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Sophie's Masterpiece

Author:  Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator:  Jane Dyer
Summary:  Sophie the spider makes wondrous webs, but the residents of Beekman’s Boardinghouse do not appreciate her until at last, old and tired, she weaves her final masterpiece.
ISBN: 0689801122

A literature-based unit study by Celia Hartmann

Note: The first day you read this story, you may wish to stop after reading the first two pages and do the Social Studies lesson on Occupations–Artists.


Cover Page
Masterpieces Pocket Book
Spider Photos (for decorating lapbook)
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Spiders Tab Book
Different Kinds of Artists Flap Book*
Listmaking Web Shaped Shutter Book
Determination Tri-fold
Compound Words**

Vocabulary Cards
New Words Pocket


Proverbs 16:24 File Folder with primary lines
Proverbs 16:24 File Folder with HWOT lines
Proverbs 16:24 File Folder with outline letters
Proverbs 16:24 File Folder blank

*Cut out large rectangle on first page and fold in half; this is your cover.  Cut out large rectangle on second page; fold in half and cut on the dotted lines to form strips.  Glue the back of this book to the inside (right side) of the cover.  Cut apart the occupation boxes on the third page.  These should be pasted on the outer flaps (or your older student could write the words).  The next set of strips go on the insides of the flaps; the descriptions are in the same order as the occupations. 

**After you print the file, cut the words apart.  For your younger student, put them in two piles (the first parts in one pile and the second parts in another); let him fish to put words together with your help.  For your older student, cut the words apart and put them all in one pile.  Can she figure out what the words are?  Once students are finished, have them paste the words down in a simple book (a piece of paper folded) and add to lapbook.

 If your student is fascinated with spiders, why not let him make a tab book with five different kinds of spiders in it?  He could include the common name on the tab, and a picture as well as the scientific name on the inside of the book.  (Be sure to note the scientific name given to Sophie in the cover of your book!)

Social Studies

Occupations – Artists: What does an artist do? Is it only someone who paints or draws? Ask your student to think of all the ways someone can be an artist. Help him to understand that an artist can be a weaver, a quilter, a singer, dancer, etc.

Occupations – Landlady (Landlord) of a Boarding House: If you have previously rowed Mirette on the High Wire (FIAR Vol. 2) remind your student of Madame Gateau, who was the keeper of the boarding house in that story. The landlady from Sophie’s Masterpiece did the same job as Madame Gateau. Remind your student that a boarding house is like a hotel except that it includes meals as part of the cost of staying there. You may wish to go into detail about the duties of a keeper of a boarding house (see pg. 58 of FIAR Vol. 2).

She spun webs more wondrous than anyone had ever seen.
What is a wonder?  Help your child to understand that is something that causes awe, astonishment, or admiration.  Use this opportunity to discuss lists that have been made by man over the centuries:
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
The Natural Wonders of the World
Things/Places some consider to be Wonders:
Discuss also some of God's wonders.
Read this story to your child:

The Seven Wonders of the World

A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the present Seven Wonders of the World. Though there was some disagreement, the following got the most votes:

1. Egypt's Great Pyramids
2. Taj Mahal
3. Grand Canyon
4. Panama Canal
5. Empire State Building
6. St. Peter's Basilica
7. China's Great Wall


While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one quiet student hadn't turned in her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many." The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help." The girl hesitated, then read, "I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:

To Touch
To Taste
To See
To Hear

She hesitated a little, and then added,

To Feel
To Laugh
And To Love

The room was so full of silence you could have heard a pin drop.

Those things we overlook as simple and "ordinary" are truly wondrous.

Source Unknown

If you asked several people what they felt were wonders, you would probably come up several different lists!  Help your student make a list of things that are wonderful to him/her!

Language Arts

Listmaking: Help your child make a list of where Sophie lived and what she made there.


Beekman’s Boardinghouse..........curtains

Tugboat Captain’s closet............. new suit

Cook’s slippers

Young Woman’s knitting basket.............pillowcase, socks, baby blanket


Compound Words: Review compound words and help your child find several in the story: masterpiece, boardinghouse, landlady, tugboat, windowsill, bedroom, moonlight, starlight, snowflakes.


Personification in illustrations and in text: Review with your student the meaning of personification. Discuss how it can be used in both the words of the story as well as the illustrations. Point out to your child how illustrator Jane Dyer choose to portray Sophie very human looking. Show your student all Sophie "ages" through the book, looking very young at the beginning and very old at the end.  Author Eileen Spinelli choose to give Sophie thoughts and feelings. 

