With its megastar cast, many students will be talking about the upcoming movie Dolittle on MLK weekend – January 17, 2020. Not only does the film feature Robert Downey Jr. as Dolittle, the animals are voiced by superstars. Just to name a few, Tom Holland will play Dolittle’s dog Jip; Emma Thompson will play the parrot Polynesia; and Selena Gomez will play the giraffe Betsy. Take advantage of this high interest moment by teaching a few skills connected with the film.
Activity #1 – Dolittle Series
Dolittle is based on the second book in the Doctor Dolittle Series. This series includes 15 books written between 1920 and 1936. Interestingly, three of these titles were published after Hugh Lofting’s death in 1947.
Some of the most popular children’s books are part of a series. Take a look at some of these sales. Harry Potter (500 million), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (150 million), Goosebumps (350 million), Percy Jackson (400 million), and The Chronicles of Narnia (120 million) are just a few of the best selling series of all time.
The Newbery Medal is an annual award given by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Below is a list of the winners for the last 20 years. The third column lists the number in the series if applicable. Have students study the chart and answer a few questions. A Google Slides version of the chart and questions are found at the link at the bottom of the post.
- Based on the information on the chart, what conclusions can you make?
- Approximately what percentage of Newbery Award Winners in the last 20 years are part of a series?
- Of the books in a series, is it more likely that the author decided to create a series after or before the success of the Newbery winner?
- Why are books in a series popular?
- Do you prefer books in a series or standalone books? Explain your reasons for this.
Activity #2 – More Questions about Newbery Winners
The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle was the second winner of the Newbery Medal in 1923. Have students complete a little research, and then answer the questions. To use less class time, have students work in pairs. One student can look up the statistics while the partner types them in the chart. If you do not have 1-to-1 devices, the chart can be completed in small groups. No time for research?!? An answer key is provided on the Google Slides presentation.
Students will look at the 20 most recent Newbery Award winners. They will write star ratings from three different sites for each title. This information will be used to answer several inference questions.
- Does being a Newbery Winner make a book an instant hit?
- How many books from the last 20 Newbery Award winners had consistent ratings of 4.0 or higher for all websites?
- Is the Newbery Medal winner list a good place to find a great book to read? Explain why or why not.
- Based on ratings alone on the chart, which title would be the best to read?
Activity #3 – Comparing and Contrasting Dolittle Movie Trailers
The first Dolittle movie, Doctor Dolittle (1967) was based on the first three books of the series: The Story of Doctor Dolittle, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, and Doctor Dolittle’s Circus. The second set of Dolittle movies [Dr. Dolittle 1 (1998), 2 (2001), 3 (2006), 4 (2008), 5 (2009)] were inspired by Hugh Lofting’s Dolittle series but used no material from any of the novels. The upcoming movie is based on the second book in the series The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle.
Have students watch the trailers and compare two versions. The first Venn Diagram compares and contrasts the 1967 to the 2020 version. The second Venn Diagram is left blank to compare and contrast any version of the movies or the play version of the story.
Activity #4 – Reading Portions of the Book
Just a note of warning. If you read the Dolittle books aloud in class to your students, be prepared to change racist remarks and sentences that use the Lord’s name in vain. If you have students read the original version of the book on their own, discuss how books written almost 100 years ago can be insensitive to readers of the 21st century before students start reading.
Here are a few links for online versions: