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The Ravenmaster's Secret

That's Cheeky!
based on The Ravenmaster's Secret
by Elvira Woodruff
Grades: 3–6 (appropriate through 8th grade)

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About the Book
Set in London in 1735, this is the story of Forrest Harper, an eleven-year old living with his family at the Tower of London. Accompanied by his pet raven, Tuck, Forrest cares for the ravens that are caged at the fortress. Forrest's loneliness is eased when he befriends a local boy named Rat. The two boys imagine faraway lands, making their fantasies lifelike by sketching scenes of knights, horses, and dragons.

A young girl arrives as prisoner at the Tower. The daughter of a Scottish Rebel, and therefore, an enemy, Forrest and Maddy, too, become friends. One day news comes that Maddy is to be executed, so Forrest, with the help of Rat (now called Ned), devises a plan to free her.

Risking his own safety and that of his parents and sisters, Forrest (and Ned) helps Maddy escape. The three ultimately grow up to fulfill their destinies: Ned becomes a cabin boy on a ship and sails around the world. Maddy lives safely in France. Forrest remains in London and becomes a Ravenmaster at the Tower, like his father before him.

Set the Stage
Explain that this book is historical fiction, a story set in the past that contains fictional characters. Talk about some historical fiction students have already read. Bring out that books of this genre are often written using the language of the period.

Show pictures of the Tower of London. Discuss when and how the Tower was built. (See the Prologue and pp. 217-221 in the book for details.) Introduce terms such as moat, ravenmaster, and Yeoman Warder. Explain that the central character of the story is a boy whose family lives in the Tower, tending to the ravens and the prisoners. Explain that the boy faces a problem when he befriends a Scottish prisoner.

After students have read the book, lead a thoughtful discussion with these questions:

  • How did Forrest change from the beginning of the story to the end?
  • What surprised you about life in the Tower of London in the 1730s?
  • Do you think that Forrest took good care of his pet, Tuck? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Forrest was wise to help Maddy? To help Ned? Why or why not?
  • How would your life be different if you lived in London in the 18th century?

Student Activity
Students can check their understanding of special English words from history by matching each word with its meaning.

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Related Activities
To extend students' enjoyment of the book, try these:

  • A to Z: Make a large illustrated dictionary of special terms from the book, such as breeches and ginger biscuit.
  • About the Author: Find out more about author/illustrator Elvira Woodruff in the Authors and Books section of our site.
  • Five Senses: Have students make a list of words or phrases from the story that convey each of the five senses. For example, for smell: "He breathed in the delicious aroma of oatacakes fresh from the fire."
  • Hold an English Fair: Have groups of students working on costumes, food, and appropriate entertainment. Invite other classes to attend the festivities.
  • Sketch It! Rat and Forrest used charcoal to draw pictures on the walls. Ask pairs of students to use charcoal to draw favorite scenes from the story.
  • Find the Facts: Using Internet and book research, have students make a list of Top Ten Facts About the Tower of London.
  • For the Birds: Suggest that students create illustrated booklets on ravens, with chapters on types, appearance, diet, habitats, and breeding. Present the books to a younger class.

Lesson Developed by Dr. Susan Shafer
Dr. Susan Shafer is a former elementary school teacher with more than twenty years of classroom experience and a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. While teaching she received special recognition for her innovative, theme-based teaching methods. The author of two books for children and numerous articles for adults, Susan is presently a freelance writer, editor, and educational consultant.