Giant Squid: Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book
By Candace Fleming, Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2016
Giant squid remains a mystery. The first photograph of a living giant squid was not taken until 2004; the first video of a live giant squid in its natural habitat was taken in 2012. Such a mysterious creature deserves a nonfiction picture book that captures its elusive nature; Giant Squid does the job. Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann’s latest picture book begins like movie thriller. Readers are taken on a journey, lured in by the pictorial cues and engaging verse. The tips of tentacles. White text against inky blue darkness. “Down,/down/in depths/of the sunless sea/deep,/deep/in the cold,/creatures,/strange/and fearsome/lurk.” The opening sequence, over three two-page spreads, poses questions for the reader to consider about a mysterious giant: “How do they hunt?/How do they eat?/How do they breed?” It also provides the answer: “It is a mystery.” The mysterious creature is not named until the fourth two-page spread, which also serves as the title page, mimicking the opening credits that often follow introductory action in a movie. With this page turn, the reader moves from the darkness of the depths of the ocean to just below the surface, looking up at the light, a giant squid in partial view. The verse, the visual narrative, and the shifting perspectives continue as the mysteries of the giant squid are considered. Fleming models disciplinary ways of thinking and posing questions, introducing younger readers to the scientific process. The open-ended nature of those questions, and the limited knowledge we have about giant squid, serves as an invitation for older readers to explore further. This book is a work of art; the giant squid is worthy of our wonder. Teachers of all ages can find innovative ways to use this book as a mentor text, catalyst for inquiry, and a portal into the unexamined mysteries of ocean life.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Grades K and Up
The Squid and the Whale. After reading Giant Squid (and make sure you read aloud the author’s note, too, even if you do it over a couple of days), make a list of facts your students learned about the giant squid, and new questions that they have. Also, have students list what the scientists don’t know about the squid. Next, consider the relationship between the giant squid and the sperm whale. Scientists and fishermen find upwards of 5,000-7,000 giant squid beaks undigested in sperm whale stomachs! Together, explore the texts and digital resources listed below to learn more about both animals. Create a squid and whale mural that you can hang outside your classroom wall to educate your school community about these mysterious creatures.
Cephalopod and Verse Study. Explore squid and octopuses, the two most well-known cephalopods. Start off by exploring photographs of cephalopods, something all but your visually impaired students can “read.” Students can explore photographs with magnifying glasses, or look at them on tablets or laptops. What do they notice? What do the creatures in the photographs have in common? How do they differ? Next, have the students sort their photographs into categories, to see what they can already name about the attributes of the two cephalopods. While this is happening, have your visually impaired students listen to information so that they can contribute to the information-sharing. Come together as a class to share students thinking and observations about what they observed. Next, create a graphic organizer on your whiteboard or on chart paper, that you can add to as a class using big sticky notes. Have students name subtopics they want to find out more about (ex: food, defense, babies, etc.). Just make sure that you have both a “squid” and an “octopus” column for every subtopic or question that students suggest for the graphic organizer. You can scribe notes for students, have them draw pictures of information, or have them write their own depending upon their age and abilities. Because some of the texts may be too difficult for primary grade students to read independently, do a whole class read aloud of Giant Squid, Giant Gentle Octopus, An Octopus is Amazing, and Giant Squid and Octopuses. After you read, students can decide what information belongs in the graphic organizer. Videos in some of the digital resources below may also make some information available to your students. Finally, write and illustrate a class book in verse, following Fleming’s lead in Giant Squid, that compares and contrasts these cephalopods. Or, divide the class in half and write and illustrate two books, one on each. Be sure to have your students create an author’s and illustrator’s note for each book.
