Why do you think you should never smile at a monkey?

Wow, did we enjoy interacting with Never Smile at a Monkey (*and 17 other Important Things to Remember) by Steve Jenkins.

never smile at a monkey

We used this book to practice questioning, predicting and inferring – when you encounter some of these creatures, what should you not do? And why exactly?

Jenkins explains that certain large creatures are “well known threats” – of course we aren’t going to get too close to tigers or crocodiles. Sharp teeth. No thanks! We also know to avoid “rattle snakes, black widow spiders, and piranhas” Their danger is well known. But what about the creatures we don’t know so much about. Creatures with “teeth, claws, spines and venom that can be deadly” That’s what this book is all about. A very clever idea brought to us with a combination of Jenkins’ gorgeous torn paper collage animals and just enough text to teach us new information related to this theme.

Jenkins organizes this book with a picture of a creature on each page or 2 page spread, Accompanying this is a Never . . . . warning in larger text and then an explanation of why. At the back of the book, more information is provided about each creature as well as a list of books for further reading. In the example here, we are warned to never collect a cone shell. Why not? Yikes. Well, a cone shell has poisoned barbs that it uses when hunting. They can be launched like harpoons. Potentially deadly if they stab you. Makes one think twice about collecting shells!

How did we use this book in the classroom?

Students brought notepads and pencils to the carpet to listen to the story. I would show them a picture and read the Never . . . warning without showing them the rest of the text. Students then wrote their prediction/inference about why we should never . . . We shared a few out loud and then I read the explanation provided in the book.

Some very funny conversation happened. Amazing predictions. Lots of arguing! “Not everything has venom you know!” “How could it bite you, it doesn’t even have teeth?” “What are you talking about? Be more specific!” My favourite line: “Ms Gelson I’m using my schema!”

So  . . . want to learn something new?

Why should you never smile at a monkey?

Our predictions:

  • it might scratch you when it gets excited
  • it will get really mad
  • it will yell at you and bite you with its sharp teeth
  • it will get loud, jump up and bite you

And the real reason. . .

“If you smile at a rhesus monkey it may interpret your show of teeth as an aggressive gesture and respond violently.”

Why should you never jostle a jellyfish?

Our predictions:

  • it can release venom that can kill you
  • it might shock you
  • it might pop
  • it will start to vibrate and kill you

And the real reason. . .

A box jelly fish is in a class by itself . . . even the smallest contact with its stinging tentacles causes intense pain . . . you can die very quickly.”

Later, students chose one creature, wrote their prediction and the real explanation and included a picture. Sometimes our thinking was very close – other times, not a bit. Which was great – real learning happened! We also liked celebrating when we did have background knowledge about a particular creature and could make an inference that made a lot of sense. At one point, as I was reading a little voice piped up. “This is so fun!

Love, love, love Steve Jenkins’ books! His website includes an interesting explanation of how he makes his books.

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