I am sure you are aware of the awe inspiring picture book ‘Journey’ by Aaron Becker, which tells the story of an isolated young girl. She finds she can access a hidden kingdom with the use of a piece of magical chalk (well I like to think of it as chalk – it could just as easily be a wax crayon or even a sharpie!
However, from experience, many people seem unaware that a sequel to ‘Journey’ exists in the form of ‘Quest’ by Aaron Becker. After I recently stumbled across the amazing ‘Chalk’ by Bill Thomson, the old picture book neurons started firing and I saw huge potential for an exciting and engaging cross curricular English and Art project.
From the first moment that anyone flicks through the pages of ‘Journey’ and ‘Quest’, they are captivated by the detailed illustrations of the magical kingdom access by the isolated girl and her friend. The continuing plot across both books is an excellent starting point for PSHE work focused on friendship and compassion; the girl in ‘Journey’ is determined to rescue a beautiful purple bird from captivity.
This journey sees her exploring dense forests, sailing along sky-scraper high viaducts and taking flight in amazingly elegant airships. It is only after she rescues the bird, that she discovers that the purple bird is actually a drawn representation of a young boy – who appears to have discovered a similar piece of chalk to the girl.
This is the launching point for the plot of ‘Quest’, as the two children return to the magical kingdom through an enchanted door, all the while aided by their mystical chalk drawings that spring to life – I particularly love the huge squid that helps them access an undersea city.
The children resiliently follow their quest to free the imprisoned leaders of the kingdom, returning order and calm to this magical world once again. The end of ‘Quest’ is truly beautiful but I will let you discover that for yourself!
To be honest, I could wax lyrical all day about the potential of this book to develop oracy, reading and writing but I will try to be as concise as possible and summarise a few of the most powerful opportunities.
- Both texts are wordless; the children could create Pie Corbett style story maps or traditional story maps to represent the key plot points within the books. Can they find any parallels between the plots of each text?
- When familiar with the story, the children could be challenged to create short pieces of text or paragraphs that could be added to each page to change the wordless presentation of the originals. This would provided the perfect opportunity to explore sentence structures and punctuation, in order to achieve short but narratively impactful passages which ‘fit’ onto each page.
- Extending the writing skills could be achieved by lingering on some of the most detailed images. This would allow the children to experiment with different descriptive writing techniques including the use of senses, changing points of view (i.e. the view of the city from the tower guards, as opposed to the little girl) and even writing from a third person perspective.
- I would also be tempted to use ‘Quest’ to explore the use of dialogue within narrative writing, as the children could either write and punctuate the dialogue within their written extracts for each image or prepare the dialogue between the boy and the girl in the form of a playscript – which could later be re-enacted for an audience of children or parents.
Introducing ‘Chalk’ by Bill Thomson
Having developed the children’s writing skills through short burst tasks and within the context of ‘Journey’ and ‘Quest’, I feel that ‘Chalk’ provides a linked context for their own extended story writing.
In the book, a group of children find a back of chalk, hanging from the mouth of a plastic ride-on playground toy, in the form of a T-Rex! They soon discover that whatever they draw with these magical chalks immediately comes to life – this was the point at which I saw the obvious parallels between Aaron Becker’s work and that of Bill Thomson. When they use the said chalk, the children produce all manner of wonderful creations including hundreds of butterflies. Unfortunately, one child is inspired to draw a dinosaur in the same style as the T-Rex toy – which inevitably comes to life and that is where the real adventure begins!
This is where the children can be challenged to let their imaginations run wild, whilst you bottle that enthusiasm to ensure they produce some amazing narrative writing. How about setting the scene by leaving the children their own bags of chalk on the playground and asking them to draw what they would like to see come to life. From this fun, idea generating actively the children can then develop their own story maps/plans and hopefully develop these into rich and engaging narrative stories.
To be honest, they should be begging you to let them write their stories once they have imaginatively lived the events of ‘Chalk’ for themselves on the playground!!
Have fun with your chalk, crayons or sharpies!