Books that I have been enjoying

Over the summer holidays I normally update our texts that teach lists.  These are books that we think support the teaching of literacy.  On my desk I have a pile of new ones passed to me by our fantastic School Library Service so a big thank you to @bogchild for them all.  Here are a few of my favourite.

dragonTell Me a Dragon by Jackie Morris is a fantastical look at the dragons that we carry around with us.  The book ends with a an invitation for the reader to share their dragon.  The language is rich in description and enables us to create images out of the words.

A great patterned text.  Jacke also wrote the wonderful Snow Leopard which is also on our list.


Monsters – An Owner’s Guide by Jonathan Emmett and Mark Oliver is very funny.  The guide takes us through assembling the monster , taking care of it, trouble shooting and ending with a lifetime guarantee.   I did spot a monster called Bumfluff in the book.  I bet children find it faster than I did!

I have written before about the wonderful StoryWorld cards that support inventing stories.  The latest set by John and Caitlin Matthews is the Mad Professor’s Workshop.  There is a great range of cards, many which will remind you of stories that you already know.  How about the Mad Professor himself, the room of mirrors, the time ticket and the wrong ingredients.  We pick out a few of the cards, identify a blueprint and then tell a story using them.

Using Scooby Doo in Literacy

scoobyWe have been recommending Scooby Doo for some time in our texts that teach lists where adventure or mystery are taught.  The cartoon clearly follows an overcoming the monster archetype and the characters are stock characters.  They don’t change or develop, always playing the same role.  These elements are what make it an excellent text that teaches for Yr3 pupils.

Well now we can add gaming to the mix with The Temple of the Lost Souls.  This game sees Shaggy and Scooby Doo searching for the hottest chilli in the world to use in their cooking, and in the process trapping a monster.  The game would lend itself to creating a comic to tell the story.  This will allow children to choose the frames to represent the pace of the ‘story’ and to add key aspects in text.  For a walkthrough of the game see this example.

For a great description of engaging boys (and girls) in writing there is a section in “I know what I want to writei know now!” Engaging Boys (and Girls) through a Multimodal Approach by Petula Bhojwani, Bill Lord and Cath Wilkes that explores making comic strips based on film.  Using comic strips based on games allows children to develop structure and theidea of key events.  Using comic strips based on film allows children to develop the notion of character and reactions to events which are not always present in gaming.

Tadpole’s Promise – A Tragedy

I have enjoyed watching teachers’ faces as they read Tadpole’s Promise by Tony Ross and Jeanne Willis. Usually they are shocked as the book lulls us into a false sense of security thinking that there is a happy ending. Even the bubbles on the front cover lead us this way.   But in a tragedy, of course, there isn’t a happy ending.

tadpole In this story Caterpillar and Tadpole meet and fall in love and promise never to change which of course sets up the whole story as all children know that both will.  It is these changes that lead to a tragedy for both but in different ways.

Christopher Booker’s description of  tragedy is:

  1. The hero looks for something.  He finds it and focuses his energy on it.
  2. He aims for this thing and all seems well.
  3. Things start to go wrong and may begin to behave darkly.
  4. Things start to slip out of control badly.
  5. The hero is destroyed.

One of the discussions the book can lead us to is that there is more than one story in here.  There is the story of the caterpillar and of the tadpole.  When using the blueprint it is important that you decide who the hero is.  This is not hero in the sense of having super powers and saving all – rather the main character that you want to follow.

Other blueprints:

Overcoming the monster, rags to riches, voyage and return and comedy.

Have you shared these patterns with children?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is an amazing book that I was introduced to via @Joga5 a few weeks ago.hugo It is a rags to riches story of a young boy, Hugo who lives in a french train station and is building an automaton.  How he came to be living where he does, have an automaton and generally survive are all part of this story that is told through words, hand-drawn images and stills taken from old film.  This is a very clever way of weaving all three media together and makes for a real page-turner that I read in one go.

The story draws on old film and a real-life character George Melies, weaving fiction around them in a magical way.

Hugo is desperate to restore the automaton left by his father and the story rotates around his need to steal to obtain the parts necessary and the loss of the notebook that explains how the automaton was made.

What makes a rags to riches story?

  1. We meet the hero in their lowly, unhappy state surrounded by dark figures who scorn them
  2. The hero meets ordeals and overcomes them
  3. Everything goes wrong.  The hero is seperated form everything important to them and is in despair
  4. The hero emerges from the despair and discovers an independent strength.  This is put to the test.
  5. They succeed and live happily ever after.

To get an idea of the book, watch this trailer.

Have you used this book at all in literacy?  If so leave a comment about how it went.

Inventing with Blueprints

I talked to a teacher on Wednesday who had been on Talk for Writing training and had read our thoughts about blueprints.  She wanted to know how she could start to introduce the idea of blueprints to the whole school and embed Talk for Writing training with only one staff meeting to do so.  We came up with lots of ideas that she couldn’t do and eventually hit upon the idea of taking one blueprint and using it across the whole school.  So the one staff meeting could focus upon a blueprint and talk for writing ideas for using it in reading and writing.

