Dave Clegg

The Elephants and the Mice

Kindness can have unexpected consequences.

By Spencer Kayden, based on an ancient fable from India.
From the March/April 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will compare and contrast two characters who differ in the way they treat others.   

Guided Reading Level: R
DRA Level: 40

Compare and Contrast

As you read, look for how Uma and Mohan, and their ideas about dealing with others, are different.

Scene One

S1: Long ago, in India, there was a village of mice.

S2: The village was a lively place, with mice scurrying to school, to work, and to market.

S3: Our story begins on a sunny morning as Uma and her children come out of their burrow.

Uma: Don’t forget your lunches.

S1: Uma hands them each a tiny sack.

Rohit: Crickets, yum!

Bina: Thank you, Mummy!

S2: The children scamper down the road.

S3: Uma waves to her neighbor Mohan.

Uma: Good morning, Mohan.

Mohan (grumpy): What’s good about it?

Uma: We are healthy. We have food and shelter. Life is good.

S1: Suddenly, a great rumbling sound is heard.

S2: The ground beneath them starts to tremble. 

All Mice (scattering): Earthquake! Take cover!

S3: Uma runs after her children.

Uma: Bina! Rohit!

S1: The rumble gets louder. Uma sees huge figures crashing through the bushes.

Uma: It’s not an earthquake! It’s elephants!

S2: As the elephants charge toward them, cracks appear in the ground. Mice fall in.

All Mice: Aaaaaaah! Help!

S3: Other mice get trampled as the elephants stomp through the village and disappear.

S1: Then all goes quiet.

Scene Two

S2: The next day, the mice gather in the marketplace.

Uma: Chandra, how is your foot?

Chandra: It’s just a sprain. I’ll be OK.

Mohan: How many mice did we lose yesterday?

Uma: At least 20. And many more were hurt.

Chandra: The elephants never bothered us before. Why now?

Mohan: Because they are horrible creatures. 

S3: They hear rumbling again.

Mohan: The elephants are back!

Uma: I’m going to find out what’s going on.

Mohan: You better let me handle this.

S1: Uma and Mohan run toward the road as the elephants come from the other direction.

S2: Mohan shouts up to them.

Mohan: Hey! Hey, you!

S3: The elephants don’t hear and keep going.

S1: Uma climbs onto the roof of a hut. She rolls up a large leaf to use as a megaphone.

Uma (shouting): Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!

S2: A small elephant stops.

Kumar: Yes?

Uma: Why are you coming through here?

Kumar: Our water hole dried up. Now we must drink from the lake nearby.

Mohan (shouting): You wrecked our homes!

Uma: Many mice were killed.

Kumar: Whoops. We didn’t see you.

Mohan: Whoops? That’s all you have to say?

Kumar: We didn’t mean to hurt anyone. 

Uma: Perhaps you could go around our village instead of through it. 

Kumar: I’m sorry, but do you think thirsty elephants are going to take the long way? Besides, they won’t listen to a puny elephant like me.

S3: Kumar trots off. 

Dave Clegg

Scene Three

S1: Weeks later, the mice call a meeting to talk.

Mohan: The elephants continue to destroy our village.

Chandra: More mice get hurt every time they come through.

Bina: I’m scared! It’s not safe here anymore!

Rohit: What are we going to do?

Mohan: Let’s get revenge. We’ll go to their kingdom and chew up all their pillows.

Uma: That doesn’t solve anything. Though you’ve given me an idea.

Mohan: What?

Uma: I will reason with the elephant king.

Mohan: Asking nicely won’t get you anywhere. Elephants only listen to force.

Uma: I think kindness will get you a lot further than force.  

Mohan: We’ll see. I’m coming with you.

Uma (sighing): If you insist.

Bina: Be careful, Mummy!

Rohit: Come back soon!

Uma: I will, my dears. Don’t worry.

Scene Four

S2: Uma and Mohan are in the forest.

Mohan: I can’t believe you tricked that snake that almost ate us.

Uma: Everyone likes to show what they’re good at. I simply asked if he could tie himself into a really tight knot.

Mohan: Then he got stuck and we escaped!

S3: They emerge from the forest to see a majestic city. 

S1: In the distance is an ornate building with a large dome.

Uma: That must be the palace!

S2: They run toward it and slip in through the space under the doors.

S3: They are awed by the colorful tile floors and painted columns.

S1: Suddenly, huge shadows fall over them.

Mitali: What’s this? Mice in our palace?

Kumar (whispering): Maybe they’re spies.

Mitali: Oh, Kumar, my son, if only your body were as big as your imagination.

S2: Mitali scoops the mice up with his trunk.

Mohan: We demand to speak with your king.

Mitali: King Rama doesn’t waste his time with vermin like you. 

Kumar: Wait, you’re the mice from the village.

