Classroom & Curricula
Grand CanyonGrand Canyon

Written and Illustrated by Jason Chin

Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

ISBN 978-1-59643-950-4

 Grades K-8

 Book Review

 Are you ready for a mind boggling trip through time and terrain? In his latest hybrid nonfiction/ informational fiction picture book, master illustrator Jason Chin takes us through the eons while we traverse the Grand Canyon from bottom (Riparian) to top (Boreal Forest) along with a father-daughter hiking duo. With clearly written description and explanation, Chin serves as both tour guide and science teacher; he offers readers a sense of the scope and variation of the landscape of this unique National Park alongside an explanation of how the canyon was formed over millions of years and how scientists have studied its geology. Introducing an element of fantasy as a heuristic, Chin uses cut outs to predict shifts in time for the young girl character. The page turn reveals a remarkably different landscape, one from the past; in an illustrator’s note about these imagined landscapes, Chin explains how he consulted with experts “to make each scene as accurate as possible.” Throughout the book, Chin’s immersive illustrations offer readers a wealth of information about this natural treasure – incorporating double page spreads, borders decorated with species guides, and detailed diagrams. Even the extensive back matter is illustrated, offering additional information about the human history, ecology, and geology of the canyon, as well as a listing of resources. Offering a range of pathways for classroom exploration, this book is not to be missed. A stunning gatefold spread concludes the main text and offers readers a four page spread of the “grandest canyon on earth.” Don’t be surprised when your students gasp aloud at the awe-inspiring view.


Teaching Ideas: Invitation for Your Classroom

Grades One and Up

Virtual Field Trip: Touring the Grand Canyon through a Multimodal Multigenre Text Set. Following a read aloud of Grand Canyon, take your students there on a virtual field trip by using a multimodal multigenre text set. Begin by watching “More Than a View – Grand Canyon in Depth – Episode 01” accessible through the National Park’s website. Then allow students to explore the canyon using Google Maps. Follow these visual explorations with additional audio and print texts (see the listing below for some suggestions). Consider how students might document their learning on this virtual trip. Will they keep a travel journal? Make notes on a graphic organizer that you have prepared? Or create a more aesthetic response such as a poem, a painting, or a sculpture.

National Parks Text Set. Our National Park System recently celebrated its centennial on August 25, 2016. Working with your local or public librarian, gather together a set of texts about our national parks. Launch a study of the National Parks by reading aloud Barbara Rosenstock’s The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks. View a map of our National Park System. Which park is closest to you? If possible, arrange a field trip or a visit with a Park Ranger. Then ask students (individually or in small groups) to select a park to research using online sources and the texts you have gathered; students should create a presentation to share with their classmates. Consider various forms the presentation might take – a poem, a play, a poster, a virtual tour…

Exploring the Ecological Communities of the Grand Canyon. In the back matter of Grand Canyon, Jason Chin describes the five ecological communities through which this father daughter pair hike. In the main text, these areas (at different elevations) are illustrated with double page spreads; Chin uses borders to depict the wildlife that inhabits each area. Divide your class up into five groups, assigning each group an area (Boreal forest, Ponderosa Pine forest, Pinyon-Juniper Woodland, Desert Scrub, Riparian). Ask groups to do further research on the animals, plants, and characteristics of this area. Additionally, invite them to consider where else on the planet this type of ecological community is found. Using text, illustration, and nonfiction text features, each group should prepare a presentations of their findings to share with their classmates. Consider having the whole class work together to create a visual representation of these communities in a large mural for the wall or playground.

Duet Model Reading: Grand Canyon and Locomotive. Pair a reading of Grand Canyon with Brian Floca’s Caldecott winning nonfiction picture book Locomotive. Both authors create a highly visual presentation of history and science while taking readers on an adventure. Compare the text, narration, illustration, use of nonfiction text features, and back matter. What similarities can students find and what differences? What can students learn about lively and engaging nonfiction writing by studying these two books?

Grand Canyon as Mentor Text. Grand Canyon provides a wonderful model for students’ own writing. Adopting a travel-guide style narration (for example, “Above the basement layer, you’ll reach the Grand Canyon Supergroup. Here you may find ripple marks preserved in stone.”), Chin leads readers through the Canyon, climbing from bottom to top. Along the way, he informs readers about the ecology and geology of the canyon using explanatory details and nonfiction text features (such as cross sections, diagrams, maps, and illustrated sequences). Invite your students to use Grand Canyon as a mentor text to create an illustrated book that explores an area of ecological or geological significance in your community. Follow the research process described by Chin in the back matter and go beyond the use of text resources to consult with local experts. Collaborate with an art specialist to offer student the opportunity to illustrate the featured location. Share the finished book(s) with your school community and local library.

History in Stone. Throughout the text, readers learn how fossils provide evidence of what the area looked like at certain points in time. In the back matter, Jason Chin offers additional information about how fossils are formed. You will likely find that your students have more questions; offer additional resources to explore fossils and the different scientists who study fossils and rock formations. Consider inviting a local geologist or architect to speak to students about the geology of your area. Learn more about fossils through books such as: The Skull in the Rock and Their Skeletons Speak, Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning, and Barnum’s Bones.

Ecosystems Text Set. The Grand Canyon offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience many different ecological communities in a single geographical location. As Jason Chin puts it: “Hiking into the canyon has been compared to walking from the forests of Canada to the deserts of Mexico in a matter of hours.”  Include Grand Canyon in a text set exploration of ecosystems. You may want to begin by investigating the meanings (and relationships) of the terms habitat, ecosystem and ecological communities. Consider dividing students into small groups and assigning (or offering choice of) different ecosystems for them to study. Students can use various text resources to understand the characteristics, inhabitants, and interdependent relationships of the ecosystems and can prepare a presentation of the learning to share with classmates. Our Classroom Bookshelf entries on Welcome to the Neighborwood, Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story, Planting the Wild Garden, and No Monkeys No Chocolate can support this study.

