Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: The Great Kapok Tree


The Great Kapok Tree written by Lynne Cherry takes place in the Amazon Rain Forest where two men arrive at the great Kapok tree with the determination to chop it down.  The older man points out this particular Kapok tree and walks out of the Rain Forest leaving the younger man to finish the job.  After a few swings of the ax, the man becomes tired and sits at the bottom of the tree and falls asleep.  While he sleeps, all different types of animals come down from the tree and whisper to the young man not to destroy their home.  A giant boa constrictor whispers that many generations of his family have lived in this tree.  A group of tree frogs make their way down to tell the man that chopping down this tree will leave many homeless.  Tree porcupines find the man to tell him that animals and humans need oxygen to live, and that trees produce oxygen.  When the man finally awakes he is surrounded by all the animals that came to visit him during his nap.  He gets up slowly taking in all the beautiful sights and smells, and begins to raise his ax to resume chopping.  But instead, he drops the ax and walks out of the rain forest.

Curriculum Connections
The Great Kapok Tree is a great book that would show students that animals need food, water, shelter, air, and space to survive (SOL Va K.7a).  With all the images of the animals, it would be a great visual aid to demonstrate that animals and their offspring are similar but not identical in appearance ( SOL Va K.7d). The Great Kapok Tree could also be used as an introduction to classifying animals and incests(SOL Va 1.5a,b,c).  The rain forest is also an excellent example of a habitat and what an animal needs from the habitat they live in(SOL Va 2.5a,b,&c).
Additional Resources

  • Here is a lesson plan that can be used with the book.
  • This website uses simple math games to learn about the rain forest.
  • This website has a webquest about the rain forest.
  • The last two pages of the book have a world map highlighting the locations of rain forests around the world, and is bordered by pictures of animals in the book and also in the rain forest.

Book: The Great Kapok Tree
Author: Lynne Cherry
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date:
Pages: 40 pages
Grade Range: K-2

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