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Manuelo the Playing Mantis



Last updated Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Author: Don Freeman
Date of Publication: 2004
ISBN: 0670036846
Grade Level: 3rd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Mar. 2009

Synopsis: Though Freeman died in 1978, his love for storytelling and, in particular, his love for music live on through this previously unpublished tale of determination personified in the character of a praying mantis. The lonely insect longs to join other creatures in making music, but lacks the chirp of the crickets or the croak of the frogs. He also fails at building his own instruments, as a reed made into a flute makes no noise, the flower of a trumpet vine does not blow, and his "snippy" claws break the strings of a twig-and-cobweb harp. Finally, an intelligent and observant spider agrees to help him, if he promises not to eat her for dinner. An artistic collaboration is born as Debby Webster spins web and other objects into an instrument that will bring music into Manuelo's life. The rich pastel illustrations present the world of the resolute Manuelo as the "playing mantis" introduces various instruments to readers. With his stick-thin limbs, the insect makes a graceful figure as he plays his homemade cello. The tiny white spider perfectly reflects the delicate nature of the web she spins. With characters that are empathetic and intrepid, this story makes a good model for encouraging youngsters to persevere when they encounter difficulties. A fine choice for all libraries, this book will be of special interest to young musicians.

Note to readers:
•  Vocabulary: Flute, trumpet, harp, cello, thicket, undanted, fashion, spindly, suspended, curlicue, nimble, bow (for an instrument), pendulum, homonym - blew (into an instrument) vs blue (color)

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  What is Manuelo?
•  What instrument is Manuelo playing?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  What animals make sounds like music?
•  What types of instruments does Manuelo try to make & play?
•  What else did Manuelo learn, besides playing an instrument?
•  How did the other insects help Manuelo?

Craft ideas:
•  Make a “horn” flower like the one Manuelo plays in the book. Take construction paper and cut out 4 big petals in one color, 4 strips of the same length in another color (to make the stamens of the flower), and a grass-like border for the sepal of the flower. Put the petals together to form a 3-D flower. Put the stamens inside of the flower adhere the sepal at the bottom of the it.
•  Make a flute out of construction paper. Take a piece of paper, roll it up and tape the sides together. Then with a hole-puncher, make the holes.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!