Exploring Language, Leadership, Love, and More: Teaching Ideas for The Beatryce Prophecy
The Beatryce Prophecy
Written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published by Candlewick Press, 2021
“It is written in the Chronicles of Sorrowing
that one day there will come a child
who will unseat a king.
The prophecy states that this child will be a girl.
Because of this,
The prophecy has long been ignored.”
This prophecy, introduced to readers on a page tucked between the title page and “Book the First” of The Beatryce Prophecy, by acclaimed Newbery winning author Kate DiCamillo, reveals in later pages that the girl will bring about “great change.” Great changes do take place to an unnamed kingdom thanks to the tenacity and strength of Beatryce of Abelard and the friends she discovers throughout the novel: Answelica the goat, Brother Edik the monk, Jack Dory the plucky orphan, and Caddoc, the former king-turned-hermit. The Beatryce Prophecy is fairy-tale-like and historical fiction-like – both but neither. It’s a quest story of bravery and courage, of staying true to your identity when the evil of the world could turn you into someone else. It’s a coming-of-age story, as characters assert and name themselves in order to clarify who they are and how they shall live in the world. It’s a story about beauty, about the love of family and friends, “the wonder of being known by others for who you were – beloved” (p. 184). Finally, it is a story about literacy and female leadership. The structure unfolds in two parallel stories – Beatryce’s and the King’s, with different fonts to distinguish between the two. Blackall’s illustrations punctuate the text, bringing the quasi-medieval setting to life, complete with historiated initials at the start of each chapter, mimicking illuminated manuscripts. DiCamillo’s gorgeous language is, as always, accessible. This hopeful story of language, leadership, and love has so much to offer readers as an independent read, a whole class read aloud, or a book club exploration. Our weary, virus-laden world needs the goodness and joy this book conjures. “What does, then, change the world?….Love, and also stories” (p. 247).
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
A Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Chronicling Your Class. In the novel, the imaginary Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing is an order of monks devoted to documenting “the happenings of the world.” Author Kate DiCamillo didn’t invent the chronicle, though. Chronicles are some of the most common texts that exist from the medieval period. One famous one is the Anglo Saxon Chronicle created in England. There is even a whole organization – The Medieval Chronicle Society – devoted to studying these texts. Invite your students to become chroniclers, documenting the events of your class over the course of the year. Support students to create a system for documenting, writing, and illustrating the events of your school year (Who is in charge of what? When do people take turns? Does everyone both write and illustrate or do people have different jobs?). Perhaps they make predictions, like Brother Edik does with his prophecies, as a way of setting goals for themselves and their collective and individual aspirations.
Chronicling Chronicles. A range of children’s book series use the word “chronicle” in their name. Why? After reading The Beatryce Prophecy, have students explore a series of their choice that includes the word chronicle, such as: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Kane Chronicles, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Spiderwick Chronicles. Invite students to example the genre of these chronicle series and hypothesize why the authors or publishers opted to use the word chronicle within the series title.
Prediction and Prophecies. The novel begins with a prophecy. What do your students think it means? Share the prophecy in a read aloud, and have students analyze it like a poem. Have them consider what “The Chronicles of Sorrowing” may be. Who do they think the child may be? Why would a king be unseated? Why was the prophecy ignored just because the child was a girl? Document their thinking, and as their predictions change over the course of the reading, add those thoughts to the anchor chart.
Where Do Phrases Come From? Throughout the novel, the author repeats the phrase from Granny Bibspeak that “trouble has a very long tail” (p. 67) Ask your students what they think the phrase means. How does trouble have a very long tail? Have students share phrases that people in their homes or neighborhoods often repeat, or phrases that different adults in school are known to say (the nurse, the gym teacher, etc.). Make a list of the phrases and people associated with them on an anchor chart, and give students the opportunity to inquire about the origins of these phrases, and possibly even conduct some research on those origins.
Visualizing: Exploring the Medieval World Text Set. Author DiCamillo never specifically says when and where her story is set. Indeed, on the last page of the novel she writes: “All of this happened long ago. Or perhaps it has yet to happen.” But the world-building that happens with the story seems to be grounded in medieval Western Europe. Allow students to explore the medieval world through a range of short texts to help them visualize the book. They can learn about monks like Brother Edik by watching this video, or about medieval noblewomen like Aslyn of Abelard, Beatryce’s mother, by watching this video. They can explore medieval art and architecture through this short video of The Cloisters Museum in New York City as well as the Cloister’s virtual tour. To learn more about the village that Jack Dory lives in, share the first-person verse vignettes in the Newbery Award-winning Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz.
Illuminated Manuscripts. Brother Edik works in the scriptorium at the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. What did he do? How did he write? What did the manuscripts look like? Provide students with the opportunity to learn more about medieval manuscripts. Share information about illuminated manuscripts from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, explore images of a range of manuscripts at The Morgan Library, and learn how the books were created with this video from The Getty Museum. Students might be fascinated by the Codex Sinaiticus or the Stockholm Codex Aureus. Work with your art teacher or a local teaching artist to provide students with the opportunity to make their own manuscript using ink they create from natural sources.
Prediction: Parallel Stories. As The Beatryce Prophecy unfolds, readers experience two parallel stories that they have to try and connect in their imagination as they read. These two different storylines foster engagement and curiosity, and allow readers to practice prediction as a reading strategy. Ultimately, the two stories come together as one. Invite your students to create their own original parallel stories. As a mini-lesson to get students started, focus on an event that happened in class between two or more students. Have students describe that event. Next, have each student share one thing that happened to them that day before they arrived at school. This could model how different characters and storylines can come together and converge. Support students as they brainstorm a narrative of any genre – fiction or nonfiction. Help them to develop two different story lines that run chronologically, with characters that will eventually meet and conclude the story.
