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Adventures With "The Three Little Javelinas"

By Pamela Martin

Trickster Coyote loses out again when Los Tres Pequenos Jabalies outwit him in Susan Lowell’s delightful book. Use these "The Three Little Javelinas" activities to explore the Southwest, learn about the desert, and just have a little plain, old fun!

Porcine Trials, Southwest Style

Susan Lowell’s take on the tradition three little pigs’ story, "The Three Little Javelinas," is set on the Tohono O’Odham reservation in Arizona. Her characters face the Southwest’s choking dust storms and blazing heat, building houses of tumbleweeds, saguaro ribs and adobe, before defeating Coyote, who plans to serve them up with “red hot chile sauce.”

Use the adventures of these porcine siblings for more than the usual reading comprehension activities — have fun with an entire cross-curricular unit that teaches science, social studies and language arts.


The brothers and their sister duel with Coyote in the Sonoran desert, which introduces a study of the desert ecosystem.

What Is a Desert?

Divide the class into groups and let them read their science textbooks or other materials about one of the following:

Desert Landforms

Desert Climate

Desert Plants

Desert Animals

Give each group a page from a chart tablet. Ask them to prepare a bulleted list of important facts about their topic. Give the groups 10 to 15 minutes to prepare their lists and a three to five minute presentation of these key points.

Follow up by assigning groups or individuals the making of a desert habitat/ecosystem diorama.

End the lesson with a 3-2-1 exit ticket activity. Give students 3-inch by 5-inch index cards on which they write:

3 things I learned about deserts.

2 things about deserts that I’m not sure of or have questions about.

1 thing about deserts that I could teach someone else.

Desert Landscaping

Discuss with students the idea that lush lawns and flower gardens aren’t a practical option for homeowners in the hot, dry Southwest. Explain the idea of xeriscapes and of using native plants for hardiness.

Allow students time to research cacti and other types of plants appropriate for yards or public gardens in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and other hot, Southwestern areas.

Ask students to create a one page fact sheets about the different plants, in the style that a plant nursery might provide to customers interested in xeriscaping.

Social Studies

Discuss how cartographers use colors and symbols to depict different information on maps. Share examples of topographical, population density, rainfall and other specialty maps.

Provide multiple copies of a blank outline map of the United States. Ask students to create a series of maps to show different data, including average high temperatures, average low temperatures, rainfall, growing zones and other information relevant to the topics you are studying in class.

Bind the maps to make personal atlases. If you use the small plastic rings using for sorting baby chicks (available at feed stores and, surprisingly, at some teacher supply stores), students can add other types of maps to the book as the year progresses.

Language Arts

Read other Coyote or Trickster tales with the class and then create Venn diagrams to compare and contrast the folktales.

Ask students to rewrite or retell the story from Coyote’s point of view. "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" is a good resource for helping students “get” the concept.

Give summarizing an update when students write Facebook updates or Twitter “tweets” that the javelina siblings might post to tell the story in sequential order. Facebook posts should be 420 characters or less, while “tweets” are limited to 140 characters.

Food Fun

Coyote wanted to serve “red hot chile sauce” with his pork dinner, while the second javelina saw a woman preparing to harvest the saguaro fruit, from which the Tohono O’Odham people make a sacred wine to use in their rainmaking ceremonies. While winemaking might not be appropriate for class, your students can still experience similar foods.

Make a salsa from fresh tomatoes, chopped red onions and peppers. For a mild flavor, add canned chopped green chiles or spice things up with a seeded and deveined jalapeno. (Be sure to wear gloves when handling the pepper). Serve the salsa on tortilla chips.

Tip: For extra flavor when tomatoes are out of season, use quartered grape or cherry tomatoes.

Bring a cactus culinary experience to class with nopales, strips cut from the pad of prickly pear cactus, often served with eggs and other dishes. Give students a taste of flour or corn tortillas. If you have access to an electric griddle, let students make their own tortillas from masa harina (corn) or masa trigo (flour).

Wash down the treats with a drink the porky family might have served when you make sun tea and sweeten it with agave nectar, from the century plant cactus.

Culminating Activity

Tie everything together with this "The Three Little Javelinas" activities project, as students combine what they learned about the desert with story events, plot sequence and details.

Give students the following instructions:

You are a finalist in the bidding for a landscape architect to design a themed public park based on "The Three Little Javelinas." The park will be in the Sonoran Desert. The committee in charge of the project has these requirements:

1. The park must include the three houses built by the javelinas.

2. The park must be xeriscaped to conserve water and prevent problems during droughts.

3. Because of the long season of excessively high temperatures, there must be shaded spots and places to sit scattered through the park.

4. Statues of the major characters must be placed somewhere in the park. They do not have to be together.

5. There must be tableaus that show key points of the story along a walking path, in the same order in which they happened in the story.

Your firm will need to provide all of the following materials for the committee:

1. A scale drawing of the park’s plan

2. A model of the finished park (does not have to be to scale)

3. A tri-fold brochure for visitors that summarizes the story and explains the plants chosen and the reasons for the selections

4. A persuasive report to explain to the committee why your design is their best choice for the park

5. A five to seven minute presentation to the committee, explaining why they should choose your design

Allow groups to make the presentations to the rest of the class, which acts as the committee. Ask committee members to question the presenters as they would in a real-world situation. Following the presentations, allow students to vote on the best choice.

Trekking through literature and the desert has never been this much fun before. Use "The Three Little Javelinas" to start an exploration of new versions of other folk and fairytales with your students and keep the joy alive.