After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again
Written and illustrated by Dan Santat
Published by Roaring Brook Press; 2017
ISBN # 978-1-62672-682-6
Grades PreK and up
“Life begins when you get back up” – so says the blurb on the back cover of Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat’s latest picturebook. But how does one “get back up” when the circumstances surrounding the downfall are not just physically traumatic, but emotionally as well? Take the case of one Humpty Dumpty, the titular ovate character from the well-known nursery rhyme. Santat does such in After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again, moving past a quick recap of “The Great Fall” and the physical recovery to focus on the emotional distress resulting from the event. Musing “There were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue,” Humpty relates his newfound fear of heights, mourns the loss of his ability to watch birds from a spot close to them, and attempts to regain some semblance of enjoyment in his life. How he overcomes that trauma is both literally and figuratively an uplifting tale, one told not just through Santat’s rhythmic text, but also with his evocative mixed-media illustrations. After the Fall is a book that will resonate on multiple levels, compelling readers to reflect not only on Humpty’s remarkable accomplishment but their own capacity for hope and healing.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Humpty Dumpty Science – Does an egg always break when it falls? According to the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty couldn’t be repaired; however, he successfully recovers in After the Fall. Use this story to launch a scientific investigation into the properties of eggs and the circumstances in which an egg will and won’t break after a fall. Help students pose some initial questions, such as the following: How far does an egg have to fall to break? Does it matter how thoroughly an egg is cooked? What happens if it falls on surfaces with different properties (e. g., density, size, texture, etc.)? Since Santat’s Humpty Dumpty wears clothes, what happens if an egg is “clothed” in different kinds of materials? Have students plan and conduct experiments and record their findings, engaging them in disciplinary literacy skills that ask them to think and act like a scientist.
History of Humpty Dumpty – As a popular nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty has a long history in oral folklore. With the help of your school or local librarian to ensure your students locate reputable sources, have students research the history of the nursery rhyme. When is the earliest recording of it? What inspired the rhyme? Who passed it on throughout history, and why? Has the meaning of it changed over the centuries? Some resources to begin the this inquiry, such as this, are listed below in Further Explorations. Have students share their research findings in multimodal ways, such as via drama, art, song, essay, and video.
Static and Dynamic Characters – In the original nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty is a rather simple or static character, having no attributes or action other than falling off a wall. Santat’s story reconstructs (pun intended) Humpty Dumpty into a dynamic character, one with complexity and agency. Engage students in an inquiry about static and dynamic characters in traditional tales. What makes a character dynamic and gives a character complexity and depth? Have students do the same with characters in other genres (e.g., biography, contemporary realistic fiction, fantasy, etc.). After exploring qualities and examples of dynamic characters, challenge students to reconstruct traditional tales to make the main characters more dynamic. You might have them write and illustrate a fractured version of the tale (i.e., a traditional tale that has been modified with an unexpected twist), write and perform a dramatic enactment of the tale, or create a poem or song about the character. Encourage them to employ the mode of representation in which they are strongest so that students can succeed in this activity and see a variety of ways their thinking can be represented.
After “The End” – Challenge students to continue the stories of their favorite nursery rhymes. What happens after the events that everyone knows? For example, are Jack and Jill okay after their fall? If not, how do they get back up (perhaps like Humpty Dumpty) and begin again? What does Little Miss Muffet do after she flees from the spider? Have students construct the narrative continuation in the mode of representation in which they are strongest so that students can succeed in this activity and see a variety of ways their thinking can be represented (e.g., song, poem, art, skit, etc.).
Concept of Metamorphosis – Humpty Dumpty’s change at the end of the story is a remarkable one. Introduce your students to the concept of metamorphosis. How is After the Fall an example of metamorphosis? What other popular story characters, either in traditional tales or contemporary and popular ones, undergo a metamorphosis (e.g., the ugly duckling, the little mermaid, even perhaps Cinderella)? Are those changes for better or worse? Why? Have students explore these questions in a number of ways. You might design a solar system text set of books with characters who undergo metamorphoses, or you might have students write beyond the ending of some stories to show how a character has a metamorphosis (e.g., how might the hare in The Tortoise and the Hare change as a result of losing the race to the tortoise?).
