EASTER SPECIAL – The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett

  During my long and painful years as a secondary school pupil, never did I think that the dry mathematical theories could be presented in a way any more engaging than my slightly unhinged Maths Teacher pretending to be Spider-Man whilst ‘climbing’ a wall drawn on his rotating chalk board! Fibonacci sequences were merely another boring pattern to explore. If only Emily Gravett’s wonderful book had been around at the time….I might have started my picture book evangelical church in my teens!

The premise of the book is that a single field is tracked month by month, along with the rapidly replicating numbers of rabbits in this one field….that no rabbits ever leave, unless it is to go to bunny heaven! This is essential the Fibonacci sequence of numbers but presented in a much more accessible and humorous way than the boring maths text books of old.

The whole text is presented in the form of a calendar, presenting the funny trials and tribulations of rabbits in an increasingly busy field. The bunny so behave in a seasonally appropriate manner in each month…sunbathing in summer, seeking warmth in December etc. This provides lots of rich illustrative details for the children to get lost in to help deepen their interaction with the text. 

   In addition to the Fibonacci element of the story, there are also additional mathematical opportunities to explore. For example, there are ‘mini-books’ within the larger text which talk of carrot prices, rationing supplies and costs. This would provide a wonderful context for further work on the budgeting required to feed and clothe an ever expanding family of young rabbits. 
 Furthermore, the book could provide stimulus for some growing activities in the real world. The children could find out about their local wildlife, the favored food sources and habitat requirements. The children could be challenged to create some rabbit friendly (or other furry animal) planting, calculating the cost of the seeds, maintaining their planting patch, harvesting and even selling any produce that the rabbits haven’t claimed as their own!

The illustrations could even be used to help structure some narrative writing, where the children take a month each in small groups and tell the story of a single rabbit or a group of friends. This could be a fun writing and illustrati task for a special book week or even World Book Day!

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‘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 – ┬ástudy 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!!