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When Agnes Caws

When Agnes Caws

Author:  Candace Fleming 
Illustrator: Giselle Potter
ISBN: 0689814712

Literature Based Unit Study written by Ami Brainerd and Denise Gregson


Bird Report Form and Pocket

Bible Memory Minit Book

Travel List Minit Book

Plot Cards and Nest Book

Bird Characteristics Feather Shape Book

Humor in Art and Writing Shutterfold Book

Extinct and Endangered Twice Folded Book

Himalayan Mountains Simple Fold

Decade Flap Book

Directions:  Cut book out as one piece.  Fold in half on solid black center line.  Unfold.  Fold on the outer solid black lines (fold sides UNDER).  Fold in half again to see what your finished book will look like.  Open book.  Cut on dotted lines to form 10 flaps.  Write the years in consecutive order on the outer flaps.   On the inside of each flap, let your student record a "famous" event that happened that year. 

Social Studies:  Geography-"World Bird Map"
Read the birds and descriptions from the inside (and back) cover.  You may want to make a list with your student of each bird and the location or you can just use the list I have compiled below.  Make a story disk (or small marker) for each bird and place appropriately on a world map. 
Blue-Footed Booby (Pacific Coast of the Americas)
Golden-Fronted Leaf Bird (Borneo)
Pheasant (all over the world)
Great Hornbill (Asia and Africa)
Grouse (Europe, Asia, and North America)
Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Eastern United States)
Sulfur Crested Cockatoo (Australia/New Guinea)
Snake Bird (Florida)
Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker (North America)
Pink Headed Duck (Indian/Nepal/or even Tibet)

Social Studies: Geography-Himalayan Mountains
Agnes travels everywhere!  The story mentions the Himalayan Mountains.  The Himalayas are a great mountain system that is 1,500 miles long and covering an area of 612,021 square kilometers. The Himalayas go through Northwestern Pakistan, Northern India, Southern Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. The Himalayas are bordered on the north by Central Asia and bordered on the south by the plains of India.  Himadri is the longest, northernmost and most continuous belt in the Himalayas and is found in northern India and Nepal. Mount Everest is found in this mountain range. The average elevation is about 20,000 feet. This range contains nine of the fourteen highest peaks in the world.

Language Arts: Vocabulary
Prepared Vocabulary Memory Game Cards

        elusive--   to escape capture as by daring, cleverness, or skill.  
                         "...voted to send the Peregrines in search of the rarest most elusive bird of all..."
        flitted--      To move about rapidly  
                           "...a flock of leafbirds flitted to the ground."
        imitate--   To copy the actions, appearance, mannerisms, or speech  
                          "...she could imitate the flight of the yellow-bellied sapsucker." 
        warbled--  To sing (a note or song, for example) with trills, runs, or other melodic embellishments  
                          "...she warbled a round of duck calls."
        avid--         keen interest and enthusiasm  
                           "avid bird collector"
        cackled--  To laugh or talk in a shrill manner 
                           "he cackled"
        dastardly-- deliberately harmful; evil  
                            "And rubbing his hands over his dastardly plan, he hurried to the park."
        trek--         a slow journey
                          "They set off on their trek."
        swarm--     To move or gather in large numbers
                            "the birds swarmed after him"

Other words you may need to discuss with your students before/during your study of this book:

Colonel – a military officer

Ornithologist – someone who studies birds

Manor – a house or hall of an estate

Cunning – marked by wiliness and trickery

Alas –a term used to express unhappiness, pity or concern

Stunned - bewildered

Cacophony –harsh or discordant sound

Atwitter – being in a state of nervous excitement; twittering

Spoils – something taken by force or theft; loot; plunder

Language Arts – Parts of a Story
Below are some suggestions for the parts of the story to discuss with your child:
Setting the Stage: The stage is set when Agnes increases in her bird calling abilities to the point where she is featured in the newspaper
Conflict: The conflict (problem) begins when Colonel Pittsnap reads about Agnes in the paper and decides to follow her to capture the rare duck
Rising Action: The growing tension/ excitement occurs when The Peregrines travel to the Himalayas to try to spot the rare duck and the Colonel has followed them
Climax : The most exciting moment or high point of the story is when Agnes is forced to call birds and  MANY MANY birds come much to the dismay of the Colonel!
Denouement (or resolution) – (day new MAHN) The final resolution or outcome occurs when all these birds chase the Colonel away and the pink-headed duck is freed by Agnes and her mother 

Language Arts:  List-Making (Creative Writing)
The books says that Agnes (and her mom) traveled by ship, train, and yak.  What other ways are there to travel?
Make a list entitled "Ways to get from here to there."  You can have silly and serious suggestions-- encourage your student to be creative!  Some samples could include roller-skates, elephant, car, airplane, galloping,  etc.   For extra fun, act these out!

If you have an older student, re-visit the concept of strong action words-- GOOD verbs, vivid verbs.  In writing, some verbs are better choices than others.  For example, crawl creates more of an image than walk (other words that can replace walk are slither, hop, slide, stomp, etc.)  Slither may let you know that someone is being sneaky while stomp may give the impression that the subject is angry.   Can your student compile a list of ways to get from here to there that includes strong verbs?

Word Find
Birds Word Find

Science: Endangered and Extinct Animals
The Pink-Headed duck once inhabited areas of India and Nepal, but because of it's rare beauty, it was over-hunted and became rare.   They were last officially spotted in 1936 (you may want to add to your timeline if you have one), but was claimed to be seen in 1960.  Experts say this bird is extinct.   Discuss the terms extinct (no longer existing or living) and endangered (in danger of becoming extinct) with your child. 

There are other animals who are extinct and still others who are considered endangered. 
This website lists many of each.  Your student may want to spend some time looking at the different animals and seeing which ones are endangered and which ones are extinct. 
Your student (especially your young animal lover) may want to learn more about ways that he can help preserve these animals. 

Science: Bird Anatomy
On the fifth day of creation, God made birds and gave them characteristics that other animals (most at least!) don't have.   Birds are unique because they fly.  In order to fly, God designed them special.
Bird characteristics
1. They have feathers-- which are remarkably light for their strength
2. Hollow Bones -- again, making it easier to fly
3. Instead of teeth, birds have a beak which is lighter
4. Oviparous (lay eggs)  allowing them to leave them in a nest while flying instead of having to carry their embryos wherever they go

Bird Diagram

Bird Skeleton

Bird Beak Investigation
(great activity!)

Your older student may want to research the different types of feathers and beaks.

For more bird information, see

p. 61-72  Evan Moor's Giant Science Resource Book    (Birds)
p. 163-168  Evan Moor's Giant Science Resource Book  (Endangered/Extinct Animals)

Math and Social Studies: A Decade
The book mentions that the Pink Headed Duck hasn't been seen in decades.  Explain to your student that a decade is ten years.  If the last unofficial spotting was in 1960, how many decades since it has been seen?  How many decades since the last official spotting in 1936?

In order to really help your student grasp the amount of time in a decade, you may want to create a  time line of the last ten years.  Get a large piece of butcher paper or poster board and write each year at the right hand column.  Let your student help place his birthday (siblings' birthdays), big family events, big events in history (such as 9-11, the war in Iraq, President Bush winning his second election, etc.).  This will be a fun project to do together that will be remembered.


Art:  Humor in writing and humor in art
Candace Fleming and Giselle Potter are quite the pair when it comes to writing and illustrating a children's picture book (Gabriella's Song
).  This book has a humorous tone in both the story and the pictures. 

Beginning with the cover of the book, move your way through the book and point some of these examples out to your student (your younger student may not understand every example):

Note the title—The author chooses the word Caws instead of Calls for the title. Discuss why the author may have chosen this play on words for the title.

The cover shows a playful illustration of Agnes in the tree. The illustration is very interesting and inviting and could easily draw in a potential reader.   Although the saying goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is it possible that this is an exception? You could discuss with your child the meaning of this phrase (usually referring to judging of people) but ask them whether they think the cover of this book gives the reader a good idea of what the book is all about?

“bird” terms:
 Fleming calls Agnes a "birdbrain" -- We normally only use that word in a teasing manner for someone who does something not-so-smart.  Fleming calls Agnes a birdbrain because she really IS one!  (she has birds on her brain/mind)

Look at the titles of the newspaper articles (words within an illustration).  Why are they funny?  They are all about birds!  This is just newspaper would have every article bird-related.  Some of the headlines include:  Bird Brains Sent Abroad, Mr. Wren Pleads Guilty, Goose Bumps!  You may have to explain some of these as a “play on words”.

When she stubs her toe, Agnes says “This is for the birds.  This term is used for describing something as being undesirable or unfortunate and considering the theme of the book, it is easy to see why the author chose it.

