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John Phillip Duck

John Phillip Duck

Author: Patricia Polacco
ISBN #0399242627

Unit Prepared and resources prepared by Kristina Johnson

Resources made for this unit
Vocabulary Puzzle Matching Cards
Vocabulary Cards for Lapbook Pocket, File Box, or Memory Game
Duck Math (primary)
Look & Find
Mallard Duck Report Forms
Duck Coloring Page
Sweet Potato Recipe Rebus

Language Arts

Writing:  Mixing Fact and Fiction
Patricia Polacco wrote a work of fiction based on a true story.  To learn more about the true story of the Peabody ducks, visit the hotel’s website.  Together, read the story on the website and compare it to John Phillip Duck.  Which parts did the author create; which are based in fact?  Why does your child think the author chose to create a story about Edward as a young boy? 

Vivid Verbs
The text is full of wonderfully descriptive verbs to describe Mr. Shutt --booming, barked, harrumphed, bellowed, glowered.  Read the story and substitute “said” for each of the descriptive verbs where appropriate.  Does the image of Mr. Shutt change?  Ask your child to think of similarly descriptive terms to describe Edward. 

Favorite Authors
Notice the dedication page.  Read one of Robert McCloskey’s books, perhaps Make Way for Ducklings.  Ask your child how he thinks McCloskey inspired the author?  Who is your student's favorite author?

To extend this lesson, read together some of Patricia Polacco’s favorite books including works by Wanda Gag, Tomie DePaolo, Jane Yolen and Beatrix Potter.

Discuss slang with your child.  Many of the things that Edward and his father say are familiar to those of us in the South.  Read the story and ask your child to identify any “slang” that he hears.  (follerin’, close-like, critter, lad, all of them very ducks, git, by dippie, reckoned, near impossible). 

Vocabulary Puzzle Matching Cards (print on cardstock)
Vocabulary Cards for Lapbook Pocket, File Box, or Memory Game

Applied Math

Duck Math
Help your child create his own duck flashcards.   You will need 3x5 blank index cards, a duck stamp or punch, and a blue marker.  You may also wish to provide number stickers depending on your child’s level of writing skill.   Have your child write a problem horizontally on one side of the card (for younger children, you can write the problem or even just use a single digit if he still needs help in learning the number names).  On the other side, draw water at the bottom with blue marker and then stamp or glue the correct number of ducks.  You may wish to also pen the correct answer in one corner. 

Preschool Math
Print the
Duck Math sheets.  If you wish, these can be laminated and re-used as a write on, wipe off activity.  Another idea is to use them to create a file folder game.  Find another duck worksheet here

Counting (Hiding Places)
Have your child count how many hiding places are mentioned in the story (We counted 8:  under the covered platter, manicurist’s cart, under valet’s hat, in vacant key box, doorman’s pocket, in fountain with decoy ducks, pantry next to stove, in Edward’s shirt)  Can he think of any other places that a duck could hide?  Can he think of any places that would be too small?

Social Studies

The Great Depression
In the story, Edward and his father work at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN.  While the author does not give us a date for the story, she does mention that there “was a depression on and money was hard to come by.”  Edward Shutt was the manager of the real Peabody Hotel during the 1930’s. 

The Great Depression was a time in history (after the stock market crash) when banks went out of business causing people to lose the money in their accounts (after they had already lost the money they had invested in stocks).  Because of the loss of money, people weren't able to buy things -- cars, clothes, shoes, food.  This meant that stores had to close because they didn't have any business.  When stores closed, the people who had worked there, no longer had jobs.  It was a hard time and people learned how to make-do with what little they had.  The depression started to affect middle Tennessee in the late 1930’s. 

You may want to help your student make a simple cause-effect chart:
Stock Market Crash  ------> People lost money they had invested in stocks
Banks Closed ------->  People lost the money in their accounts; people who worked at the bank were out of jobs
People didn't have money -------> Businesses had to close since they didn't have any customers
Businesses had to close --------> More people lost their jobs meaning MORE people had no money

Have your student interview someone that lived through the great depression or that remembers hearing stories from his parents about the depression.  For ideas of questions to ask: 

How old are you?

Do you remember the Great Depression?

Where did you live during the Great Depression?

How old were you during the Great Depression?

How did you get to school or work during the Great Depression?

Did you know anyone who lost their job during the Great Depression?

What was the hardest part of living then for you?

What did you usually eat during a day?

What did you do for fun?

What kinds of clothes did you wear?

Did your family have a car?

How old were you when you got your first job?

More Information

Changing Times (Past and Present)
Life today is much different than it was for Edward.  Spend a day without television.  Turn on the radio…maybe you can find some radio theatre and 1930’s music to listen to.  Discuss with your child what life was like in 1930 compared to today.  What details does your child notice in the illustrations of the book that give him clues?

Tea Time
In one of the illustrations, we see women enjoying afternoon tea.  Table manners are very important when dining at a fancy hotel or restaurant.  Set the table for a formal dinner and teach your child about table manners.  See below for a formal table setting layout:


If you prefer, prepare and serve an afternoon tea.  For recipe ideas, see “cooking”.  See below for a formal afternoon tea setting.  The napkin can be placed on top of the luncheon plate.  It is customary to place a water glass at each setting :


Animal Notebook
Start an animal notebook.  You will need a 3 ring notebook, page dividers, cardstock and colored pencils.  For younger children, I start with mammals, amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles and insects.  For each animal that you study, add a coloring page, information about the habitat, life cycle, and interesting facts.  I also add a map of the continent it is found on.  Have your child color where on the continent it is found.  As your child grows, you may want to further divide the categories. 

This week, discuss birds in depth and add Mallard Duck to your notebook.

For more information and/or further study:

The Life Cycle of a Duck by Andrew Hipp. 

A New Duck : My First Look at the Life Cycle of a Bird (My First Look at Nature) by Pamela Hickman


Depression Era Music
Play some popular songs from the depression era such as  “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” by
Jay Gorney,  "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries," lyrics by Lew Brown, music by Ray Henderson, and  "We're in the Money," lyrics by Al Dubin, music by Harry Warren. 
Talk about how this fits the time period of the great depression.  Are the songs sad in nature?  Are they hopeful?  song lyrics

Marches and John Phillip Sousa
Edward loves the marches of John Phillip Sousa.  The Peabody ducks march down the red carpet to the tune of John Phillip Sousa’s King Cotton March.  You can hear several recordings of this at wal-mart music downloads.  (  Play this for your child.  Don’t tell him ahead of time that it is a march. Ask him to move to the beat.  Did he start marching?  Ask him what this music reminds him of (many children are reminded of a parade or marching band).

Learn more about John Phillip Sousa and his music

Practice tapping out a beat.  With both hands, slap your legs, the floor or together.  Work out your own patterns (Legs, legs, floor, together, legs, legs, floor, together)


Colored Pencils
Patricia Polacco used colored pencils to create the illustrations in her book.  Notice the pencil strokes in the pictures.  By alternating the direction of the strokes on the hills, the artist added to the illusion of the hill being behind each other.  Can your child duplicate this technique?

Notice how the artist used shadow.  Look at the page where Edward’s family is gathered around the table.  Can your child find the shadows?  Why did the artist choose to depict the shadow of the glass and oil lamp as a hollow shape?  Look through the book and find other shadows (vases/plate, Edward and his father walking, Edward and the ducks on the carpet etc).  Ask the child where the light source would be.

Patricia Polacco
You can learn more about the author and her art at her website.  Notice some of her favorite artists (Norman Rockwell, Monet and Vuillard).  Look at some of their works and see how they might have inspired her as she illustrated John Phillip Duck.

Bible/Character Development

Character Trait: Honesty
Edward hides John Phillip from Mr. Shutt.  His deceit almost results in John Phillip being taken with the other decoys.   Discuss with your child whether it was right or wrong to bring John Phillip to work without the manager’s permission.  What would he have done?

Ducks fly in a V as a team. The lead duck does most of the work and the remaining ducks fly slightly above the bird in front of him.  This reduces the wind resistance and results in less work for the birds behind the leader.  As the lead duck gets tired, he falls back and another bird takes the lead.  Two other birds will go to the tired bird and look after it.  In similar fashion, we are called as Christians to “exhort one another daily” in Hebrews 3:13.  What are ways that we can encourage one another? Are there any “tired geese” in your congregation that need encouragement? 


