MaiStoryBook Library: The Secret Shortcut + Performance Art Activity

Featuring the very first children’s illustrated book in the MaiStoryBook Library Collection:

“The Secret Shortcut” by Mark Teague

Book Synopsis + Review

Wendell and Floyd have one more chance to make it to school on time. No matter how hard they try, they are always late! Wendell’s solution: Take the Secret Shortcut! What begins as a simple march along a hidden pathway, quickly devolves into a wild trek through the tropical jungle. Follow these two daring adventurers as they skirt crocodiles and quicksand, soar on vines through the trees, and slick through pools of mud, all on their mission to make it to school on time! Will they make it through the classroom door before the last bell rings??

Mark Teague is a highly original author whose stories often involve children garnering glimpses into alternate realities, or using their creativity to take them beyond the normal boundaries and into the unexpected.  With lush illustrations that cover the pages edge-to-edge, the Secret Shortcut is the perfect book to stir-up the inner adventurer and spark the imagination. Children will delight in pointing out the numerous animals hidden among the trees and scattered across the pages. For them, exploring the backyard just became 10,000x more exciting.

Vocabulary List

  • Preposterous (p.5) – That’s unbelievable!
  • Culvert (p.10) – open water drain on the street
  • Meandered (p.14) – twisted and curved
  • Gorge (p.16) – big, deep opening between rocky mountains
  • Scurried (p.26) – ran quickly

Themes/Main Ideas

  • Magical worlds can be found in the most mundane, ordinary places.
  • With a little imagination, anything is possible.
  • *Theme from the kids when I read this story to a 3rd grade class*- Don’t be late for school!

YouTube Video: Guided Shared-Reading Read Aloud Example

Example of a shared-reading Read Aloud of The Secret Shortcut – how to subtly introduce the vocabulary list words within the text, ask guided questions, and spark conversation!

*~Check it Out~*

Subscribe: MaiStoryBook Channel for additional read aloud videos!

Performance Art Activity: One-Minute Plays

Introducing your child to the world of theater ~ One Minute Play retelling of the story: The Secret Shortcut.

This activity is actually adapted from a classroom lesson plan and so includes several introductory activities leading up to the final one-minute play production. For children younger than 5, I recommend skipping straight into the 1-minute play retelling of the story. For children 5+, below is the step-by-step guide through the activities. The activity can also be done with groups of children, so round up those siblings, or establish a new play-date hit! If it’s just you an your little one, be prepared for the adventure of a lifetime!

Introducing Acting:

Acting is made of 2 parts: speech and movement

  • Speech: How should you speak when performing a play?
    • Practice different silly voices with your child~ super high voices, super low voices
    • Ex) *in a squeaky high pitched voice* “We’re never going to make it to school!” Is this how we should speak? Nooo, if we use a super squeaky voice, no one will want to listen
    • Ex) *in a super low voice* “Aw man, are we lost again?” Is this how we should speak? Nooo, if we use a super low voice, people will get bored and fall asleep
    • Ex) *in a clear, projecting voice* “Follow me! I found a secret shortcut!” Is this how we should speak? Yes! When we use our loud and clear voice, people want to listen.
  • Movement: You can use your body and movements to tell a story
    • Target different areas to move through different animal characters. With your child, act out:
    • Eagle ~ Targeting the arms, shoulders, and upper body movement
    • Tornado ~ Targeting the hips and middle body
    • Tiger ~ Targeting legs and lower body movement
    • Snake ~ Targeting full body

Introducing Theatre and One-Minute Plays

  • The 5Ws of Theatre: Reviewing these 5Ws will also help review the story and  check for comprehension. Ask the following
    • Who: Who are the main characters? Animals can be characters too
    • What: What happened in the book? Focus on beginning, middle, end.
    • Where: Where does the story take place?
    • When: When does the story take place? Past/Present/Future?
    • Why: What is the main idea/theme? The reason for the story?
  • Answers:
    • Who: Wendell, Floyd, Important animals: monkeys, crocodiles, hippo
    • What: To keep the play short, focus on 3 main parts:
      • Beginning- Need to find a shortcut to get to school on time
      • Middle – Get lost in the jungle and saved by the swinging monkeys
      • End- Make it back to school on time
    • Where: The jungle
    • When: Present day
    • Why: Imagination can take you anywhere


  1. Final play must be no more than 1 minute long. Use a sand timer or phone timers to make sure the play is under the time limit. The time limit keeps the children focused and concise in the retelling.
  2. Play must include the beginning, middle, and end
  3. Everyone must have atleast 1 speech line:  Can animals sometimes talk in stories? Yes! What are some things the animals in this story could say?
  4. Characters:
  • If there are 2 of you:  1 adventurer + 1 monkey to save the day
  • 3+ = 2 adventurers (stress that even though Wendell and Floyd are boys, it doesn’t matter to the story if the adventurers are boys or girls)  + animal characters (1 must be the monkey)

Take about 10 minutes to rehearse.

One Minute Play Performance

  • If at home, transform your living room into the jungle.
  • Add props. Ex) toilet paper rolls for telescopes to look beyond the trees, paper towel rolls for walking sticks, string for the vines etc.
  • Encourage dress up in an adventure outfit or animal costume.
  • Film the final production ~ Or invite the family for an evening performance!

*~Overall, Have FUN with this active and engaging activity! Please comment below  – tag me on Instagram @MaiStoryBookLibrary  – or post on FaceBook to share your photos of your play and let me know how it went! I’d love to hear about your secret shortcuts and jungle adventures ~*

*Teachers +Educators: Message me for the classroom lesson plan, including step-by-step instruction and a scripted guide to the classroom lesson*

*~Until next time, Happy Reading~*


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