Skills Building: The Whispering Town (3-5)

Written by Jennifer Elvgren and illustrated by Fabio Santomauro

Pre Reading Questions

  1. What do empathy and compassion mean to you? 
  2. What do you know about WWII and the Holocaust? 
  3. Read the Author’s Note in the back of the book (reprinted here) prior to starting the read aloud.


    “Less than a year after World War II began, Germany invaded Denmark. It would serve as a ‘buffer’ to protect Germany from British attacks. Adolf Hitler also wanted the country’s fertile farmland.


    At first, the Germans allowed the Danish government to continue ruling. But as time passed, the Danes [people from Denmark] grew tired of the Nazis and began to sabotage the occupation.


    By 1943, the Nazi’s could no longer ignore the Danish resistance and took over the government. Shortly after, they began to round up the estimated 8,000 Danish Jews to send them to concentration camps.

    Danes hid Jew in private homes, warehouses, barns, hotels, and churches. Then they secured boats and hired fishermen to transport them across the sound to nearby neutral Sweden. Almost all of the Jews were smuggled out of Denmark.

    About 1,700 Jews escaped from the small fishing village of Gilleleje. One moonless night the town’s citizens stood in doorways and whispered directions to the harbor.”

Post Reading Questions

  1. In Whispering Town, the townspeople worked together to provide support, shelter, food, and care for the Jews while they waited to smuggle them to Sweden and to safety. How do you think Carl and his mother felt? How do you think the townspeople felt?
  2. Being compassionate is not always the easy choice; it can sometimes be frightening and take courage. How did Anett show her bravery in her compassionate acts?  
  3. Why is it important to show compassion despite your fears? Can you think of a time when you showed empathy and compassion even though it might have been difficult and scary? How do you think the person you acted compassionately towards felt?

Creative Enrichment Activity: Paper Cup Phone (3-5)

Overview: In the book The Whispering Town, we learned about a village in Denmark who helped Jewish families escape from the Nazis to freedom in Sweden during WWII. The Danish villagers helped the families escape by standing outside of their doorways and whispering “This way” to help the families get to the dock where boats took them to safety. In this activity, we will create paper cup phones to pass messages from person to person. 


3 paper clips per student
Two paper cups per student
String or yarn of various colors pre-cut into pieces
Color pencils/crayons/markers

Duration: 45-50 minutes (for staff: 5 pre-activity set up, 10-minute prep)

5 minutes: Introduce the activity using the book and examples
10 minutes: Decorate the cups
2 minutes: Create holes in the bottom of each cup with one of the paperclips. 
5 minutes: Run the string through each cup and tie paper clips to the end of each side of string/yarn
3 minutes: clean up
15-20 minutes: Use cups to pass messages from person to person
5 minutes: Reflect


  1. Prior to the activity, staff should cut the string/yarn in pieces for each student. Each piece should be approximately 9 feet long. An easy way to measure an approximate length that will be effective for this activity is to measure a piece of yarn the length of the staff’s “wingspan” and double it. Each student needs one piece of yarn. 
  2. Set material stations so that each student can pick up their materials. Each student needs three paper clips, two paper cups, and one piece of yarn. 
  3. Introduce the activity using the book.
  4. Students pick up their materials and go to their workspace. 
  5. Students decorate their two cups using color pencils/crayons/markers.
  6. Students unbend one of the paperclips and use the end to punch a small hole in the center base of each cup from the outside. The students may need to wiggle the paperclip to make the hole large enough to fit the yarn/string through. The width of the hole is dependent on the type of string/yarn used. 
  7. Pull the yarn/string through the hole in the bottom cup, threading from the outside of the cup inward. Students may need to use the bent paperclip to help them thread the yarn/string through the hole. 
  8. Pull the yarn/string through the inside of the cup until there is enough to tie the string to one of the unbent paper clips. 
  9. Pull the string from the outside of the cup until the paperclip rests inside the cup. 
  10. Repeat with the other cup and paperclip. 
  11. Clean up the materials. (This activity should have minimal cleanup.) 
  12. Activity: Split students up into groups of 5-10 students. Use the cups to create a human chain throughout a large space (e.g., cafeteria, gym, playground). One student will hold one end of their paper cup phone and the other end to another student. The students will move far enough apart that the strings are taut. Continue this with the remainder of the students so that each student has one end of their phone and the other end of a friend’s phone. Be sure that strings are taught and that students hold the side of the cup, not the base of the cup. They will not be able to hear if they touch the base or if the string is loose. Pass a message along the paper cup phone chain and play a version of “telephone”.  
  13. Reflect.

Reflection Questions

  • What was it like to use the paper cup phone? 
  • Have you ever done this activity before? 
  • How can you spread empathy through communication?