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Literature Unit Study Ideas for Indian Captive by Lois Lenski (31 Days of Literature Unit Ideas)

Leah Courtney
{This post may contain affiliate links.Read my disclosure here. }

This post is part of the 31 Days of Literature Unit Ideas. You can find all of the posts in the series here. If you'd like to use this as a literature unit study, you can find a FREE printable at the bottom of the post.

Today's book is one that I stumbled upon when I was looking for a read aloud book to use with my younger girls. I found the book in our home library, and I think it probably came with a set of books I had received as hand-me-downs. The book is Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski. The girls and I were already familiar with Lois Lenski, after having read Strawberry Girl, and we quickly came to enjoy this book as well.

About the book:

Indian Captive is a historical fiction book based on the life of Mary Jemison. In her teens, Mary was captured by the Seneca Indians from her home in what is now Pennsylvania in the 1700s. She was adopted into a Seneca family and later chose to continue her life with the Senecas even after she had the opportunity to return to the English.
The book by Lois Lenski stays true to the story of Mary's life, only changing a few details. In the book, Mary is a little younger upon capture. The book also leaves out some disturbing details of the real story such as the killing of Mary's parents. It's a great look at the time period and at the American Indian tribes, particularly the Seneca.

Language arts connections...

  • Keep a journal as Mary Jemison. As you're reading, write down the events from each chapter journal style as if you were Mary keeping a journal.
  • Mary Jemison's character changes throughout the story. Use this character map at the beginning of the story and then again at the end to analyze Mary's character.
  • Read Mary's first-hand account of her capture. Write your own response if you were Mary.
  • Mary had to adapt to a very different life with the Indians. Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast her English life with her Seneca life. You can find a blank one here.
  • Write a newspaper article as if you were a reporter present when Mary Jemison was found to be living with the Seneca. 

History connections...

  • Read this short biography to learn more about Mary Jemison.
  • Print a free blank timeline and keep up with the events in Mary's life in the order they occur. (There won't be dates, but you can put the events in order. This page has a recorded timeline of Mary's life if you want dates.)
  • Learn more about the Seneca Indians by reading this page. Record five facts about them.
  • Read this brief history of the Seneca tribe. Record five of the events on a timeline, particularly paying attention to the late 1700s when Mary was kidnapped.
  • Using this map, find the are in which Mary's family had settled and the areas in which the Seneca tribes lived.


Other resources...

  • This printable handout from Scholastic has some great questions and a few activities for the book.
  • This site -Teaching With Historic Places- has a great collection of places to visit to learn more about American Indian history.


If you'd like to use Indian Captive as a literature unit, you can find a free checklist with suggested use here.

Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

Leah Courtney is a homeschooling mom of four. She’s graduated two teens- one who’s a legal adult now! And she’s still homeschooling two middle schoolers. She loves all things book related, and in her- very rare- free time you can find her listening to audiobooks and coloring.


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