Literature Links: My Daniel – Hunting Dinosaurs in Nebraska

Building a Sod House in Western Nebraska

Below you will find numerous primary source activity ideas to use in conjunction with the novel My Daniel by Pam Conrad. Let us know which ones work for you.

Publisher overview

“All I want to find is one dinosaur,” Daniel was saying. “And I’ll find it right here. Like I do all my fossils.” Wandering through the Natural History Museum with her grandchildren, Julia Creath feels the presence of her dead brother, Daniel, she remembers a time when fossil fever hit everyone, old and young — a time when people would kill for those old bones under the ground. Julia becomes the Nebraska farm girl she once was, as she weaves together the story of the great dinosaur rush — an adventurous tale of love and treachery, but most of all the story of her own childhood, and of the older brother she loved more than anything. Daniel had a dream that Julia shared — and the she alone would see come true.

Activity prep

Before beginning any individual activity, you might want to print and hand out the PSI: Primary Source Investigator badges.

Nebraska kids and sod houses

Click the link below to access images from 19th-century Nebraska. Ask students to look for clues to how children lived in Nebraska at the time. Ask them to look at specific details in the images that provide information about the children (clothes, activities) and their houses (what were they like and how were they made). Then have students reflect on what they saw and note any questions they have. After, have them look at the bibliographic records of the image to see if any of their questions were answered and to add to their background knowledge. You may wish to have them use the prompts listed below to assist in the primary source analysis.

Nebraska 19th-century dugouts and sod houses

Objective Observation Describe ONLY what you see – the forms and structures, the arrangement of various elements. Your description should help someone who has not seen the image to visualize it. Subjective Observation Describe your personal feelings, associations, and judgments about the image. Anchor your subjective response in something that is seen. For example, “I see ________ and it makes me think of ________ .”

Journalistic Analysis

Ask students to choose one image from the Nebraska 19th-century dugouts and sod houses primary source set. Tell students to carefully study the details of the photograph and then brainstorm a list of questions they would need answered in order to write an article about the image.

CCSS Writing

Have students work on their own narrative writing (CCSS standard 3) by using one of the images from the Nebraska 19th-century dugouts and sod houses primary source set and following one of the CCSS writing prompts.

Nebraska pioneer life histories

Read one or more selected transcripts of Nebraska pioneer life histories prior to reading the novel or after. After reading, ask students to revisit the life histories and look for connections to the text.

Prehistoric Nebraska

Read the article “Of Prehistoric Nebraska” from the Omaha Daily Bee, 14 May 1893. Divide students into groups and give each a section of the article. Ask them to complete a close reading to look for clues to the region’s geography and climate in prehistoric times. Stress that it is NOT important that students understand all the words that they read–their mission is solely to sniff out the geography and climate clues. After, they might compare the prehistoric area with modern-day Nebraska using the links below.

Paleontology timeline

Authors often do a lot of research related to the setting and theme(s) of their novels. After reading My Daniel, direct students to comb through this paleontology timeline to pick out facts that they think Pam Conrad incorporated into the novel, providing details from the text to support their findings.

Nebraska County Fossils

Have students investigate different types of fossils found in Nebraska. Ask them to re-create a fossil using clay and to provide a museum note, or curator’s description of the “fossil”.

Fossil Hunters

Have students read the introduction to The Life of a Fossil Hunter (as a class, in groups, or individually). Ask them to compare this depiction with the descriptions of the fossil hunters in the book, using specific details from the text to support their findings.

Today’s fossil hunters

Ask students to investigate and report on the work of modern-day dinosaur and fossil hunters from the Field Museum.

Blast from the past: 19th-century children’s letters

Ask students to describe how the novel depicted life for Julia, Daniel, and Jarvis, using specific examples from the text. Then have them read letters from real girls who lived on the Nebraska plains in the late 19th century. What similarities and differences do they find between the fictional depictions and the real-life depictions?

Letters from Ella

Letters from Stella

Letters from Lillie

Real women on the prairie

Ask students to describe Julia and Daniel’s mother and to explain why they do or do not like her or sympathize with her, using details from the text to support their views. Then have them read letters from 19th-century Nebraska women describing their lives. Did learning about real lives change or support their opinion of Julia and Daniel’s mother? Why or why not?

Wanted: Strong Farm Wife

Direct students to make a list of the kinds of work that the Oblinger women reported doing in the 19th century using the letters above to guide them. What qualities and skills would a woman have needed to succeed on the Great Plains in the late 1800s? After, instruct students to use their lists of tasks, qualities, and skills to write a job description for a “Successful Great Plains Farm Wife”.

Back to the Future

Julia, the grandmother in My Daniel, was rejuvenated when she visited “Daniel’s” dinosaur at the museum. Ask students to imagine a situation from their lives now or in the recent past that might rejuvenate them, or seemingly make them young again, when they are grandparents; they may choose to write about it, draw it, or act it out.

What other primary source activity ideas do you have?