Uma: Please take us to your king. It is a matter of life and death. 

Dave Clegg

Scene Five

S3: King Rama sits on a plush velvet throne.

Mitali (suspiciously): Your Majesty, these mice say they have a terrible problem. They claim only you can help.

Rama: Me? Help mice?

Mohan: It’s the least you could do since you elephants ruined our lives.

Mitali: Watch yourself. I could crush you with my toenail.

Rama: What is the problem?

Uma: When elephants come through our village on their way to the lake, our homes are destroyed and mice are killed. 

Rama: We need water. What else can we do? 

Uma: We simply ask that the elephants take a different route to the lake.

Mitali: That would add miles to our journey.

Uma: I don’t think you realize what an impact your actions are having on our lives. Put yourself in our tiny feet.

Kumar: What do you mean?

Uma: Picture an animal thousands of times larger than an elephant.

Kumar: That would be quite a huge animal.

Uma: Now imagine a herd of them comes crashing through your kingdom. Your friends and neighbors are crushed at random.

Rama: That is not a pleasant thought.

Uma: Yet it happens to us again and again. 

S1: The king ponders this.

Uma: My mother always told me that the best quality a leader can have is compassion. 

S2: The king smiles at Uma.

Rama: I will order the elephants to take a different route.

Uma: Thank you! I hope we can repay your kindness and help you someday.

Rama (chuckling): Mice helping elephants. That’s a good joke. 

Scene Six

S3: Many months later, the mice are living happily in their rebuilt village.

S1: The elephants take a different route to the water hole.  

S2: Everything is peaceful, until . . .

S3: One day, King Rama and a group of elephants are walking through the forest.

S1: Rama steps in a trap, and a heavy rope cinches his leg.

S2: He tries to pull his leg free.

Rama: I’m tied to a tree!

S3: His guards carefully walk forward, but there are traps everywhere.

S1: Soon, all the elephants are tied to trees.

Mitali: Whenever I tug, the rope gets tighter!

S2: Kumar catches up and is shocked to see all the other elephants bound by thick ropes.

Kumar: Dad! King Rama! What happened?

Mitali: What does it look like? These are hunters’ traps.

Rama: Imagine me, a king, trapped!

Mitali: Our freedom gone forever.

Rama: Kumar, you must get us out of here before the hunters return!

S3: Kumar looks around, searching for a way to help.

Mitali: Don’t just stand there. Do something!

S1: Suddenly, Kumar takes off running.

Mitali: Kumar! Don’t leave us! Come back! 

Dave Clegg

Scene Seven

S2: Kumar runs to the mouse village. When he gets near, he slows down to a walk so he doesn’t rumble the ground.

S3: Uma and Mohan see him.

Kumar (breathless): King Rama and others are trapped by hunters’ ropes.

Mohan: So? I haven’t forgotten all the trouble you elephants caused us.

Uma: And I haven’t forgotten how your king helped save so many of our lives.

Kumar: Can you help us?

Uma: Most definitely.  

S1: Uma whistles and all the mice come running.

Uma: The elephants need our help!

S2: Kumar bends down to his knees.

Kumar: Everyone climb on.

S3: The mice scamper onto his back.

Mohan (annoyed): Uma, why are you always so nice?

Uma: Just like the sun melts ice, kindness makes bad feelings soften and slip away.  

Mohan: I’ll have to try it sometime. 

Scene Eight

S1: Kumar sprints through the forest with the mice clinging to his back.

Rohit: Wheeeeee!

Mohan: I think I might be sick!

S2: Kumar skids to a stop when he sees the trapped elephants.

Mitali: Kumar! I thought you’d run away.

Kumar: Never. I went to get friends. 

Uma: Mice, slide down and start chewing!

S3: The mice gnaw at the ropes like they haven’t eaten in months.

Mitali: I’m sorry I doubted you, Kumar. Your body might be small, but your brain and your heart are giant.

Kumar: Thank you, Father.

S1: Soon, all the elephants are free.

Rama: Thank you, dear mice. Thank you!

Mohan: Turns out we’re not so useless after all.

Uma: That’s Mohan’s way of saying, “You’re welcome, King Rama.”

Mohan: I’m still learning about this whole kindness thing.

Rama: Me too, little mouse. Let today remind us to always choose kindness. For your compassion may be rewarded in unexpected ways.

This play was originally published in the March/April 2020 issue.

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

Check out these tips from PBS Teachers Lounge for teaching kindness in the classroom.

The story of the elephants and the mice dates all the way back to around 200 B.C. and is part of an ancient Indian collection of fables called the Panchatantra. But civilization in India began thousands of years before that! Explore life in Ancient India and the Indus Valley civilization with these interactive pages from DK Find Out and BBC.

More About the Story


Compare and contrast, vocabulary, fluency, character, key idea, inference, key details, how a character changes, theme, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

Based on an ancient fable, this play shows that acts of kindness can sometimes be repaid in unexpected ways.


