Closer Readings Commentary

Kipling for the Classroom

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”—Rudyard Kipling

The Author

Born in Bombay India on December 30, 1865, Rudyard Kipling became one of the most popular writers in England, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through his work as a journalist and a poet, Kipling was heralded worldwide as "the voice of the British Empire." But it was his fiction, where he blended the best of both skills, that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 in recognition of “the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas, and remarkable talent for narration which characterizes [his] creations." For background on the life and work of Rudyard Kipling, visit EDSITEment-reviewed Victorian Web.

Kipling’s “How the Camel Got His Hump” appears on the ELA Common Core Exemplar text list for Grades 2–3 under Read Aloud Stories. Though his classic narratives have often been pigeonholed as elementary, if approached with an open mind, Kipling’s timeless truths transcend the artificial barriers of age as well as race and culture.


Turn the corner to the New Year by entering the world that Kipling brought alive in his classic tale, "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." This famous short story from a collection of fables published as The Jungle Book (1894) issues moral lessons through the guise of animal characters. Kipling invested nearly everything he knew or "heard or dreamed about the Indian jungle" in this collection of stories.

Kipling’s ability to mix scientific and historical fact with imaginative characters to create a believable and entertaining story can be tapped for CCSS application: English Language Arts Standards » Anchor Standards » College and Career Readiness CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. While the following EDSITEment Lesson activities are indicated for elementary school level students, they can be easily adapted for older grades.

[Note: The Illustrated E-text of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" at the University of Virginia is available through EDSITEment-reviewed Center for Liberal Arts.]

Lesson 1: Mixing Fact and Fiction

Encourage students to use interactive materials to learn how Kipling effectively infuses personification into
his animal characters by mixing fact and fiction.

In Activity three, students are asked to separate the facts from the fiction in Kipling's story. First, they read an encyclopedia article on mongooses. Then they look back through the text to find the examples Kipling included of actual mongoose characteristics and behavior, and record two or more in the appropriate box on the Fact or Personification? Chart. They repeat the exercise for the characters of cobra and tailor-bird. This exercise can be done in a large group, individually, or in small groups with a large-group presentation at the end. It speaks to the following applications: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

Lesson 2: Mixing Words and Pictures

Lead students through a close reading of the illustrated version of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" to examine how Kipling and visual artists mix observation with imagination. Then, students can follow similar principles to create a work of their own.

In Activity one, introduce students to the EDSITEment-reviewed "Art Safari" from the Museum of Modern Art saying they will be taking a closer look at how artists create "stories" in their works. This site encourages learning about art by looking and sharing interpretations. A series of questions guides them to create stories based on four different artworks. Younger children can be prompted to talk about what they see, and type in their replies; older children can interact with the program on their own.

The questions proposed in the activity help students develop observational skills by asking them to describe what they see. None of the questions assume knowledge about the history of art. Instead, they draw upon children's natural curiosity and often evoke surprising and insightful responses. Following each discussion, children can create their own artwork on the computer, or they can carry out projects by painting, drawing, or making a sculpture. When finished, have the class return to “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” to discuss original illustrations from the text. This speaks to the following application: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).

Kipling on “Fiction”

Closer Readings’ bloggers have spent this past year teasing out distinctions between fictional and nonfictional texts as required by the Common Core. It is only fitting then to close the year with a line from a speech Kipling gave to the Royal Literary Society in June 1926 entitled “Fiction.” In this speech, he looks at the relationship between fiction and truth and maps out the connection between fiction and other disciplines—a theme we will return to next week as we open the blog forum for 2014:

For Fiction is Truth’s elder sister. Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was till someone had told a story. So it is the oldest of the arts, the mother of history, biography, philosophy dogmatic ... and, of course, of politics.