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The Spider and the Fly

Predator and Prey
based on The Spider and the Fly
Written by Mary Botham Howitt, Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Grades: 3–6

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About the Book
This Caldecott Honor-book delightfully illustrates the classic poem "The Spider and the Fly" and tells the story of a young fly beguiled by a wily spider who tempts her to enter his home through false flattery and deceit.

The stunning illustrations, as well as the moral of this story, provide an excellent backdrop for learning with either early childhood students or older students, who will be enthralled by the artistry used to create a strong visual element that solidifies the lesson of the tale.

Set the Stage
Discuss with your students what it means to deceive or mislead some one. Have them define what flattery is and give examples. Tell them that in this story someone is deceived through flattery. Have them listen for exactly how this is done.

Show your class the very first illustration with text and have them discuss how the spider is drawn. Ask them if, based on this illustration, they think the spider is going to be a good spider or not and have them explain why. Show them other illustrations and ask them if that makes them re-evaluate their initial impression of the spider.

Ask your students to brainstorm a list of stories that have a spider as a main character. Then ask them to describe how the spider is usually perceived and have them guess why he is usually perceived in such a manner.

Discussion Questions
• Ask your students to identify details in the pictures that foreshadow the end of the story.
• Discuss with your students that usually flattery is a good thing. However, sometimes people use nice words to hide not-so-nice intentions.
• Discuss with your students whether or not anyone has ever done this to them. Ask them how it made them feel.
• Discuss with your class why someone would use false flattery and why it sometimes works. Have them give examples.
• Show your class several illustrations from the text. Have your students discuss why the illustrator chose to use black and white illustrations for this particular poem.
• Ask them how using color would change the "tone" of the text or if they think they would react differently to the text if the pictures had been done in color.
• Show your students the 2003 Scholastic Book Fairs Author Video to see an interview with Toni DiTerlizzi. Find out why he chose to do the illustrations in black and white and other fascinating details about the book and this innovative illustrator.

Student Activity
Students will explore science as they learn more about which animals are predators and which are prey.

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Related Activities

  • The first line of this poem is probably one of the most frequently quoted and well known. Brainstorm a list of other poem/story beginnings that you know. Then, choose an entire poem to memorize and share with the class.
  • Consider the role of spider as bad guy. Can you think of other stories that have a spider as a bad guy? Can you think of any stories that have a spider as a hero? Try to find a story with a spider good guy and share it with the class. What other animals are traditionally cast as good guys and bad guys? Why are these animals cast in these roles? Is it fair to these animals, or are they often misrepresented?
  • Research spiders and write a paragraph arguing the case FOR spiders. Why are they so often miscast as the bad guy? Use as much scientific information as you can. Find out more about spiders at these links:
  • Choose a narrative poem that you enjoy and illustrate part of the poem using a black and white style similar to that of Tony DiTerlizzi, the illustrator of this book.

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.