ISEE Lower Level Reading : Ideas in Literature Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Lower Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Literature Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

Which of the following best describes what happens in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The narrator and Fritz find a coconut tree.

The narrator and Fritz explore.

The narrator and Fritz wander away from the rest of their group and find a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.

The narrator and Fritz discuss coconuts.

The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.

Correct answer:

The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.

Explanation:

When picking out the correct answer to a question that asks about a passage’s main idea, it is important to pick out one that describes what happens in each paragraph, but isn’t broad enough to include ideas that aren’t discussed. In this case, the answer choice “The narrator and Fritz discuss coconuts” is too narrow, because more happens in the passage than just this conversation. “The narrator and Fritz explore” is also much too general, as this doesn't mention coconuts at all. Similarly, “The narrator and Fritz find a coconut tree” is also too general when compared to the other available answer choices. 

The two remaining answer choices are “The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut,” and “The narrator and Fritz wander away from the rest of their group and find a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.” These answers differ in one point: the latter includes “The narrator and Fritz wander away from the rest of their group,” whereas the first one doesn’t. Since nothing is mentioned about their wandering away from a group in the passage, the latter of these two answers cannot be correct. This means that the correct answer is “The narrator and Fritz encounter a coconut tree; the narrator explains coconuts to Fritz, and they find and eat a ripe coconut.”

Example Question #11 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo" in Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (1902)

Not always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but a Different Animal with four short legs. He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on an outcrop in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Little God Nqa.

He went to Nqa at six before breakfast, saying, “Make me different from all other animals by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nqa from his seat on the sand flat and shouted, “Go away!”

He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a rock-ledge in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Middle God Nquing.

He went to Nquing at eight after breakfast, saying, “Make me different from all other animals; make me, also, wonderfully popular by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nquing from his burrow in the spinifex and shouted, “Go away!”

He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a sandbank in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Big God Nqong.

He went to Nqong at ten before dinner-time, saying, “Make me different from all other animals; make me popular and wonderfully run after by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nqong from his bath in the salt-pan and shouted, “Yes, I will!”

Nqong called Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusty in the sunshine, and showed him Kangaroo. Nqong said, “Dingo! Wake up, Dingo! Do you see that gentleman dancing on an ashpit? He wants to be popular and very truly run after. Dingo, make him SO!”

Up jumped Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—and said, "What, that cat-rabbit?"

Off ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle—ran after Kangaroo.

Off went the proud Kangaroo on his four little legs like a bunny.

This, O Beloved of mine, ends the first part of the tale!

He ran through the desert; he ran through the mountains; he ran through the salt-pans; he ran through the reed-beds; he ran through the blue gums; he ran through the spinifex; he ran till his front legs ached.

He had to!

Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a rat-trap, never getting nearer, never getting farther—ran after Kangaroo.

He had to!

Still ran Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo. He ran through the ti-trees; he ran through the mulga; he ran through the long grass; he ran through the short grass; he ran through the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer; he ran till his hind legs ached.

He had to!

Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, grinning like a horse-collar, never getting nearer, never getting farther; and they came to the Wollgong River.

Now, there wasn't any bridge, and there wasn't any ferry-boat, and Kangaroo didn't know how to get over; so he stood on his legs and hopped.

He had to!

The main purpose of the passage is __________.

Possible Answers:

to tell us the story of how the Kangaroo came to be as it is

to tell us the nature of the theory of evolution

to explain why the Kangaroo has no friends

to describe the enmity between the Kangaroo and the Dingo

to explain the growth of the Kangaroo's tail

Correct answer:

to tell us the story of how the Kangaroo came to be as it is

Explanation:

Whilst the Dingo does chase the Kangaroo, the main theme of the passage is how the Kangaroo came to be as it is. We know this because the first paragraph describes how the Kangaroo used to be different. We can assume that the Kangaroo gets his wish and changes by the end of the story due to events that take place later in the tale.

Example Question #11 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

A great conflict was about to take place between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were gathered together, the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said "Come with us," but he said to them, "I am a Beast."

Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said "Come with us," but he said, "I am a Bird." Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the celebrations, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to run away, or else they would have torn him to pieces. "Ah," said the Bat, "I see now: he that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

Who won the battle between the beasts and the birds?

Possible Answers:

The beasts with the help of the bat.

No one; they never fought.

The beasts without the help of the bat.

The birds without the help of the bat.

The birds with the help of the bat.

Correct answer:

No one; they never fought.

Explanation:

The author says, “Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place.” This tells us that the battle between the beasts and the birds was never fought, so no one could have won.

Example Question #11 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Lion and the Mouse" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down on top of him; this soon woke up the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon the mouse, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but maybe I shall be able to assist you one of these days?" The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Sometime after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was in, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse. “Little friends may prove great friends and a small mercy can go a long way.”

Which of these statements best summarizes the moral of the story?

Possible Answers:

“The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him that he lifted up his paw and let him go.”

“Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down on top of him.”

None of these answers; this story has no moral.

“’Pardon, O King,'" cried the little Mouse: ‘forgive me this time.’”

“Little friends may prove great friends and a small mercy can go a long way.” 

Correct answer:

“Little friends may prove great friends and a small mercy can go a long way.” 

Explanation:

The moral of a story is the lesson or message contained within that is meant to teach you a lesson about how to behave. In this story, the moral is primarily that showing a small amount of mercy can go a long way towards furthering your own interests. This is best summarized by the mouse at the end of the story when he says, “'Little friends may prove great friends and a small mercy can go a long way.'”

Example Question #1 : Ssat Elementary Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "The Lion’s Share" in The Fables of Aesop by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1902)

The Lion once went hunting with the Fox, the Jackal, and the Wolf. They hunted and they hunted till at last they surprised a Stag, and soon took its life. Then came the question of how the spoil should be divided. "Quarter me this Stag," roared the Lion; so the other animals skinned it and cut it into four parts. Then the Lion took his stand in front of the carcass and pronounced judgment: "The first quarter is for me in my capacity as King of Beasts; the second is mine as arbiter; another share comes to me for my part in the chase; and as for the fourth quarter, well, as for that, I should like to see which of you will dare to lay a paw upon it." "Humph," grumbled the Fox as he walked away with his tail between his legs; but he spoke in a low growl. “You may share the labors of the great, but you will not share the spoil."

What does the Fox realize at the end of the story?

Possible Answers:

No matter how much work you put into something you can never account for luck.

Wolves and jackals make loyal allies.

Lions cannot be trusted to share anything.

None of these answers; it is the Lion who learns a lesson at the end of the story.

Even if you share the workload with those who have power, you will not share the reward. 

Correct answer:

Even if you share the workload with those who have power, you will not share the reward. 

Explanation:

This story tells of a lion, and several other animals, who hunt and kill a deer together, and after they have killed it the lion keeps the deer for himself and does not give anything to those who have helped him. At the end of the story, the Fox says, “You may share the labors of the great, but you will not share the spoil." This means that even if you help great people archive things, you will not necessarily share their rewards. 

Example Question #11 : How To Recognize And Analyze Main Ideas In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Lion and the Mouse" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down on top of him; this soon woke up the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon the mouse, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but maybe I shall be able to assist you one of these days?" The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Sometime after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was in, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse. “Little friends may prove great friends and a small mercy can go a long way.”

Through what virtuous characteristic did the lion gain the loyalty of the mouse?

Possible Answers:

Speaking proudly

Expressing confidence

Showing mercy

Being honest

Being funny

Correct answer:

Showing mercy

Explanation:

"Virtuous" means good or noble. It is virtuous to be honest or to share, for example. In this instance, the lion is virtuous because he does not kill the mouse. This is an example of “showing mercy.” "Mercy" means something close to forgiveness, kindness, or compassion.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.

Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge Miller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached by graveled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a more spacious scale than at the front. There were great stables, where a dozen grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages, an endless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumping plant for the artesian well, and the big cement tank where Judge Miller's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.

And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here he had lived the four years of his life. It was true, there were other dogs, There could not but be other dogs on so vast a place, but they did not count. They came and went, resided in the populous kennels, or lived obscurely in the recesses of the house after the fashion of Toots, the Japanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexican hairless—strange creatures that rarely put nose out of doors or set foot to ground. On the other hand, there were the fox terriers, a score of them at least, who yelped at Toots and Ysabel looking out of the windows at them, protected by a legion of housemaids armed with brooms and mops.

What historical event does the passage's first paragraph mention?

Possible Answers:

The Alaskan Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush

The completion of the first transcontinental railroad

The Civil War

The Revolutionary War

Correct answer:

The Alaskan Gold Rush

Explanation:

Let's consider what clues the first paragraph gives us about the historical event it is discussing. We are told that "men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found yellow metal," and because of this, "thousands of men were rushing into the Northland." Based on these clues, we can tell that the event being described is the Alaskan Gold Rush.

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar—except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.

Today, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.

Why does Dorothy reside with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em?

Possible Answers:

Dorothy is lost and trying to find her way home. 

Dorothy is an orphan.

Dorothy prefers the scenery of Kansas to the scenery of where her parents live.

Dorothy doesn't get along well with her parents.

Dorothy is traveling and briefly staying with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.

Correct answer:

Dorothy is an orphan.

Explanation:

The author states that Dorothy is an orphan and ended up in the care of Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. It is mentioned that Dorothy is an orphan in the third paragraph of the passage, when it states, "When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears."

Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Supporting Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar—except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.

Today, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.

Why is Dorothy not grey like Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and her Kansas surroundings?

Possible Answers:

She concentrates on her schoolwork.

She plays with all of the animals on the farm.

She plays with Toto.

She writes letters to the friends she made before moving to Kansas.

She often makes up stories to entertain herself.

Correct answer:

She plays with Toto.

Explanation:

The passage's fourth paragraph states, "It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly." So, according to the passage, playing with Toto keeps Dorothy from growing grey like Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and her Kansas surroundings.

Example Question #1 : Theme

Adapted from “A Defense of Slang” in The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess (1902)

Could Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously to "the man in the street," he would find himself more at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger boys and clerks he would find the English language used with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, suggestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were patent. His own heroes often spoke what corresponds to the slang of today.

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn all unconventional talk with vigor. Slang has been called "poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a charming girl, for instance, a "daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, and such a reference will be understood a century from now. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse; it should make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty.

Why does the author believe there was no slang in Shakespeare’s time?

Possible Answers:

There were too few laboring classes from which slang could be drawn.

The people of Elizabethan England were too serious for such prosaic creativity.

Even strong, offensive, and unusual language was widely accepted and understood.

English dramatists refused to employ slang in their work.

Slang was considered too vulgar and its usage was discouraged by Queen Elizabeth I.

Correct answer:

Even strong, offensive, and unusual language was widely accepted and understood.

Explanation:

The author makes a statement that there was “hardly any such thing as slang” in Shakespeare’s day. But, we know that the author has compared the slang spoken in Chicago to the language of Elizabethan England. To remedy this apparent discrepancy, it is necessary to read on and pay attention to the phrase “no graphic trope was too virile or uncommon for acceptance.” Here, the author is stating that slang language in Elizabethan England was part of the common city-wide vernacular and not confined to smaller groups, such as the “messenger boys and clerks” of Chicago. The author clearly feels that even offensive or unusual language was widely used and understood.

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