Grades 3 and Up
“Cart Before the Horse:” On her blog, Candace Fleming wrote that Eric Rohmann created all of the paintings for Giant Squid before any text was written. Using his paintings as a structure to work within, Fleming completed her own research and wrote the text. Have your students follow a similar process. Place students in pairs and allow each pair to choose a living creature (animal, bird, fish, insect) to research. Students should agree on a note-taking process (or you can provide one) and conduct their research together, discussing what they believe to be important about their creature. Next, have one student secretly create the artwork in a medium of his/her choice. Once the artwork is complete, the student shares it with his/her partner. From there, the partner takes what s/he knows from their shared research, and creates the text. Illustrators often have to illustrate text that has been finalized by editors. This is a “flipped” process which places the author in the position of working with finalized illustrations. Throughout the process, use Giant Squid as a mentor text for research, structure, and voice. Publish your books in print or digital form, and read them aloud to younger students in your school.
Actual Size: Squid Drawing. Using information from this book as well as other print and digital sources listed below, have students draw an outline of a giant squid. First, have students work out the numbers. How big is the giant squid? Where would an outline fit? If you teach in an urban area, you may have to be creative about finding space. Place your students in small groups responsible for measuring the length and width of certain places, such as: the playground, school hallways, cafeteria, stairwell walls, and the parking lot. If the outline won’t fit in your school, where would it fit in your community? Working with your art teacher (if you are lucky enough to have one) and the custodial staff, determine what material might be the best with which to draw a not-so-permanent squid. Then, work with your class to outline the dimensions by placing them in certain places, connecting them with string or rope, and then finally, drawing the squid within the designated space. You can challenge your students to consider how many of certain objects (desks, cars, cafeteria tables, swing sets) could fit within the squid.
Squid Model. After reading Giant Squid, place students in small groups to build their own models of a giant squid. Students can use the diagram of the squid in the back of the book, along with the digital resources listed below, to create a squid model. Make sure they create the model to scale, where they can substitute one unit of measure (an inch, a centimeter) for the actual length of the squid. Provide students with a range of materials.
Voice in Expository Writing. There are several voices at work in the book. In the introductory verse, the author uses second person (“you”) until the very last line, when she switches to first person (“we”). Within the primary pages of the book, the use of verse continues in the third person. At the end, the author’s note once again adopts the first person (“we”). In contrast to the rest of the book, the author’s note is written in prose rather than verse, and is printed in a smaller font. While this shift creates a completely different mood, the writing continues to be strong and interesting, employing sentence variety, engaging adjectives (fearsome, unblinking, vicious, elusive), and questions for the reader to consider. Have your students compare and contrast voice and language use throughout the book. How does this differ from students understanding of “typical” expository writing? In particular, how is this different from what they are often asked to write as expository writing? As follow-up, have students research a scientific topic of their choice, and choose the way in which they want to write about their newfound knowledge. Have them decide which perspective (first, second, third person) and which type of writing (prose or poetry) to use. Be sure to have students read aloud their final pieces or share electronically in a public forum, so that they can experience the range of choice and voice.
Understanding Squid Duet: After reading Giant Squid as an introduction to the animal, read H.P. Newquist’s Here There be Dragons. Make sure to note the publication date (2010), before scientists had captured footage on tape. Drawing on the digital resources below, have your students write an additional chapter of Here There be Dragons for a new edition of the book. What should be included? Why? What do scientists know? What do they not know? Have students examine the end of Fleming’s author’s note, to consider how she presents the “unknowns.”
Explorers: Searching for Squid, Disciplinary Literacy. First, have your students read The New Yorker article “The Squid Hunter” from 2004. Next, have them listen to Edith Widder’s Ted talk about recording the giant squid for the first time. How has the science about squid changed over the past decade or more? What do we know now that we did not used to know? What remains to be found out? How has the actual process of doing the science changed? Why? What do your students notice about the way scientists talk about their process, and their questioning?
