The Sneetches

Dr. Seuss is the master of the modern parable, making us all enjoy ourselves so much that we don’t realize how much we really learn from reading his books. Well before the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest, this author was doing his best to teach children about the dangers of segregation, racial bigotry, and treating others unkindly because they are different.

Activity: How Does it Feel?

This activity is best suited for elementary age students. Have students recreate scenes from pages 4, 5, 6, or 7 from The Sneetches. This could be done through acting, drawing, or posing toys to recreate the images. On page 4, a star-belly parent and child walk with their noses in the air past a plain-belly parent and child. On page 5, star-belly children enjoy playing ball together while excluding plain-belly children. On pages 6 and 7, a group of star-bellies enjoy a beach barbecue while plain-bellies are shut out from the warm fire, tasty food, and lively conversation.

After the children re-create one or more of these scenes in their own way, facilitate a discussion about how the plain-belly sneetches feel. Ask the children how they would feel if they were excluded  in these ways. Encourage them to come up with ideas for how they can avoid mistreating others and encourage their peers to do the same.

Activity: Passing

This activity is best suited for middle school or high school students. In The Sneetches, the plain-bellies have stars applied to their bellies so that they can pass as star-bellied sneetches, who have a higher social status and are allowed full participation in society. This is a reference to the phenomenon of passing, in which a person who belongs to an oppressed group is able to look and behave as if they were a member of a privileged group. Passing can be done to save lives; during the Holocaust, some Jews were able to escape being sent to death camps by passing as non-Jews. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, mixed-race African-Americans whose features were European enough, passing could be used to escape slavery or gain access to education, jobs, housing, and societal connections that would not be open to them if their ancestry were known.

Instruct students to select an example of someone from US history who was mixed race and was able to pass as white. Students can give a written or oral report giving a biographical overview of their chosen subject’s life, with the main focus being how and why the person passed for white. There are many examples to choose from, such as Eston Hemings, Jane Morrison, Walter Francis White, James Weldon Johnson, or George Herriman.

The point of this assignment is for students to understand the reasons someone chose to pass, not to judge the individual’s choices or to project themselves into their subject’s situation. Students should specifically avoid judging whether or not a person from history should have attempted to pass, because their frame of reference and personal options are quite different from that of the people studied. A good report will note the advantages and disadvantages afforded by the choice to pass, as well as the ways in which the person was successful at passing.

Activity: Star On, Star Off

Materials needed:
Duct Tape
Four chairs
Soft balls for bouncing or catching

Cut up slightly more star shapes than there are students in the class. Put a rolled up bit of duct tape on the back of each star so that it can be applied and removed to clothing repeatedly.

Go somewhere where children have enough space to run around safely. In the middle of the room set up two chairs side by side with about three feet of space between them. This is the “Star On” door. In line with these chairs, set up two more in the same manner for the “Star Off” door. Leave enough space between the “doors” for two children to stand. Assign one child to be “Star On” another to be “Star Off”. Star On and Star Off should stand in the space between the doorways.

Divide the rest of the class into two groups of equal size. Do this in an arbitrary way so that the students will not be able to infer the members of each group later. Do not tell the students that they should remember who is in each group.

Stick stars to the sleeves of the children in one group. On your cue, allow the children to run around the room, but tell them they should go through the Star On and Star Off doors several times each. Students with a star may bounce a ball or play catch with a classmate who currently has a star, but if they are tagged by a student without a star they must go through the Star-Off door. Students may not collect more than one star at a time – they must go through the Star Off door after getting a star. As they go through each doorway, Star On and Star Off will apply or remove the stars. The teacher can help with transferring stars from Star Off to Star On if needed.

Allow the children to play for several minutes. Then cue the children to freeze. Have everyone sit down in a group. Ask if any of the children can remember the members of the original group. Unless one student has a particularly good memory, most should not be able to recall how the group was divided. Discuss how this relates to the plot of The Sneetches, and how there really isn’t any important difference between the children that would prevent them all playing together.

Music in this episode

“Round and Round the World is Turning” – traditional English folk song

Little Red Riding Hood

Cautionary tales about the dangers of encountering a predator — especially ones targeted at girls and women — have been around for centuries. In this episode we take a look at various versions of Little Red Riding Hood from the middle ages to the present day to see what these stories have to say about  how to protect vulnerable young people from the predators out there in the world.

Warning: while this episode contains no explicit language, it does discuss sexual predators and retells a medieval story with some gruesome parts. Parents may wish to review it before sharing with teenagers or listen to it when little ones are not nearby.


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is a survival story, but it’s also a tale about a boy beginning to learn about adult ideas.

Activity: How would you survive?

Have each student write a story about being in a survival situation all alone. They must include:

    • How they arrived at a remote location
    • Describe the location, including plants, animals, and climate
    • What resources or tools came with them to the location
    • What resources or tools can be found or made at the location
    • How they would obtain food, shelter, and protection from nature
    • What dangers they might encounter
    • How they would attempt to be rescued
    • How long they think they could survive in such a setting

The narrative can be a short response or a longer work of art or creative writing. Students should share their work and discuss whether their story is plausible or fanciful.

