaining questions about the Earth’s history. Invite a high school Earth Science teacher or a geology professor from a local university to Zoom in to your class and field questions from your students. 

Geologic Timeline: Past and Future. Using Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More as a starting point, as well as the resources in Further Explorations below, support students in creating a geologic timeline. You might use the above teaching invitation (“Duet Text Set on Geologic Time”) to introduce the topic. Use wall space in your classroom or the hallway outside of your classroom. Ask students to consider how to roughly “map out” the geologic time on your timeline, and have students volunteer to work on different sections, drawing pictures of what the earth looked like, what animals and plants existed, etc. Once the timeline of the past is created, provide students with the opportunity to imagine their future. What might your community look like in ten years? In one hundred? In one thousand? Have students explain their reasoning and rationale for the imagined future. Invite younger students from your school community to view the timeline and hear short mini-presentations from your students. 

Duet Text Set on Evolution. After reading Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More, provide students with time to make a list of questions about geologic time and the Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. Allow students to list their questions about what living beings – plants and animals – formed first. Why are some prehistoric animals still with us? Why did others die out? Once students have posed their questions and you have posed yours, have students explore Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by author-illustrator Steven Jenkins. What animals from our present will survive into the future? Invite someone from your local Audubon Society Chapter or a local university to Zoom into your class to discuss what current research tells us about birds and climate change. 

Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More as Mentor Text for Older Students. Have students use the book format from Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More as a mentor text. After reading the book aloud, ask students to consider why the pages go from big to small. Why are they smallest in the middle of the book? Why do they grow big again? Provide students with a timeline graphic organizer that they can use to map out their own book that starts in the past and moves into the future. You can brainstorm topics together, like their family history, your community, your school’s history, a special place they like to go to, or even their own lives to fill in the first part of the book. Next, have them brainstorm a range of questions in response to the second half of the book, to offer students an opportunity to think about time and the passage of time, and to imagine a future for themselves or a special place. Support students as they illustrate their books, using the increasingly smaller and then larger page format modeled in Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More. 

Palindrome? Is Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More a palindrome? Palindromes are numbers, words, or phrases that can be read left to right and right to left. Have students discuss the text structure of Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More and try to have them identify or name the structure, as it defies common expectations on some levels. To what extent is the book structured like a palindrome? 

Further Explorations 

Johanna Schaible’s Official Website

Digital Resources

“Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink,” The National Audubon Society 

Ancient World Architecture: 

“Five of the Oldest Buildings in the World,” Building Talk Website 

“9 Oldest Buildings in the World,” Oldest Website 

“10+ of the Oldest Buildings in the World,” Interesting Engineering Website

​​Çatalhöyük Research Site 

The Tower of Jericho, National Geographic 

“The Great Wall of China,” National Geographic 

The Great Wall of China, UNESCO Heritage Site 

Sacred City of Caral-Supe, UNESCO Heritage Site

Mesa Verde National Park, Pueblo UNESCO 

Somapura Mahavira, Paharupur, Bengal, UNESCO Heritage Site

Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur, UNESCO Heritage Site

Complete UNESCO World Heritage List

Archeological Models from the Ancient Americas, Metropolitan Museum of Art 


Dinosaur National Monument, U.S. Park Service

“A Brief History of Dinosaurs,” Live Science (great background knowledge for teachers)

“Top Five Dinosaur Moments” video from the BBC Earth 

“Dinosaurs,” American Museum of Natural History, New York City 

“Deep Time” Exhibit Video, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History


Bal, F. (2019). Big Bang: The origin of Earth, you, and everything else. Ill. by S. Van Doninck. Kids Can Press.   

Brown, C. L. (2006). The day the dinosaurs died. [I Can Read series}. Harper Collins. 

Bauer, M.D. (2018). The stuff of stars. Ill. by E. Holmes. Candlewick Press. 

Carballido, J.L. (2019). Titanosaur: Discovering the world’s largest dinosaur. Ill. by F. Gigena. Orchard Books. 

Chin, J. (2017). Grand Canyon. Roaring Brook Press. 

Curlee, L. (2002). Seven wonders of the ancient world. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Elliot, D. (2018). In the past. Ill. by M. Trueman. Candlewick Press. 

Fox, K. (2010). Older than the stars. Ill. by N. Davis. Charlesbridge. 

Gibbons, G. (2018). Dinosaurs. Holiday House.  

Gifford, C. (2020). A quick history of the universe: From the Big Bang to just now. Wide-Eyed Books. 

Guiberson, B. Z. (2016). Feathered dinosaurs. Ill. by W. Low. Henry Holt and Company. 

Hale, C. (2018). Water land: Land and water forms around the world. Roaring Brook Press.

Hynson, C. (2021). Colossus: The world’s most amazing feats of engineering. Ill. by G. Lombardo. Big Picture Press. 

Jenkins, S. (2011). Just a second: A different way to look at time. Houghton Mifflin.

—–(2002). Life on Earth: The story of evolution. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  

—–(2005). Prehistoric actual size. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  

Judge, L. (2013). How big were the dinosaurs? Roaring Brook Press. 

Kudlinksi, K. (2005). Boy, were we wrong about the dinosaurs! Ill. by S. D. Schindler. Dutton Children’s Books. 

Levine, S. (2018). Fossil by fossil: Comparing dinosaur bones. Ill. by T. S. Spookytooth. Millbrook Press. 

Murray, L. (201 ). Dinosaurium. [Welcome to the Museum]. Ill. by C. Wormell. Big Picture Studios. 

Perrin, C. (2014). At the same time, around the world. Chronicle Books. 

Seeger, L.V. (2018). Blue. Roaring Brook Press.

—–(2007). First the egg. Roaring Brook Press.

—–(2012). Green. Roaring Brook Press.

—–(2016). Lemons are not red. Roaring Brook Press.

—–(2021). Red. Neil Porter Books.

Skeers, L. (2020). Dinosaur lady: The daring discoveries of Mary Anning, first paleontologist. Ill. by M. Alvarez Miguens. Source Books. 

Wenzel, B. (2019). A stone sat still. Chronicle Books. 

Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.