Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources: Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers by Joy McCullough and Romina Galotta

Harriet's Ruffled Feathers

Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers

When reading a nonfiction picture book, I often think about how students will connect with it. When reading Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers: The Woman Who Saved Millions of Birds by Joy McCullough and Romina Galotta, I saw multiple connections that could be made. The incorporation of primary sources could make those connections even more powerful.

The book tells the story of Harriet Lawrence. When she learned of the millions of birds that were killed for their feathers that were used in women’s hats, Harriet founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society and led efforts to inform people and make it unfashionable to use feathers as fashion.

Starting With Images

Miss BarneyHats with feathers might be unusual for young learners to see today. To ground them in what inspired some of Galotta’s illustrations, students could start with an image. I’ve included several in a collection of curated primary sources connected with the book.

Share with students the time period and that they will some fashions from that time. Begin with asking students what they see. As they describe features of the hat along with other aspects of the photograph, they will naturally start to react to the photo and maybe even ask questions. 

I like to document the observations, reactions, and questions separately, for example, in different columns or colors, but don’t restrict students’ responses. As students’ observations taper off, I may ask, “What are you thinking about as you look at this photo?” and then “What does this photo make you wonder about?” to elicit questions.

Bringing in the Book

After a short analysis of a photo, I would share McCullough and Galotta’s story. Students will have a bit of background just from their brief experience with the photo. They also may have some of their questions answered with the text or illustrations in the book. 

Pose these questions either at the beginning or the end of the story:

  • What did Harriet and her friends want to change?
  • Why did they want that change to happen?
  • What type of things did they do to try to make the change happen?

Encourage students to share examples from the book to support their answers.

Returning to Primary Sources


The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, December 21, 1896

Primary sources used after the picture book can give students an opportunity to explore and confirm their thinking from the last set of questions. Newspaper articles from the time period show some of the messaging of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. 

Move students into small groups. Sharing an article with the group, ask students how the news report compares with the picture book. Does the message of the Audubon Society in the news seem to match the message of Harriet and her colleagues in the picture book? Continue to ask for evidence. 

I encourage my students to highlight or underline passages as they read news reports that provide support of their thinking. Especially with my younger students, I ask for their thinking, which is not reading from the newspaper article. Then I ask for their underlined or highlighted passages that support that thinking.

Connecting With Harriet’s Story

I mentioned that I thought students would connect with Harriet’s story. I truly believe that many would connect with Harriet’s advocacy. So many see things they would like to change. This story shows how that can happen. Harriet saw something connected to her own life she wanted to change. She promised to change her own behavior. And then she went to influence others. Along the way, she became more informed and faced critics. Through all of that, she made change.

Leaerners can use this story, both through the picture book and accompanying primary sources, to see Harriet’s path and use it to illuminate their own path to make change.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

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