The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy


Written by Jim Murphy

(2012) New York, New York

Scholastic Press

Would you believe it if you dug up a 10-foot stone human in your backyard? Well that’s exactly what happened in The Giant and How He Humbugged America. In 1869 a New York man named William Newell hired several men to help him dig a well in his backyard. In the process of digging, they unearthed a foot! After further digging they found a 10-foot human being under the dirt. This launched the nation into one of the biggest debates anyone could have imagined! Was the Cardiff Giant a petrified human body? Was it a statue? Was it a hoax? The entire country was determined to find out!

Lexile Score: 1210L

ATOS Book Level: 8.7

Phrases to describe this book: Nonfiction, mystery, hoax, American history, intriguing

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Suggested Delivery: Independent read

Reading Strategies:

Before Reading: Read the first section of the story as a class until the discovery of the foot in the earth. After this, stop and discuss. Ask students what they think might happen, why the foot might be there, etc. Make predictions as a class, and write them down to refer back to. After, see if any of the initial predictions were correct!

During Reading: Use the monitoring/clarifying reading strategy described here.

Ask students to begin reading the assigned text and use the following steps as they encounter difficulties:

  • Stop and think about what you have already read.
  • Reread.
  • Adjust your reading rate: slow down or speed up.
  • Try to connect the text to something you read in another book, what you know about the world, or to something you have experienced.
  • Visualize.
  • Reflect on what you have read.
  • Use print conventions (key words, bold print, italicized words, and punctuation).
  • Notice patterns in the text structure.

These steps can be very important when it comes to reading texts that have a lot of information and primary sources incorporated in them such as newspaper articles, pictures, and pamphlets.  This will allow students to gain better comprehension of the story.

After Reading:  Review the initial predictions to see if any of the students’ predictions came true. Then ask student to complete an exit slip that shows at least one new thing they learned and interesting supporting details for this new fact.

Writing Activity: Have students create a newspaper article or a pamphlet to describe an event in the story. Pick any event, ranging from the discovery to the fact that it was all a hoax. Have students cite textual evidence from the story, or use quotes from the characters to make their pieces more interesting.

Additional Resources:

Check out author Jim Murphy’s website to find out more about him, his other books, and his motivations for writing!

Check out’s webpage for the Cardiff Giant to get more information!

This video shows the real Cardiff Giant in a museum in Fort Dodge, IA. This video includes the basic story of how the Cardiff Giant came to be as described by museum staff.

Key Vocabulary:

  • Curiosity- a rare, strange, or novel thing
  • Exotic- of foreign origin or character, not native
  • Hoax- something intended to deceive
  • Humbug- to deceive
  • Marrow- soft, fatty tissue on the inside of the bones
  • Melodramatic- over dramatic, exaggerated
  • Negotiation- mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement
  • Petrified- converted to stone or a stony substance
  • Spectator- a person who looks on or watches
  • Syndicate- a group of individuals combined or making a joint effort to carry out specific transactions or negotiations
  • Turbulent- disturbed, disorderly

(All definitions taken/modified from


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