Mindel and The Misfit Dragons – Teacher’s Guide

Mindel and The Misfit Dragons – A Magical Tale by an Ancient Hand – is, above all, a story, an original, magical verse fairy tale, but it also can be a teaching tool for lower or middle school. As such, we offer the following Teachers’ Guide, a set of questions, discussion topics, activities and assignments for classroom use. It is meant as a series of suggestions, adaptable to different grade levels.

Click here to download a printable PDF.

Mindel and The Misfit Dragons

Teachers’ Guide

Historical Context:

1. Use the “Dear Reader” letter as a jumping-off point to discuss:
a. Bards and storytelling as an ancient oral medium
b. Stories told as rhyming poems to aid memory
c. Handwritten manuscripts
d. The invention of the printing press and how it changed everything
2. This story takes place in Medieval Times, also known as the Middle Ages. When was that in history? What was it in the middle of? What characterized the Middle Ages?
3. What was the role of the castle in the Middle Ages? Identify its parts. Who lived there? In what way was it important for defense?
4. Discuss the history of writing implements from chisels on stone to feather quills to fountain pens to ball point pens. Have students experiment with disposable fountain pens to get a feel for ink flow and how to hold the pen. Also try felt-tipped chisel point pens to get a sense of thick-thin lines as seen in the text, although Mindel and The Misfit Dragons was written with a chisel point fountain pen.
5. Discuss handwritten medieval manuscripts. Show students copies of decorative medieval manuscript pages. In a Jewish context include the Washington Haggadah by Joel Ben Simeon, which has drawings of castles. Study medieval decorative alphabets. Have students draw a full-page letter – their first initial perhaps – and decorate it with animals, plants, castles, knights, princesses, etc.

Story

6. Ask students what they think this story is really about:
a. Medieval times?
b. Dragon Lore?
c. Keeping the Sabbath?
d. A young girl’s quest to keep her home?
e. The fact that everyone has a unique place in the world, even if at first glance it seems that person doesn’t fit in?
7. Analyze the character of each dragon. What motivates each one? What makes them what Mama calls “misfits”?
8. Analyze the character of Mindel.
9. From the standpoint of narrative and creative writing, discuss point of view. We are always in the head of one of the characters throughout the book. Discuss the difference between that and the Omniscient Narrator, which is only used in the Prologue and Epilogue.
a. For example, in Part I we are in Papa’s head until he leaves the cave. How do we know? When do we switch to Mama’s head? How do we know? Whose head are we in in different places throughout the book? The most dramatic switch occurs between “Part IV – Mindel” and “Part V – Serpenfin.” Explain how this is handled. How is it used for dramatic impact? (Answer: In “Part IV” Mindel thinks the dragon is trying to grab her and eat her. In “Part V” from Serpenfin’s point of view we learn that he is trying to befriend her.) Note how the shift in “heads” leaves us hanging and waiting to see what happens next.
b. Sometimes shifts are more subtle. How do they happen? Whose head are we in at the end? How do you know?
c. Have students write their own stories, shifting points of view, but always in someone’s head.

Names

10. Use “Mindel’s Glossary” as a jumping-off point to discuss derivations of the names of people and places. Discuss prefixes and suffixes often used in names. Begin with a discussion of the names of the three dragons. Then have students research the derivations of their own names as well as names of places important in their lives. Dictionaries and baby naming books will be helpful in this.

Poetry

11. Discuss rhyme and meter in poetry. Mindel and The Misfit Dragons is written in iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter. The rhyme scheme abab follows the meter. That is, the first and third tetrameter lines rhyme, as do the second and fourth trimeter lines. This four-line stanza form is often called the ballad stanza. Use this as a jumping-off point to discuss various stanza forms and have students write ballad stanzas and other simple forms.

Religious and Family Traditions:

12. For students in a Jewish school:
In “Part II – Sir Benjamin and Lady Leah,” page 21 and 22, Sir Benjamin discusses the fact that the drawbridge gate must stay either up or down all through the Sabbath, lest the act of its movement set the water wheel in motion, thus powering the mill which grinds the wheat. This is medieval technology that must be dealt with in order to avoid violating the Sabbath. What modern-day technology involved in entering or leaving a house might cause problems for the Sabbath and need to be configured with Jewish law in mind? (Example: beeping alarm systems.)
13. For all students: Have students pick a family tradition, for example, a religious holiday or a secular American one such as July 4th or Thanksgiving, and write one or two stanzas about their family celebration of it. Have them write in the ballad stanza of Mindel and The Misfit Dragons. (See #11)

Dragons

14. Are dragons real? Did they ever really live? Discuss dragon lore from different cultures and places around the world. For example, discuss differences between Asian dragons and European dragons.
15. Discuss common characteristics, both physical and emotional, usually attributed to dragons. What makes Serpenfin, Pointilla and Bibinfor different from other dragons? Have students talk about what characteristics might make a person different, such that he or she seems not to “fit in” and how those very differences might one day prove to be great advantages. For instance, someone who grows to be seven feet tall might become a great basketball player; a child who wants to read indoors all day instead of playing outside with others might one day become a great novelist; a person with really long fingers might become a world-class pianist; a kid whom others perceive as weird because he or she is obsessed with worms or weeds might grow up to find a cure for some terrible disease.
16. Have students draw dragon faces. Using the dragon pictures in Mindel and The Misfit Dragons as samples, have them change the eyes and mouths of their dragons slightly. See how easy it is for the expressions and emotions to change from happy to sad to angry to scared to surprised to ashamed. Then try the same with human faces!
Click here to download a printable PDF.