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Playing and Talking for Growth with

AN AMERICAN TAIL


This web page is being reconstructed. It still has valuable information for parents looking to teach their children about immigration.

SUBJECTS — U.S./1865 - 1913; Diversity & New York;
        Religions/Judaism;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage; Friendship
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness;
        Responsibility; Fairness.

Age: 7 - 10; MPAA Rating -- G; Animated; 1986; 77 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com. For children ages 5 - 8, see Talking and Playing for Growth Guide to "An American Tail".

Description:    This movie describes the experiences of Fievel Mousekewitz, a mouse who emigrates from Russia to the United States in 1885. The experience of Fievel and his friends and family parallel the experience of millions of Europeans who emigrated to the U.S. between 1880 and 1924.

Benefits of the Movie: "An American Tail" introduces the concept of immigration and some of the difficulties that immigrants face in a new land. For the millions of children whose families trace their origin to Eastern Europe, the film can serve as an introduction to their own heritage.

Before Watching the Movie:

The immigrant mice talk about how the streets in the U.S. are "paved with cheese." Prepare the class for this moment by telling students that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than a hundred hears ago, millions of people came to the United States from all across Europe. They were looking for a new life in which they would have more freedom and could earn a better living for their families. They came by boat because in those days there were no airplanes. The rumor was that the streets in America were "paved with gold." Show the class Europe, the Atlantic ocean, and the U.S. on a globe or a map. See, for example, Map of the North Atlantic. Point out some of the different countries of Europe, including Russia, Germany, France and Great Britain. Then point out the location of Minsk (where the journey started), Hamburg (port of embarkation in Europe) and New York (destination in the U.S.). Trace or draw the route taken by immigrants across the Atlantic Ocean. At the point that the mice talk about how the streets in the U.S. are "paved with cheese", stop the film and ask the class what they just heard. Most students will make the connection. Allow a student who understands the reference to describe it to the class.
 

LEARNING GUIDE MENU

Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Playing for Growth
Talking for Growth
Story Time
Building Vocabulary
Discussion Questions
--- Social-Emotional Learning
--- Moral-Ethical Emphasis
      (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Selected Awards & Cast










Possible Problems:     None.
 


Playing for Growth:

1.  After the movie, show how far the immigrants from Europe had to travel. See Map of the North Atlantic. Print out some outline maps and draw Fievel's journey or the journeys of your family's ancestors. Compare the trip Fievel and the immigrants made to a trip your family has taken. Describe how hard travel was at the time. There were no airplanes. The immigrants had little money, so they had to go in the lower decks of ships with many people crowded together.

2.  In the movie, mice came from countries all around the world, but specifically Russia, Italy and Ireland. Find these on a map and trace the route to New York.

3.  Look at pictures of your family, and talk to your child about what countries they were from. Trace the journeys of your own ancestors in a different color, on the same map as before. Compare them; ask how they are the same, and how they are different. You can also print out a map of the United States and draw where members of your family have lived in America.

4.  Find pictures online of the Statue of Liberty. See, for example, Statue of Liberty Gallery. Talk about how it symbolizes freedom for many immigrants. Talk about other symbols of freedom (the flag, the Liberty Bell, etc) and look at pictures together online or in a book. Color them together using blank coloring sheets. See Papajan.com.

5.  Build a ship from cardboard boxes, couch cushions, blankets or whatever else your child thinks up. Pretend to be the Mousekewitz family, tossing and turning out on the ocean. When you "land" explore your surroundings pretending you've never seen it before. Have a mouse-like snack of cheese, crackers and apples.

6.  If you have any family heirlooms in the house (whether they are used every day or brought out for special occasions) point them out to your child and explain how they came into the family. Talk about how important they are to you, just like Fievel's hat was to him.

7.  Make a family tree using one of the templates suggested on Kids Central Family Tree web page or make your own. Or you can draw a simple tree with branches on a piece of paper. Then add your child's name at the very top. Work down, adding siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. You can simply write their names or do a stick-figure drawing, or you can use real photographs. Share your family's history, talking about where they came from, when they came to the U.S., and any name changes, etc. Convey as much history in these descriptions as possible.

