Literature Unit Study Ideas for It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach

I can't remember the first time I heard the story from this picture book of an old Yiddish tale, but it's now one of my very favorite stories and one I've read to the kids many times because of the humor and the very important lesson in the story. It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach is a retelling of a Yiddish folktale with some great illustrations and a story that the whole family will enjoy.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Literature Unit Ideas. You can find all of the literature unit studies is this series here. You can get this literature unit study as well as 44 others and lots of great literature unit study resources here in my free ebook The Ultimate Book of Unit Studies for Literature Lovers.

Literature unit study for It Could Always Be Worse
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About the book...

In the story, a poor man is distressed because of his crowded living conditions- himself, his mother, his wife, and six children in a small one room hut. In frustration, he goes to the Rabbi for advice. The Rabbi's strange advice is to take the chickens into the house as well. The poor man goes home and carries this out and is soon back to the Rabbi telling how much more crowded the house is now. The Rabbi then has him add the goat to the household. This continues adding more animals to the already crowded house. Finally, the Rabbi has him remove all of the animals. Ahhh. Strangely the house is now plenty large enough for the family.

The story is humorous, but there is definitely a lesson to be learned here. Even very young kids will appreciate the humor and the great illustrations while older kids will grasp the meaning of the story more.

History/social studies connections...

Science connections...

  • Learn more about the animals that the poor, unfortunate man took into his home and about other farm animals in this short video.
  • Have kids pick one of the animals from the story to learn more about. Have them draw the animal on blank paper and write five fun facts about the animal. If they are not yet writers, have them dictate their facts for you to write.
  • Why don't farm animals normally live in our houses? This is a good thinking question to talk through with kids. You might focus on what people need compared to what animals need or on how clean animals are compared to people.

Language arts connections...

  • This is a great story for kids to practice retelling while using puppets or acting it out. If you have enough children, let them be the family members and animals. Or make craft stick puppets. This site has some printable animal puppets for fingers or craft sticks. This site has some printable people puppets.
  • This is also a great story to use when talking about story sequence. Talk to kids about how important it is to keep events in the right order. Draw five boxes on blank paper and number them one to five. Have kids draw the main events of the story in the correct order in the boxes.
  • Talk to kids about what a folktale is. This site has a good definition you can use as well as some common elements that most folktales contain. Talk about which of these elements is found in It Could Always Be Worse.
  • Watch videos of popular folktales and fables for kids here.


Literature unit study for It Could Always Be Worse

Other resources...


The Drum: A Folktale From India by Rob Cleveland
The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale by Yumi Heo
Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato: An Irish Folktale by Tomie dePaola
A Story A Story: An African Tale by Gail E. Haley
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

Stories for Children by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Why Noah Chose the Dove by Isaac Bashevis Singer
The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen by Joan Nathan
Sammy Spider's First Book of Jewish Holidays by Sylvia A. Rouss

Farm Animals:
Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
Farm Animals by Nancy Dickermann
On the Farm by David Elliott
Farm by Elisha Cooper
Farming by Gail Gibbons

You can get this literature unit study as well as 44 others and lots of great literature unit study resources here in my free ebook The Ultimate Book of Unit Studies for Literature Lovers.

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