Olive, the Other Reindeer, by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh, is a wonderfully fun Christmas book. Olive, a little dog, hears “All of the other reindeer” on the radio and decides she must be a reindeer. She heads for Santa’s workshop, where her adventures naturally include saving Christmas. The pictures are cheery and interesting. This is a great read-aloud book for primary-level students. An Olive the Other Reindeer DVD is also available.
- Olive contains an interesting juxtaposition of real and imaginary elements. For example, dogs cannot fly — but reindeer can. And Olive lives in a dog house, but also wraps presents. The problems faced in the story are pretty goofy, but they are solved by Olive’s real dog skills, like chewing on things and fetching sticks. Have students make a list of the real elements and the imaginary ones, making both lists as long as possible. If the reality of Santa Claus will be a touchy question, limit the list to only things about Olive.
- “All of the other reindeer” and “Olive, the other reindeer” do sound a lot alike. Was Olive justified in concluding that she was a reindeer, on the basis of what she heard? List the evidence she had that she was in fact a dog, and compare it with the evidence that she was a reindeer. How could Olive have made certain of her facts before taking action? A flow chart would work well for this, if that is on your curriculum list for the year.
- Olive is able to solve the problems that Santa encounters in the story. What if she had not been present? Brainstorm other possible solutions to the problems. Have students write about their favorite, persuading the reader that theirs is the best solution.
- Can the students identify the song Olive hears that leads her astray? Here is a link to the song, written by Johnny Marks in 1949. All the words are on the screen so you can sing along. Add the date to your classroom timeline.
- In fact, knowledge of the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is at least assumed, and probably required, for enjoyment of Olive. Check out the “English” section for more information.
- Olive is too shy to sing, so she just hums. Then she hears the note E being played on some falling flutes. Use a pitch pipe or piano, or a flute if you have one, to play E for students and have them practice matching pitch by humming the note. Practice humming as many Es (that is, E in as many octaves) as your class can. Finally, play a low E followed by a high E and ask students to hold their hands up if they think the two are the same. Play E and another note in pairs, sometimes the same and sometimes different, having students indicate same notes by raising their hands, until the class is successful most of the time.
- Make reindeer antlers like the ones Olive got for Christmas with a printable template. Click the words “printable template” for a PDF file to use for reindeer antler headbands for your young students.
- The pages in the story that show the gumdrops and the flutes falling out of the sleigh show parallel diagonal lines of objects forming designs. The sizes and (for the gumdrops) colors vary. Have students make patterns of the same kind, using rubber stamps, cutouts, or stencils. A great way to practice patterns, and to learn some new spatial language.
- Part of Olive’s confusion is a punctuation issue. She thinks the song is about “Olive, the other reindeer,” and not “All of the other reindeer.” There are other Christmas carols that confuse people in this way, such as “Hark the herald! Angels sing” and “God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen.” These songs are really “Hark! The herald angels sing” and “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” respectively. Use these examples to persuade students that punctuation can matter. (In the 1998 paperback, there are quite a few punctuation errors, including the sentence, “Santa knew a lot about dogs, for instance, they can’t fly.” This is an interesting sentence for upper elementary students to edit, if your edition has the error.)
- The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was written in 1939 by Robert L. Mays, a copy-writer at Montgomery Ward department stores, as a holiday giveaway. Mays was inspired by “The Ugly Duckling” and by his own childhood feelings of being different, to write a story about a reindeer whose difference made him useful and special. Nowadays, this is an extremely common theme for children’s books, but it wasn’t at the time, and it was an enormous success — two and a half million copies were given away the first year, and six million were in print by 1946. Mays acquired the copyright to his work in 1947, the song was written by Johnny Marks and recorded by Singing Cowboy Gene Autrey in 1949, and the TV special (with a significantly different story) was made in 1964. Rudolph is an excellent example of modern folklore, since the popular image of Santa Claus now frequently includes Rudolph. Most folklore has its origins lost in the mists of time, but we know exactly where Rudolph came from. If you are studying folktales with your class, this could be a very interesting point to discuss.
- In this story, Santa faces four problems, each of which Olive solves. Have students identify and illustrate each of the crises and then put them in the correct order.