EXCITING NEWS! Multi-book cross curricular project uniting ‘Journey’ and ‘Quest’ by Aaron Becker with ‘Chalk’ by Bill Thomson

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.

journey 1

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.

journey 2

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.

Quest 1

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!

English Activities

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!

chalk 2chalk 3

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!




Sam and Dave dig a hole by Mac Barnett

sam and dave.jpgThis wonderfully whimsical and deceptively simple tale provides many rich opportunities for learning across the curriculum. The story of Sam, Dave and their Dog is all about them choosing a dig a hole but, unbeknownst to them, every time they are on the verge of a great discovery the trio veer off in a different direction and miss an amazing opportunity.

Quick Activities

Once the children are familiar with the story as a whole, they could choose one of the ‘near-miss’ discoveries to expand into a full narrative. For example, the group come close to discovery dinosaur bones. What might happen if they carry on digging? Will it be a rare/unknown dinosaur? Will they become famous? Is it a dinosaur at all – perhaps an alien? mythical beast?

Equally, the entire story could be expanded and retold from the point of view of a single character – typically Sam or Dave but for a real challenge for the more able, perhaps they could voice the dog and his frustration with the ineptitude of the human excavators!

Extended and Cross-Curricular Activities

At the core of the story is a clear link to the PSHE curriculum – resilience and determination in the face of a difficult challenge. If you keep going through tough times you might be surprised by your success. This text could provide a wonderfully inspiring centre piece for circle time activities. The children could be asked to write letters of encouragement to Sam and Dave or they could respond to the diggers’ letters of frustration in the role of an agony aunt!

From a mathematical perspective, this book could provide an unusual stimulus for work focus on shape and space – specifically measuring and drawing angles. Using copies of some of the images from the text, the children could measure the angles that Sam and Dave were digging at and create a sequence of instructions to reach specific goals from the story i.e. diamonds!

An additional and potentially very enjoyable collaborative project would be to draw and then write a class story. Groups of children could first create their own ‘near-miss’ images of Sam, Dave and the dog at the end of a session of digging – in the same simplistic style as the illustrations in the book. These could then be displayed together on the classroom wall and connected together with different paper pathways. This group artwork could then be used as inspiration for writing new stories for Sam and Dave; the children could pick one or more end locations and write a story about the journey taken by the characters!

This is an incredibly fun book and I would love to hear about your inspired ideas!

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill


As promised a few days ago, I have finally finished pulling together a few ideas around the use of William Grill’s ‘Shackleton’s Journey’ as a contextualising hook for a range of Mathematical learning.

The ideas that I am going to share are focused on Upper Keystage 2, with an additional emphasis on the development of numerical reasoning skills. For clarity, I have tried to organise the ideas using the page titles that Grill has assigned to each double page spread in the book. They actually form brilliant lesson titles for the children, not only helping to structure the story of Shackleton’s journey but also contextualising each and every lesson. This led me to choose to entitle the whole 2 week unit of work ‘Survive!’ to really get my class hooked from the outset! Keep in mind that these activities have been planned with my particular class in mind, including the extent of their prior learning. Needless to say that the length of time committed to each objective will vary from class to class.

Lesson 1 Funding and Recruitment

Starter Activity-

Use mental strategies to recall multiplication tables for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 and use to solve division problems

Use mental strategies to recall multiplication tables up to 10 x 10 and use to solve division problems

 Read through the introduction to the text – there are a number of excellent number facts contained within such as dates. Challenge the children by asking then to devise some questions based on these numbers. What links are there between these numbers? (Reasoning – Identifying Patterns)

Main Activity – 

Order and compare the cost of items up to £1000

 Add and subtract totals less than £100 using correct notation, using whole number and decimals

Plan and track money and savings by keeping accurate records. Realise that budgeting is important

Read through The Crew and display the image. Then set the challenge of using taking charge of a total budget of £20,000 to crew the ship (not as simple as £1000 per person as there are more than 20 crew members – How much will you pay each crew member? The children must justify choices, listing the individual salaries in descending order in a format of their choice.


Lesson 2

Starter Activity – 

Multiply and divide decimals by 10 and 100

Again, using The Crew page, make reference to a salary list generated by the children from previous session. Explain that Shackleton is considering crew costs and structure. He has chosen to multiply the number of (choose a specific crew role) by 10 and the salary cost is now (choose a corresponding cost from the given salary list). Which crew role was it? Repeat with multiplying by 100. Then divide one salary over 10 weeks – how much pay? 100 weeks? (Reasoning – Identifying Patterns)

Main Activity – 

Order and compare the cost of items up to £1000

 Add and subtract totals less than £100 using correct notation, including whole numbers and decimals

Plan and track money and savings by keeping accurate records. Realise that budgeting is important

Move on to read The Dogs page to the children. It shares the information that 69 dogs were selected to support the trip. Having provided the children with a list of possible foods/prices (possibly taken from a current supermarket website) the children should apply the skills they developed in the previous session to cost out the provisions needed to feed the dogs.


Lesson 3

Starter Activity-

Add and subtract numbers using whole numbers and decimals

Referring back to The Dogs page, pose a series of questions about decimals complements within 10 (Children could have decimal complements to 10 grid as support) e.g. 1 dog needs 2 kg of food in one meal – if I have 1.4kg of meat, how much dry mix do I need? How else could I make the 2kg meal? How about 3 dogs? (Reasoning – Justifying)

Main Activity-

Extract and interpret information from an increasing range of  diagrams, timetables and graphs (including pie charts)

Represent data using lists, tally charts, tables, diagrams and frequency tables

Read through the next phase of the story, Equipment and Supplies. The children should then be provided with individual cost of items shown on the diagram in book. This is a really detailed image, as shown above, and the children will need to extract from diagram the total number of each item to calculate their total costs– however, there are some aspects that will require them to make decisions and justify these choices i.e. is a big barrel double the cost of a small barrel? What would the total budget be? The children should also be challenged to represent their results in a table.


Lesson 4

Starter Activity-

Make use of conversions e.g. ¼ of a km= 250m

Record measurements in different ways e.g. 1.3kg = 1kg 300g

Again making use of the Equipment and Supplies page, play the Psychic Game with the children. Start by telling them that you are thinking of a number between 500g and 2 ½ kg. (Really ham-up the psychic powers bit for effect!) The children should all individually write their answers. Then reveal your number to the class. Each table team should then look through their guesses and try to pick one answer that has a justifiable link to the teacher’s number. Each table then shares their answer and justification (hopefully mathematical i.e. if you multiply my number by 10 and add 5 you get your number) for the teacher to score.

Main Activity-

This session should be available for the children to complete yesterday’s task and then take the time to share their reasoning and problem solving skills with the rest of the class.


Lesson 5

Starter Activity – 

Calculate start times, finish times and durations using hours and minutes

Use and interpret timetables and schedules to plan events and activities and make calculations as part of the planning process

Move on to share the Setting Sail/From England to South Georgia pages from the text. The children should be given key dates from journey (including mixed units – days, dates etc). Can they work out from this information how long this stage of the journey took? How many months? Days? Hours? (Reasoning – Interpreting)

Main Activity –

Use coordinates and grid references to specify location

All map lovers will adore the next activity – introduce the children to the Expedition Map. The teacher should then model the use of coordinates and, for differentiation, 6 figure grid references using Map of South Georgia from text.

The children should then be asked to respond to questioning to consolidate understanding i.e. using ‘The Answer is…’ activity, with a range of possible questions on board. Can the children match the correct question to the given answer? (Reasoning – Generalising, Identifying Patterns)


Lesson 6

Starter Activity –

Extract and interpret information from an increasing range of diagrams, timetables and graphs (including pie charts)

Display a pie chart for the children – out of context of the story but relevant to the class, such as number of boys/girls, numbers of letters in first names of pupils. However, the pie chart should be unlabelled and untitled with no key. What is the story of this pie chart? (Reasoning – Generalising) 

Main Activity-

Use coordinates/grid references to specify location

Return to the Expedition Map. The children should then be challenged to apply their skills in the use of coordinates and/or 6 figure grid references from yesterday to expedition map. Teacher to pose a series of relevant questions such as What would the coordinates/grid references be for each key point in the journey? How would you reference the Landmarks? What was the sequence of the journey? (Reasoning – Generalising)


Lesson 7

Starter Activity –

Use understanding of simple fraction and decimal equivalences when measuring and calculating

Use understanding of simple fraction, decimal and percentage equivalences.

Extend the retelling of the story to include the pages entitled ‘Into the Weddell Sea’. Explain to the children that they are working in freezing temperatures on deck, keeping watch for ice bergs and other dangers. Ask them to consider their response to ‘Would you rather spend 50% or 6/8 of the day on deck?’ with them justifying their choices mathematically (Reasoning – Justifying)

Main Activity – 

Extract and interpret information from an increasing range of  diagrams, timetables and graphs (including pie charts)

This session will move away from the pages of the book to enable a Silent debate activity to take place. The children will be presented with a series of graphs showing different info relating to journey/Antarctica but with scales, labels etc removed. Each graph will be glued to the centre of a large piece of paper. Each individual piece of paper will be displayed in different areas of the room. They will then silently visit each graph, noting their guesses about the purpose/information shown in one colour pen and the facts they can extract in another colour. What does the graph represent? (Reasoning – Guessing, Comparing, Justifying)


Lesson 8

Starter Activity – 

Use understanding of simple fraction and decimal equivalences when measuring and calculating

Use understanding of simple fraction, decimal and percentage equivalences.

Now the tension is really going to build! Move on to explore the pages entitled Endurance Stuck! The children will learn that the ship is stuck in pack ice. They have been tasked with the job of clearing the ice away. Would you rather spend 25% or 2/4 of your day digging? How about 0.75 or 2/3 of your day digging? The children should mathematically justify their responses and could show their working on whiteboards. (Reasoning – Justifying)

Main Activity – 

Represent data using lists, tally charts, tables, diagrams and frequency tables

Now that the level of jeopardy has increased, the children should be hooked! Move on to the Winter Months pages. The children should be provided with a set of data about the length of daylight hours between May and July (this can easily be sourced online through Google). Ask the children to choose a method of graphing this data? Once they have constructed this, they should then explain why. (Reasoning – Justifying /Visualising)


Lesson 9

Starter Activity – 

Recognise acute and obtuse angles

The pages entitled ‘Pressure’ provide excellent stimulus for work on angles. Explain that the Endurance tilted to a 30 degree angle in the pack ice. Children to make and measure this angle on the interactive whiteboard using an on-screen protractor or simply card angle representations with split pins – they should explain reasoning i.e. I know it is less than 90 degrees etc. Repeat with other angles. Would you be able to easily stand on the deck at each of these angles? (Reasoning – Justifying, Generalising)

Main Activity – 

Represent data using lists, tally charts, tables, diagrams and frequency tables

Use understanding of simple fraction and decimal equivalences when measuring and calculating

Move on to read Endurance Lost. Introduce the children to PBS Nova Weighty Decisions activity (available online through Google)– which raises the question about what Shackleton chose to recover from the wreck of the ship to stage their escape. Without knowing Shackleton’s final decisions, the children should be asked to make their own decisions about what to take, choosing their own format to organise and collate the information, including the weight of each item (with the consideration that each person could carry 100lbs = 45Kg; 1lbs = 2.2kg). At the end of the session, the children will be interested to know what Shackleton chose and some of the intriguing reasons why – such as the choice to carry oil paints; for the purpose of waterproofing leaks in their small rowing boats.


Lesson 10

Starter Activity- 

Calculate temperature differences, including those involving temperature rise and fall across 0°C

In the story, the team have now reached the Ocean Camp. The children should be presented with samples of monthly temperatures from the Antarctic during the winter months (again easily and freely available via Google). Which two consecutive months greatest range? How much did the temperature rise/fall between the x month and y month etc? (Reasoning – Patterns, Comparing)

Main Activity – 

Calculate temperature differences, including those involving temperature rise and fall across 0°C

Find differences between numbers with 1 decimal place

Calculate Mean, Mode, Median and Range of a set of data

Continuing to focus on the Ocean Camp pages, the session will continue to focus on temperature and negative numbers. The children will be provided with a range of temperature data, taken from the Antarctic, for months relevant to this stage in the story, to sequence and graph on a line graph – with a focus on arriving at the mean, mode, median and range of the data.

Finally – set aside some time to share the end of the story, so that the children can realise what an amazing achievement the was made. All returned safely despite incredible odds!

If the focus on reasoning skills has also peaked your interest in this area of Maths, there are some great texts by ATM – one which I use heavily is called ‘We can work it out’ and is brilliant for developing mathematical reasoning and group problem solving.

There you have it, my thoughts on the use of this wonderful text in a Mathematical context! I am sure that there are many other potential uses for the text in a similar vein and I would love to hear about your adventures alongside Shackleton!

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?

The Egg by M.P Robertson/ Dragonology by Dugald Steer

The EggInterior-Page-from-Dragonology-Book

Multi-text themed project!

Here we have an opportunity to provide children with experience of narrative and non-fiction texts in one integrated, themed project.

The first of the two books is ‘The Egg’ by M.P Robertson. The book tells the story of a young boy who discovers a rather large, mysterious egg. He soon discovers that within the golden shell dwells a young dragon and he decides to take on the role of surrogate mother; resulting in him teaching the dragon how to fly, breath fire and generally be a dragon of legend.

The second text in this project is ‘Dragonology’ by Dugald Steer. This is an increasingly common genre-twisting text; a non-fiction structure presenting fictional information as fact. Nevertheless, it provides an engaging stimulus for non-fiction writing. Dragonology draws together myth and legend from across the globe, with a healthy dose of the author’s own creative flair, resulting in a rich and engaging guide to all things dragon!

The Narrative Element

To introduce the project, the story of ‘The Egg’ could be shared with the children. At this point, you could simply launch straight into the non-fiction portion of the project (see below) having peaked their interest about having to care for a dragon. However, there are a number of further opportunities that could be exploited in order to also develop the children’s narrative skills. These could include:

-Storymapping the plot of the story, in the style promoted by Pie Corbett, to develop further working on the tradition of oral storytelling – stemming from the mythical and legendary link to dragons, with possible extensions to other supernatural creatures.

-Extending the original plot; the story gives the reader short snapshots of the numerous training sessions the dragon undergoes, which could be extended into short narratives in their own right. This could even be extended to feature event extended event becoming an additional chapter in its own right.

-Read around other narratives linked to Dragons i.e. How to train your dragon, George and the Dragon, Eragon.

– Challenge the children to innovate the original plot to create a new story, involving the character finding an egg containing a different fantastical beast – how would the training element of the story change? What challenges or dangers might the main character face?

The Non-Fiction Element

Once the children have been inspired by ‘The Egg’, they could then explore the content of ‘Dragonology’. This text could be used as the source material for the children to produce their own non-fiction text in the form of ‘A Dragon-Keeper’s Guide’. This can be contextualised by relating it to the challenges face by the human character in ‘The Egg’ who has to learn about dragon husbandry through, sometimes dangerous, trial and error.

The children could then be tasked with researching the different species of dragon, their needs, wants and health/safety requirements. The writing related to this task could obviously link to multiple non-fiction genres such as instructional writing (How to safely clean a young dragon’s teeth), explanation writing (How does a dragon breath fire?) and non-chronological reports (The Major Dragon Species of Europe).

Other curriculum links to the project

DT – design and build a cage/home/shelter for a dragon

Art – produce anatomical or still life drawings and paintings of the dragons featured in the children’s self written dragon guide

ICT – use animation software, action figures (snope produce great ones!) or modelling clay to create an animated version of ‘The Egg’

Music – create a soundtrack to accompany the animated version of ‘The Egg’ (above)


Tuesday by David Wiesner

  For this post, I have chosen to feature of one of true masters of the picture book genre, David Wiesner, and his amazing book ‘Tuesday’. The book itself tells the tale of a mysterious Tuesday night when the frogs surrounding a small American town take flight and run amok!
Quick Activities

The book is filled with page after page of humorous, creative and detailed images. One of these could be taken, out of context of the rest of the story and without the children knowing the plot, as the focus for a piece of short story writing. What is happening in the image? How would you describe the settin? Why is the frog in the images? Etc

Additionally, the whole text could be shared and then the accompanying narrative story could then be written. The original text itself is completely wordless. This allows scope for the story to be retold in comic strip form, with short sentences or paragraphs written for each image. Alternatively, you might choose to write a more conventional, extended narrative to retell the fantastic events in detail.

Extended Activities

At the end of the text, the residents of the small town are very confused. One image shows the police investigating the scenes of the ‘crime’. In this sense, the mystery element of the story lends itself to journalistic writing. The children could write a newspaper article reporting on the events, including interviews with the main characters featured in the story.

Extending the newspaper report theme further, you could challenge the children to write newspaper reports from the perspective of the animals in the story; The Daily Croaker (reporting on a great scientific break through for frog kind – flight!), The Barking Times (a sympathic report about the trauma experienced by domestic dog who had his home invaded by amphibians) or The Cat’s Whiskers (a report on the cat nation loss of night time dominion to the frogs).

For a more creative challenge, you could linger on the final image of the text…the ominous shadow of a pig taking flight at the arrival of night time on the following Tuesday night. Children could write a new narrative to tell the unknown story of the adventures experienced by the pigs on their magical Tuesday night!

‘The Land of Neverbelieve’ by Norman Messenger

 This amazing book by Norman Messenger is one of the rare gems; a book with so much depth that you can make many return visits and discover something new every time! The book takes the form of a 19th Century style biological journal, filled with amazing observed anatomical drawings of strange beast and maps of wonderous landscapes.

Quick Activities

Encourage the children to take inspiration from the amazing hybrid animals in the text to invent their own fantastical creature with consideration of how interesting and inventive adaptations can help it cope with life in the wild.

