The day after Christmas, we flew to Charleston, South Carolina to celebrate the holiday and New Year with my in-laws. The night of our arrival, the girls and I explored collections of children’s books that my mother-in-law had arranged in our guest room. One of the books was What Lives In A Shell? by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld.

The age level of this beautifully illustrated nonfiction book was perfect for my four-year-old, interesting for my two-year-old, with vocabulary the entire family put to use during our stay in South Carolina.

Soon after reading it, we visited the beautiful beaches of Sullivan’s Island. We headed right to the tide lines to see what kind of shells we could find. Though we’ve seen crabs on these beaches in the summer months, all the shells we found during this winter visit were empty.


We knew from reading What Lives In A Shell? that this meant the animals inside either died or moved onto larger shells. We speculated about the shells with holes and explored their different sizes and textures. Many of them were used to decorate sand “snow” men that we made on the shore.

We collected several to bring home. (We hadn’t brought sand toys or pails with us so we got creative.)


Our second shell-inspired visit was to the South Carolina Aquarium in downtown Charleston. We walked through the doors and were actually greeted by a shell! Gerald, the tortoise, and the informative educator who accompanied him, told us all about tortoise shells.


The girls got to touch Gerald’s shell and learn first hand about its protective qualities. As a juvenile tortoise, a dog bit Gerald. His shell saved him, but still had an indentation from the incident.


The aquarium’s touch tank also taught us lots about shells. Its shallow waters were filled with animals inhabiting shells.


We particularly like the hermit crabs and learned that the tank’s empty shells were available for when hermit crabs were ready to move. It was also special to learn about and touch the beautiful native whelk and conch shells on display.


Our big takeaway from this book? Willow told me during our aquarium visit, “Mom, a shell is an animal’s home!” I’m so glad we discovered this inspiring little paperback.

Go Beyond Reading

  • Let your reading literally take you places. We headed to the local beach and the aquarium to learn more about shells. What spaces can you visit to learn more about the topics of your favorite book?
  • Engage as many senses as you can to learn more about a topic you’ve read about. Touching, smelling, and seeing actual shells brought our learning experience to another level. We may have even tried to hear them, too. (The ocean in them at least)!
  • Start a collection. Gathering multiples of items help you learn more about them since it allows comparison. We brought home our shells and will compare them to the shells that we collected in New England this summer.

If you’re looking for what to do with some of your collections, check out our Beach Ornament project. Your ornaments don’t just have to be filled with shells. In the post, you’ll also find some other nonfiction books about the beach.