Do you need an engaging chapter book to help your students explore a variety of literary elements? Look no further than The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney!
This delightful novel follows the story of Humphrey, a classmate hamster who learns more than expected while living in Room 26 with Mrs Brisbane’s third graders.
Through this book, readers gain insight into different characters and their relationships, the humour that exists when kids come together in a classroom setting, and knowledge about significant life lessons such as problem-solving and self-discovery.
Related: For more, check out our planning overview on A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson here.
As teachers plan for their studies on The World According To Humphrey, many teaching resources are available to support strategising activities or assignments to accompany each chapter read aloud or shared reading session.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss how introducing worksheets and other fun learning tools can enhance student understanding of the story and make it easier to respond critically!
The World According To Humphrey Storyline
Humphrey, the class hamster in Room 26, is heartbroken when his beloved temporary teacher, Ms Mac, leaves for Brazil.
Mrs Brisbane, the permanent teacher, wants to avoid taking him home like Ms Mac did, leaving him alone in the room at night.
Principal Morales and Aldo, the janitor, open up to Humphrey about their lonely lives working nights and days, respectively.
He helps timid Sayeh raise her hand in a class by suggesting she take him home for the weekend and speaks only English with her family to help her mother enrol in English classes.
At Halloween, A.J., always talking too loud at school due to his wild home life, takes Humphrey home, where they unplug the television and bond over old family stories and card games.
Mrs Brisbane takes Humphrey home over Thanksgiving break while caring for her husband, who was recently injured in a car accident; her activity with him helps Mr Brisbane realise he can still be active despite using a wheelchair.
At the holiday party, Ms Mac surprises them all with gifts from Brazil, but Humphrey decides to stay in Room 26 since there are still problems he can help them solve.
Themes In The World According To Humphrey
Throughout the story, Humphrey uses his small stature to help others significantly. His friendship with Ms Mac provides a foil for the rest of his relationships; where she is kind and gentle, Mrs Brisbane is stern and distant.
Through his interactions with her, Sayeh finds her voice and bravery, ultimately allowing her mother to embark on learning English.
He also helps Aldo find a support group, and A.J.’s family make better use of their time together without television screens blaring in their faces.
By the end of the story, Mr Brisbane has found hope in his situation of permanent disability, thanks to the activity suggested by Humphrey’s weekend stay with them.
Humphrey’s ability to empathise comes into play as he listens to each person’s struggles and helps provide solutions that don’t necessarily require complicated methods or expensive items.
Through unplugging A.J.’s television, giving Aldo newspaper clippings advertising a support group for night shift workers, or having conversations only in English with Sayeh’s family, he shows that sometimes all that is needed is a compassionate ear and an open mind to understand what someone needs.
Humphrey is a catalyst for everyone around him supporting each other in different ways, from Mrs Brisbane being willing to take him home for Thanksgiving break even though she has enough on her plate already looking after her injured husband to Sayeh raising her hand in class so as not to disappoint Mrs B and put an end to Humphrey’s stay at Longfellow School.
These are just two examples of how people come together when they know someone else needs love and care too.
Characters In The World According To Humphrey
Humphrey is the class hamster in Room 26. He is initially heartbroken when his beloved teacher Ms Mac leaves for Brazil, and he is left under the care of Mrs Brisbane, who does not want him to stay and leaves him alone in the room every night.
Humphrey interacts with each character he meets and helps them in different ways, from giving Aldo a clue regarding a support group to unplugging A.J.’s television to provide the family with alternative forms of entertainment or having conversations only in English with Sayeh’s family to help her mother learn the language. He also lets Mr Brisbane realise he can still find joy despite using a wheelchair.
Mrs Brisbane is the permanent teacher in Room 26 after Ms Mac leaves to teach in Brazil. She initially doesn’t want Humphrey to stay, but she eventually agrees as long as Sayeh finds her voice and raises her hand at least once during the week.
She takes him home for Thanksgiving break while she looks after her husband, who was recently injured in a car accident.
Principal Morales agrees to take Humphrey on weekends until a student is willing. He struggles with maintaining order in his home but succeeds after all household members work together towards one goal.
Aldo is the janitor of Longfellow School and has been lonely ever since he started working nights; his friends all work during day shifts.
Humphrey leaves behind newspaper clippings advertising a support group for people who work nights, and this leads Aldo to find some companionship again with someone special at that group meeting.
