Writing an Animal Story (Based on Reynard the Fox)

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Three-part cards, layout of the thirty-five cards of the timeline, but the only book that needs to be placed is Reynard the Fox. (See montessorilitlines.com.) This makes the presentation of a particular form more dramatic. Writing or composition notebook.


Students need to know the story of Reynard the Fox. I recommend Peter deVries's version, but any other version will do. It's helpful if students have a background in "Great Lesson: Literature" (see Wikisori, 9102, Language) which gives them a picture of the whole of literature, and some work in how animals figures in children's literature.

Note: This lesson can be done in three 45 minute periods. If you happen to use a writing time each day for your students, these three presentations fit nicely. The general rule for good writing presentations is 2/3 presentation, 1/3 writing. If you build in language experiences first, it enhances the quality of self-expression.


1. What do you notice about or timeline layout?
2. Yes, only one book is shown. Who can tell me the name of the book and its author?
3. Why is this book so special? Yes, because it’s the first animal tale that was ever published! It forms the basis for all published animals tales that follow, even those written today. If we learn about this animal tale, we can learn about all animal tales.
4. Will someone find the picture, label and definition card for Animal Tales among the three-part cards? Ask student to read the definition card to the group.
5. Now who can find the card for animal tales on the timeline? Student can read the card. Does anyone recognize the source of the illustration? Yes, it’s from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
6. Read Reynard the Fox. This can be done as part of daily read-aloud, and may take two or three periods to read.

At a later time, after reading Reynard to the students.

1.) Today, we’re going to discuss Reynard the Fox, and what makes an animal tale a unique form of literature. The writer, Pierre St. Cloud, also uses a device called a “Framed Tale,” a story within a story. Can anyone tell me why Reynard the Fox is a framed tale? What is the first story? What is the story within the story?

2.) One reason writers use animal in stories is to speak more freely. If they want to criticize someone or something in their society, they are less likely to get caught if they make that person an animal.
2.) Since the main action occurs as part of the story within a story, let’s make a chart to show the names of the animal characters, and the human traits they show.
3.) Teacher makes the list with the children.

Reynard the Fox (the hermit) Sneaky, “trickster,” (disguised as hermit and monk); rogue
King Noble (lion) noble; kingly; powerful
Isegrim (the wolf) believes in honor, fairness; fights to defend honor
Tybalt (the cat)/self-important, self-centered; greedy
Bruin (the Bear)/gullible (easily tricked; believes anything)
Lop the Hare/fast
Bellyn (the ram)/proud (“I’ll take the map to the king all by myself!”) Wants to be the best
Dame Ruckenaw (the ape) Clever; cheats (puts oil on Reynard)
Greybeard (the Badger) Defends friend, supportive, helper to Reynard “devil’s advocate”; skeptic

1. Now I want you to learn a new idea. The word “character” comes from the Greek and it means “mark.” A mark is a dominant quality that helps you recognize the character every time he or she appears. Sometimes a character will also be associated with an object or a gesture.

2. Now that we’ve completed our chart, what do you think Reynard’s mark is?

3. Now I want you to learn another new idea, that of “Foil Characters,” or opposites. Are any of the characters foils of each other? (Tybalt and Bruin; Greybeard and Isgrim).

4. Now let’s review the plot of the story. Plot means what happens in the story.

5. Framed tale, a story within a story. Prince Harold and Queen Caroline appear at beginning and end. They “frame” the story.

6. Story within a Story: Citizens of the kingdom are angry because of Reynard. They talk to King Noble about the problem. Reynard killed Chanticleer’s favorite daughter. Stole fish from a wagon by pretending to be dead. Harmed Isegrim’s children. Ate Courtois’s last sausage. The king sends Bruin to bring Reynard back. Reynard tells him there’s honey in a log, and Bruin gets his arm stuck. Next, the king sends Tybalt, who gets hung with the trap that had been set for Reynard. Greybeard goes to get his friend, (Reynard), and brings Reynard back. Reynard avoids hanging by lying about a treasure map. The king lets him go back get the map, guarded by Lop and Bellyn. He eats and skins Lop and sends the “treasure map” back with Bellyn, which is actually Lop’s fur. Reynard has to face Isegrim in a hand to hand fight. Reynard had shaved off all his fur and oiled his body to avoid getting beaten.

