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Sailing Home

Author: Gloria Rand
Illustrator: Ted Rand
Summary:  Captain Madsen's four children fondly recall their exciting experiences sailing with their father and mother on the bark John Ena at the turn of the twentieth century
ISBN: 0735815399

A literature-based unit study by Celia Hartmann

Social Studies

Oceans and Seas:   Over 70% of the earth is covered with water, most in the form of oceans and seas.  If you look at a globe or wall map, the blue area indicates looks like one huge body of water with large islands in it.  The large islands are really continents. (You might want to take this time to review the continents.)  

In different areas, the water has different names.  For example, there are five oceans:

the Atlantic Ocean (shaped like an “S),

the Pacific Ocean (shaped like an “O”), 

the Indian Ocean (shaped like an upside-down “V”),

the Arctic Ocean (shaped liked an “O”), and

the Antarctic Ocean (shaped liked an “O”). 

There are other large bodies of water are called Seas.  Point out some of seas (perhaps ones studied prior to this lesson): Mediterranean Sea, Aegean Sea, Red Sea, Caribbean Sea, South China Sea, etc.

For science activities to go along with the ocean, try Anthony D. Frederick’s book Exploring the Oceans: Science Activities for Kids.   

Pets:  What makes a good pet?  Can you imagine having a kangaroo for a pet? A pig?  If you could have any animal for a pet, what would you choose and why?

Language Arts

Ship Names:   If you have already studied The Glorious Flight (FIAR Vol. 1), The Giraffe That Walked to Paris (FIAR Vol. 2), They Were Strong and Good (FIAR Vol. 2),  Paul Revere’s Ride (FIAR Vol. 3), or Arabella (FIAR Vol. 4), review that ship names are written in italics.  Point out to your student that the ship’s name, John Ena, is italicized. 

“Told by” vs. “Written by”:    Note on the front cover that the story is “told by” Gloria Rand.  Usually a book says that it is “written by ___.”   This story is not one made up by author Gloria Rand.  If you read the “Afterword,” you will learn that the story is based on the journal (diary) written by Captain Madsen and his daughter, Ena (the baby in the story).  Discuss with your student how author Gloria Rand simply retold, using her own words, what was written in the journal.

Communication – Naval Semaphore Signal Flags:    As it says in the story, signal flags are used to communicate with other ships when there were no radios or even today if your radio is broke.  There are different signaling systems using flags, but the one in the story is the Semaphore Flag Signaling System.  This system is based on the waving of a pair of hand-held flags in a particular pattern.  The flags are usually square and are divided diagonally in half and are colored red and yellow.  To see how the flags are held to create various letters of the alphabet, visit:

A little fun project is to determine what letters the children in the story are spelling out in the picture of the children holding the semaphore flags.  Starting with the bottom child in purple: A, then the tan child: B, then the top one: C.

Semaphore flag clip art you can download is available at:

Use the following translator to spell out your child’s name!  (Be sure to select semaphore!)   (If your student is really into semaphores and learns them by sight, use this site to also test his knowledge!!)

Puff -- Flash -- Bang!  A Book About Signals  by Gail Gibbons.  Explore ways people communicate without words (written or spoken), such as beacon fires, hand signals, alarms, and flags.


mast(ed)  – Masts are the tall poles that rise from the deck of a boat and that support the sails
bark – A sailing ship with from three to five masts, all of them square-rigged except the after mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged.
cargo – the goods carried by a ship
inflammable  – able to burn quickly  (note to teacher: it’s a common misconception to believe that the “in” in this word makes the word mean UNable to burn)
tar  – a thick black, oily liquid (kind of like a glue)
dignified – formal or stately
celestial – having to do with the sky, the stars and other heavenly bodies
quiver – to shake
righted – to regain an upright position


Views at an Angle:   Look at the illustration showing the family gathering eggs.  Point out to the student that the hen cages look crooked.  Now, turn the page.  Compare the line of the ships railing with the line of the horizon.  Turn the page and show remark how the mother reading looks sideways.  Turn two pages and look at the picture of the Miss Shipman teaching the children at the dining table.  Point out to your student the swing of the overhead light. Notice in the one port hole you can see part of the sky, but the other only shows ocean.

Illustrator Ted Rand knows that boats move up and own and to and fro with the waves of the ocean.  By choosing to draw pictures at angle, Mr. Rand allows the reader to “feel” what it’s like to live on a boat.  Show other examples from the story (e.g., decorating for Christmas and tying down the furniture during the storm.)