“bird” illustrations:
 Look at the page that starts "it wasn't until..." The artist has drawn a man bird watching with a nest (complete   
     with egg!) on his head.
 Can you find the illustration of the same man (I think) with a "hat" made entirely of leaves? 
 There is a picture with Agnes stepping on a leaf to help boost her into a tree...why is this silly?

*It is important to note that although the illustrations are fun and exaggerated, the bird illustrations are accurate depictions of the bird species and valuable for scientific learning.

What other parts of this book does your student find funny? 

Don’t forget to have some fun attempting to make some of the bird calls like Agnes does!

Art – Style
Note the humor in the illustrations:  exaggerated facial expressions, exaggerated hair style, pointed facial features and small pointed feet.   Each illustrator tends to have their own style.  Be sure when you begin to read a new book that you mention the author and the illustrator.  Over time your child will be able to recall favorites which will help in their choosing of good quality books when given a choice. See if you can locate other books illustrated by Potter for comparison (Gabriella’s Song is a HSS title also illustrated by Giselle Potter) (Note: you may want to search your library's data base for even more books).   Potter has created expressive, lighthearted illustrations.  Before you read the story for the first time, look at each of the illustrations from start to finish and see if your child can determine the main points or plot of the story without reading any of the words. You child will likely be able to pick out the main points with some accuracy. This is because the larger than life, action–filled (dramatic) illustrations are an integral part of the story.  Notice the size of the illustrations, many of them taking up ¾ or more of the space on a two-page spread. The dress and furnishings are Victorian style.

Bible:  Using Your Talents for Good
Agnes has some special talents!  Ask your student what Agnes' talents are (bird watching, bird calling).  How does she use her talents for good? Everyone has talents and everyone has a choice of how to use those talents.  The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31--"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."  We were created for God's good pleasure, and we should most definitely use our talents (the talents HE has given us) for His glory!

Bible:  Wicked People and Deception
How does your student feel about Colonel Pittsnap?  He isn't a nice guy; he is mean with a wicked plan.  Proverbs 26:24 says, "A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit." We need to teach our student to watch out for those who may appear to be nice (with what they say), but their actions (which pour forth from their heart) are evil, deceitful, and wicked.  I'm sure you have heard the old adage to "beware of wolves in sheep's clothing."  This is true!  We should not believe someone simply because he says the right things.  He should live out the right actions with his life.  You could delve in to a much deeper study of this topic using the book of Proverbs.


I really appreciate my bird-watching guide!  If you live in the United States, you may want to check and see if they have one for your state (I bought mine through Rainbow Resource).  It is Birds of Indiana Field Guide by Stan Tekiela.   So, when I see a bird at the feeder, I don't have to sift through dozens of birds that don't even live in Indiana!   Also, if I see a red bird, I simply flip to the red section!  I can identify a bird by color, but not by name! (If I knew it's name, I wouldn't need my handy bird guide!). 

Common Bird Songs-- book and cassette (Donald J. Borror)

Some other books for teacher to read (or an older student)
Attracting Birds to Your Yard by William Weber
Hand-Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder by Alfred G. Martin

Know Your Bird Sounds! 
All About BIRDS!
Creation vs. Evolution

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Spot the Differences Printout
Birds of a Feather Word Search
Who am I?  Birds – Printout
Make Words from “Grouse” Print-Out
How to Identify Birds Print-Out
Color Me Birds
Shadow Know How- Identify These Birds
Talking to the Birds Hand-out

Label different birds

Just for Fun

Build A Birdhouse
Make Your Own Birdfeeder
Go bird watching
Learn how to make bird calls with the Audubon Bird Call or Mocking Bird Call (both available from Nature's Workshop)

Recipe: Edible Bird Nest (yum!)
    You will need
    Chow mien noodles
    chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, or brick chocolate
    Jelly beans or candy-coated chocolate eggs
    marshmallow chicks
    peanut butter
    wax paper
    paper plates

Place squares of wax paper onto to individual plates. Put chow mien noodles in a large bowl. If using brick chocolate, break into pieces. Melt chocolate chips or pieces in the microwave, or over low heat on stove, just until melted. Pour melted chocolate over chow mien noodles, mix together to coat. Place mounds of chocolate/chow mien mixture onto several plates (on top of waxed paper). Have children form the mixtures into nests. Be sure the chocolate has cooled, but don't wait too long or it will harden!
Using peanut butter as an adhesive, "glue" down the jelly beans or candy-coated chocolate eggs inside the nest cavity. "Glue" marshmallow chick on the edge of or inside of the nest.