7. The story within a story ends with King Noble making Reynard the first ambassador to the human world, to show humans how clever animals are, forcing him to live away from those he might endanger. The king has learned wisdom. In the ‘real time story’ (the frame) King Harold and Queen Caroline don’t recognize Reynard as he walks off (as the hermit) into the dark forest. Reynard goes off to live as a hermit, and avoids hurting other animals.

At a later time:
1. Record the following vocabulary words.
a. character
b. foil characters
c. lead character or protagonist
d. minor characters
e. antagonist
f. plot
g. framed tale

1. Today we’re going to plan how to use Reynard the Fox as the basis for writing your own animal tale.
2. Make a table in your notebook with a few rows and columns to write down your lead character, minor characters, and antagonist. (2 columns by 5 rows will work)
3. You’ll also need to choose a setting.
4. Teacher models making a chart.

NOTE: A framed tale is more difficult to write, and not necessary. The following model gives only the main story.

Setting: Small town gas station

Name of Character/Mark or personality of character.
Protagonist or Lead Character: Bear
Wise leader/mayor
Antagonist: (opposes the hero): Walter the Wolf/Sneaky, wears disguises
Complainer #1, Raccoon/Nervous
Complainer #2, Blue Jay/Loud
Complainer #3, Rabbit/Can’t stop hopping

Walter the Wolf’s Disguise: Dressed like a salesman with shirt, tie, pants…

Plot: Wolf in the kingdom that is eating everyone’s farm animals. Bear must solve the problem.

5. Ask the students to explain what this model has to do with the story of Reynard. Who are the complainers, for example, in Reynard? How is the problem similar?
6. Read (the following model) or Write Aloud one of your own.

Walter on the Loose

Last year in a gas station in a small town near the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Bear, the owner of the gas station, was elected Chief of Police. It was only his first day on the job when Raccoon showed up in his office. Raccoon shifted from foot to foot to foot to foot in front of Chief Bear’s desk. He turned his head this way and that as though he was expecting to be pulled over for speeding, and he often chewed his fur.

“Mr. Bear, Mr. Bear,” he said.

“Relax Mr. Raccoon,” said Chief Bear. “What can be making you so nervous?”

“My family is living in an abandoned car in the town dump, and there’s a…” Raccoon looked behind him, and chewed on his lip. “…a wolf,” he said. “Walter. I’m sure you know him. He’s the one that owns the restaurant that serves…”

“You’ll have to finish your own sentences, Mr. Raccoon,” said the Chief.

“Baby raccoons,” said Mr. Raccoon.

“I see,” said Chief Bear. “Are you worried that Walter is going to come charging through that door right now and eat you?”

“Maybe,” said Raccoon. “But mostly, I just want you to catch him and put him in jail so that my little babies are safe."
“Make sure to keep your doors locked,” said the Chief, while Raccoon was leaving. Less than half a moment later, in charged Blue Jay, all in a twitter.

[Blue Jay’s “mark” of loudness is emphasized in the next dialogue, and Bear needs to keep reminding him to keep his voice down; after Blue Jay, Rabbit comes in who can’t keep still. Again, Chief asks him to stay in one place while he speaks, offers to place stones on his feet, etc. Each animal complains of some issue with Walter. Then Bear has to go out and solve the crime…]

7. Now, I’d like each student to set up a chart that prepares your story, just as I’ve done. You need to give setting, characters, including a lead and three complainers, a disguise and a basic plot. Give the students about ten minutes to do this.
8. Brief sharing.
9. Now, I’d like you to begin composing your story. Give your setting in the first line. You can briefly introduce your main character, and bring the complainers in quickly. Give students about fifteen minutes to begin their stories.

Suggested Student Work: On their own, students can finish their story. Once they have a strong beginning, I’ve found that the rest of the story’s composition is a matter of time. Use writer’s workshop time for this work. Once finished, apply editing, revision, and author’s chair to enhance writing and oral presentation skills. For this work, I use Writer’s Workshop time already set aside.

Control Of Error

Peer editing/teacher editing/author's chair.

Points Of Interest

Reynard the Fox is the first animal tale in Western European literature. It is to animal fiction what Gilgamesh is the the epic.


Direct Aim: Start an Animal Tale based on Reynard the Fox

Indirect Aim: Begin to develop a working knowledge of the vocabulary: character as “mark”, foil characters, lead character, protagonist, minor characters, antagonist, plot, framed tale


Another animal tale can be similarly read, analyzed, and used as writing prompt.