Growth Mindset and Dynamic Learning Framework – Through the events that transpire, After the Fall conveys some of the key tenets of growth mindset and dynamic framework development, such as perseverance, multiple perspectives, and flexible thinking. Use After the Fall to spark discussion about what these concepts mean and how they can apply to all aspects of their lives. Push them to think beyond how those concepts apply to themselves and can help foster a more socially just and kind world, moving toward a dynamic learning frame, which is a growth mindset incorporated with civil engagement and social thinking and responsibility. Create a text set of other picture books that foster these outlooks and ways of thinking, such as Lines, by Suzy Lee; Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle, by Chris Raschka; The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires; Emmanuel’s Dream, by Laurie Ann Thompson; Drum Dream Girl, by Margarita Engle; Trombone Shorty, by Troy Andrews; What Do You Do With a Problem?, by Kobi Yamada; and Ruby’s Wish, by Shirin Yim Bridges. For more information on growth mindsets and dynamic learning frames, see the websites listed below in Further Explorations. For an example of how children’s literature can foster these discussions in the classroom, see this article co-authored by Grace.
Reading Illustrations – After the Fall is illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat, and so the book’s illustrations are particularly worth analyzing more closely. Help students develop their skills at reading and analyzing visual images. Review artistic principles, such as color, line, light and shadow, and texture with students to support their visual literacy skills. Teach about symbolism and motif, too. Teach students how to closely read an image, using these skills to construct deeper meanings. For example, how does Santat use the principles of light and shadow to enhance the meaning of the text? What about the principle of perspective? Project a variety of images for students to observe and discuss, increasing the complexity of each image to scaffold students’ learning. You might also want to read aloud and share Molly Bang’s book Picture This (see below) to help introduce illustration principles to your class.
Dan Santat Author Study – Gather a collection of Dan Santat’s work and biographical information, including interviews and videos. As a class, read through the books he wrote, noting similarities and differences across the books’ formats and styles. Pay special attention to his use of language and the ways in which he creates rhythms and emphasis through word choice, syntax, punctuation, and white space. Ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the books. Based on students’ inquiries, observations, and analyses, compile a list of lessons about writing gained from this study and invite your students to try out some of the techniques you have discussed in their own work. See the websites and titles listed below as a starting point for gathering information.
Dan Santat Illustrator Study – Gather a collection of Dan Santat’s work and biographical information, including interviews and videos. Read through his books (both the ones he wrote and illustrated, as well as the ones he only illustrated) as a class, noting similarities and differences across the books’ formats and styles. What styles, media, and techniques does he employ? What themes or symbols do they see across his illustrations? Based on students’ inquiries, observations, and analyses, compile a list of lessons about illustrating gained from this study and invite your students to try out some of the techniques you have discussed in their own work. See the websites and titles listed below, including our Classroom Bookshelf entry on his Caldecott winning picturebook The Adventures of Beekle as a starting point for gathering information.
Dan Santat’s Website and Social Media Pages
Dan Santat’s Caldecott acceptance speech
The Horn Book profile of Dan Santat
KPCC Interview with Dan Santat
Picturebooking Podcast: Dan Santat
Origins of Humpty Dumpty
Dynamic Learning Frame and Growth Mindset Resources
- Peter Johnston – Classroom Talk: Learning, Thinking, and Classroom Communities
- Edutopia Lesson Plans
Andrews, T. (2015). Trombone Shorty. New York: Abrams.
Bang, M. (2000). Picture this: How pictures work. New York: Seastar Books.
Engle, M. (2015). Drum dream girl. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Raschka, C. (2013). Everyone can learn to ride a bicycle. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Santat, D. (2016). Are we there yet? New York: Little, Brown.
Santat, D. (2014). The adventures of Beekle: An unimaginary friend. New York: Little, Brown. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.
Spires, A. (2014). The most magnificent thing. Toronto, ONT: Kids Can Press.
Spires, A. (2017). The thing Lou couldn’t do. Toronto, ONT: Kids Can Press.
Thompson, L. A. (2015). Emmanuel’s dream: The true story of Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Yamada, K. (2014). What do you do with an idea? Compendium.
Yamada, K. (2016). What do you do with a problem? Compendium.
About Grace Enriquez
Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.
SLJ Blog Network