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The setting of a book is one of the reasons children love books. They picture themselves living in a boxcar, herding sheep on a mountain, or standing on the deck of a ship with the salt spray in their face. They can travel the world through a book, go back in time, or step through the closet into Narnia.

How many of you have spent the winter in a hallow tree? (My Side of the Mountain); walked through the caverns of Moria? (the Fellowship of the Ring); or awakened in the “Land of Play” with donkey ears? (The Adventures of Pinocchio).

Through books we ride trains through India, skate on frozen canals, or enter through a hidden gate in the garden wall.

The setting of a book includes place, time (historical era) and seasons. Have your child watch for these clues while reading and underline them in green (for trees and plants). In their notebook under Setting, they record the page and paragraph with a sentence stating what the scene was. Then when they write up a report, the information is readily available to be referenced.

For The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this would include examples from the book describing the house where the wardrobe is located, Narnia in winter, Mr. Tumnus’ cave, the home of the beavers, Narnia after the thaw, and so forth. Encourage your child to illustrate their favorite scenes.

Remember that chapter books move a child from picture books to their own imagination. Don’t determine for them how a scene looks, let them show you what they “see.”

However, when a book provides a map, it can be a great interactive tool. When reading Winnie the Pooh with kindergarteners, I created a large map of Hundred Aker Wood for a bulletin board (a smaller one on a bedroom wall would enchant your child), complete with water-color painted trees and paths. As I read the book to them, a miniature Pooh was moved from location to location, interacting with Piglet and others.

With third graders, when reading Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia, one bulletin board was a map of Germany. At each place he lived, I placed a picture of a cathedral or other significant structure where he attended school or played the organ. These same ideas can be done on a smaller scale. Maps are great ways of helping a child organize a story.

Adjust the activities around setting to the age of your child. I had sixth graders who painted their own scenery for the marionette show they performed for their parents after reading Ivanhoe.

Timelines are part of the setting of stories. Show where a book takes place in history and what other people were changing the world at that time: scientists, explorers, artists, or kings.

One of my favorite elements is setting. Go with your child while they build a house among the treetops, roam the Scottish Highlands, and ride behind a dogsled in the Yukon. The possibilities are endless.

See also:
Elements of a Story / Author
Elements of a Story / Background
Elements of a Story / Themes
Children’s Classics Book List

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