Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

Thornhill, Jan (Author/Illustrator)
Groundwood Books 2016. 44 pages
First published: 2016
ISBN: 9781554988655 (hardcover)
9781554989928 (e-book)
Original language: English
Dewey: 598.3
Book type: Non-Fiction

Text Elements:

language conventions, layout, multimodal, setting, stance, structures and features

Award

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award – 2017

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

The demise of the great auk, the large penguin-like bird of the North Atlantic Ocean, is recounted in this fairly lengthy picture book. Conversational language discusses the bird’s evolution into “a brilliant swimmer,” its loss of the ability to fly, and how “its feet also gradually moved farther and farther back on its body … perfect to use as a rudder. But they were not … for getting around on land.”

Facts are conveyed in literary style: “For a mature Great Auk, spending almost two months ashore each year was a necessity. But it was a dangerous necessity.” Human predation is expertly woven into the tale (“For two centuries, June was the month for auk-egg omelets and yellow pancakes made rich with yolks”), going as far back as prehistoric times: “They painted ibex and bison. They painted wild horses and big-antlered deer. And they painted Great Auks.”

Illustrations of realistic seascapes are enhanced with expressive scratch-markings that define stormy seas, schools of fish, the ghosts of auk-bones and more. In one spread, a baby auk reaches for a silvery fish, offered from the beak of its parent. Scribble markings defining its down mirror the fluffy cloud markings. Another striking composition shows two auk corpses dangling by the dark boots of men, as their broken egg leaks onto the rocks: “The last known pair of Great Auks.”

The book ends with an account of early species conservation and a call to readers, “Ordinary and remarkable people like you.” Back material includes a map of the great auk habitats, a glossary and a list of extinct species around the world.

  •  

    What does extinction mean? Discuss how an animal can become extinct, even today, despite so many ways to prevent it.

  •  

    Determine which drawing is the most moving for you and explain how it helps deepen your understanding of the written text.

  •  

    Hunters did most of the damage to the great auk population but it is collectors who were responsible for their extinction. Write a letter to one of these collectors in the 1830s and explain how they can save the great auk from extinction.

  •  

    The author says that the future is in the hands of “Ordinary and remarkable people like you.” What can you do to fight further animal extinction? Make a poster to encourage others to consider taking action.

  •  

    The events that led to the extinction of the great auk are told through factual anecdotes and meaningful illustrations. When reading, use both text and illustrations to make meaning.

  •  

    In small groups, discuss the overall message of the book as well as any elements of author/producer’s craft that stand out. Make notes on ideas that emerge from your discussion(s).

  •  

    Use ideas from the text and back material to produce a short creative non-fiction text about another extinct species. Share finished pieces with an audience of peers and adults.

  •  

    Go for a picture walk and make predictions about the story.

  •  

    What does extinction mean? Discuss how an animal can become extinct, even today, despite so many ways to prevent it.

  •  

    This non-fiction text is written in a story format. Is this unusual? What would you put in a table of contents? Create a timeline as a summary of the story. What other graphic organizer could you use to synthesize this information?

  •  

    After reading, discuss how your understanding of human’s impact on nature and animals has evolved. Note your reflections in your reading notebook.

  •  

    Skim through the book before reading, paying attention mostly to the images. What do you think happened to the great auk? Share your ideas with a partner, then think of and discuss other animals that shared a similar fate.

  •  

    For every page of text, write one or two words that best reflect what a reader might be thinking or feeling at that point. Compare your answers to a partner’s.

  •  

    Prepare an informative poster on a (critically) endangered species to present to the class. Your poster should raise awareness for the animal and contain factual information taken from reliable sources. Include several relevant images. Mention any similarities to the plight of the great auk.

  • To communicate appropriately
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To solve problems
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Environmental Awareness and Consumer Rights and Responsibilities
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Science and Technology