Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi": Mixing Words and Pictures


The Lesson


Portrait of Rudyard Kipling.

Portrait of Rudyard Kipling.

Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia, via EDSITEment reviewed Internet Public Library.

During the Victorian Era, British author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was both respected as a journalist and lauded as "The Poet of the [British] Empire." In his fiction, though, he blended the best of both skills and was ultimately awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 "in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas, and remarkable talent for narration which characterizes [his] creations." "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," a short story from The Jungle Book (1894), is an engaging example of Kipling's ability to mix scientific and historical fact with imaginative characterizations to create a believable and entertaining tale.

In this lesson, students will read an illustrated version of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," examine how Kipling and visual artists mix observation with imagination to create remarkable works, and follow similar principles to create a work of their own.

Guiding Questions

  • How does the artist create meaningful illustrations to accompany Rudyard Kipling's engaging narrative "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"?

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate comprehension of plot events and character motivations.
  • Describe the author's purpose and evaluate the techniques used to achieve it.
  • Identify and differentiate between facts and examples of personification.
  • Understand and apply an artist's media, techniques, and processes.

Preparation Instructions

The Jungle Book including "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" with Drake’s original illustrations is available as an e-text through ebooks@Adelaide from The University of Adelaide Library

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in 1865. After receiving his education in England, he returned to India and worked as a journalist, composing and publishing short stories and poetry in his spare time. By 1889, his work had become so popular in Great Britain that he was considered the literary heir of Charles Dickens, though the body of Kipling's works reflected the conflicts and tensions inherent in colonialist instead of domestic social and political policies. Though he received many honors and awards before his death in 1936, he refused all but the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature, which he was the first Englishman to receive.

  • An online Period Introduction Overview: The Victorian Age is available from The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Additional resources to learn about aspects of the Victorian Age can be found at Victorian Web. General highlights of the era include:

    The Victorian Era in England began in 1819 when Queen Victoria was born, and ended with her death in 1901 (she was crowned in 1837). Queen Victoria's was an age of invention, industrial expansion, and the indomitable imperialism that gave rise to the quotation, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." It was also a time of cultural flowering: along with Rudyard Kipling, the era welcomed such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, the Bronte sisters, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
  • Victorian Web also contains background on the life and works of Rudyard Kipling.

Review as necessary the definitions used in the lessons.  Reference EDSITEment's Literary Glossary.

    • Setting: the time and place in which the events of the story happen
    • Fact: a piece of information that can be proved
    • Fiction: people, places, things, or events that are invented or "made-up"
    • Personification: giving an animal or object human qualities 

Review and bookmark the other online resources used in this lesson:

National Geographic offers resources to learn about the mongoose and cobra characterized in the story:

PBS: The Story of India for photographs and background on this country which is the setting of the story

 Review and bookmark the other online resources used in this lesson:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Art Safari

If they have not already done so for Lesson One: Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi": Mixing Fact and Fiction, have your students read the story "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" from The Jungle Book with Drake’s original illustrations that is available as an e-text through ebooks@Adelaide from The University of Adelaide Library.

Remind your students that the "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" tale they read is illustrated. You may wish to explain that while authors create stories with text, artists often create stories with paint or sculpture. Introduce students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website by saying they will be going on an "Art Safari" to take a closer look at how artists create "stories" in their works. Then guide your students through the EDSITEment-reviewed "Art Safari" from the Museum of Modern Art.

When your students finish, have them return to the online text and scroll down to the following two illustrations to discuss the artwork:

1. "He Jumped Up in the Air, and Just Under Him Whizzed by the head of Nagaina."

  • Is this artwork realistic or is it more like a cartoon? How do you know?
    Your students should understand that the artist uses a realistic style; the animals and setting look as they would look in nature.
  • Why do you think the artist chose to draw the scene in this style?
    Guide your students to understand that the artist probably drew the scene realistically because Kipling's story, which is grounded in facts about the animals and their behavior, also seems "real." You may wish to have your students imagine what the story might have looked like if the artist used a cartoon-like style to emphasize that the artist mirrored Kipling's writing style.
  • How do you think each of the characters feels in this picture? Why?
    Your students should notice the characters' postures and expressions and draw reasonable conclusions.