 




If you engage in two or three of these activities, you'll be doing great!





During the movie: If there is a natural breaking point in the movie,you can stop it and then offer one or two specific questions: "What do you think will happen next?" or you can help your child recap the highlights of the first part of the film before viewing the second.

When the mice are climbing up the rope into the ship, mention that mice often get on ships by climbing up the ropes that attach the ships to shore. Sailors now put metal collars on the ropes to try to stop this.

When the mice get seasick, talk to your child about motion sickness and tell them that often people get seasick when they go on ocean voyages. It's really bad when there is a storm and the boat rocks back and forth.

You might want to mention that Fievel wouldn't have gotten lost if he had obeyed his dad.

When someone offers to sell the immigrants the Brooklyn Bridge and a train ticket that had only been used once -- mention that many people tried to take advantage of the immigrants. No one can buy a bridge, the government owns it. A train ticket that has been used once is worthless.







For more activities, see Ideas for Playing and Talking -- Developmental and Educational Advancement for Children 3 to 8.







Print this Guide for personal or classroom use from your web browser.


Talking for Growth

The themes of this movie include:

1. "Never say never" means to always keep trying;
2. It's important to stand up for yourself;
3. Different people can still be friends;
4. Immigration is an important part of American history;
5. Everyone feels lost and lonely sometimes.

"Never say never" means to always keep trying.

1.  Who showed courage in the movie? How? Talking about it: Fievel showed courage by never giving up hope. He never stopped looking for his family. The immigrants showed courage by leaving their homes behind in search of a better life. The mice in America showed courage by standing up to the cats and fighting back.

It's important to stand up for yourself.

2.  Why were the mice so angry at the cats? Why did the mice think it was important to fight back? Talking about it: The mice were angry at the cats because the cats were bullying them. The cats wouldn't let the mice live peacefully and were constantly harassing them. Imagine someone making you so scared that you couldn't leave your house. That would really be upsetting! By fighting back, the mice were standing up for themselves.

3.  How did Fievel save the mice? Can kids really save the day? Talking about it: Fievel was very smart and thought up the "Giant Mouse of Minsk", which saved the mice from the cats. Fievel, his friends, and his community, were able to triumph. Even though kids might be small, and sometimes adults don't listen, they can be heroes.

Different people can still be friends.

4.  When Fievel first comes to America, he doesn't know anybody, but soon he meets lots of very good friends. Who are they? Talking about it: Fievel first meets Henri, the pigeon, who tells him to "never say never" and gives Fievel hope that he will find his family. Fievel also meets Tony, Bridget and Tiger.

5.  Are Fievel's friends different from each other? Are they different from him? Talking about it: Yes. They are all different in the ways that show on the outside, like being a mouse or a cat. However, when people are friends the differences that show on the outside aren't as important as the things they have in common, such as caring for each other, liking each other, liking the same games, and having interests in common. Tiger and Fievel sing a song about this.

Immigration is an important part of American history.

6.  If your family has a European heritage tell your child that his or her ancestors came to the United States on ships like those shown in the movie. If family members were processed through Ellis Island, look at web sites about Ellis Island. If the experience in your family was different, tell your family's story. For example, African-American parents can talk about the difference in the route, the fact that the slaves did not come freely, the terrible conditions in the lower decks of the slave ships, the high death rate during the "middle passage", and, the lack of freedom when the slaves landed in the Americas.

7.  Why did the Mousekewitz family have to change their names when they came to America? (Fievel was called Filly and Tanya became Tilly.)? Talking about it: When immigrants started coming to America from all over the world many of them changed their names and many names were changed by immigration officials. There are many reasons behind this, but explain that this doesn't typically happen anymore. Talk about any family names in your lineage that may have been changed.

8.   Why were the immigrant mice so happy when they thought that there were "no cats in America"? Talking about it: The mice thought they would be free from the terrible cats. It turned out that there were cats in America, too. In real life, many immigrants believed that America was a land of riches and freedom where they would escape from the problems they had experienced in the countries they were coming from. But in reality, people faced similar struggles in America. The Mousekewitz family learned this when they encountered their first cat. But there was a difference. In America, immigrants were able to band together and protect themselves (like the mice did in this story) or use the law to stop people who were going to oppress them. This had been much harder to do in the countries they had left.

