The Orphan Seal

Grade Level: 
K, 1, 2
Animal Welfare
Civil Society
Life Science
Non-Fiction Literature
Philanthropic Literature
by Fran Hodgkins; 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.

Reading Level: Ages 4-8

A young seal pup becomes separated from his mother in heavy surf and ends up on a beach in Maine. Orphaned, cold, and scared, the seal is rescued by the scientists at the New England Aquarium. This touching story follows Howler’s story as he is cared for, rehabilitated, and finally released into the wild. It teaches valuable lessons about what to do when we find a wild animal in distress and how we are caretakers for these wild animals. It also helps children understand that though cuddly and adorable, these animals are wild and belong in their natural habitat.

Before Reading

ASK: What do you know about seals? Do you know where they live, what they eat, and if they are a mammal or a fish? Write down all the facts you think you know about seals. Then write anything you’d like to know about seals.

SHOW: Flip through the book and look at the pictures of the seals. What emotions do you feel when you look at them? Write a list of emotions. Some examples of emotions are happiness, fear, compassion, and sadness.

CONNECT: Have you ever seen a seal in the wild or at an aquarium? What was most interesting about this animal?

During Reading

ASK: As you read, try to answer this question: What are the basic needs of a baby seal? How do the caretakers at the New England Aquarium help meet those needs?

SHOW: Look at the pictures of Howler at the aquarium. Notice how the aquarium workers are helping him.

CONNECT: How are the needs of a baby seal the same or similar to the needs of a human baby? Why is it important that a seal have help from people like those at the aquarium?

After Reading

ASK: What does the author mean when she says “the lure of the ocean is strong” for Howler?

SHOW: Look at the last picture in the book of Howler in the open water.

CONNECT: Do you think Howler will miss his human helpers? Why do you think it is in his best interest for the people to release him into the wild? How does this make the aquarium workers good caretakers of wild animal life?


  1. In this story, marine biologists and veterinarians need to know a lot about seals in order to help them. Create a scientific drawing of a seal. First cut out the shape of a harbor seal from gray construction paper and glue it onto another piece of paper. Then use a marker and a ruler to draw lines to and label important parts of the seal, such as whiskers, flippers, nostrils, eyes, etc.
  2. Harbor seals are classified as near threatened mammals. Look up what “near threatened” means and think of ways that we can help these marine mammals. The book says the seal in this story is “protected by law.” Why?
  3. There are some very interesting science words in the Glossary at the end of this book. Look up each word in the dictionary and come up with your own definition.
  4. Find out more about the animals rescued by the New England Aquarium. Go online to the Aquarium’s Web site and learn about current and past animals that have been part of the Rescue and Rehabilitation Program.
  5. Write your own list of rules for what to do if you find a stranded marine animal. Go to the Web site of the New England Aquarium and look for rules about what to do when you find a stranded animal. Write a list of these rules in your own words.
  6. Donate to the New England Aquarium’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Program. Ask your friends, family, and neighbors to help you, or hold a bake sale or other kind of sale to raise money. Send donations to:
    The Rescue and Rehabilitation Program
    New England Aquarium
    Central Wharf
    Boston, MA 02110
  7. Are you interested in working with animals when you grow up? The people in this story who help animals are marine biologists and veterinarians. Find out what you need to do to have a career working with animals. Go to the ASPCA site and get information about careers with animals.