This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson, by Quinn Sosna Spear. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson?
- A fantastical story of a boy whose curiosity and imagination send him on a journey that keeps readers wondering what might happen next
- Gives students the opportunity to follow the main character through the literary structure of the hero’s journey
- Explores the real-world issues of sickness, death and prejudgment
- Strong use of literary devices including figurative language, symbolism, flashbacks, imagery
- Delves into social-emotional topics such as understanding and challenging social norms, grief, decision-making and perseverance
- Examines interdisciplinary connections in geology, the history and engineering of parades, the physics of hot-air balloons, and an overview of inventors and their inventions
A Special Note for Readers (and Teachers and Parents/Guardians):
As you read Quinn Sosna Spear’s Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson, you will notice that the story often deals with the topic of death. As the son of a mortician, Walter’s way of dealing with the dead may seem unsettling, confusing or unconventional to some readers. This may be especially true for those who have experienced grief or trauma or those who are triggered by the topic of death. Before reading please consider how you may prepare yourself (or your student or child) for any feelings or emotions that this book may provoke. As with any other book, as you read, reach out to a trusted adult for guidance with any questions, concerns, or confusion you may have.
About the Book
Walter is a boy who lives in a factory town filled with smog. The people around him discourage curiosity and expect him to become a mortician just like his mother before him. In spite of these less-than-promising circumstances, his irrepressible need to invent and the legacy of his father lead him on a journey to find the most famous inventor in the world. With the help of a one-eyed girl named Cordelia and many fantastical characters along the way, Walter experiences incredible adventures. However, when tragedy strikes Walter must choose between his dreams and the people that he loves.
This is a story that explores the pain of death, the power of hope, and the importance of creating remarkable inventions.
About the Author
The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson is Quinn Sosna-Spear’s first novel. However, she is no stranger to the written word. Sosna-Spear has written plays, films, and virtual reality projects. She was inspired by the tragic death of her mother during her childhood to write this deep and moving story of Walter and his remarkable inventions.
Have you taught The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- Symbolism is when an author uses an object to represent something else like a person, a place, some other object, or an abstract idea. It is a type of figurative language that writers use to deepen meaning and feeling in their writing. In the story, the town of Moormouth is a town that, “[is] stuffed with smog, like an overburdened teddy bear. The smog force[s] you to squint past the layer of gray until the equally colorless buildings [come] into view” (30).
- What does the symbol of fog represent in the story?
- How does the description of the town covered in gray make you feel as you’re reading? Explain your thinking.
- In a state of anger and frustration, Walter’s mother stomps on his frog invention. “She pick[s] up her foot to reveal the remains of the collapsed frog. Walter push[s] down the lump in his throat” (74). This last phrase is an idiom, a type of figurative language in which the phrase means something different than the literal definitions of each word in the phrase.
- What does it mean to push down a lump in your throat? Why does the author choose to use this particular idiom?
- Think of idioms you hear in everyday life. How do they help communicate certain ideas or feelings?
- A literary device is a tool that writers use to help readers understand ideas more clearly or deeply. One device that many authors use in literature is a “flashback.” Flashbacks are interruptions in the plot of the story that take us to an event that has happened before the events of the main story (and sometimes before the main story begins). Throughout the book the author takes us back in time to when Walter’s parents were traveling on the same path as Walter.
- Why do you think that the author uses a flashback before Walter enters each new town in the story?
- What do the flashbacks help us understand about Walter’s mother?
- If you were writing your own story about a time in your life, what flashbacks might you need to include so that the reader could understand you (and your story) better?
- As Walter takes off in the hot-air balloon the author uses imagery to help the reader “see” the magnificent balloon. “Those below [are] in awe of the sight– the butterflies [glow], like a gorgeous kaleidoscope, spinning with warm colors, contrasting the stark strips of black. In a moment of ingenuity, Walter had even affixed dead flies to the top with long, rigid wires, making it appear as if they [are] the ones carrying the craft toward the moon” (194).
- Sketch a picture of the image you see in your mind after reading the quote above.
- What words does the author use to create this image in your mind?
- What mood or emotion does the author create in this quote? What specific words or phrases in the quote evoke those feelings in you, the reader?
- The author explains that many of Walter’s mischievous behaviors are caused by an imaginary squishy bean “that grows in your brain somewhere between the lobe that tells you, Eating paste will result in a tummy ache and the lobe that says, Jumping off a building will result in something slightly worse than a tummy ache. This bean is that tiny thought between that says, Yes, but doesn’t it look fun?” (51). Unlike other children Walter does not simply do what he is told, but instead acts upon his curious nature and desire to experience things for himself.
- Why do you think Walter chooses adventure over safety?
- What events from the book could be caused by this “bean” in Walter’s brain?
- What experiences have you had in which you chose to listen to the “bean” instead of doing what adults told you to do?
- Many Moormouthians believe, “that it is far better to be alive than be adventurous” (30). How do you feel about this statement? Explain your thinking.
- The city of Flaster Isle was built to represent “everything Flasterborn thought the future should be” (196). This includes doctor robots, mechanical crows, and a desire to rid the world of death.
- Would ridding the world of death be a good or bad thing? Explain your reasoning.
- No one in Flaster Isle reads newspapers; instead they listen to the newspapers because “Flasterborn ha[s] decreed that people [won’t] read in the future—it waste[s] time” (201). How do you feel about this statement? How do you think reading will change in the future?
- Write a short paragraph describing what you think the future will be like.
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
Dig Deep: Rocks, Minerals, and Mining
- An introduction to rocks and minerals facts
- An opportunity to learn more about rocks and how they are formed
- An examination of everyday uses for rocks and minerals in this interactive activity
- An exploration of how caves are formed.
- Interesting facts about mining and an opportunity to learn the history of the California Gold Rush
Just Keep Floating: The History and Engineering of Parades
- A review of the history of parades
- An examination of the history of parade floats
- An overview of how parade floats are created and used in modern parades
- Facts about one of the most famous parades in the United States, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- An investigation of how to build an actual parade float
Discover the World of Inventions
- An overview of famous inventions throughout history
- An introduction to modern inventors who have been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
- An examination of a life-saving invention that started as a mistake
- An opportunity to create an invention with an online interactive tool (This activity requires Adobe Flash Player.)
Up, Up and Away in a Hot-Air Balloon
- A summary of the history of hot-air balloons
- An investigation of the science behind how hot-air balloons work
- A review of important technical vocabulary regarding hot- air balloons.
- An opportunity to simulate the flight of a hot-air balloon