Everyone feels lost and lonely sometimes.

9.  If your child remembers a family move, ask: "How did it make you feel? Were you lonely? Were you scared of all of the new places and new people?" Talking about it: Talk about what happened to Fievel when he moved. Eventually, he found friends and his family. Talk about some times you have moved yourself, and how different and scary a place can be at first, but after you have explored you found fun things and good friends.

10.  Have you ever been lost? How did that make you feel? Talking about it: Children will probably talk about feeling scared, worried, frightened or nervous. Talk about how even if they are lost, families and friends will always be looking for them, just like Fievel's mom, dad and sister. Reassure them that people taking care of them will always find them.

 


If you talk to your child about two or three of these topics, you'll be doing great!







Encourage open-ended discussion and child-initiated questions. You might open with a general question like "How did you like the movie? Did you have a favorite part?" or "Was there anything that confused or surprised you?"



Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Introduce students to the cinematic and theatrical techniques used by filmmakers. Click here for our lesson plan based on materials specially prepared for TWM by John Golden, a leading expert on using movies in the classroom. (The National Council of Teachers of English has published two books on this topic written by Mr. Golden. TWM recommends both of them highly. Click here for links to purchase Mr. Golden's books.)

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!



Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.


Building Vocabulary unite, feline, mouse, duo, ancestors, generation, family, immigrant, emigrant, history, old country, new country, vegetarian, generation, Statue of Liberty, island, "cats out of the bag", "release the secret weapon", "E Pluribus Unum" (it means, "from many, one"), freedom.


























Here is an example of how you can build history into the story of a family name change. This story is for kids in the older age range for this movie. It involves immigrants who came from Russia, just like Fievel and his family.

In Russia the last name for our family was Ziv. In about 1900 there were eight brothers in the family. Russia at the time was ruled by a king called the Tsar. The Tsars were brutal rulers who often didn't care about their people. The Tsar's army would draft young men for 20 years. The Tsar didn't take care of his soldiers and men taken into the army often never came home.

The Zivs didn't want to lose their sons to the Tsar's army. Two of the eight brothers were sent to America to see if it was a good place to live. When they came back to tell the family about the U.S. they couldn't use their real names because they were on the list of young men who had failed to report for duty in the army. They had to think up a new name. The name they chose was "Frieden", which means "peace" in German. They figured this was a good name for men trying to stay out of an army. Their ruse worked and today there are well over a hundred ancestors of the Ziv family living under the name "Frieden" in the United States.

The irony of the story is that during the Second World War, some Friedens signed up to serve in the U.S. armed forces. So, the U.S. had soldiers and sailors with a name that means peace.
Story Time

Retell the story at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Feel free to add different things that happened to Fievel and his friends during their adventures, or afterwards. You can also talk more about the Mousekewitz family's life in the "old country" or their voyage to America.

Ask your child to tell you a story about Tiger, Tony or Bridget. You could also talk about what Fievel's sister Tilly did while Fievel was missing.

Here is a suggestion for another story to tell:
    Many months after Fievel found his family, he and his sister Tilly were walking down the street. They heard a tiny voice crying, and they peeked into a corner off of the street. There was a little mouse, wiping away tears. Fievel asked him his name and what was wrong. The little mouse said, "My name is William and my family and I just arrived from England. We were walking through the market when I got lost. And now I can't find them!" William began to cry again. Fievel remembered how bad he felt when he got lost and gave William a hug. Then he said, "Come with us, we'll help you find your mom and dad!" William smiled, and the three little mice started walking through the market. After awhile, it began to get dark. William became sad again, and started to cry. "I'm never going to find my mum and dad! I'm never, never, ever going to find my family again!" Fievel and Tilly hugged William again and said, "Never say never!" They walked through the street faster and faster, calling out for William's parents.

    All of a sudden, they heard two British voices calling "William? Willy? William . . . where are you?" Fievel, Tilly and William ran toward the voices, and sure enough, it was William's mom and dad. They scooped him up and gave him lots of hugs and kisses. "We were looking all over for you!" they said. Looking down, they saw Fievel and Tilly. "And who are these new friends?" "I'm Fievel, but some people call me Filly," Fievel said. "I'm Tilly," Tilly said. William's dad smiled, "Well, look at that! Filly, Tilly and Willy! You'll be friends forever!" They all laughed. William's mom gave him a big kiss and said, "Oh, William, I was worried we'd never find you!" William grinned and said, "Never say never!"
 


Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:

COURAGE

See question at Theme Topic #1.

FRIENDSHIP

See question at Theme Topic #3.
 


Character Counts Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

RESPONSIBILITY

(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


1.  What would have happened to Fievel if he had not listened to the Henri (the French pigeon) who told him to "never say never again"? What does "never say never" mean? Talking about it: He probably would not have found his family. He would have been sad and lonely. But by never giving up, he not only helped to save the mice, but he was reunited with his family again. "Never say never" means to always keep trying, to never say that you can never do something. It means to never give up.

2.  The cats were bigger and more powerful than the mice, but what happened when the mice challenged them? Talking about it: The mice won. By standing up for themselves, they made a better life in America. They all worked together and managed to beat the cats, and make their world a better place.

FAIRNESS

(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)


3.  Were the cats being fair to the mice? Talking about it: No. They bullied the mice and were very mean to them. The mice were very scared and were living very unhappy lives. But when the mice decided to stand up to the cats, they won.

4.  Why did the cats dress up as mice? Talking about it: They were trying to trick the mice. This was not very fair, and eventually Fievel discovered their secret and shared it with all the other mice. Together, they beat the cats and won their freedom.

CARING

(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)


5.  Did Fievel's family ever stop caring for him? Did he ever stop caring for his family? Talking about it: No. Fievel's family never stopped caring for Fievel, and when they thought he was dead they were very sad. Sometimes they got discouraged, but they always kept looking. Tilly kept their spirits up and encouraged them to never give up hope that Fievel would return. Fievel always cared for his family, and never stopped trying to find them. Even when he was very sad, and wanted to give up, he remembered to "never say never" and kept searching. Families never stop caring for each other; no matter if someone is lost, if they have a fight or if they move to separate places.

6.  Lots of characters in the story helped Fievel when he got to America. Name them and tell me how they helped Fievel. Talking about it: The first character to help Fievel when he came to America was Henri, the pigeon who gave him good advice. Warren T. Rat also "helped" Fievel, but was really trying to trick him. Luckily, Fievel trusted his instincts and ran away with his new friend Tony. Tony and Bridget also helped Fievel by trying to find his family. Finally, Tiger helped Fievel, and they became very good friends.

7.  Who did Fievel help? Why is it important to help people (or animals)? Talking about it: Fievel helped all of the mice by coming up with the Giant Mouse of Minsk. Helping people (and animals) is important because it shows that you care, it is a good deed, and it helps out your community. We depend upon many people in our lives. As we get older, many people will depend on us. It would be awfully lonely if there weren't any people to depend upon or who depended on us.

 


Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
















For more activities, see Ideas for Playing and Talking -- Developmental and Educational Advancement for Children 3 to 8.





MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: See Fiddler on the Roof which is about Jews in Russia before they emigrated to the United States. The Adventures of Milo and Otis deals with issues of friendship between people who are very different. If your child really enjoys the character of Fievel there are several sequels to "An American Tail". While they are not particularly useful educationally, your child might enjoy watching more of Fievel's adventures.
Bridges to Reading: Escaping to America, Rosalyn Schanzer, Harper Collins, 2000 (ages 4-8). This book talks about why one Jewish family fled to America, much like the Mousekewitz family.  


Links to the Internet:
  • Bringing History Home has great resources for teaching history to grades K-5. You can find a second grade lesson plan incorporating "An American Tail", as well as an immigration lesson plan for kindergarteners.
 
Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

    Selected Awards:  1988 Young Artist Awards: Best Picture; Best Animation Voice Over Group; 1987 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Original Song; 1987 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Original Song.

    Featured Actors:  Cathianne Blore; Laura Carson; Dom Deluise.

    Director:  Don Bluth.
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This Playing and Talking Guide written by Lauren Humphrey and James Frieden. Last updated January 7, 2008.




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