The Wreck of the Zephyr

Written By: Chris Van Allsburg

Before Reading

Explore Illustrations

Peruse the cover and illustrations with your child before you begin reading. Let your child make predictions about the story by asking questions like:

What do you notice on the cover?

Which ship do you think is the Zephyr?

How do you think the Zephyr got wrecked?

{Flip to an illustration} What do you think is happening in this picture?


Activate Prior Knowledge

Has your child ever been sailing or on a boat? Reminisce about that experience together, both what your child liked and did not.

Fun Fact: The author who wrote The Wreck of the Zephyr also wrote The Polar Express. If your child is a fan of The Polar Express, be sure to point that out to him/her!

As You Read

Vocabulary Building

To facilitate vocabulary acquisition, encourage your child to ask questions throughout the reading if any arise. Allow him/her to stop and discover the meaning of any new words that s/he comes across. Help your child use the words and illustrations on the page to extract the meaning of each word. Examples of new words in The Wreck of Zephyr include:




Making Connections

Make the story more relate-able and educational by making connections between the events in the story and your child’s own experiences. For example, when the boy plans to fly over the church bell to show everyone in his village that he is the greatest sailor, ask “What are you really good at? Have you ever wanted to show off so that other people could see that you were really good at ______? What happened? What do you think will happen to the boy and the Zephyr?”

After Reading

Summarize and Interpret

Gauge your child’s understanding of the story and it’s message by asking:

What was your favorite part? Why?

How did the boy find the island? What was different about the boats there?

Why did the Zephyr crash after he left the island?

Who was the old man in the story? How do you know?

The boy gets himself into trouble when he tries to show off and display his superior sailing skills, teaching children an important lesson in being humble. Ask your child, “What do you think would have happened if the boy hadn’t tried to show off and ring the church bell? Why do you think the boat started to fall when he tried to do it?

This book is fantastical, just like The Polar Express. Ask your child whether s/he believes the old man is telling a true story. Does your child think there might be a place where boats can fly with the wind? Inspire imaginations with this lovely story!

Activity: Create a Sailboat

Adapted from Parents and My Everyday Exceptional

Supplies: A large cardboard box, clear packing tape, yellow plastic cake plates, hole punch, glue, and black brads, any striped fabric or sheet, scissors, 2 long dowels. Optional: large paintbrushes and paint.


This activity will provide endless fun for your little sailor from sailing to fishing to whale watching. The sky’s the limit and your child will have a blast discovering new ways to set sail across the imaginary seas.  And, of course, you can do a miniature version of this with a smaller box, and smaller materials, if that works better for your family.

  1. Lay the cardboard box on its side with both ends open. Cut open the entire side that is facing the ceiling to create the opening for the boat. Then flip it over and do the same to the opposite side so that you have two separate long pieces of cardboard left. Now place them together and tape them so that they create a long sailboat with 6 sides. If you’d like, this would be the time to paint your sailboat. You can also use blue paint to create waves on the bottom of your boat. Punch 8 holes around the edge of each yellow plate and insert brads into the holes. Glue the plates to the side of the boat as portholes.
  2. Place your yard of fabric on the ground and cut it into a square. Then fold it to create a triangle. Tape two dowels down along the sides at the right angle, with one of the dowels longer than the fabric. Now tape it so that both of the open sides are closed. Take the dowel that is hanging out and tape it inside the boat.
  3. For added fun, use an extra dowel and yarn to create a fishing pole. Then draw and cut out fish to place around the boat. Attach small magnets to both the end of the fishing pole and the fish and let the fun begin.