This is a 2000 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
Johnston, Tony. 1999. An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Here is a Digital Trailer created for AN OLD SHELL by graduate student Braulia Carrillo.
Here is a Readers' Guide for An Old Shell created by graduate student Brittany Chavez.
Johnston, Tony. 1999. An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos. Ill. by Tom Pohrt. New York: NY. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing. ISBN 9780374356484.
Recommended for ages 7 and up
Summary of Book
An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos is a book of poems written mostly in verse, depicting the mysterious and beautiful world of the Galapagos Islands. As readers move through the various poems, Johnston writes about the beautiful island that was once untouched by human hands. Prior to human occupation, the island once flourished as a natural habitat for all plants and various types of animals.
Tom Pohrt’s illustrations depict the true untouched beauty of the Galapagos Islands. Illustrated in what appears to be black and white pencil sketching, Pohrt creates a vision of the animals and nature of the Galapagos Islands. Each illustration gives new meaning to the true majesty of both the islands and the animals inhabitants.
“In rhyming couplets, blank verse, and haiku, she celebrates the birth of Fernandina Island, recounts the possible voyage of the rice rat to these far-off islands, and ponders moments germane to many animals. Appealing in its modesty, the book might find many uses in introducing children to this special habitat or in encouraging them to think about and write about animals.”
-School Library Journal (1999)
“In this book of 34 poems, Johnston records her observations during a trip to the Galapagos, which in a note she characterizes as a place "wild and vast and stark, looking out over the endless and shining skin of the sea. Pohrt's spare, straightforward sepia illustrations seem like studies taken from a sailor's sketchbook, quick impressions of island life. His loose drawings offer an understated contrast to the lofty language about "the core of the mystery and poetry of Nature."
-Publisher’s Weekly (1999)
“Using a variety of verse forms and rhyme schemes, Johnston conveys her visions and observations in easy, everyday language; Pohrt's drawings capture a sense of the locale's isolation in depictions of a single creature clambering over flotsam, or small stretches of rocky coastline. This is a quiet, low-key celebration of a remote, endangered natural community.”
-Kirkus Reviews (1999)
Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor Book (2000)
Questions to Ask Before Reading
Invite children to discuss the following questions prior to reading aloud An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos.
∞ Before showing children the cover of the book, ask What images do you think of when you hear words like shell and Galapagos? After several children have shared their thoughts, show the children the cover of the book and ask What clues on the front over verify our predictions?
∞ Have you ever seen a shell? Have you ever heard of the Galapagos Islands? Have you ever been to an island? If so, which one?
∞ Prior to asking this question provide the children with a world map. Can you find the Galapagos Islands on a map? Do the islands appear to be large or small? What significance do you think that location of the islands will have to our story?
∞ Most of the poems in this book are written in verse. Do you know what verse is? Did you like the poems that were written in verse? Why or why not?
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
∞ “Small White Flowers”
Split the children into two big groups. While one group performs the poem the other group can watch the magic unfold. Create small white flowers that glow in the dark (either with a flashlight or a black light). Turn off the lights and have each child read a line of the poem. When the poem talks of the flowers blooming in the dark, the children can bring out the flowers that will glow, and when the lights comes back on the flowers will be gone just like in the story.
∞ “The Sea Lion’s Song”
A group of children can recite the poem while others blow into little whistles or recorders that have been brought into the classroom for this activity.
∞ “The Birth of Fernandina Island”
Bring several cans of red (lava), black (smoke), and blue (water) silly string into the classroom to use with this poem. Every time the word “lava” is said in the poem, the person with the red silly string will spray it into the crowd. The same concept will be attached to each specific color of silly string. This will make a fun and messy activity for the children to have fun with and learn all at the same time. The children will identify with each specific color used in the poem.
Follow Up Activities:
∞ Tony Johnston uses verse to describe the beautiful setting of the Galapagos Islands. Have the children think about something truly beautiful that they have seen in their life and write a verse poem about it. When was this moment? Where was this place? What made it so very special?
∞ The poem “Birth of the Fernandina Island” talks about how the island was formed by a volcano eruption. Invite the students to research information about the different parts of a volcano. Following the research, continue learning about how volcanoes erupt by constructing an art project volcano.
∞ All of the poems throughout this book are written about the Galapagos Islands. Explore the history of the Islands from their first discovery to the Islands today. How has the island (both nature and animals) changed since humans have made their mark upon it?
∞ The poem “Birth of the Fernandina Island” talks about the eruption of a volcano that caused an island to be formed. Create a volcano from modeling clay, and then allow the children to mix a combination of baking soda and vinegar to make it erupt.
∞ Both of the poems “Pacific” and “Small White Flowers” depict beautiful images of the Galapagos. Have the children create a painting that shows what they believe the two places look like. Read the poems aloud in order to let the children get a good mental picture, then let them draw, color, paint, etc. until they have their own masterpiece.
∞ Children’s Literature: Independent Information and Reviews
(Learn more about the author Tony Johnston and some of her most popular books.)
∞ KidzCoolZone: Galapagos Islands Fun Facts
(Learn fun facts, see cool pictures, and watch videos about the Galapagos Islands.)
∞ Poetry Idea Engine
(A fun interactive way for children to learn about poetry and also how to write poems.)
∞ A Visit to the Galapagos Islands (YouTube Video)
(This link includes a picture slideshow of the beautiful Galapagos Islands.)
Other Books Written by Tony Johnston:
Johnston, Tony. 1998. Amber on the Mountain. Ill. by Robert A. Duncan. Penguin.
Johnston, Tony. 2000. Day of the Dead. Ill. by Jeanette Winter. Voyager Books.
Johnson, Tony. 1999. The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe. Ill. by S.D. Schindler. Puffin.
Johnston, Tony. 1995. Little Rabbit Goes to Sleep. Ill. by Harvey Stevenson. HarperCollins.
Johnston, Tony. 1992. Lorenzo the Naughty Parrot. Ill. by Leo Politi. Harcourt Children’s Books
Johnston, Tony. 1992. The Soup Bone. Ill. by Margot Tomes. Sandpiper.
Johnston, Tony. 2007. That Summer. Ill. by Barry Moser. Sandpiper.
Non-Fiction Books about the Galapagos Islands:
Chin, Jason. 2012. Island: A Story of the Galapagos. Flash Point.
Heller, Ruth. 2003. “Galapagos” Means “Tortoises”. Gibbs-Smith.
Henzel, Cynthia Kennedy. 2011. Galapagos Islands. Checkerboard Library.
Krebs, Laurie. 2007. We’re Sailing to Galapagos. Ill. Grazia Restelli. Barefoot Books.
Taylor, Shara. 2010. The Wonders of the Galapagos Islands. BookSurge.
Wojhan, Rebecca Hogue. 2009. A Galapagos Island Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure. Lerner Publications.