Activity: What vitamins do you need to survive?

This activity is designed to help students understand why the human body needs vitamins. Students will fill out a chart that lists vitamins, their function, and the food sources which provide these vitamins. Parents and teachers can decide how much detail to go into based on student understanding and ability. It may be better for younger students to only research a few vitamins, whereas older students can learn about the entire list. Students should do as much research on their own as possible.

Begin the activity by defining of a vitamin:

A vitamin is a nutrient that a living thing needs in order to function properly. Vitamins can almost never be made by the organism itself, so they must be obtained through its diet.

Next, provide students with a copy of this chart and instruct them to fill it out after performing research about which parts of the human body are affected by vitamins and which foods are rich in these vitamins. Answers will vary, as vitamins have many different functions in the body and they are found in many different food sources. After this activity students should be able to explain various sources of vitamins, how those vitamins support proper functioning of the body, and why it is important to eat a varied diet to obtain proper nutrition.

Advanced students can also write a research essay answering the following prompt:

In Hatchet, Brian spends fifty-four days eating only choke cherries, raspberries, hazelnuts, fish, grouse, and rabbit. What vitamins would he have been able to obtain from this diet? Which would have been missing? What would be the long-term effects of a diet with these vitamin deficiencies?

Little Women – Part 2

This episode went a little long, but that’s just because there is quite a lot to say about this book. Little Women has flaws, but that just makes it more human. However, somehow we all got the idea that Jo is the March sister to admire and Amy is the one we should despise. If you can set aside the way these characters have been played in film adaptations and just look at what’s on the page, you’ll find that Amy’s the real hero here.

Activity: Debate – Jo vs. Amy

Read the passage in Chapter 26 where Jo and Amy disagree about whether Amy’s friendships are genuine:

“Why in the world should you spend your money, worry your family, and turn the house upside down for a parcel of girls who don’t care a sixpence for you? I thought you had too much pride and sense to truckle to any mortal woman just because she wears French boots and rides in a coupe,” said Jo, who, being called from the tragic climax of her novel, was not in the best mood for social enterprises.

“I don’t truckle, and I hate being patronized as much as you do!” returned Amy indignantly, for the two still jangled when such questions arose. “The girls do care for me, and I for them, and there’s a great deal of kindness and sense and talent among them, in spite of what you call fashionable nonsense. You don’t care to make people like you, to go into good society, and cultivate your manners and tastes. I do, and I mean to make the most of every chance that comes. You can go through the world with your elbows out and your nose in the air, and call it independence, if you like. That’s not my way.”

When Amy had whetted her tongue and freed her mind she usually got the best of it, for she seldom failed to have common sense on her side, while Jo carried her love of liberty and hate of conventionalities to such an unlimited extent that she naturally found herself worsted in an argument. Amy’s definition of Jo’s idea of independence was such a good hit that both burst out laughing, and the discussion took a more amiable turn. Much against her will, Jo at length consented to sacrifice a day to Mrs. Grundy, and help her sister through what she regarded as ‘a nonsensical business’.

Pair students off or divide them into small groups. Assign each student or group a position to take: Jo’s or Amy’s. Encourage them to consider the following questions in preparing their positions:

    • How can you know when relationships are genuine when popularity is at stake?
    • Is there any difference between Jo’s snobbery against friendships and that of teens who only care about popularity?
    • How can we find the balance between worrying only about popularity and rejecting friendships altogether?

Students can then present their positions and follow up with debate. This activity could also be done as an essay comparing Jo’s and Amy’s position and ending with students deciding which perspective they endorse.

Music in this Episode

“Come Ye Desconsolate” with lyrics by Thomas Moore and music by Thomas Hastings
“He That is Down Needs Fear no Fall” with lyrics by John Bunyan
Selections from Wilhelm Meister with lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and music by Franz Schubert
“Allegro” – Fanny Mendelssohn
Theme music: “The Hazel Dell” by Derek B. Scott

Little Women – Part 1

In this episode, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott gets knocked off its pedestal. It’s okay if that makes you angry. I can handle the hate mail.


Make Amy’s Pickled Limes

Materials needed:
Fresh limes
half pint mason jars with bands and lids (slices from about one and a half limes will fit in each jar)

Note: If you are making limes for use in a standard classroom, you may wish to use a larger jar to avoid having to clean multiple jars or waste bands and lids. A quart sized jar would hold enough lime wedges for one classroom. Smaller jars are recommended if only a few limes are needed at a time as they have the best taste and texture when eaten very soon after the jar is opened. Also, be sure to prepare the limes three to six weeks before they are needed for a lesson.

Get a saucepan and mix water and salt. You will need a scant teaspoon of salt per cup of water. Warm the water just enough to allow the salt to fully dissolve. Stir to mix it evenly. Let the water cool to room temperature.