Makers: The Artistry and Science of Museum Exhibit Design. How is what we learn about the natural world around us shaped not by the natural world itself, but the earliest “virtual reality” created in museum- dioramas? Take your students to a local natural history museum or nature center. Consult with staff before your trip, to make sure there are dioramas. Have students consider the dioramas. What information do they have about the source of those exhibits and the taxidermied animals within? Students could select specific dioramas to analyze, taking notes on the relationships between the habitat and the wildlife. Upon returning to the classroom, read aloud Giant Squid or have them explore the book in small groups. Make sure they read the author’s note. Next, have students look at the Squid and Whale diorama from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. How are those museum exhibits created? Can we count on them to be as accurate as a documentary or video taken in the field? Have your students listen to a 2013 NPR story about background art, read about the artists that worked on the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, and then read this Newsweek article about “endangered dioramas.” If students want a sense of how these exhibits were created in the past, they can explore the photograph collection at the American Museum of Natural History, which documents this process, and view this special set of videos that focuses on bird artists in particular. How would your students go about creating a museum exhibit for an animal? How would they create an accurate background for the animal? Have students research an animal of their choice in small groups, and then design a museum diorama. This could be a physical diorama or one within the digital realm. Once you give the stamp of approval for the scientific and artistic accuracy of their plans, let them create small scale models, that they could “pitch” to a museum. How do they make the dioramas as interactive as possible, to engage viewers?
NASA for the Ocean? In the author’s note to Giant Squid, Candace Fleming tells readers that scientists think there could be millions of giant squid in the ocean. Yet, “we have more close-up photos of the surface of Mars -a planet millions of miles away-than we have of giant squid.” In her TED talk, scientist Edith Widder asserts that we have only explored about 5% of the ocean. In the end, she tells us that we need a version of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) for the ocean. Have your students research the funding of space research versus ocean research. Students can learn about NASA, an independent agency of the executive branch of government, and about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Students can read about how NASA gets funded, the 2016 NASA funding request by President Obama, and what Congress actually funded over the past several years. Students can also read about how NOAA gets funded, read the NOAA 2016 funding request and what Congress actually funded over the past several years. What do students notice about the differences between the two budgets? What kinds of research does each budget provide? What are the research priorities your students can identify and why? How are your students opinions shaped by your access or lack of access to the ocean? What about the other kinds of research that NOAA funds? Have your students each write a persuasive letter to the members of your congressional delegation advocating for certain levels of funding of each of these agencies. Or, invite one your representative to come to your school to hear from the students. Additional research may be necessary using other resources, including articles from the databases to which your school has access (check out your school library or local library’s website for details).
Candace Fleming’s Official Website
Eric Rohmann’s Official Website
Edith Widder’s Ted Talk on Finding the Giant Squid
Giant Squid Videos (compiled from Discovery, Animal Planet, etc.)
“The Squid Hunter,” The New Yorker Magazine, May 2004
2015 New Footage of Giant Squid, Japanese Harbor
Giant Squid, National Geographic
Giant Squid, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Scholastic’s Giant Squid Multimodal Exploration
Sperm Whale, National Geographic
Sperm Whale Species Guide, Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Sperm Whales, National Marine Mammal Laboratory
Octopus, National Geographic for Kids
“Are Octopuses Smart?”, Scientific American
Giant Pacific Octopus, Monterey Bay Aquarium
“Ten Curious Facts about Octopuses,” Smithsonian Magazine
Dussling, J. (1999). Giant squid: Mystery of the deep. New York: Penguin Young Readers.
Jenkins, S. (2004). Actual size. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Jenkins, S. (2009). Down, down, down: A journey to the bottom of the sea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Lauber, P. (1990). An octopus is amazing. [Let’s Read and Find Out]. New York: Harper Collins.
Marsh, L. (2010). Whales. [Great Migration]. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Newquist, H.P. (2010). Here there be monsters: The legendary kraken and the giant squid. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Owen, R. (2014). Giant squid and octopuses. [Real Life Sea Monsters]. New York: Powerkids Press.
Wallace, K. (2002/2004). Gentle, giant octopus. Ill. by M. Bostock. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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