Goat Emotions & Intelligence. At the start of The Beatryce Prophecy, Answelica the goat is set-up as Brother Edik’s nemesis. Indeed, she seems to be everyone’s nemesis until Beatryce arrives at the monastery. As the novel continues onward, Answelica grows to be beloved by all of the major characters, and is an instrumental part of the team that helps to rescue Beatryce – already on her way to rescuing herself through storytelling – at the book’s conclusion. But are goats really as smart as Answelica or is that DiCamillo’s invention? Share The Farm Sanctuary page on goats with your students, play them this NPR story on goat’s emotional intelligence, and explore the resources at Goats of Anarchy. You might invite someone who keeps goats to speak to your class via video conference. Finally, your students may be interested in the innovative ways that goats are currently being used to help prevent the spread of wildfires or to maintain parks without the use of chemical pesticides.
Relishing Beauty. “Whatever the reason, Brother Edik saw beauty everywhere. He painted that beauty into his letters; he listened for the words of truth” (p. 23). Throughout the novel, Brother Edik sees the beauty – in the natural world, in everyday objects. He does not always understand the good feeling he has inside of him when something strikes him as beautiful. Often, he feels called to write about it, or pour that emotion into his manuscripts, given that “The Chronicles of Sorrowing” are so full of sadness and war. While reading The Beatryce Prophecy, read aloud several picture books that share characters who find beauty everywhere: Most Days, Last Stop on Market Street, Maybe Something Beautiful, and Here and Now. Invite your students to notice the beauty that they see in everyday life, at school and beyond: an orange on the lunch table, a beautiful sunset, a bird on a wire out the window. Provide students with the opportunity to brainstorm ways they can document these moments, and how to share them with one another.
Relinquishing Power. Within the novel, we learn that Cannoc, the hermit who lives in the dangerous woods, was once the king. One day, he simply walked out of the castle and never returned. When asked by Jack why none of his counselors or subjects went looking for him, Canno replies: “No one comes looking for a king. For as soon as a king disappears, those who would replace him start to scheme and calculate about how to take the crown for themselves.” Invite students to consider the benefits and drawbacks of having power. How do people in power make decisions? Why do some people want to hold on to power at all costs while others are comfortable letting go of it? At the end of the book, Cannoc is back in the castle, but in the role of advisor to the new queen, Beatryce’s mother Aslyn of Abelard. Have students consider the kinds of skills people need to make difficult decisions, like Aslyn, and to provide advice, like Cannoc.
Duet Text Set: Medieval Worlds. Offer students the choice of reading either The Beatryce Prophecy or The Inquisitor’s Tale. While The Beatryce Prophecy is not officially set in the medieval period, it serves as a general window. In contrast, The Inquisitor’s Tale, a work of historical fantasy, is specifically set in France in 1242. Provide students with opportunities to consider the ways in which each books explores beauty, literacy, power, as well as the ways in which each books references other texts or text types from the medieval world of Western Europe. Students will be delighted by the significance of animal characters in each book, Answelica the goat in The Beatryce Prophecy and Gwenforte, the ghostly greyhound in The Inquisitor’s Tale.
Girls and Reading. Readers are warned from the start of The Beatryce Prophecy that the prophecy was ignored because it was about a girl. Right away, the reader is on alert to consider the role of the gender construct while reading this book. Readers learn that the king has decreed that girl’s are not permitted to learn how to read (p. 35)! Beatryce was taught in secret, at the insistence of her mother. From this, readers might make the mistake that all women in the past did not know how to read, and this is not true. Readers might also think that all women in the medieval world of Western Europe, the time and place from which the setting of the story is lightly drawn, were illiterate and forbidden to read. This is also not true. Wealthy women and women of the church did know how to read. However, very few people could read and write the way Beatryce can. They were considered separate skills at the time, reserved for a few men of the church. Regardless of these details, global history informs us that in many cultures of the past, and some cultures of the present, girls were not and in some cases still not educated. Why is that so? Why have so many girls been denied the opportunity to read? What changes in communities when girls and women are educated and literate? Support your students to analyze some of the statistics from the “Education and Gender Equality” website of UNESCO and the “Literacy Rates, Adult Females Graph,” from The World Bank. Finally, have students explore the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative website, particularly the voices of youth advocates for girls’ literacy as well as the U.N.’s International Day of the Girl Child. Support students in brainstorming ways that they can support literacy efforts for girls and women close to home and around the world.
Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts
*Note: Preview before showing. The scraping of animal skins in this six-minute video demonstration may make some animal advocates in your class uncomfortable.
Girls and Literacy
Campoy, F.I., Howell, T. (2016). Maybe something beautiful: How art transformed a neighborhood. Illustrated by R. Lopez. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
de la Pena, M. (2015). Last stop on Market Street. Ill. by C. Robinson. G.P. Putnam’s and Sons..
Denos, J. (2019). Here and now. Ill. by E.B. Goodale. Candlewick Press.
Gidwitz, A. (2016). The Inquisitor’s Tale. Ill. by H. Aly. Dutton Children’s Books.
Leannah, M. (2021). Most days. Ill. by M. E. Barrata. Tilbury House
Schlitz, L.A. (2007). Good Masters, sweet ladies: Voices from a medieval village. Ill. by R. Byrd. 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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