KDT! Ithaca Books Connect Home, School and Discovery Trail

October 27, 2014

When Ithaca City School District (ICSD) Kindergarteners visit the Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) as part of Kids Discover the Trail! Ithaca, they are sure to run into a familiar friend: the Library Lion.

Students often find the oversized stuffed animal lying on a couch behind stacks of books reading or napping. They point and giggle with excitement when they spot the lovable character from the book “Library Lion” that all ICSD Kindergarteners receive as part of KDT! Ithaca.

They all recognize the lion from the book,” said Rocio Zepp, a parent who remembers attending the trip with her daughter in 2012. “I think it is great the connections they make.”  

KDT! Ithaca is a collaboration between the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI), ICSD, and the Discovery Trail (DT). This year marks the 10thanniversary of the program, which gives every district student the opportunity to visit a DT site each year during elementary school. KDT! Ithaca partners all 3000 Ithaca students in more than 150 classrooms with another classroom at the same grade level for the trips and pre- and post-trip activities.

KDT! Books is an integral component of KDT! Ithaca. After the program’s second year, “teachers wanted something else to extend the excitement and joy of the KDT! trip and make it long lasting,” said first grade teacher Randi Beckmann. IPEI supported this vision, and teachers began working with the DT educators and the KDT! Ithaca Steering Committee to identify appropriate titles.

KDT! Books were first added to the program as an important way to re-enforce the content from the trip and add a literacy component,” said Terry Byrnes, IPEI board member and chair of the KDT! Steering Committee. “They also create a connection between the family and the student’s KDT! experience.”

All ICSD students since have received a book each year in Pre-K-5th (and a second book in 5th since there are two DT programs for this grade level as part of transition to middle school). The titles are grade-level appropriate and connected to the curriculum and DT site. For example, first-graders receive “Digging Up Dinosaurs” to complement what they learn through the Museum of the Earth, and fourth-graders visiting the Eight Square Schoolhouse receive “The Secret School.” 

The books are integrated into the curriculum both at school and during the site field trip. Lesson plans for each book are shared among teachers.

Teachers often use the books as whole-class “read alouds” or in small reading groups, Beckmann said. DT educators also incorporate the books into the field trip. “Our focus is on educating the kids on what a library is, what they can do at the library, and how a library can not only help them in school but is also a fun, welcoming place to visit,” said TCPL Librarian Sarah O’Shea. “With ‘Library Lion,’ we designed a library tour/scavenger hunt based on the story about a lion’s visit to the library. The children fill a large bingo card with lion footprints that we find throughout the department, and in the end the children discover an adorable large stuffed animal Library Lion. The kids love that!” 

KDT! Ithaca Books also provide an additional link to students’ homes. An activity flier—created in cooperation with the Family Reading Partnership—accompanies each book, giving families suggestions of how to use the book at home. When students take home “Library Lion”, for example, they also receive a list of tips for encouraging love of reading at home and craft activities relating to the book’s content.

“Giving a book is a wonderful way to remind the child of their visit, and it is wonderful to be able to give a book to a child to have as their very own to keep,” said O’Shea.  “Any way we can increase a child’s at-home library the better. Children should be surrounded by books!  It’s also a very concrete sign to the families of what their child did.”

“To give a child a book that has been connected to an actual experience in the community is magic, and it anchors their learning experience,” Beckmann said.   

Donors provide the funding for all students to receive the book to take home after classroom and DT use, and copies are provided for the classrooms and the school libraries. A bookplate in each recognizes the collaborators and the donors. 

“Family Reading Partnership is thrilled that books can be used as part of KDT!, giving each book more value by being used in conjunction with hands-on experiences on Discovery Trail,” said Katrina Morse, assistant director of the Family Reading Partnership.


Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell


ART, Patrick McDonnell

Matthew’s Dream, Leo Lionni



Tompkins County Public Library


Library Lion, Michelle Knudson


First Grade

Museum of the Earth at PRI


Digging Up Dinosaurs, Aliki


Second Grade



Our Earth, Clean Energy, Peggy Hock


Third Grade

Cornell Plantations


Wildflowers: A Peterson’s First Guide


Fourth Grade

The History Center in Tompkins County


The Secret School, Avi


Fifth Grade

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Peterson First Guide to Birds of North America, Roger Tory Peterson


Cayuga Nature Center


The Climb, Book 2, Gordon Korman



Author: Heather Zimar, ICSD parent and IPEI volunteer who is a higher education writer and editor.
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