Sayeh had been shy in class before Ms Mac left – she rarely speaks up because English isn’t her first language, nor that of her parents or younger brother – but understanding that Humphrey only understands English, she proposes taking him home for a weekend, so they can only communicate with each other through it; by listening carefully enough, Sayeh’s mother decides to enrol herself into an English class too!
Potential Teaching Opportunities
- Exploring how simple acts of kindness can lead to far-reaching impacts and how people can support each other through difficult times.
- Discussing the importance of empathy and understanding one another’s perspectives and struggles.
- Understanding different cultures and discussing immigration and immigration-related issues.
- Exploring themes such as friendship, family, courage, disability and inclusion.
- Investigating the power of language in learning, growth and development.
Lesson 1 – Acts of Kindness
- Acknowledge simple acts of kindness and how they can have an impact.
- Appreciate how we all can support each other through difficult times.
- Understand what empathy is and why it’s essential.
Start the lesson by asking students a few questions, such as:
- What are some examples of something kind that you have done for someone?
- How did it make the other person feel? How did it make you feel?
- Have you ever received something kind from someone else that surprised you? How did it make you feel?
Introduce Humphrey’s story to the class – talk about how lonely he felt after Ms Mac left for Brazil and how he eventually helped others unexpectedly to make them happy, even when there was no direct benefit for him.
Provide examples from Humphrey’s story, such as when he unplugged A.J.’s television or gave Aldo a clue regarding a support group – discuss how these actions led to positive outcomes despite no direct benefit to Humphrey himself.
Discuss what themes emerge from these reactions (i.e., empathy, understanding one another’s perspectives, courage etc.).
Reflection & Key Questions
Encourage students to reflect on Humphrey’s story and ask them key questions such as:
- How do small acts of kindness often benefit both giver and the receiver in unexpected ways?
- How does empathy help us understand one another better?
Lesson 2 – Immigration & Language Learning
- Recognise different cultures within their community and discuss immigration issues.
- Explore language barriers between different cultures.
- Understand the power of language in learning, growth and development.
Start the lesson by asking students questions, such as:
- What does it mean to be part of a cultural minority within your community?
- Can you think of any examples from your community?
- Do people from different cultures struggle with communication due to language barriers?
- What can we do to overcome those barriers?
Introduce Sayeh’s story – talk about how she is shy in class because English isn’t her first language, nor that of her parents or younger brother; discuss the challenge this poses for communication between family members, teachers and peers alike if they don’t all speak the same language.
Discuss potential strategies/solutions that might help bridge this gap – i.e., having conversations only in English with everyone so everyone can learn together (this was Sayeh’s strategy).
Talk about other potential solutions that students may think of (such as attending language classes or institutes).
Emphasise the importance of being open-minded towards diverse cultures and languages when interacting with others; emphasise appreciating our differences instead of perceiving them as obstacles/challenges.
- Encourage students to reflect on Sayeh’s story and ask them key questions such as: – Why is open-mindedness towards different cultures so important today?
- What are some possible solutions for overcoming language barriers between cultures/people who speak other languages within a community?
Books with Similar themes
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- The True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
- Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
- Shug by Jenny Han
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a collection of resources related to The World According to Humphrey book series by Betty Birney.
Twinkl: A detailed teacher guide which includes activities, worksheets, quizzes and many more resources related to the book.
Betty Birney’s Website: An extensive collection of teaching materials and classroom activities created by the author herself, including bonus material and an interview with the author!
Teachers Pay Teachers: A wide variety of lesson plans, activities and worksheets for teachers using The World According to Humphrey books in their classrooms.
FAQs about The World According to Humphrey
Where can I purchase The World According to Humphrey book series?
The books are available in online and physical stores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart. You can also find them at local libraries and schools.
What age group is the book suitable for?
The World, According to Humphrey, is suitable for children ages 8-12.
Are there any teaching resources available for this book?
Yes! Many resources are available from Betty Birney’s website and Twinkl and Teachers Pay Teachers.
Are there any additional materials available from the author?
Yes! Betty Birney has created several bonus materials, worksheets, activities, interviews and more which can be found on her website.
How can I get help with teaching this book to students?
Various resources are available online, including educational blogs and websites that can provide advice on teaching this book effectively. Consider attending workshops or finding a mentor with experience teaching this series.