Cynthia Cotten, Virginia Childrens Author, fiction and poetry

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Cover art copyright
2002 Reg Cartwright

At the Edge of the Woods is a counting book in rhymed verse, illustrated with colorful, stylized pictures of animals and plant life.

Background: Cynthia Cotten loved playing in a field at the edge of a small woods in the small town in western New York State where she grew up. Later, as an adult, when she heard somebody say they loved the sound of the words "at the edge of the woods", because it made them wonder what might be found there, she began to wonder, too. This book is the result of that wondering.

(Reading and Language):

--Discuss rhyme. Find the rhyme scheme in the story.
Discuss alliteration. Find examples in the story.

Discuss words used to describe groups of animals. Example: a flock of birds, a gaggle of geese, a pod of whales.

Discuss any words that might be unfamiliar to the students, such as haze, burly, lumbers. Come up with synonyms for these words and read them in the sentences they appear in. Why did the author choose the words she did instead of one of these synonyms?

Wh-word questions: Talk about wh-words: who, what, when, where, why. "Who" questions are answered by people (or animals); "why" questions are reasons, etc. Have students formulate "wh-" questions related the the story.

Writing Activities:

What might each creature say to the bear if they met in the woods?

What might happen if the animals got together to chase the bear away?

Write a story in the voice of the bear as he tries to persuade the other animals to come back out.

Write a poem or a story about an animal. Put it in its natural habitat. Put it in a habitat that would be entirely unnatural.

Write a story about something that might happen in another habitat--in the ocean, or the desert, or by a pond.

Turn this story into a Halloween story, and have the characters be people in costumes.


Discuss the different kinds of animals in the book--where and how they live, what they eat.

Discuss the different kinds of plants at the edge of the woods.

Discuss other things that might make these animals hide.

Discuss predator/prey, and basic survival. Why would a butterfly hide from a bear, when a bear doesn't eat butterflies?

Critical Thinking:

Why did the author use a particular animal for a particular number? (Would it be likely to see a group of nine fawns?)

If you wrote the Halloween story, think about the different costumes people might wear. Would it be logical for ten Frankensteins to be frightened into hiding by a princess? Why might an author have that situation?

Oral Skills:

Discuss rhythm, rhyme and refrain.

Find other books in rhyme. Read them out loud. Compare different kinds of rhyme scheme.


Discuss the numbers of different animals and why the author used the animals she did for each number. What animals might she have used if the story had gone beyond ten?

Social Studies/Economics:

Discuss the plant life and appearance of the edge of the woods. Where in the US might these woods be found? If the setting were changed, what kinds of plants might be found there? What would the land look like?

Change the setting of the story to a desert, a rain forest, an ocean, a forest in another country. Can you come up with ten animals that liver there? What is one thing (animal or other) that all might fear?


Draw your own woods. What animals would you put there?

If you wrote a story changing the habitat, illustrate that story.

Create 3-D animals using different kinds of materials. Create a habitat for them. (Do this with actual animals, or imaginary ones.)

Study artists who have painted animals or natural landscapes.

Bulletin Board Ideas:

Create a mural of the story.

Create a mural of the edge of the woods in other seasons.

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