Just a Dream Literature Guide

Grade Level: 
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Social Action
by Chris Van Allsburg - A literature guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of generosity, community, and caring for the environment.
The quote at the beginning of "Just a Dream" says, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” –Pogo. We are responsible for our future selves because we are responsible for the needs of our earth and its precious resources. This book initiates an important discussion of our impact on the earth. Children learn about litter, waste, recycling, conserving resources, and the importance of planning for future generations. Through dramatic illustrations and humor, we get a glimpse of what the future could be like if we didn’t change our habits. This book is not only a great discussion starter, but also a call to action. 

Before Reading

ASK: Have you ever seen polluted water, trash on the ground, or smoggy air? How did that make you feel? Do you think you have ever done something to add to problem? Have you ever done something to make it better?

SHOW: Look outside your window at the trees, sky, flowers, and any other natural resources in your view. Talk about your favorite things to see and do outside.

CONNECT: As you read, look for the bad choices Walter makes. Then while he is dreaming, think about how the world got to be the way he imagines.

During Reading

ASK: What do you think of the idea of getting a tree to plant for your birthday?

SHOW: It is ironic that the factory belching out smoke makes medicine for itchy eyes and burning throats. Why is that funny? Why do you think the fishermen are celebrating after catching just one small fish? What is wrong with a hotel on Mt. Everest?

CONNECT: Where in your real life have you seen some of the problems from Walter’s dream? Do you think YOU can DO anything to change these problems?

After Reading

ASK: Think of examples of selfishness and selflessness in the story. How did Walter's actions and attitudes about his environment change from the beginning of the story to the end?

CONNECT: It is easy to do things without thinking about how our actions affect others. The common good is a concept from our founding fathers meaning doing things that are for the good of all, not just a few people. What does common good mean with regards to the environment?


  1. Make a family plan to use less water and conserve energy. List ways that each person can use less water, gas, electricity, paper, plastic, and so on. Decide which ideas can be put to use right away and do them. Make a plan to work toward the more difficult ideas. Talk about how you can remind each other of your plan with positive or funny phrases.
  2. Give a family present of a new tree.
  3. Put on rubber gloves, get some garbage bags, and clean up a local common area such as a beach or park. Invite some friends and relatives to work with you. Ask the local government for ideas of safe cleanup areas. Be sure to learn about safe cleanup methods before you get started.
  4. Fold a blank sheet of paper horizontally. Open it up and label one half Selfishness and label the other half Selflessness. Describe or illustrate Walter demonstrating each of these traits. Then draw and label a picture showing one possible long-term result of this selfishness. In the second column draw a picture showing a possible result of the illustrated selflessness.
  5. Explore ways you can help the planet on this website. Choose one action item and do it.
  6. Try one of these Caring for the Environment through Simple Safe Service projects.