2. "Nagaina Flew Down the path, With Rikki-Tikki behind Her"

  • Sometimes, an artist can use the borders of a piece of artwork to help create a story. How do the unusual borders of this illustration make the scene feel even more hurried?
    Your students might suggest that the illustration's borders add to the feeling of haste because the animals appear to be "going the wrong way" across the page, as if they are in such a hurry, they must "cut across" the text.
  • What else does the artist do to show that the animals are moving quickly?
    The artist shows the animals' bodies extended in "running" positions and draws shadows under them to show that they are moving so quickly, they are leaping off the ground.
  • What does the artist include to show why Nagaina is fleeing so quickly?
    In the picture, Nagaina is carrying her last egg; she is fleeing because she does not want Rikki-Tikki-Tavi to destroy it.

Then discuss with your students the following question:

  • Do the artist's illustrations help tell the story, or do they distract from the story? Why?
    Your students should conclude that the illustrations help tell the story: the artist mirrors Rudyard Kipling's style and reflects or adds to the feelings and events in each illustration.

After the discussion, you may wish to have each student illustrate a passage of his or her choice using either the online drawing pad available from Art Safari or traditional art materials. Encourage students to use the techniques to which they have been introduced to create an illustration that enhances the scene. When they finish, you may wish to have them show their illustrations to the class and describe why they created the illustration the way they did.

Activity 2. Your Turn!

Have your students write and illustrate a story about an animal that includes examples of fact and personification.

First, have each student select an animal to write about. You may want to reference a resource on India to use animals from the country where the story takes place. Have students use the Paw-Prints and Footsteps handout (PDF) as a research guide and character and story creation outline.


After students finish using the Paw-Prints and Footsteps handout, have them draft a story that includes facts about the animal and one or more examples of personification. If necessary, remind students that "personification" is when an author gives an animal or object human qualities. During teacher, peer, or self-editing, you may wish to have your students specifically identify where they used facts and personification, to confirm that they understand the concepts.

Then have your students use the Art Safari online tools or traditional art materials to illustrate their stories. You may wish to have your students create final illustrated drafts of their stories for class or community sharing or display, perhaps alongside a class Rudyard Kipling exhibit.

If your students enjoy this project, they might enjoy creating additional individual- or group-written stories, or rewriting one or more stories as a script and performing it for the class or community.

Extending The Lesson

  • Travel Back in Time! EDSITEment resource the Victorian Web affords your students the opportunity to meet the luminaries of the Victorian Era (such as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Ludwig von Beethoven, and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky), learn about the Victorians' daily life, try Victorian games and recipes, test their knowledge of the era, and even discover a 19th-century robot!
  • What Next? If your students enjoyed "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," they might also enjoy the following works

Additional stories from The Jungle Book with Drake’s original illustrations is available as an e-text through ebooks@Adelaide from The University of Adelaide Library.  Meet Rudyard Kipling's other famous characters, such as Mowgli, a boy raised by animals in a jungle, Baloo the friendly bear, and Shere Khan, the cunning tiger in this collection of stories in which "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" is also found.

Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling (Puffin Books, 1995) Rudyard Kipling himself illustrated this collection of his humorous tales, which includes "How the Camel Got His Hump," "The Beginning of the Armadillos," and "The Butterfly that Stamped."

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell (Random House Children's Books, 1993) In this classic story, a horse, Black Beauty, recounts the heart-warming and wrenching story of his life.

The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford (Yearling Books, 1990) Three house pets—a labrador, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat—journey together across Canada to try to find their way home.

You may be interested in the EDSITEment lesson on Beatrix Potter's Naughty Animal Tales.

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Short Stories
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets