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.

1chalk

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!

 

 

 

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Mr Wuffles! by David Wiesner

Mrwuffles

There are many ways to categorise and organise personality types; one of which is those who love the structure of a clearly defined plot line which ends with a satisfying conclusion, as opposed to others who delight in the possibilities offered by enigma, mystery and alternatives. ‘Mr Wuffles!’ by David Wiesner is certainly a delight for the latter of these!

From the cover and first few images of this largely wordless text, it would be easy to mistake it for a rather conventional picture book about the eponymous Mr Wuffles. However, within a few pages it becomes clear that the central feline character is about to get a new toy!

Mrwuffles1

As a cat owner myself, I share the frustration of the owners in the story who purchase what they feel is a stimulating new plaything, only for the fussy feline to prefer a ball of string! However, Mr Wuffles discovers that his latest toy is actually the conveyance of a group of miniscule aliens!

Mrwuffles2

The jubilation of the very little green men, upon arriving on the planet, is short lived when they are ‘attacked’ by Mr Wuffles! The remainder of the story takes the reader on a humorous trip amongst the dusty corners of any average home; as the aliens team up with some equally cat-oppressed minibeasts who work together to escape from the clutches of Mr Wuffles!

Quick Activities

This book is full of potential! Throughout the text, the aliens are seen to speak using a strange symbolic language. It would be great for the children to try to replace the symbolic language with their own speech bubbles, literally putting words into the mouths of the aliens in each scene – essentially an educational caption competition. It would be really fun to explore the different alternative conversations generated by a class of children.

In addition, the aliens learn to communicate with the local minibeasts using the insect version of prehistoric cave paintings. They create these using found materials (bits of chalk, charcoal etc.) Perhaps the children could create their own cave paintings depicting the events of the story. They could use found materials around the playground, marking their story onto the concrete or they could create a 3D cave painting by arranging found objects on the ground to help create their tale. If you are feeling more adventurous, ordinary classroom paint mixed with some pva glue (you need to experiment with your recipe!) creates a beautifully rubberised paint which can be applied to a rock, concrete or wood surface which will then dry to a durable finish – extending the life of your cave paintings by a few weeks.

Extended Activities

I know of many children who would be enthralled by the code-like communication used by the aliens. Perhaps they could be challenged to devise the alien’s alphabetic, which they can then use to communicate with each other or to create classroom labels and signs. This would be great in a role play area designed around the interior of the alien space-craft – they could label all the buttons and gizmos. They would even create the communications sent to the explorer craft from the mothership or the explorer’s reports back to their HQ about the terrifying cat monster they have encountered.

It would be equally intriguing to tell the alluded to but untold story of the minibeasts who have been suffering at the paws of Mr Wuffles. The children could develop their own narrative based on these tales.

At the end of the story, one of the minbeasts end up leaving with the aliens in their spacecraft. This would be a wonderfully original launching point for some sci-fi writing, as it would provide a set of characters who are immediately ‘alien’ rather than the more obvious ‘human-meets-alien’ approach; has anyone ever written an insect-meets- alien sci-fi story?!?

Additionally, the final image shows the remaining insects being left with a series of broken technology from the alien spacecraft. These could form the basis of some wonderfully explanation or instructional writing, based around the insects working out how this technology might help to protect them from or defeat Mr Wuffles!

Above all else, this is a fun and entertaining story that will not fail to raise a smile!

 

Multi-book Project! Traditional Tales with a twist!

  The great benefit of working with traditional tales and fairy stories is that the children are usually already experts in the field. This provides a wealth of opportunities to explore narrative story-telling, art and drama. For this multi-book project, I would use ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ by Carol Ann Duffy as the central text; following this, there are many opportunities to branch out to explore other related texts:


– The Tear Thief by Carol Ann Duffy

  

– The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

  

– The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury

  

– Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole

  

 

– The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch

  

Central text – The Lost Happy Endings

This is a captivating tale about Jub, keeper of the stories, and her quest to retrieve the lost happy endings to all the stories after they have been stolen by a wicked witch. The children of the world are crying as their are no more happy endings, so Jub must act! The reason for choosing this as a central text is that, during the quest, Jub encounters many of the most familiar fairy tale characters. This offers the opportunity to branch out from the central text, at a later date, whilst maintaining a meaningful, contextualised link for the children’s’ learning.

Setting the scene

To really engage the children with this project, I would employ some good old fashioned awe and wonder! Easily recognisable sections from fairy stories could be copied and cut up. These could be crumpled and then left all around the room for the children to discover, possibly with clues mixed in to lead them to a copy of The Lost Happy Endings. Alternatively, familiar objects from fairy stories could be found around the school; little red riding hood’s cape, goldilock’s porridge, Jack’s magic beans etc.

Possible skills

When studying The Lost Happy Endings, the fact that stories have been broken up into extracts could support focused work on extracts of stories and sentence level skills. For example, the story writing process could be developed gradually by focusing on extract openings, build-ups and resolutions. There is great scope for short burst writing and slow writing, as the children could be asked to write their own narrative for specific sections/pages of Jub’s quest, as she reassembles the lost endings.

The book also lends itself to some excellent character work. The description of the bird-like witch sitting high in a tree, with Jub looking into her nest is spine-tingling. The description of the witch is both breath-taking and grosteque….from experience, children love it, especially the fact that she is smoking a pipe! To extend this, children could be asked to do some character writing focused around other well known traditional tale characters…the witch, Malefiecent, from Sleeping Beauty is a particularly potent character (you could even link in the original and modern Disney film versions as inspiration).

An additional fun task would be for the children to provide each other with their own ‘lost happy endings’ as inspiration for story writing. Each child would write a traditional (or non traditional!) ending to a story on a piece of paper. These would then be mixed up and redistributed to different children, with the challenge of writing the story that came before each particular ‘lost happy ending’.

Related texts

The Tear Thief If you wished to create a short author study through this unit, the use of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘ The Tear Thief’ would be perfect. This beautifully illustrated, heart-breaking story tells the reader about the Tear Thief; a fairy who collects the tears of children. She prizes tears of true sadness – I want reveal the ending here as its is one of those special literary moments that you need to experience for yourself.

Other related texts

All the other texts, identified above, are incredibly fun, alternative takes on the traditional fairy story format. Within the books you will find Tom-Boy princesses, Princes in distress, frightened little wolves and terrifying pigs!

A study of these short, engaging stories would be a great starting point for children to write their own alternative fairy stories…perhaps Little Red could become a wolf-hunter or Granny could become a global manufacturing magnate, as shown in the excellent animated film Hoodwinked!

As an additional branch to this fairy story literary tree, the Story Spinner DVDs and App contain a brilliantly atmospheric oral story which paints a very different, much darker version of Little Red Riding Hood in 3 parts. Each part of told from a different point of view and provides an excellent model for both oral storytelling and powerful narrative for older KS2 children!

I would love to hear what you all make of these traditional tales with a twist and I am sure you will have fun making your own!

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!

‘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?

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!