Soapstone Porcupine

Summary: The dog shows up the way snow does on a winter’s day.  She just drifts in and stays, becoming the boy’s friend.  Soon the two set out on an adventure that ends with a porcupine and a big brother who swears to take revenge on the animal.  But a Cree elder reminds the brothers of the importance of the great porcupine.  


Author: Jeff Pinkney likes to be out in a canoe or on his mountain bike on forest trails.  He has met a few porcupines along the way.  He is an amateur stone carver, having learned the art from a Cree elder who provided him with his first piece of soapstone.  Jeff carved a bear cub.  He also writes poetry and is a proud member of the Live Poets of Haliburton County.  Soapstone Porcupine is the second novel in the Soapstone Signs series.  The stories draw on Jeff’s experiences while living and traveling as a development consultant in Canada’s James Bay Frontier, where he acquired a deep appreciation for the people and the landscape.  He knows firsthand what it’s like to be a little brother and a big brother too.  Jeff is husband to Leslie and father to Maarika, Alexandra and Isabella.  Learn more at 

Illustrator: Darlene Gait was born on Vancouver Island and began painting as a child. Inspired by nature and by her Coast Salish heritage, Darlene brings a rich understanding of the natural world to her work, which is held in private collections and exhibited worldwide. Darlene lives in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia. For more information, please visit 


WITS LEADerS ConnectionLook and Listen, Explore Points of View, Act 

Lesson Plan 

Pre-reading questions and ideas: 

  • Look at the book cover of Soapstone Porcupine and describe what you see.  Can you guess what the book might be about? 


  • Has an animal ever wandered into your life, such as a stray cat or a dog?  What are the dangers of approaching a stray animal? 


  • The story’s main character is out with his dog, pretending to be a great hunter, when the dog has a run-in with a porcupine. With porcupine quills stuck in the dog’s muzzle, the pretend world gives way to a real-life emergency. Have your pretend world and your real world ever been at odds?  


  • How do you think you would handle a real-life emergency? What types of emergencies have happened to you? Have you ever helped out in an emergency?  


  • Have you ever seen a porcupine? Have you ever smelled a porcupine? If so, what did it smell like? What other animals do you know that have a strong smell? (E.g. skunk)  


  • In the beginning of the book the boy remembers a lesson he learned about hunting. When there is an emergency, always try to control your own panic first. What does this mean? What was the emergency? How does the boy control his own panic? How does he handle the emergency? 


  • Towards the end of the book a fast-talking lady in the neon-red windbreaker who picks up the boy’s porcupine says, “A kid like you couldn’t carve like this.” Is she correct? How would you feel if you were the young boy listening to her?   



  • Near the end of the book, the boy no longer worries about the intimidation that he faced on the train. Have students discuss what has changed and why he feels more confident. What lesson has the young boy learned from the porcupine? (possible answer: The boy thinks of how the porcupine is confident that it is well protected, so it can be brave. The boy thinks of how the porcupine does not let itself be pushed around.) How does the young boy react to this lady? (possible answer: He stands up to her. He does not sell his carving to her. He stays calm and demands that she gives it back to him.) 


  • As the young boy comes home, what birthday wish is coming true? (possible answer: Atim, the stray dog, has chosen to stay with the family) 



Suggested Activities: 

  • Have you ever made your own carving? Pretend that you have your very own piece of soapstone—it could be a bar of soap or a piece of modeling clay. Whatever the carving is going to be, it is already there. Take your piece of “soapstone” home with you and be aware of your signs. When you come back to class, tell us what your signs were. Have your signs helped you to see the carving that waits inside?  


  • Make your own carving. Soap can be carved with a variety of safe (nonpointy) tools found about the house, like table knives and teaspoons, pencils, keys, or files without points.  


  • The pictures are an important part of this story. Choose a page in the book that is not illustrated and draw a picture for that page.  


  • The Cree language is spoken by the Indigenous People’s in northern Ontario. There are six words in the book from the Cree language. Practice saying these words. Then choose some animals or plants or things you know in English and look up the Cree words for them. âštam (ash-tum)—“come here” atim (a-tim)—dog kâko (kah-koh, with a very soft oh)—porcupine meegwetch (mee-gwetch)—“thank you” mahkitonew (mah-kee-tah-nayo)—one with a big mouth wachay (wah-chay)—“what cheer” or “greetings” or “goodbye.” (This word has many spellings, including wah-chaywatchaywachey and wâciye.)  


  • Do some research on the porcupine. How many kinds of porcupines can you find? What do porcupines eat? Where do porcupines live? 


This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.  

Ce projet a été rendu possible en partie grâce au gouvernement du Canada