Thoroughly clean the mason jars and lids with hot soap and water. Rinse and drain the jars and lids.

Wash the limes. Slice each one into eight wedges of equal size. Gently pack the lime wedges into the jars to fill them, but leave a quarter inch of space at the top. Pour in enough salt water to cover the limes. Put on the lids and screw on the lid bands tightly. Label the jars with today’s date and put them in the refrigerator. Each lime wedge has about 2.5 calories and no added sugar, but they pack just as much flavor as any sugary sour candy.

Allow the limes to pickle for at least three weeks. Treat them like any other kind of refrigerator pickles — they will not keep more than three months as they haven’t been processed. Once the jars are opened it is best to eat the limes right away. Drain and discard the salt brine, then serve the lime slices while reading or discussing Chapter 7, “Amy’s Valley of Humiliation.” Be sure to discard the rinds appropriately to avoid infuriating the teacher.

Music in this episode

The following songs are mentioned in Little Women and were used as background music:

“Come Ye Desconsolate” with lyrics by Thomas Moore and music by Thomas Hastings
“He That is Down Needs Fear no Fall” with lyrics by John Bunyan
Selections from Wilhelm Meister with lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and music by Franz Schubert

Theme music: “The Hazel Dell” by Derek B. Scott

Cinderella Part 2 – Perrault and the Brothers Grimm

Giambattista Basile’s “Cenerentola” created the template for all European versions of Cinderella that would follow. Its two most famous descendants are “Cendrillon” by Charles Perrault and “Aschenputtel” by The Brothers Grimm.

Activity: Should Cinderella’s Parents Be Punished?

Listen to the following Cinderella stories:

Then ask the following questions:

    • Which parent is more to blame for Cinderella’s poor treatment – her stepmother for wishing to be cruel to her, or her father for allowing it?
    • Out of the fathers in Ceneretola, Cendrillon, or Aschenputtel, which one behaves the worst?
    • If  you were the king or queen in these stories and you found out how Cinderella had been treated, would you punish the father, the stepmother, both, or neither? What would you do with the stepsisters?

The questions could be answered in an informal discussion, a formal debate between individual students or teams of students, a short writing response, or a full essay. Students should support their answers with good reasoning and quotations from the story.

Music in this Episode

“Allemande” and “Courante” from the Suite in D Minor by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre

Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major by Ludwig van Beethoven

Movement 1 from “Six Melodies for the Piano”, Op. 4 and 5 by Fanny Mendelssohn


Cinderella Part 1 – Early Tales

Cinderella stories have been around for thousands of years, told all over the world. This is no big surprise considering that people everywhere have always longed for a way to escape the drudgery of everyday life and be recognized as someone with more to offer the world. This episode looks at three early Cinderella tales — one from Ancient Rome, another from medieval China, and one from Renaissance Italy.

Activity: Comparing Early Cinderella Tales

Listen to the following tales, which are all early versions of Cinderella Stories:

Students can then compare the three stories, noting similarities and differences between them. Students could create a three-circle Venn Diagram, write lists, write an essay, or verbally discuss the way the three stories contrast.

Music in this episode

Variations on Mixolydian modes

“Mo Li Hua,”  an old Chinese Folk Song

“Ma se resti al mio ben” by Jacopo Peri

Aesop’s Fables – Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Aesop lived 2600 years ago. Maybe. If the legends are true, he went from being a slave to being a trusted government minister to a king. He became famous for telling short, entertaining stories that communicate a moral message in a way that people of any age can quickly grasp.

Activity: Volume Displacement as taught in “The Crow and The Pitcher”

Materials needed
– Black construction paper
– Safety scissors
– White crayons
– A clear plastic pitcher
– A large measuring cup with graduated measurement lines
– pebbles
– electrical tape in any color
– water

Have students use construction paper, crayons, and scissors to draw and cut out images of crows. A white crayon will stand out on the black paper to draw feathers, eyes, and beak details. If this project is being done for a Science Fair, you could buy a puppet instead as that makes for better storytelling.

Partly fill the pitcher with water. Use a strip of electrical tape to mark the water level on the side of the jug. Tell the story of The Crow and The Pitcher. Students can bring their crows to the pitcher as the bird attempts to drink. Have students add pebbles at the right moment in the story. Observe how the water rises as the pebbles displace volume. Have students bring their crows back to the pitcher when the water level is high enough that the bird can “drink.”

Pour off water into the measuring cup until the water level has gone back to the original position. Note the amount of water. This amount tells you the volume of the pebbles added to the pitcher. For younger students, keep the explanation simple: “that’s how much space the pebbles would take up if you could smoosh them all together.” Older students can learn that 1 milliliter equals 1 centimeter cubed, so the solid volume of the rocks in cm3 is the same number as the milliliters of displaced water.

Music in this episode

Delphic Hymn 1, section 2

Seikilos Epitaph

Variations using the Dorian, Lydian, and Hypophrygian modes