Using the map, displayed above, the children could be challenged to create their own fantastical land, within which they demarcate specific habitats, geographical features and natural wonders. They can create their own key to accompany a written travel guide for tourists.

Extended Activities

This book has so much depth, there is great potential for the text to be used as a central anchor for cross-curricular learning. I will detail below how different aspects of the text could be linked to curriculum subjects:

English – narrative writing focused on the adventures of a traveller in the world of the book or a child’s own invented land.

Non Chronological reports based on the lifestyle and habits of one of the amazing creatures or range of species.

Narrative/nonsense poetry based on an encounter with a terrifying creature, linked to The Jabberwocky.

Science –  study the habitats of the species depicted in the text and make comparisons with real animals.

Plant anatomy, food production and seed dispersal, studying real plants and then creating fantasy species.

Art – Observational drawing of plants and animals, emulating the 19th century biological journal style.

Experiment with the use of watercolour, in the style of the illustrations, to enhance observational drawings

3D sculptures of the animals and plants with the text i.e. Clay

Geography – create a 3D relief map of the island, encouraging the children to inclide features such as valleys/ volcanoes

Consider the impact of the physical nature of the island on humans by designing a new settlement.

History – investigate the ‘explorer’ heritage of the past, makin links with the work of Charles Darwin.

Personal, Social and Health Education – invent a new indigenous tribe for the island, considering how they would develop laws, ensure equality, provide for the needs of the people and develop a moral or religious belief system.

These are just a few ideas to get you started! Personally, I would have my whole classroom themed around the text, with regular letters or deliveries being made to the classroom from a fictitious field investigator on the island, with the deliveries then acting as a stimulus for learning activities. Imagine the excitement of a packing crate arriving in the classroom early one day filled with exotic plants for the children to dissect and investigate or a broken packing crate with an escaped creature in the classroom…can they use what they know of the creatures features and habits to create an appealing home to trap it again?

Please let me know what amazing ideas you come up with!!

‘Pictures of Home’ by Colin Thompson

 In my experience, one of Colin Thompson’s less known books is the amazing ‘Pictures of Home’. The images were originally commissioned as part of a building society marketing campaign but Colin had the idea of then combining all the images in this single book. In essence, Colin has taken everyday scenes of home, such as arm chairs, kitchen sinks and back gardens; he has then developed smaller homes within these scenes, such as the one shown in the picture.
Quick activities

Children could be given the opportunity to view selected images from the text and then draw their own imagined home in a familiar setting.

Extended activities

Having viewed the text, the children could be given images taken from around the local area or school. Using these photographs, they should then be challenged to ‘Thompson’ them by drawing the photograph with the addition of their own imaginary home. The individual pieces of artwork could then be compiled into a class book i.e pictures of school.

In addition to the above artwork, children could then use a variety of poetic forms inspired by their images, such as cinquain to summarise the scene being depicted.

Alternatively, as part of an extended narrative writing project the children could choose their favoured image from the text, from which they develop the story of the shown/imagined characters who inhabit that particular home. These could be developed further by establishing a link with ‘The Borrowers’ whereby the children write a short story about the interact between the large and small inhabitants of both ‘homes’ in each image.

Any other ideas? Have you used any other of Thompson’s books? Is there a particular text that you would like to see featured?

Colin Thompson


I love authors who create their own mythology around their work. Colin Thompson incorporates hidden features throughout his books, such as his signature being hidden within each illustration. I’m going to spend this afternoon scouring my Thompson collection to select which of his impressive catalogue will be featured as the first focus for my teaching and learning ideas. Keep watching!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

During my many years as a teacher, I have witnessed first hand the power of pictures, imagery and symbolism to stimulate and engage learners. Pictures reach to the very core of the human condition; cave paintings were used to communicate the earliest experiences of our species and we have been hooked ever since. The world is full of amazing picture books, potent novels and powerful images which act as a catalyst for the imagination. Unfortunately, many educationalists still limit their own potential and that of their learners by insisting that picture books, in particular, are consigned to areas of earliest childhood learning, when in actual fact they can be even more impactful with older pupils. I have therefore made it one of my missions in life to spread the word (or should I say pictures!) about the importance of illustrated stories in firing the imagination and inspiring experimentation with the written word.What I hope to share here are some simple suggestions of picture books and other sources that can help to create exciting and engaging learning opportunities for children. In addition, I would hope to share some suggested activities for my favourite texts which might encourage my fellow teachers to set off on their own journey into the world of picture books.

I am happy for anyone to contact me if I can be of any help or offer advice from my perspective. Enjoy!