Brightly’s Book Club for Kids: The Creature of the Pines

by Melissa Taylor

Welcome to the latest installment of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, where we provide you with engaging books and book-inspired activities young readers can enjoy together. This month’s pick, The Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz, appeals to readers who love fantasy and mythical creatures. New friends, Elliot and Uchenna, unexpectedly rescue a Jersey Devil, which propels them into an exciting adventure protecting this special mythical creature from danger.

About the Book

Best For: Kids ages 7 to 12.

You’ll Like It If You Like: Fantasy adventures with magical creatures and heroic kids who save the day … and the world’s most unique creatures.

Major Themes: Kindness, animal protection, friendship, good vs. evil, global thinking, adventure.

What It’s About: The Creature of the Pines kicks off the exciting Unicorn Rescue Society book series. It’s about a new student named Elliot and his friend Uchenna who, while on a field trip, leave the safety of the hiking trail to rescue a strange-looking creature tangled in a balloon string.

They don’t expect the little creature, a Jersey Devil nicknamed “Jersey,” to climb onto their school bus looking for food. Nor do they expect him to turn invisible and run away once they’re back at school. Fortunately, the quirky Professor Fauna helps the kids track Jersey to the nefarious Schmoke brothers’ mansion where they’ll daringly rescue Jersey a second time. When they return to school, Professor Fauna reveals that he’s the leader of a secret society whose mission is to protect mythical creatures from danger — and he invites the children to join.

Why We Picked It: We love introducing kids to great book series, especially younger chapter book readers who love fantasy and adventure stories. Currently, there are four books in the series with more planned. Once you get hooked on the first book, you’ll be happy to know you can continue reading more books in the series.

The Book Club Meeting

Reading Tips

Early readers will dive into this fast-paced, beginning chapter book and can use the illustrations to support their comprehension. Illustrations throughout the story help transition kids from easy readers with minimal text to longer narrative formats with more complex plots and multiple characters.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is Uchenna’s personality like? How about Elliot? Which character do you relate to more and why?
  1. The friends go on a field trip to the woods where they meet a mythical creature. If you could pick any location and any mythical creature for a field trip, what would they be?
  1. Professor Fauna says, “Danger is the greatest teacher.” Do you agree? What example can you think of that supports your opinion?
  1. Dr. Thomas compares the Jersey devil’s appearance to a medley and then a devil. “Well, parts of it look like a deer, like I said. But other parts look like a bat. Its fur is like a weasel’s. And its colors are like a bird’s. In other words, it’s kind of a medley. Like the people of the Pines. And for years and years, people didn’t like medleys. They were scared of us. That’s why they called it a devil.” What does Dr. Thomas mean about people being scared of medleys? How does that relate to why people called the creature a devil?
  1. Dr. Thomas says, “The Jersey Devil is the most American creature that ever lived. The bald eagle shouldn’t be on the dollar bill. No, no, no. The Jersey Devil should be.” If you could pick a creature, real or mythical, for the dollar bill, what would you pick and why?
  1. How do the friends use the Socratic Method to figure out two problems: what’s making Jersey become invisible; and, how to find Jersey in the Greenhouse?
  1. What do the Schmoke brothers like to collect? Why do you think they do this?
  1. Uchenna prefers the names “Bonechewer” and “Eyeball-Eater” for the Jersey Devil, whereas Eliot likes “Jersey.” What would you name the Jersey Devil?
  1. If you were invited to join the Unicorn Rescue Society, what would be your answer and why?
  1. Will you read book two, The Basque Dragon, next?

Activities to Dive Deeper into The Creature of the Pines

Create a Mythical Creatures Encyclopedia: Make your own Mythical Creatures Encyclopedia with names, facts, and illustrations for each creature. Use a blank store-bought notebook or make your own book. As you read more books in the Unicorn Rescue Society series, add new creatures to your encyclopedia. Don’t forget to include the qarqacha, the legendary two-headed llama of the Andes, and, of course, the unicorn mentioned in this first book.

Use what you know from the book to illustrate your own Jersey Devil: “…had a body like a tiny deer’s. But it had wings. And claws on its front legs. And hooves in the back. And sharp teeth. And it was blue. Except for its belly and its wings, which were red. And a face that looked, more than anything, like a tiny dragon’s. Elliot would have been insanely terrified, except for the fact that it was rather small. About the size of a cat.

Enjoy a Book Club Beverage: Dr. Thomas serves the class Sassafras tea. According to Epicurious, root beer’s flavor originally came from the Sassafras tree. While you’re meeting for book club, why not sip root beer or your favorite tea?

Make a Mythical Creature Egg: Craft your own dragon egg. You might like to make colorful clay eggs or thumbtack eggs.

Play a Mythical Creatures Matching Game: Download this free printable illustrated mythical creatures matching game from Life with Moore Babies or a more detailed mythical creatures game from Teach Beside Me.  Use these fun games to explore more species of imaginary animals from the world’s mythologies.

Design a Terrarium: Strange, colorful plants fill Schmoke brothers’ greenhouse. Make your own colorful plant terrarium inspired by this greenhouse.

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