Awesome Ancient Ancestors! Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
Discussion and Seriously
FUN Study Guide to:
America's Horrible Histories:
(Who Are You Calling a Woolly Mammoth & Awesome Ancient Ancestors)
By Elizabeth Levy
Illustrated by Daniel McFeeley
“The word horrible comes from the Latin word ‘horree’, which means ‘to bristle or make your hairs stand on end,' and it's the horrible parts of history that can keep you awakeÂ…and interested!” — author Elizabeth Levy
Why Is America's History So Horrible?
Well, it's not really horrible, but it can be weird, gross, and downright surprising at times! Elizabeth Levy's books offer a zany but fact-filled journey before recorded history — all the way back to the time of T-Rex. From there, Levy invites readers to explore the evolution of North America and learn about American pyramids, ancient rats the size of cows, and the hairiest mammalsÂ…including our first ancestors. Levy wants kids to know that America never was a "new" world. At the time of the Greeks and Romans, in the Americas there were great cities, and even pyramids along the Mississippi.
With cartoons, timelines, and "travel" guides to museum exhibits and other landmarks of pre-history, the engaging format of America's Horrible Histories will capture the attention of readers at all levels. Plus, it provides a fresh way to supplement a school social studies or science curriculum. Sassy sidebars and cultural facts throughout the books will have readers laughing while they learn.
So What Are These Books About Anyway?
Who Are You Calling a Woolly Mammoth?
Almost 250,000,000 years ago, North America and other continents were joined as one super-continent called Pangaea (Greek for "All Earth"). In this prehistoric time, it was every dinosaur for himself (or herself), whether roaming alone or in packs. But life back then was much more than hungry dinosaurs. Plants and insects were evolving, too. With the shift in tectonic plates, and climate changes, the Americas drifted west. Pangaea started to break up. When the Ice Age arrived, all-new creatures began prowling the area we now call North America. Soon, two-legged creatures (our distant relatives) joined them!
Levy examines numerous theories on how these North American changes happened, and describes the many ways creatures either adapted or became extinct. Readers have a chance to look at prehistoric facts and see where they fit in this country's history.
Awesome Ancient Ancestors
Picking up where Who Are You Calling a Woolly Mammoth? left off, this book shares theories on how humans came to settle in America — and what they did once they had arrived. When did humans first get here? Did all humans walk or ride across the Beringia Bridge? Why was corn so important to humans? What did people do for fun back then?
Levy introduces readers to numerous ancient peoples — from the Olmecs to the Mound Builders to the Mayans. She explains how people changed from nomadic hunters and gatherers to farmers living in permanent settlements. Her tongue-in-cheek examination of myths, legends, fossils, artifacts, and art shows readers how American civilization, as we know it, got its start. And it was way before Christopher Columbus!
Before You Read the Books — Try This!
Timeline for the Ages
How can we understand history unless we understand the passage of time? We can't! Levy provides ongoing timelines in both books to help show when the prehistoric events she describes happen. But before diving way back in time into America's Horrible Histories, create and discuss a historical timeline based on the world you know today. Make your timeline on a piece of paper or across a blackboard.
First, think about key dates from your own life. When were you born? How old are you now? When were your parents or grandparents born? Mark these dates near the right side, or the end, of the timeline.
Next, think about the lives of other important American historical figures. Where would Abe Lincoln fit on your timeline? How about Christopher Columbus? Plot these dates onto your timeline. They should fall somewhere close to the right side (not in the center, as you might expect!).
Now, think about the books you're about to read, and the time when they take place. Where would 65 million years B.C.E. go your timeline? What about 8000 B.C.E? Now you're really ready — literally — to go back in time!
P.S. Don't toss your timeline! Add to it as you read the booksÂ…
"I Was A 2,000 Pound Bison" and Other Writing Prompts
As you read, take time to write while thinking about the facts from the books and using your imagination.
From Who Are You Calling a Woolly Mammoth?
- Read pages 44–59 and examine the different extinction theories Levy has included. Which theory do you believe? Support your argument with facts. Or, just for fun, invent wacky ideas from your imagination. Did angry space aliens land in a Sauropod's backyard? Did every volcano on Earth erupt at the same time? Could dinosaurs have died because of their own gas, or did they get crisped from staying out in the sun too long?
- Read pages 64–70. What if you boarded a time machine back to the swamps for a visit with some of the earliest mammals? Describe what you find — from the teeniest to the biggest mammals alive. Which mammal would you want to have as a pet and why?
- Read the top ten list of American Ice Age mammals starting on page 101. Levy describes giant sloths that look like Jabba the Hutt, beavers the size of bears, and even enormous camels. Why do you think the animals were so big? (Hint: there are other clues throughout the book.) Make list of these reasons. If you were a prehistoric mammal, what would you want to be and why?
- It's millions of years ago and you are a human crossing the Beringia Bridge. What five things are you carrying and why? Where are you going?
From Awesome Ancient Ancestors
- If there were an Ice Age version of the hit TV show, Survivor, the winner would be the bison! Why did he survive when other animals didn't? Write a short story about an encounter between a bison and a human. What happens? Go for that gruesome endingÂ…it's okay when we're talking about horrible histories!
- Read pages 83–87. Now, put yourself in the shoes of the first archaeologist who discovered TeotihuacÃ¡n, the great ancient city located in Mexico. Think about what life in that city must have been like. Research it and describe it. Now, travel to Chaco Canyon. What do you see there? Why is this place so like the Emerald City of Oz in The Wizard of Oz?
- On page 111, Levy describes how Mayans offered blood to the gods so crops would grow. What other rituals did they perform? There are many legends about the power of a Native American "rain dance." Can you think of some other rituals people today perform to get things done?
- Some of the ancient peoples had funny names, like the Stinkards described on page 144. If you were given the task of renaming all the ancient animals and peoples, what would you call them and why? Try to rename them based on how they act, what they look like, or what they eat.
Science, English, and Art…Oh My!
Even More Activities for You To Do
America's Horrible Histories are about history, of course, but they're about lots of other stuff too. As you read the books, think about how dinosaurs and ancient American civilizations relate to you, living in the twenty-first century. Let Levy's fun facts help you to explore science, art, and more!
- Get a flat map of the world (also called a "mercator"). Trace the continents. Then, cut out their shapes in construction paper (or any paper) like the pieces of a puzzle. Now, make Pangaea by pushing them together. What land masses look as though they were fit together before the big break-up?
- When Pangaea split apart, it split into two major masses called "Laurasia" and "Gondwana Land." Using an encyclopedia or the Internet, look up information on these "lost" continents. Where were they moving? As you explore the formation of the seven continents we know today, you can learn about how mountain ranges, volcanoes, and earthquake zones formed. Big things to think about, even beyond America.
o How did Australia end up down in the Southern hemisphere — and why does it have so many unique plants and animals?
o When India crashed into Asia, the Himalayan Mountains formedÂ… so why is Mount Everest still getting taller?
o A woolly mammoth was recently discovered buried deep in Siberia. What do you think lies underneath the snow and ice of frozen places on Earth like Greenland or Antarctica?
- Ancient peoples often explain natural occurrences with myths and legends. Make up your own myth about how and why Pangaea came apart. How could you imagine what happened to Pangaea happening again to North America or any of the other continents? Will parts of the world ever crash into one another again?
Dinosaurs are Dyn-o-mite!
- Choose a North American dinosaurs and research it. When did it live? What were the differences between dinosaurs from the Palezoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras? Put your research together with others to create a group dinosaur timeline.
- Levy has included "travel" boxes in both books that explain where you go to see fossils, bones, and other prehistory relics. How many places have you visited? Is there somewhere special you would like to go?
- Look for fossils online, too. Take a virtual visit to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, or explore the La Brea Tar Pits in California. There are special places all over North America where fossils are the main attraction! Where will you go? Try these search words: fossil, paleontologist, or anthropologist.
- Check out page 47 in Who Are You Calling a Woolly Mammoth? You can make your own Dino-Trading cards using facts from the books and facts you gather on your own. Write these "Dino-Stats" on the back of each card. Have your friends do the same — and swap 'em!
- Imagine you have been chosen to design your own amusement park. You decide that the theme will be "Prehistoric Dinosaurs." What are the rides and what is the amusement park layout going to look like?
Make Me A Prehistoric Fossil!
- Well, we don't want you to be a fossil — but you can make your own. Here's what you will need: plaster of Paris or molding clay (available at any crafts store). Press leaves, shells, sticks, and other objects into the plaster or clay before it has dried. After it hardens, write about what these fossils could tell someone from the future. Do the objects tell a story about people, animals or a special place? What do the objects say about our climate? How do the objects help to describe our habitat? For example, if you do this exercise and fill your fossil with shells and sand, chances are you live by the beach.
- You bug me! Get a tube of clear-drying glue and some waxed paper. Take it outside on a sunny day. Leave a glob of glue and wait to see what it attracts. Chances are that a wandering ant or mosquito may find its way into the glue. Once the bug is trapped in the glue, add another drop on top. Wait for the glue to harden. It will be transparent — your version of a bug that has been found in amber. Can you examine its parts?
- Does your state have a state fossil? Nebraska's state fossil is the mammoth, while California's is the saber-toothed cat. Look up facts about your state fossil or a neighboring state fossil. If your state doesn't have one, what do you think it should be?
Ancient Travel Brochures
- Glacier Getaway with Free Woolly Mammoth Breakfast Every Morning! Pretend you're a travel agent from the year 40,000 B.C.E. What would you feature inside your travel brochure to encourage prehistoric peoples to visit North America? What would the "hotels" be like? What food would be served? What would be your travel warnings? What would you advise visitors to pack? Where are some of the most popular destinations and why?
- We Build It — You Come! Now, prepare a special brochure especially for more "recent" ancient peoples. Try planning a "Visit to the Mound Builders." Then, imagine a "Trip With the Mayans." What's special about traveling back in time to visit these civilizations? What do the "visiting" settlements look like? Are tourists welcome at ancient Mayan Death sacrifices — or are the tourists the sacrifices? Yikes!
What's On the Menu?
- Hungry for…chocolate? In her books, Levy explains how ancient Americans ate and grew some very cool foods that the rest of the planet didn't even know existed! Take some time to research the history of some of these foods and how they (and we!) changed the world. Sometimes they made it betterÂ…sometimes not. Investigate!
- Hungry for… Pleistocene? The Pleistocene Epoch (Ice Ages) lasted from about 1.65 million years ago until 10,000 years ago. Many of the animals from that era are now extinct, but others live in select states. Following are two lists. The one labeled "Extinct" is a list of some animals that are extinct. The other labeled "Survivors" includes ancient animals that still survive in the U.S.A. Divide up your group so that each person researches one of these animals. Look up information about them (and other animals mentioned in both books), then combine your findings and discuss why you think some species died out while others survived to the present day.
- Ground Sloth
- Beautiful Armadillo
- Short-faced Skunk
- American Lion
- Saber-toothed tiger
- Grasshopper Mouse
- Starnose Mole
- Northern Bog Lemming
- Snowshoe Hare
Weather or Not
- Take a look at how "cool" prehistory really is. How did Antarctica cool off the rest of the planet and create new land on some continents? How did cool weather make grass? Why did grass become so important to animals and people in North America?
- In prehistoric times, animals adapted their bodies and feeding habits based on changes in climate. For example, in Who Are You Calling a Woolly Mammoth? we learn that when it got cooler, animals like bison and cattle developed multi-chamber stomachs in order to digest grass properly. Think of other ways in which animals have evolved as they adapted to climate changes.