Remind your student of personification lessons in the past. A few examples.....from FIAR Vol. 1: Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel (Mary Anne stuck to her job until it was finished and was a hero and was drawn with expressions), Katy and the Big Snow (the author wrote that Katy liked to work and she spoke); from FIAR Vol. 2: The Little Red Lighthouse (the lighthouse and bridge spoke and had emotions and the fog was drawn as the face and hands of a person); from FIAR Vol. 3: Andy and the Lion (the sun was looking in the window); Little Nino’s Pizzeria (human expressions and emotions for the face of the moon)

Weaving: Have your student try their hand at weaving. Follow the instructions for a placement , allowing your student to choose from whatever colors you have on hand. You may to laminate your artist’s creation. 

Blanket: A younger child might enjoy decorating her blanket (a piece of construction paper) with paper snowflakes and stars that you provide and fresh pine needles.

Great Artists and Masterpieces:  What is a masterpiece? It is an outstanding work of art.  Sometimes it is also described as an artist's best work of his lifetime.   To put it simple-- it is the best ever!    Introduce your student to some masterpieces (this would be the perfect opportunity for a field trip to an art museum).  Discuss what you like/what is interesting about each piece noting different techniques and styles you have previously studied.

Here are some masterpieces that you may want to include in your discussion:
Van Gogh-- Starry Starry Night
da Vinci-- Mona Lisa, The Last Supper
Monet-- Lily Pond
Dali-- The Persistence of Memory
Picasso--  Three Musicians
Warhol-- Campbell's Soup Can
Jungle with a Lion

Your older student may want to choose a masterpiece to mimic-- just give him the medium and let him go for it!


Geometric Patterns: On the second, third, and fourth pages of text, Sophie’s webs all have geometric patterns. Point out to your child the stars (made up of five triangles and a pentagon), squares, hearts, triangles, and wedge (pie) shapes. Help your young child learn some of these shapes. Many children would enjoy making their own patterns using tangrams or geometric shapes.


Spiders: Spiders are part of the arachnid family and are not insects. Arachnids have eight legs (remind your student that an insect only has six legs). Arachnids have two main body parts: the cephalothorax and the abdomen (an insect has three). Spiders have a silk gland in their abdomen (tummy) that allows it to make webs. The tips of the legs of a spider are oily and this is what keeps it from getting tangled in it’s own web. Most spiders only live about a year. In our story, Sophie is a Nursery Web Spider. Nursery Web Spiders eat small crawling insects, but do not spin webs to catch their prey. They make webs for their young and then stand guard over them.  Find more spider information (including fun ideas) in this unit The Very Busy Spider.

In the Hands of a Child Spiders Research Project Pack (2nd-4th)

Bible / Character Development

Hurtful words: "Yuck!" scowled the Cook. "Look at that ugly disgusting spider." These words hurt Sophie very much. No one likes to be called ugly or disgusting or any other unkind thing. The Bible cautions us about our mouth. How we are to have control of our mouth and the things we say. God does not want us use unkind words or words spoken in anger. The Bible teaches us that words can pierce like a sword. Read your student this story:

Nails in the Fence (author unknown)

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His Father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there." A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

                    Have your child memorize the following Bible verse: Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the
                    soul, and health to the bones.

                    Have your older child use the following for copy work:

Words Are Wonderful Things

Keep a watch on your words, my darling,

For words are wonderful things;

They are sweet like the bees' fresh honey,

Like the bees they have terrible stings;

They can bless like the warm, glad sunshine,

And brighten a lonely life;

They can cut, in the strife of anger,

Like an open, two-edged knife.

Mrs. E. R. Miller


Determination: "Sophie spun without blinking. Or eating. Or sleeping. She was never more exhausted. Or determined. On and on she spun." Although Sophie was very tired and very old, she was determined to finish the baby’s blanket, her masterpiece...the most important and her best work.

If you have rowed Amber on the Mountain (FIAR Vol. 3), remind your student of Amber’s determination to learn to read.  "You can do almost anything you fix your mind on."   Also remind your student of Lentil (FIAR Vol. 1) and his determination to play the harmonica.


Just for Fun

Sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider.
A favorite bedtime story at our house is Iza Trapani’s Itsy Bitsy Spider book, as it adds several verses to the one we all know. Your younger child might enjoy putting these sequencing cards in order.
Make an egg carton spider
More ideas, activities, songs, and recipes
Continue your spider study with another unit found at Home School Share-- The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

Video Go-along/Family Read Aloud: Charlotte’s Web