Counting:   Count the sails on the bark.  How many times can you find the monkey in the story

Skip Counting/Multiplication:   “the John Ena, a four-masted sailing bark.....”   Make up story problems for the student to determine the total number of masts.  For example, if three four-masted boats docked in the harbor, how many masts were there total?   4, 8, 12 or 3x4=12.

Navigational Trigonometry for Older Students: 

            From the website:

Math: Celestial navigation in its modern form is based on solving spherical triangle problems (the "navigational triangle") and there is a good site for Navigational Trigonometry, but your students don't have to be taking trigonometry to use celestial navigation.  Finding latitude by the meridian passage of the sun or by Polaris only required addition and subtraction, as does reduction using pre-calculated tables.  If you do want the trigonometry, try the advanced tutorial that H. Umland has online:  Umland's Short Guide to Celestial Navigation.


Celestial Navigation:   Celestial navigation is using the stars, moon, and planets to determine your location.  When you are out in the water, far from land, it is hard to know where you are.  Boats of today have equipment on board that allows the captain to know exactly where the boat is.  In days of long ago, sailor used math and the position of the stars, or moon, or planets to know where to go.  

You may wish to discuss some of the tools that were used in celestial navigation: astrolabe, sextant, and nocturnal.  (See  for pictures and descriptions of each tool.)

Go along books:

                        The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey (of Curious George fame!)

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (perfect reading for the older student sitting in on this.  There is a study guide available by Carole Pelttari.) 

Other books for older children which you may wish to pre-read include: Adrift by Steven Callahan (Steve Callahan was able to survive 76 days at sea using a sextant he made of pencils to navigate) and My Old Man and the Sea by Daniel and David Hays  (A man and his teenage son sail around Cape Horn with only a sextant and a compass). 

For an older student who is very interested in this topic, there are several websites you might want to check out.  (has on-line courses) (Scroll down to topics 3 and 4)  (Astronomy for the naked-eye)

An older student may also want to watch the Nova episode Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude.  Here is a link to a teacher’s guide for the episode. 


Masts:   The masts (poles) of a ship hold the sails.  When the sails catch the wind, it enables the boat to move.    Have your child experiment with sails and wind power.  (If your child is young or you have little time, just try one kind of boat and have the child blow at the sails and play with it for fun.)

Using a plastic bowl (even a lid might do or a George Foreman grill’s grease collector!), have your child put a bit of playdough in the center of the bottom.  Make a sail out of construction paper (also try fabric, paper napkin, index card, regular paper, etc.) and tape onto a straw (also try a chenille stem and/or pencil) and place into the playdough.  Place the boat into a dishpan (or sink or bathtub or small swimming pool) of water.   Have your child blow at the boat and see if it moves.  Using careful supervision, you could also try using a small fan–personal size and/or window size.  Do this several times using various materials and wind power.  Also experiment with making the masts taller or shorter.   Perhaps make a chart comparing the different ways.

Did one type of sail material or mast material work better than another?  What happened when the wind stopped?  When the wind became stronger?

If your child really likes books, perhaps he might enjoy The Story of Ships: From Log Raft to Atomic Power by Frank O. Braynard.  Many excellent examples of masts and sails!

Volume 2 of The Usborne Book of Science Activities has many experiments relating to wind and air.

Bible / Character Development

Memory Verse:    Psalm 69:34  Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein.   Even the seas praise God!  Let us praise Him too!


Bible Story:    Matthew 8:23-26         And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.   And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

Just for Fun

Make a sextant or quadrant!  The book Latitude Hooks and Azimuth Rings by Dennis Fisher has instructions for these and other navigational tools.  Also several places on the internet have instructions, including:


(This project is more accurate than the following one, which is easier to make.)

CD Sextant

You can also buy kits on the internet.   

Tie nautical knots!  Try the book Nautical Knots Illustrated by Paul Snyder or The Complete Book of Sailing Knots by Geoffrey Budworth.  Or visit one of these websites:



Make Semaphore Flags!   Using red and yellow construction paper, make semaphore flags and mount them on rulers or yardsticks.....spell out messages!   Would your child like to spell out his spelling words for this week using semaphore flags!?!?

Roast marshmallows! 

       Eat taffy!

Phys Ed – Games:   Play some of the games from the story:  tag, hide-and-seek, or catch (with beanbags!).  If it’s wintertime, try getting in a large cardboard box and slide down the hill (and imagine you’re sliding across the deck of the John Ena!)

Music:   Sing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean!