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Making Maple Syrup "At Grandpa's Sugar Bush"

Transport your class to a sugar bush where the sap is flowing. Although this book was written for young children, everyone can learn something new At Grandpa's Sugar Bush. Included: Classroom activities and Internet resources for learning more at all grade levels!

Do you know what a sugar bush is? It is a grove of maple trees where sap is collected. And that's where Margaret Carney and Janet Wilson take us in their new picture book about sugaring time -- At Grandpa's Sugar Bush (Kids Can Press).

At Grandpa's Sugar Bush Book CoverAt Grandpa's Sugar Bush is told by a young, unnamed boy who learns how maple syrup is made during a vacation visit to his grandfather's home. The boy and his grandfather work together in the sugar bush -- tapping the maples, boiling down the sap, and creating a traditional, very special treat.

Wilson's illustrations and Carney's prose emphasize the process of maple sugaring and define the natural surroundings of grandpa's sugar bush. Alert children will spy a porcupine in a tree on one page and the dog getting its own maple "treat" in the background of another page. Squirrels, evening grosbeaks, nuthatches, a pileated woodpecker, and other animals are present.

"In the fresh snow that fell overnight we see fox tracks and weasel tracks. Red squirrels scold us from the spruce trees on our way into the bush."

Since the sap runs when nights are cold and days are warm, the coming spring is evidenced in words and pictures. Children will get a sense for the changing seasons, the short time the sap runs, and the passing of lore from grandfather to grandson. You just know the boy will return to school to share his grandfather's wisdom with his friends.

"Grandpa says the first robin always sings on the day the sap starts to run.

"Snowfleas gather in our footprints. They're another sign of spring, Grandpa says."

The illustrations document the warm feelings between boy and man, their lunch in the snow, and their hand-in-hand trek back to the sugar bush late one night as "a big sugar moon" lights their path.


  • Cook and Taste: After reading At Grandpa's Sugar Bush, have a maple tasting party. This can be as simple as having maple syrup on waffles or pancakes, or might involve making maple cake or frosting.
  • Vocabulary Building: After several readings of At Grandpa's Sugar Bush, ask students to contribute maple-sugaring terms from the story. List the terms on a chart or chalkboard. Ask students to define each word or use each of the words in a sentence. (Terms can include: sugar bush, sap bucket, spile, sugar maple, wood shavings, sap, sap pan, boiling pan, sugar moon.)
  • Sequencing Activity: Ask students to identify the various steps Grandpa followed to make his syrup. Students can work in groups to create a sequence (in words or pictures) showing the steps. Sequences could be presented to the class. Students can compare Grandpa's procedure with the procedure for Homemade Maple Syrup. (Sequence from the book: drill hole, clean out hole, insert spile, hang and cover bucket, collect sap, build fire, boil sap, skim foam, strain syrup, clean pan, pour syrup into cans)

    At Grandpa's Sugar Bush, written by Margaret Carney and illustrated by Janet Wilson, is published by Kids Can Press (1998). Ask you local bookseller to order the book for you if it isn't available. For additional information, contact Kids Can Press, 85 River Rock Drive, Suite 202, Buffalo, NY 14207-2170. Call 1-800-805-1083 or send e-mail to [email protected] .

    Article by Anne Guignon
    Education World®
    Copyright © 1998 Education World

    Related Sites

    • Maple Trees Check this site for descriptions of three varieties of maple trees: sugar maples, red maples, and silver maples.
    • Merry Lea Maple Sugaring Program Read about an Indiana program that provides "a hands-on maple sugaring experience for school children." Also see photos of children involved in the program. One photo shows a student tasting the sap -- just as the boy in the story did! Click on each small photo to enlarge it.
    • All About Maple Syrup This three-part Web page describes maple sugaring time, boiling syrup, and the real bonus -- a glossary of maple sugaring terms!
    • Maple Sugaring Field Trip Go on a field trip to the Helmer Nature Center with the ESL students from parkland School in the Greece (N.Y.) Central School District.
    • Massachusetts Maple Producers Association The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association is "a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of maple sugaring in Massachusetts." Their Web site contains a wealth of information about maple products. Some pages of special interest to teachers include The Seasons of Maple, Classroom Materials (cross-curricular materials available for classroom teachers to order), complete directions for tapping maple trees and making Homemade Maple Syrup, and Recipes (for maple bread pudding, maple sponge cake, maple gingerbread, maple butter frosting, and more). Also included, maple history and a page of frequently asked questions.
    • Unit Plan: Maple Sugaring and Technology Here is a lesson plan for middle- and high-school students that combines sugaring and technology. Included in the plan is a Maple Syrup Timeline from prehistoric times to the present.
    • Maple Sugaring Field Trip Join the ESL students of Parkland School (Greece, New York) as the take a field trip to the Helmer Nature Center.