- Have you ever watched The Weather Channel? You can see how different temperatures and storm systems all over the country can affect where you live. How do we adapt our "settlements" (i.e. houses, apartments, farms) to fast changing weather patterns? We use lightning rods, tornado cellars, and flood walls, to name a few. Make lists of the ways that different parts of the country adapt their lives to deal with weather. Don't forget major weather events like El Nino and La Nina. What about global warming?
Don't Be Petrified by Petroglyphs (And Other Ancient Art)
- Rock On!
Materials you need: rough sandpaper (a few sheets), black spray paint, and a nail or sharp-tipped object (to scratch design).
- Apply black spray paint unevenly on your sandpaper so it looks like the surface of a rock. Let it dry.
- Cut sandpaper into several, equal-sized pieces.
- Prehistoric people used symbols on cave art to relate ideas and messages. Make up your own symbols and carefully scratch them into the pieces of painted sandpaper. Scratch the outline of a bison, or a fish, or maybe your little brother!
- Mix and match your rock art to make up different messages. You could decorate your bedroom door with an ancient "Keep Out" message if you want!
P.S. If you're really feeling expressive, step outside with some chalk and draw petroglyph symbols right on the real rocksÂ…or the sidewalk.
- This Art's For the Birds
In Awesome Ancient Ancestors, Levy describes giant bird art created and rediscovered in a place called Poverty Point, Louisiana (see page 62). Enormous ridges made the shape of a giant bird that could be seen from overhead. Make your own art based on this idea. What shape or symbol would you make and why?
Materials you need: pencil, colored construction paper, white glue, and colored or beach sand.
- Put down a piece of paper and trace your design or symbol in pencil. Make a silly face, another giant bird, or "Stick Man." Anything goes!
- Drip a trail of glue over the pencil marks so now your symbol is outlined in glue.
- Sprinkle colored sand over the glue and let dry.
- Getting A-HEAD of Prehistoric People
In Awesome Ancient Ancestors, Levy describes the creation of giant head sculptures by the Olmecs that stood more than 9 feet tall and weighed up to 50 tons each. What was the significance of these heads? You can make a slightly smaller version of your own with this simple paper-mache recipe. Materials you need: powdered wallpaper paste, water, one inflated balloon, strips of newspaper, and a pin. You'll also need some time — the mold will take time to dry between layers!
- Use your balloon to make the basic head shape.
- Make your paste solution mixing together the water and the powdered paste.
- One at a time, dip each strip into your paste, making sure it's completely covered, but not clumpy. Lay the strip over the mold and press it into place with your fingers. Not too hard-don't injure the balloon!
- Dip next strip and overlap the first. Repeat until balloon is covered.
- Let these strips dry, then repeat the procedure again, creating a second layer of paper over the first dried layer. As you build layers, begin to shape the newspaper into a nose, eyes, mouth and other head features.
- Once the paper has all dried into the mask shape you want, stick a pin through the paper into the balloon. It should pop and you have your own Olmec or Mayan head!
P.S. If you're feeling really inspired, decorate your head with glitter, feathers, magic markers, paint…or even petroglyphs!
Meet the Awesome Author
I don't just use jokes to make us laugh at our history (because a lot of what's happened over the years isn't all that funny, actually); but I do think that we've got to learn to laugh at ourselves and see how much we have in common with people through all ages. If you can share a joke, it's hard to hate . . . history is too important to be taken seriously because kids have to learn that we all do odd, strange things and no one has a monopoly on making mistakes!
Author Elizabeth Levy is the award-winning author of over eighty books for children, including If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution, Invisible Inc. Mysteries (Scholastic), Seventh Grade Tango (Hyperion), and My Life as a Fifth Grade Comedian (Winner of the Maryland and Georgia State Awards, and included in the New York Public Library Top 100 Books of the Year).
Watch for future America's Horrible Histories titles!