Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s “The Outside Inn”

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Download Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Introduced to readers by a beautiful bug-laden cover, title page, and dedication, George Ella Lyon and Vera Rosenberry’s The Outside Inn is quite obviously a book about nature, and just so happens to be our next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series. The children who grace the cover and the story’s first page (with a dish-filled wagon in tow) show the story’s connection to childhood – clearly ready to engage in some creative free play, the quartet seem right at home in the muddy puddle in which they have settled at the story’s start. Just as the children begin to dig their muddy meals, narration of their invented game begins. Told in rhymes that beautifully capture children’s imagination and the possibilities for nature-based play, The Outside Inn is not only a silly story for children to enjoy, but it serves as a representation of the mind of a young child. 

At the very beginning of the story, readers are welcome to the Outside Inn, “where good times and good food begin.” The rest of the story is told through a series of rhyming questions and answers, moving through a full day’s worth of regular meals, drinks, snacks, tea times, and treats. While the story’s food-centric structure creates the idea of the passing of time, it is through the children’s actions in each accompanying illustration that readers are able to see the creative play that takes place in order to prepare each meal. Were the story to be acted out in real time, it would not take an entire day to move through the invention process for each meal; however, if a child’s sense of the passage of time is considered, the hour or two spent making muddy meals from natural treasures could very well feel like an entire day.

In addition to allowing readers to spectate at a day filled with exciting and messy play, the story teachers young readers about the many things that can be found in their local landscape. The geographic location in which the story takes place is never revealed, but it is also somewhat irrelevant. The ingredients for each dish mentioned are very common parts of the natural world. The children imagine baking and cooking with ants, puddle water, slugs, gravel, caterpillars, mud, worms, and plain old dirt – all materials easily found in most landscapes.

The Outside Inn is most appropriate for young readers, ideally between the ages of 3 and 7. The charming story so beautifully captures a common childhood experience, however, that it can appeal to readers of any age, especially those who appreciate the natural world and/or have fond memories of exploring the outdoors as young children. Using our literary guide to accompany a reading of the book, families can not only enjoy the charming nature-based story but engage in learning about the spelling of rhyming words, species identification, food webs, engaging schema for comprehension, and menu-related math – and, of course, some hands-on, creative free-play using natural materials!

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