The play is chronological and has eight scenes.


The play includes some challenging words (e.g. megaphone, emerge, ornate, compassion), as well as similes, rhetorical questions, and other figures of speech.

Knowledge Demands 

No special knowledge is required.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes)

  • Tell students that this play is based on a fable from India, a country in South Asia. (Make sure they know what a fable is: a short story that typically features animal characters and provides a moral.) Point out India on a map.
  • Explain that the story is similar to Aesop’s fable “The Lion and the Mouse,” which is from ancient Greece. Explain that fables often spread from culture to culture, with details changing but the big ideas staying the same.
  • Distribute the vocabulary Skill Builder to introduce new words. Highlighted words: megaphone, revenge, emerge, ornate, vermin, compassion, cinches
  • Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box for the class.

2. Reading the Play

Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class. After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)

  • At the beginning of Scene 1, what is life like in the mouse village? How does this change by the end of the scene? (compare and contrast) At first, the mouse village is lively and peaceful. But by the end of the scene, it becomes loud, dangerous, and confusing as elephants charge through and trample many mice.
  • In Scene 2, why does Uma succeed in getting the elephants’ attention while Mohan does not? What does this tell you about each of them? (character) Uma stands on a roof and makes a megaphone out of a leaf so that the much larger elephants will hear her. Mohan simply tries shouting up at them. This tells you that Uma thinks carefully before she acts—unlike Mohan.
  • Reread Scene 3. What problem are the mice facing? How is Uma’s suggestion for solving the problem different from Mohan’s? (compare and contrast) Elephants have continued to stampede through the mouse village on their way to the lake, destroying buildings and harming many mice. Mohan suggests getting revenge, saying, “Elephants only listen to force.” But Uma suggests using kindness and reason to convince the elephant king to help them.
  • Based on Scene 5, what is compassion? How does Uma convince King Rama to show compassion to the mice? (key idea) Compassion is a feeling of wanting to help others who are in trouble. Uma convinces the king to show compassion by helping him imagine what it is like to be threatened by much larger creatures. Seeing the situation from a mouse’s point of view inspires the king to help.
  • Why does the king laugh at the idea of mice helping elephants? (inference) The king laughs because he does not think tiny mice would ever be able to help big, powerful elephants like him.
  • What happens to King Rama and other elephants in Scene 6? Why do you think Kumar goes to the mouse village for help? (key details) The king and other elephants get caught in traps left by hunters. Kumar probably decides to ask the mice for help because he remembers Uma’s earlier offer to repay the king’s kindness one day.
  • What character traits does Kumar show in Scenes 7 and 8? How has he changed since the beginning of the play? (how a character changes) Kumar shows intelligence and bravery in these scenes. He comes up with the plan to ask the mice for help and courageously carries them through the forest. He has become more confident since the beginning of the play, when he told the mice that the other elephants “won’t listen to a puny elephant like me.”
  • At the end of Scene 8, Rama says that “compassion may be rewarded in unexpected ways.” Explain how he learned this lesson, using details from the play. (theme) When the king agreed to tell the elephants to change their route, he did not think the tiny mice would ever be able to help him in return. But when he and other elephants are trapped, the mice use their sharp teeth to free them from the hunters’ ropes. Rama’s kindness has been repaid in a way he did not expect.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • In Scene 7, Uma says, “Just like the sun melts ice, kindness makes bad feelings soften and slip away.” How do Uma’s actions in the play show this? How do Mohan’s actions show the opposite? (compare and contrast) Uma treats others kindly and respectfully, which inspires others to treat her that way in return. For example, Rama decides to help the mice after Uma asks him nicely. But when Mohan is rude toward others, they react with anger—such as when he snaps at the elephants, and Mitali threatens to crush him.
  • What do you think the elephants learn from Uma? How do you think this lesson could be applied in your life? (theme) The elephants learn that they should pay attention to what they’re doing and how it affects others. They didn’t mean to hurt the mice, but Uma tells them, first in Scene 2 and then in Scene 5, that they are trampling mice and should change their route. Answers to the second question will vary, but students should cite ways they could pay more attention to the consequences of their actions.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Compare and Contrast

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Divide students into pairs. Ask one member of each pair to write a list of words describing Uma, and the other to write a list of words describing Mohan. For each word, they should include a piece of text evidence from the play. Then have them read their lists out loud to one another.

For ELL Students

Read the play together as a group, pausing after each scene to summarize what happened. Then go through the play’s illustrations and prompt students to describe the action in each one. Have them draw two new illustrations for the play, including a oneline caption for each.

For Research

Have students go online to look up another culture’s version of this fable (besides “The Lion and the Mouse”). They can then write their own one-page play based on that version, using The Elephants and the Mice as a model.