Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi

Use a teaching guide that includes vocabulary, chapter guides, and extension activities to be used while reading Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi by Phyllis Shalant.
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1. Describe Davy's relationship with Bartleby. Why do you think it is different from Josh and Jeff's?

2. Write about how you would feel if you were a pet turtle kept in a small bowl. What would you think, feel, hope, and wish? Explain why.

3. Illustrate the setting (Bartleby's Bowl) in the beginning of the story.

4. How is Bartleby feeling at the end of Chapter 2 when Jeff says he is as, "Dumb as a stone "? Describe a situation when you have felt this way. Who made you feel this and what did they say or do to make you feel this way?

5. What does Davy mean when he says Bartleby isn't even a real turtle? Why does this make Bartleby feel so badly?

6. Toward the bottom of page 21 the author describes the setting using sounds and images. Illustrate this setting, make sure you include everything that can be heard or seen by Bartleby. What do you think this "Big water place " is? Use that as the title for your illustration.

7. Why does Bartleby drop his voice to a whisper when he tells Mudly he has been a pet? Have you ever felt this way? Explain the situation and how you felt.

8. When a Stinkpot (Mudly) is nervous he emits a foul odor. Why do you think he does this? What physical reactions happen to humans when they are nervous? Do these reactions have the same purpose as the odor that the Stinkpot emits? If not what purpose do they have? Are they helpful or not? Make a list of nervous human reactions that are helpful and those that are not.

9. Choose a character from the big water place that is like you. Give a detailed description of how he/she is like you. Do any of the other characters remind you of a human you know? If so explain who they remind you of and why?

10. On page 69 Mudly and Bartleby are discussing "the Claw, the Paw, and the Jaw. " They decide that they too are the Claw, the Paw, and the Jaw. Why do they think this? Do you think you can be described as the Claw, the Paw, and the Jaw like Bartleby and Mudly. Why or why not?

11. What does Bartleby mean when he tells snake, "Friends invite--they don't insist? " Have you ever felt that a friend was insisting rather than inviting? What was the situation, how did it make you feel and how did you handle it? Looking back, do you think there was a better way to handle that situation? If so what do you wish you would have done?

12. At the end of Chapter 25, Seezer says he will consider Bartleby's request to join him on his journey to the Mississippi River. Do you think Seezer should take Bartleby with him? Why or why not? If you were Bartleby would you want to go with Seezer? Explain your choice.Seezer and Bartleby



A Visit From Bartleby

Each week a child is assigned to take home Bartleby (a stuffed turtle or other turtle replica) and a journal to record Bartleby's visit to his or her house. The story must be written from Bartleby's point of view (see Chapter-By-Chapter Guide, page 1). The students should also focus on one detailed event instead of a list of events.

Example: "Glen brought me into a room with a big box sitting on a tall mountain. Then Glen pushed a button and pictures of things that were moving could be seen. Many of the picture's movements made Glen laugh. Glen told me it was called a t.v. and I remembered when my boys used to watch a t.v. and laugh like Glen. So I got muzzy and took a big nap."

SLIPping into Character

Think of a new character to introduce into the big water place. What is Bartleby doing when it comes into the story? Is he playing Slip, hunting for food, napping on the rock, or doing something else? Make sure you tell us the new character's name and what it looks like. Try to give your character an interesting voice the way Phyllis Shalant does with her characters. Finally, show how your character will be important to Bartleby. It can be a friend, a helper, a protector-- or an enemy. You decide.

One More Challenge

Rewrite Junket's directions to get from the big water place to the traveling water by adding another obstacle for the two travelers to overcome. Write an additional chapter where Bartleby and Seezer deal with your challenge. Don't forget point of view!

Author, Author!

Write the first chapter of a sequel to Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi. Introduce at least one new character. If possible, read the first chapter of Bartleby of the Big Bad Bayou aloud (available 6/05). Have students discuss how their chapter compares with the author's.

Social Studies

Using several types of maps, students work in small groups to decide upon and illustrate the quickest path for Bartleby and Seezer to take from New York to the Mississippi River. Groups present their routes, naming the states that Bartleby and Seezer will travel through, and give reasons why they made the choices they did.


Hold a Fact vs. Fiction investigation. Working in small groups, students should look back through the novel to find examples of turtle behavior. How does Bartleby smell, breathe underwater, eat, and move? Who does he keep company with? Who seem to be his enemies? After compiling this list, groups should investigate to learn what is fact and what is fiction. They could create a T-chart to display their results.

In Part One of the novel, Davy's mom is bathing Bartleby because she doesn't want the boys to get salmonella disease. Have students investigate what this is, and whether red-eared turtles can be carriers.

Divide students into groups to research southern bayous and northeastern ponds. What types of plants, animals, insects, and fish are found in these two bodies of water? Compare and contrast a bayou and a pond. How are they different? How are they the same?

Have students select one of the many characters from the novel to draw and write a science report about.


As a tie-in to the social studies activity of mapping Bartleby and Seezer's journey from New York to the Mighty Mississippi, students should use the map scale and calculate the distance the two friends will have to travel. They could then determine a benchmark distance that Bartleby and Seezer cover each day. Finally, using this benchmark, they would estimate how long the journey would take.

Create word problems like the examples below for the students to solve. Have the students work in pairs to solve and share creative strategies.

If Bartleby travels an average of 10 feet in 10 minutes how long will it take him to travel 30 feet? 45 feet?

If he travels 10 feet in 5 minutes how long will it take him to travel 20 feet? 45 feet?

If Bartleby can travel 66 feet in 11 minutes how many feet per minute does he cover? How many feet would he cover in 10 minutes? How many feet in 5 minutes?

Final Projects

Create a jacket cover for a sequel you would write for Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi. Include a title and a summary of the story.

Create logos for team t-shirts for the Slip players.

Create and write directions for a new game the characters in the story might like to play. Illustrate a scene from your new game.

Yoga Position: Bartleby pose, A.K.A. Child's Pose:

Turn out the lights and have students find a space in the room where they are comfortable and away from others. Begin by sitting on the heels with the forehead resting on the floor. Place the hands, palms upward, on either side of the feet. Allow the body to relax and sink down into this position.

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