May 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Shadow Knows | Fact and Fiction About the Groundhog’s Claim to Fame

gibbonsHe goes by the name of Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, PA; Chuck in Marion, OH, Staten Island, NY, and Los Angeles; Pierre C. Shadeaux in New Iberia, LA, and Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Canada.

He’s sometimes called a whistle pig, at other times a woodchuck, but on February 2—the midpoint between the winter and spring solstice—he’s always referred to as a groundhog. And while there’s much written about this creature and his shadow, it’s not always clear how much of it is based on fact—which is why a look into the habits and behaviors of this rodent offers an opportunity for classroom research.

Investigations by elementary students can center on the critter, hibernation, weather predictors, and/or how and why the day is celebrated across the country. In tandem with their research, ask your students to take out their science notebooks and start recording daily temperatures and weather leading up to February 2, and make their own predictions about what will happen on that day. Encourage them to think about the signs of spring that they look for and to jot them down. Will it be a crocus, a robin, buds on the magnolia trees, or the little league parade down the center of Main Street? Remind them to note when these sightings or events occur.

To get the research started, look for the books listed below in your school and local library and share them with your students. Together see what multimedia resources you can find on the Internet (and in the databases you subscribe to) for an up-close look at the animal in action. Have your class share what they have discovered with the rest of the school through podcasts, posters, and “Fact or Fiction” presentations. Then sit back and enjoy some of the fictional stories about this popular creature.

herringtonFor the facts, start with Gail Gibbons’s Groundhog Day! (Holiday House, 2007; K-Gr 3), which provides an overview of why we came to mark February 2 as the day we look to the woodchuck to predict when spring will arrive. In addition to how the day is celebrated in Punxsutawney, PA, the author delves into the life cycle and habits of this mammal. Groundhog Day by Lisa M. Herrington (Scholastic, 2013, PreS-Gr 2) offers concise information in a reader-friendly format along with captioned, full-color glossy photos. A table of contents, “Fast Fact!” text boxes, and a glossary make locating information easy as it familiarizes students with the features found in nonfiction books. Online the publisher offers links to additional information, craft projects, and more. Joan Holub’s Groundhog Weather School (Putnam, 2009; K-Gr 3), illustrated by Kristin Sorra, combines a fictional story of a group of creatures in training for their important role in February, with information on the subject animal, including hibernation, burrow building, and seasonal signs. There’s lots here to share in a science unit on weather predictors (animal and other), including delightful, informative illustrations.

groundhog gets a sayAs told to Pamela Curtis Swallow and illustrated by Denise Brunkus, Groundhog Gets a Say (Putnam, 2005; K-Gr 2) in another title that combines fact with fictional story. February 3 can be a bit of a letdown for groundhogs, so states the protagonist of this story, who would like to see February become Groundhog Month. After all, among their many capabilities these creatures can move about “seven hundred pounds of dirt and rocks in one day, “climb trees and swim,” build multi-chambered burrows that take prevent water runs, have terrific teeth that continue to grow during their lifetime, and are adaptable in where they live and what they eat. By the book’s end Groundhog’s neighbors are finally convinced he is a pretty special fellow, and readers will be, too.

phyllisA young female woodchuck aching to be the next Phil, finds herself battling gender stereotypes in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Punxsutawney Phyllis (Holiday House, 2005; K-Gr 2), illustrated in oils by Jeffrey Ebbeler. In this picture book, the youngster’s aging Uncle Phil has no plans to retire, or to relinquish his post to a female relative, until a walk outside with his niece convinces him otherwise. Her sharp eyesight (his is beginning to fail), her keen sense of smell and of hearing (she picks up the scent of the spring zephyr and the sound of water running in the brook, he doesn’t) make her the best candidate to fill his shoes. A full page of endnotes offer information on the early European traditions associated with the North American holiday and provides a somewhat surprising statistic on the the accuracy of the predictions we attribute to the groundhog—sadly only 37-39 percent states the author. (There must be a math lesson in this!)

sub groundhogOnce kids know the facts they can sit back and enjoy a few purely fanciful stories about this beloved animal. Finding himself under the weather, the critter in Pat Miller’s Substitute Groundhog (Albert Whitman, 2006; PreS-2) must find someone to do his job come the second of February. He advertises for a replacement, but every willing candidate presents a problem. Mole takes no issue with going down into a dark hole, but doesn’t see well enough to know whether or not his body casts a shadow. Eagle’s keen eyesight is a plus, but with his wingspread, there is no way this fellow can squeeze into a burrow. Bear appreciates a cozy den below ground, so much so he immediately falls into a deep sleep that he can’t be roused from. Have kids guess which creature(s) that might be able to do the job (and state why) and keep reading to see what unlikely, fellow agrees to take it on.

indexThe townsfolk In Robb Pearlman’s Groundhog’s Day Off (Bloomsbury, 2015; K-Gr2), illustrated by Brett Helquist, are also in search of a suitable replacement for their woodchuck—but not because he is ill. This animal is miffed about the media’s lack of interest in him personally. Questions about his shadow and when Spring will arrive are guarantees, but when is the last time anyone ever asked him a question about himself? Insulted, Groundhog takes off to a warmer clime to wait out the winter, but things take a 180-degree turn when it’s discovered that no animal or person is able to do the job in quite the same manner as he does.

g dKris Remenar’s creature has a different problem in Groundhog’s Dilemma (Charlesbridge, 2015; K-Gr 2), illustrated by Matt Faulker. No matter what he reports on February 2nd, half of his friends are disappointed, while the other half are cheering—despite his protestations that “I just call it like I see it.” When spring finally arrives so do the treats and an invitation to play on the baseball team (despite Groundhog’s lack of ability) along with the not-so-subtle suggestions that perhaps a long—or shorter—winter might be in order the following year. The message that buying favors or friendship isn’t likely to work won’t be lost on kids, but Groundhog’s unwavering friendship, honesty, and desire to please, wins his neighbors over, while his offerings of hot chocolate and snacks make a long winter bearable. And the baseball? Well, every team can use a good ump—someone who calls it just like he or she sees it.

b groundSusan Blackaby’s Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise (Sterling, 2013; K – Gr 2), illustrated by Carmen Segovia, combines solid storytelling with acrylic paint and ink artwork in another tale about friendship. When Brownie goes off to hibernate, Fox is beside himself. He enlists Bunny to help him prepare a surprise for the groundhog, but keeps waking the hibernating creature to help him find this or that, much to Bunny–and Brownie’s dismay. But a decorated holiday tree and a first-ever winter feast soothe whatever annoyance remains, and soon Brownie is shuffling back to bed to rest up until February, knowing his good friends will be waiting for him when he emerges from his burrow.

Groundhog Day written and illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Scholastic, 2000; PreS-Gr 1) is a “Level 1” reader featuring from a few words to two lines of large-print text per spread. In this story, a crowd anticipating a prediction rudely awakens the sleepy protagonist. The fluid, expressive illustrations will aid emergent readers, while Lewin’s version of the how and the why of the shadow business will amuse her audience—and just might inspire them to write their own version of a Groundhog’s perspective on the day.





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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.



  1. SLJ needs to include Groundhog Willie’s Shadow (Peartree) 9780935343741 (Silver finalist/Presidents Choice Award-best Childrens Nonfiction for grades 2-5 w/ locator map , dictionary and in Histoirical Archives of Canada. Also Birenbaum’s book Groundhog Phi’s Message (peartree) 9780435343694 Gold President’s Choice award Best Nuvenile Book 2005. Grades 2-5 history, facts, sheet music, locator map and dictionary.