During the depression, many families found it difficult to make ends meet.  Many were uncertain of when their next meal might come, or what it would be.  Meals were often very plain and based on whatever was available. Try these recipes for a taste of what was eaten in those days.

1. My husband’s grandmother, Edna Johnson, grew up in Loretto TN.  She recalled having a baked sweet potato as an afternoon snack.  “We would come home and Mama had the potatoes ready.  We’d carry them with us as we did our chores. Just ate them out of our hand like an apple.  No butter or anything!  Prepare baked sweet potatoes for an afternoon snack. See REBUS recipe.   How does this compare the snacks your child are used to?

2.  My friend, Barb Drake, recounted a story her Dad shared with her: “My dad shared that when food would be tight, popcorn would be popped and used as a 
breakfast cereal, pouring (if available) milk upon it and sprinkle of brown sugar.  Sandwiches in his lunch bucket would be bread, lard and sugar.  
My mom would tease my dad that their family never had it that bad and would have butter instead of the lard!  No “Lunchables” in their generation!
I also remember Dad saying that the livestock would be fed straw to keep "food" into the cow and horse's systems, though no nutritional value.”  
Have popcorn for breakfast and a bread and butter sandwich for lunch.   How does this compare to what he/she is used to eating?
3. Prepare some tea sandwiches for a tea party (see “Just for Fun and Social Studies”).  
Cut the crusts off of white bread.  Cut into heart or star shapes and spread with a thin layer of butter and top each with a wedge of fresh peach.  
Spread chicken salad into phyllo cups (available in the frozen food section of the grocery store).  Top each with a few slivered almonds.  
Dip strawberries in melted chocolate and allow to harden.  For a substitute to tea, try serving hot chocolate or lemonade.  

Just for Fun

1.  Get Patricia Polacco to sign your book!  To have books signed by Patricia, send book(s) with a self addressed, postage paid, return envelope. Media mail is sufficient for postage as first class postage will not ensure an immediate return. Please allow several weeks for it to be returned, as Patricia is often on tour and not home for weeks at a time  

Patricia Polacco
118 Berry Street

Union City, MI

2.  Dramatic Play – set up a hotel at home!  Create a menu for your restaurant, dress up as the maid and prepare the guests rooms, someone can be the valet, doorman, bellhop, manager etc. 

3.  We see guests enjoying afternoon tea.  Host your own tea party complete with hats and white gloves.  This might also be a fun to use along with the manners lesson (see Social Studies above).  See “Cooking” for recipe ideas.

4.  Create a duck with your hand print.  Cut out a yellow duck body and an orange beak from construction paper.  Use your child’s handprint as the wing.  Paint your child’s hand with white paint and have him “stamp” his hand onto the duck.  Glue on a beak and google eye.  Encourage your child to add water and bulrushes with paint. 

5.  Rent some films/movies that take place during the depression era such as “Annie” or “Gold Diggers of 1933”.

Ideas for Younger Students

1.  Print the Look and Find activity.  Have your child look for the items while you read the story.  Encourage him not to interrupt you, but to place his finger on his nose if he sees one (or some other signal that you agree on).

2.  Count the ducks in the book.  How many can you find?  We found 119 (not counting the ones that are in the sky and look like v’s.)

3.  There are several stories that are nice go-alongs for younger children.  One of our favorites is Little Quack by Lauren Thompson.  Be sure to point out the arithmetic at the bottom of the pages.  Can your child predict what the next number will be?

6.  Edward found John Phillip in the bulrushes.  Take turns hiding a toy duck and finding it. 

Ideas for Older Students

1.  Compare then/now prices of basic necessities.  Talk about the average wage and ask your child to create a budget based on the prices.  You may wish to have him prepare 2 budgets, one from the 1930’s and one from the current year.  You will find a table for comparisons here:,1607,7-160-15481_19268_20778-52530--,00.html

2.  Study the history of American Music and more specifically how Memphis and the Peabody Hotel in particular played a part.