Humphrey the Lost Whale Literature Guide

Grade Level: 
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall - A literature guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of generosity, community, and service to others.
You’ll find this inspiring story in the non-fiction section of the library. Humphrey is a humpback whale who swims upstream and gets stuck in a freshwater river. You’ll feel the tension as Humphrey gets farther upstream and you’ll cheer right along with his rescuers. This is not just a story about a whale, there is a more subtle message about communities working together for the common good. Although the people who care about Humphrey may not know each other, they work collaboratively to help the confused whale get back to the ocean. Children may recognize this spontaneous kind of community-building from experiences at a new playground or on vacation. Help your child understand that a community is not just a group of people who live in the same town. A community is formed anytime people come together for the common good (scouts, church, sports teams, etc.). In what communities do you participate?

Before Reading

ASK: What would happen if a huge whale swam from the ocean into a freshwater river?

SHOW: Look at the pictures in the book to get an idea how big a humpback whale is (the size of seven elephants).

CONNECT: Have you ever seen an animal in trouble? How did you feel? Talk about the appropriate ways to respond to an animal in trouble. Usually, the correct course of action is to find an adult or call the humane society. It is important for children to stay away from unfamiliar dogs and wild animals.

During Reading

ASK: Why do you think busy people stop what they are doing to watch Humphrey in the bay? Why do people come to watch Humphrey in the river?

SHOW: Look at the picture of people working through the night to help the whale. Talk about how they felt about Humphrey getting through that bridge. Do the people on the bridge and shore seem to know each other? Why are they there?

CONNECT: Have you ever been somewhere and started talking to people around you because you were there at the same time and interested in the same event? Why does it feel like those people are important at the time even though you aren’t friends?

After Reading

ASK: Do you think Humphrey felt thankful to the people? How do the people feel about Humphrey at the end? How do you know that they kept thinking about the whale?

SHOW: Look at the photos at the end of the book. Humphrey got into trouble again in the same bay. Figure out how many years later that was. Do you think Humphrey will do that again or not?

CONNECT: Why do people work together in the time of a crisis? Think about natural disasters in the past. How do people all over the world come together as a community. (Define community as the degree people come together for the common good.) What can you do to help?


  1. To what communities do you belong? Make a list and then choose one. Draw a picture of yourself in a group of people working together for the same purpose. Write a sentence telling what you are all doing.
  2. Track the range of emotions of the people who are watching Humphrey throughout the book. List the feelings identified (joy, curiosity, pleasure, nervous, anxious, scared, worried, etc.) on a piece of paper. Talk about situations where you and each family member have felt these emotions.
  3. The city of San Francisco named a bus after Humphrey. They wanted to remember the amazing whale they watched and helped. Talk about how we use names as ways of remembering and honoring. Are you named after someone? Do you know anyone who is named after someone? Why do families do that? How do you choose pet names? Do you ever name stuffed animals after favorite book characters or special people?
  4. Choose an animal, such as a polar bear, a whale or an otter. Gather information about the animal and find out what organizations are doing to help the animal. Is there some way that the family can help, such as adopt an animal or raise money for the helping organization? Go to the Defenders website and click on “adopt an animal” to read about adopting an animal. For a donation of $25, you will receive a plush animal and a monthly newsletter.
  5. Read about where and why whales migrate with the seasons. Connect this information with your family’s seasonal routines. Does your family do something different with the changing seasons?
  6. Talk about what issues are important to your family (such as hunger, housing, environment, or literacy). Look up groups who are already working for your chosen issue. Find a volunteer opportunity that can involve the whole family and do it. As you participate, notice how the people who work together for the common good become a community.