The Viewer by Shaun Tan

   If you are a child of the late 70s and early 80s, you will no doubt be familiar with the once popular (but often disappointing) viewer toy. Mine was made of red plastic and I would regularly be bought white disks to insert, showing scenes through the lens from the latest blockbuster film or popular tv programme….not exactly Netflix or Amazon Prime but it was all we had at the time. Well, one such device is featured in Shaun Tan’s The Viewer…although this tale is altogether darker and definitely for older children.
 The book tells the tale of a young boy who likes routing through rubbish, who finds the Viewer of the title. When he looks through the lenses, he sees images of suffering and descruction (all the scenes depicted can easily be matched to significant periods in History, such as the fall of great empires and the relocation of indigenous people. The tale ends on a mysterious and sinister note after the main character feels the viewer is watching him, until he finally gets pulled into the dark places between the images on the viewer disks….and his family forget he ever existed!

Quick Activities

The images in the book could all be used as a starting point for a piece of short story writing, as they are dripping with opportunities for descriptive writing.

Equally, the images displayed on each disk viewed by the main character could be used together, with the children being asked to sequence the images and then write or orally retell the story they believe is depicted. This would be a great opportunity for the children to explore different interpretations of the same events, as the images provided plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Extended Activities

The final set of images seen in the viewer are of potential modern day apocalyptic situations such as Nuclear explosions, famine and pollution. To take a more positive view, the children could be asked to create a viewer disk set of images or associated story which tells how one of these events was averted or avoided.

On a similar theme, the children could all be challenged to create images or stories for a positive viewer – perhaps a companion device to the one in the story which is found by another character on the same rubbish dump. They could be asked to identify significant successes and triumphs from mankind’s history to show the achievements and progress of the past.

The author’s note states that they were inspired to write the story after one of their childhood disks from their own viewer had a missing image pane….stimulating the idea that someone had been there before them and fallen through the broken image into history. The could provide a rich and challenging opportunity for writing as the children could be asked to write the story of the main character who is drawn into the viewer, in relation to where and when in history he appears. Does he return home? Does he influence historic events? Does he meet any historic characters. This would make the book easy to link to virtually any history project!

Cross curricular opportunities

There are obvious links to be made with art, in that the children could produce their own sets of images to reflect a world, local or personal event. However, this idea could be taken further with the use of animation software; the children could animate their own sequence of images or try to replicate those in the book, filling the gaps with their own storytelling.

The Viewer itself is found in an ornate box. There would be great scope for the children to create their own boxes, decorated and adorned with significant symbols and images, as part of a structures project in DT.

Additionally, the very emotive imagery in the book could provide stimulus for composition in music. What soundtrack would the children compose for the different sequences of images on each disk?

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Until I Met Dudley by Roger McGough and Chris Riddell

   
 
If you haven’t yet discovered the world of machines and technology, as explained by the eponymous Dudley, then you haven’t lived! This incredibly fun, creative and inspiring text will have you thinking up amazing and unusual explanations for everyday processes. At the heart of the book is the professor pooch, Dudley, who talks the reader through the unusual means by which machines function…like the enormous snake that lives in your vacuum cleaner or the colony of polar bears keeping your fridge chilled!

Quick Activities

To really get the children thinking and stimulate excellent discussion, provide them with an image from the text without the written explanation. Can they explain to a partner how the machine works? How close were they to the ‘Dudley’ version? 

Explore the whole text with the children and ask them to pick their favorite machine. Can they then write an explanation of how the machine works or a set of instructions for caring for the creature that drives the machine? They might even need to create a set of health and safety instructions as the vacuum snake can get a little peckish between meals!

Extended Activities

‘Until I Met Dudley’ could be used as the stimulus for an extended English and DT project. Once the children are familiar with the text and have had a chance to explore written explanations or instructions for the machinery in the book, they could go on to create their own wild and wacky machines.

As further stimulus, the illustrations of Rube Goldberg provide further fun. The illustrator designs ridiculously complicated inventions to perform the simplest of tasks and accompanies each with minimal explanation. The children could try expanding on these before creating their own fully explained wacky inventions.

  
Finally, the children could be challenged to make a model of their invention. This could range from junk modeling to more skilled tasks such as projects incorporating simple syringe/tubing pneumatics or cam driven mechanisms. There is loads of fun to be had once you have met Dudley!

The World of Food by Carl Warner

  Regardless of your pupils’ interest in books and reading, they are all universally engaged by food and that what this book has in bucket loads. The amazing aspect of the book is that the author, Carl Warner, has actually constructed every scene in reality, with genuine food items. The sets have then been photographed and compiled in a book, with each page having a color theme and a matching piece of poetry to explain how the image has been constructed.
Quick Activities

At the simplest level, the images provide enthralling stimulus for narrative writing. The children could be asked to step into the picture, with their descriptive writing focused on the sights, smells, sound and obviously tastes that are found in that culinary country.

In addition, the children could use the images as starters for a new batch of fairy stories, starting with the traditional link of Hansel and Gretel through the image of the land of sweets, as shown in the image above. Children could select their favored image and develop a fairy story about the events that could take place there. This would work equally well myths and legends.

Extended Activities

This book could form the basis for an extended Art, DT, Maths and English project.The children could be challenged to make a number of different lands, through a number of different means to create a new class book ‘ Our World of Food’. The worlds could be made through Art;

  • Mixed media sketching
  • Watercolor painting
  • Collage with papers or even food items (non perishable!!)
  • Clay sculpture
  • Plaster or Mod-roc relief
  • Photography project using more of the author work, which can be found online.

In addition, the worlds could be made through DT;

  • Using structures skills to build a new shelter using unusual objects or food
  • Textiles project focus on making a world of fabric…possibly even incorporating a felt making project
  • Creating the national dishes of each world of food shared in the book

Finally, it would be an excellent Maths project to evaluate the cost of the items bought to build each of the worlds in the book, with the children using current online prices from supermarkets to find the worth of each world. Which one will be most expensive and why? Can they create their own budget/luxury versions?

Failing all of this, just enjoy the incredible skill required to create this masterpiece of text!!