Jason Chin Author Study. Jason Chin’s picture books are fascinating! Conduct an author study by reading Chin’s books, exploring his website, and viewing online interviews. Consider how Jason Chin pushes the boundaries of nonfiction writing by including elements of fantasy in his books. Engage your students in a discussion of genre classification and hybridity – discuss how Chin uses author / illustrator notes to describe his artistic process and his research. Notice his clever use of book design (Grand Canyon includes both cutouts and gatefold spreads). Students will likely notice that Chin’s books focus on exploration of the natural world and an understanding of time and human impact on the world. Make connections between the biographical and artistic process information you glean from Chin’s websites and online resources and the beautiful books that he has created. Together, consider what you can learn about writing, illustration, and advocacy from Chin’s body of work. We have featured two of Chin’s books previously on the Classroom Bookshelf: Water is Water (by Miranda Paul) and Coral Reefs.

Grades Three and Up

Understanding Deep Time. The span of time (1,800 million years) described by Jason Chin, is difficult to comprehend. Read Grand Canyon in a duet model (see our Teaching with Text sets entry) with Jason Chin’s Island to compare how Chin offers readers a sense of this time, using words and illustration. Next, explore additional books that address earth’s changes over vast periods of time, such as Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm’s Buried Sunlight and Steve Jenkins’s Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution. How do these authors/ illustrators support their readers to conceptualize deep time? Compare these presentations of deep time with the span of time for human history (see our Classroom Bookshelf entry on The Skull in the Rock and Their Skeletons Speak for additional resources). Read the Smithsonian Magazine Article “What Does Deep Time Mean to You?” and view examples of artwork created to portray deep time that were curated by the National Academy of Sciences. Invite your students to consider how they would represent deep time visually, dramatically, or with words.

Inspiring Inquiry. In the rich back matter, Jason Chin includes a section titled “Grand Mystery.” Here, he notes that, “Different geologists have different ideas about the specific details and timeline of the canyon’s formation.” Through this section, Chin captures the essence of inquiry and the ever-evolving nature of scientific knowledge. Children’s literature scholar Myra Zarnowski refers to nonfiction texts that model disciplinary literacy in science as “literature of inquiry.” Foster this spirit of inquiry in your students by asking them to list several questions they have after reading this book. Offer them the opportunity to research these questions through interviews, first hand investigation or text resources. Learn more about research in our National Parks in Mary Kay Carson’s Park Scientists: Gilla Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in American’s Own Backyard.

Critical Literacy.

Our Changing World. Scientists believe that the Grand Canyon is being affected by Climate Change; in fact they are planning for its impact (see for example: Climate Change Plan Unveiled for Grand Canyon North Rim). Support students to think about the changes that Jason Chin describes over time for the geographical area that is now the Grand Canyon. How are these changes different than the changes described by scientists who research climate change? How are they similar? At the present moment our political discourse represents a diversity of perspectives on climate change. Scientists are preparing to “Walk out of the lab and into the street” on April 22, 2017, which is Earth Day for the March for Science, while the newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency publicly questions scientific research (for example, see this NPR story). Discuss this contradiction with your students and invite them to share the questions that they have about climate change. Seek resources (including local experts) to help them investigate their questions. Paul Fleischman’s Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines is an excellent text to support your inquiry. For a younger audience, use Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm’s Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth. Encourage your students to share their questions/ concerns with local legislators by writing letters and/or conducting Skype or in person visits.


Further Explorations

Online Resources

Jason Chin: Author’s Website

Politics & Prose Conversations: Jason Chin

Gravity: Picturebooking Podcast with Jason Chin

National Park Service

Virtual Tour: Grand Canyon

National Park Service Centennial

National Geographic: Climate Change Plan Unveiled for Grand Canyon North Rim

PBS: Evolution / Deep Time

Smithsonian Magazine: What Does Deep Time Mean to You?

National Academy of Sciences: Imagining Deep Time


Anholt, L. (1999). Stone girl, bone girl: The story of Mary Anning. Ill by S. Moxley. New York: Orchard.

Bang, M. & Chisholm, P. (2014). Buried sunlight: How fossil fuels have changed the earth. Ill. by P. Chisholm, New York: Scholastic.

Carson, M.K. (2014). Park scientists: Gila monsters, geysers, and grizzly bears in America’s own backyard. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Chin, J. (2012). Island. Roaring Brook Press.

Chin, J. (2011). Coral reefs. Roaring Brook Press.

Fleischman, P. (2014). Eyes wide open: Going behind the environmental headlines. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Galbraith, K.O. (2011). Planting the wild garden. Ill. by W.A. Halperin. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.

Floca, B. (2013). Locomotive. New York: Atheneum.

Pringle, L.P. (2011). Billions of years, amazing changes: The story of evolution. Ill. by S. Jenkins. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Mills Press.

Rosenstock, B. (2012). The camping trip that changed America : Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks. Ill. by M. Gerstein. New York: Dial Books.

 Sheehy, S. (2015). Welcome to the neighborwood. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Stewart, M. (2013). No monkeys no chocolate. Ill. by N. Wong. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.

Yezerski, T.F. (2011). Meadowlands: A wetlands survival story. New York: Farrar Straus, Giroux.



Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing