Five classics for 2019: The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle

We have five classics for you and your students to explore this year. When we read a story, we read so much more than the plot. Stories, and especially classics, open the door to multiple worlds, which we can become exciting territories for classroom activities and projects. In this series we give a short overview of our new stories: the author, the plot, the characters, the adaptation, the various classroom learning possibilities and some background information about the creation of the reader. The classroom learning projects are mostly CLIL projects (history, science, geography, literature, philosophy, psychoglogy, art) and language areas. Apart from these short overviews, we also prepare detailed lesson and project plans for each title. Watch out for these posts on our blog.

In this post we introduce The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle written by Hugh Lofting (Level 1). The adaptation and the activities were written by Jennifer Gascoigne, and the story was illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini.

The other new titles are:

The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle

1 Who is the author?

Facts about Hugh Lofting

  • He was born in England in 1886.
  • He studied engineering at Massachusetts Insitute of Technology in the USA.
  • He worked as an engineer and travelled to countries like Africa, the West Indies and Canada.
  • He eventually moved to New York, where he got married and had three children.
  • He fought for England in World War I.
  • After the war he returned to the USA and started a writing career.
  • He died in California in 1947. His books continued to be a success.

2 What do we need to know about the story?

Hugh Lofting experienced a lot of pain and suffering during World War I. Instead of writing these experiences in his letters for his children, he made up stories about a doctor called Dolittle. This doctor was kind and loved animals. The character may have been inspired by the Scottish surgeon John Hunter, who is mentioned in a lot of other literary works including The Island od Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells and The Giant, O’Brien by Hilary Mantel. The first Doctor Dolittle book was published in 1920, and the last one in 1952, five years after his death. Altogether 13 Doctor Dolittle books were published, and two more volumes of short stories were published after Lofting’s death.

The main character of the books, Doctor Dolittle is a good doctor and people like him. However, his house is always full of his pets, and sick people don’t like them. When Dolittle loses his human patients, he decides to become an animal doctor instead.

The setting

The stories are set in Victorian England. Dolittle lives in an imaginary village called Puddleby-on-the-Marsh near the sea. He also travels to Africa.

The characters

The characters in The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle. Illustration by Lorenzo Sabbatini. ©Helbling 2019

3 Why did we choose this title for adaptation?

Doctor Dolittle is a classic children’s story. He is caring and passionate about his work and fun! He is one of the kindest heroes in children’s literature, plus he is resourceful, brave and adventurous. When I was a child I used to dream of stowing away with Doctor Dolittle on one of his voyages and meeting the pushmi-pullyu, so it was an obvious choice for adaptation. 

4 How can you use this reader for language learning? 

Choose one discussion and research topic for a group of students to explore.

CLIL and discussion topics

  • Biology: classes of animals
  • Living and caring for pets
  • Communication and animals

Watch out for our project lesson plans for more detailed activities based on these topics.

Language stuctures

  • Present simple, present contimuous
  • First conditional
  • Describing places
  • Describing animals
  • Say or tell?
  • Countable/uncountabe nouns

Vocabulary development

  • Animals
  • Animal communication; verbs; communication in general
  • Parts of aship
  • Jobs
  • Geography

The adaptations

In 1967 the film Doctor Dolittle with the British actor Rex Harrison as the Doctor comes out. In 1998 the American actor Eddie Murphy stars in a modern version of the story.

Watch the trailer of the 1967 film:

And then the 1998 adaptation set in the USA, starring Eddie Murphy:

And look out for Robert Downey Jr. as the Doctor in the version coming out later this year (2019):

The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle poster. Source: IMDb

5 How did we create the reader?

The original text of the novel was simplified for elementary-level learners, avoiding complex grammar and sentence structures and minor plot strands that may lead to confusion. The vocabulary is only simplified as much as it is necessary to make it comprehensible for language learners at this stage. You can read our interview about adaptations with Jennifer Gascoigne on this blog.

The story was illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini, who created a series of digital layers which reflect the depth and dynamism of the text while placing it in a meaningful modern context.

Here is a simple chart about our reading levels.

Helbling Reader levels.

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