We agreed that not only would it be one blueprint but the whole school would focus on one main story – Little Red Riding Hood, an overcoming the monster blueprint.  There are lots of versions of Little Red Riding Hood and there are lots of innovations on this story – telling it from the wolf’s point of view, adding other characters and adding other subversive elements.  It will be interesting to see if any of these books use a different blueprint because of the way they are retold.

So, here is my list of books/films/websites based around Little Red Riding Hood that are suitable for primary age children.  I haven ‘t really gone for any of the traditional tales as schools will already have these.

  1. Hoodwinked – the movie with lots of intertextual links and most primary aged children will have already seen it.
  2. Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn– by Lynn and David Roberts
  3. Lucy and the Big Bad Wolf by Ann Jungman
  4. Lucy and the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Ann Jungman
  5. Lon Po Po by Ed Young – a chinese  Little Red Riding Hood
  6. Pretty Salma by Niki Daly – a south african Little Red Riding Hood
  7. Flossie & the Fox by Patricia C MckIssack
  8. The Wolf’s Story by Toby Forward
  9. Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Forist
  10. Beware Beware by Susan Hill – more poetry than prose
  11. Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl with the immortal lines ‘one eyelid flickers, she whips a pistol from her knickers’
  12. Wolf by Gillian Cross – only suitable for Yr6+
  13. The Little Red Riding Hood Project – versions of the story with images
  14. Visualising Little Red, a paper by Sarah Bonner about the images used in modern retellings of Little Red Riding hood
  15. Added on the 04/01/10 Little Fred Riding Hood by Michael Cox
  16. Little Red Riding Hood retold by Tony Ross
  17. Beware of Boys by Tony Blundell
  18. Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr
  19. Little Red Riding Hood by Anne Walter
  20. Red Riding Hood Rap by Penny Dolan

These books can be used in shared time and a great guided reading session would be for each child to take one of the titles and discuss how the books are the same and different.  I look forward to seeing what they do.

If you know of any other stories based around Little Red Riding Hood please leave a comment.

Using Blueprints in the classroom

learningWhat a lot Rebecca and I  learned today and we were leading the course!  We had been inspired by Christopher Booker’s
Seven Basic Plots for some time but it was the first time that we had a chance to share it with teachers.

So what did we learn?

In order for children to work with blueprints there are some ways of working that need to be in place and they are

  • Book talk to allow children to respond personally to a text.  If you keep going for long enough and value all responses so much more comes out than you might expect
  • Comparing and contrasting texts which can be simply achieved by asking the question – have you come across anything else like this?  This opens up the discussion for the links that children might make.
  • Sharing other texts that are like the particular blueprint that you are using which will allow you to collect and categorise.  This helps to show children that blueprints are common patterns regardless of genre and culture.

In writing we found the blueprints helped children to invent stories.  We started the inventing session as in this post but  once people had decided what their characters were we asked them to attach what they had developed so far to a blueprint.  We all had the same characters a woman who was selling shark burgers on the beach and a shark who wanted this to stop (don’t ask how we came up with this). People chose either the quest, tragedy or rags to riches and briefly worked out what would happen at each stage of the story.

  1. The shark (sharky) saw the shark burgers being sold and decides he wants to stop it.
  2. He sets off to do this by rounding up all the other sharks and convincing them to follow him to a safe place so they set off.
  3. Things start to go wrong.  It’s hard to find a safe place and shark burgers have become a world wide favourite and everyone wants them.
  4. Shark hunting becomes a necessity to feed this hunger and because the sharks are all in one place they are easy to kill
  5. Sharky and all of the other sharks are hunted to extinction

In fact I have paraphrased this last part.  What was actually said (and please remember this was teachers)  ‘They were all killed and the sea turned red with their blood’.   So, what sort of blueprint do you think this group followed?

This is an oral activity.  Once the story is agreed it is very easy to map it.

What this type of activity helped us to see is that very often when children  invent their own text they frequently start off with a character and something happening to them but find it very difficult to work this through to a resolution.  By starting with anchoring in a blueprint we can now begin to layer up with detail.  We can think about how we want our readers to feel at each point of the story, we can think about how we reveal character through out the story, we can add clues as to what is going to happen because we are clear about the whole story, we can add a motif to run through the story, we can decide where the cliff hangers and hooks need to be.  And we can start to elaborate at each point to our retelling.

One of the things that teachers wanted in order to continue their thinking about this was a place where they could start to collect books and their blueprints so I have set up two places.  I am slowly writing posts that exemplify each blueprint and you can leave a comment sharing the title and author.  Or you can go to our website and fill in a very simple form that will collate suggestions.

Shortcut by David Macaulay

I am a big fan of David Macaulay and would use him as an author and illustrator to study because he has such a range of non-fiction and fiction that I think there is something for everyone.  Macualay is obviously fascinated by the way things are constructed and how they work.

One of my favourite books is Shortcut.  This tells the story of Albert and his trusty mare who are on their way to the market to sell their watermelons.  The journey however, is not smooth and all sorts of things get in the way or go wrong and everything becomes very confused.  Everything is eventually sorted and restored to its rightful place making  it a great story to look at cause and effect.   It is also a story that uses Christopher Booker’s blueprint of comedy.  In this we have fives stages

  1. two  or more things or people are brought together
  2. someone does something and everything becomes confused
  3. it becomes even more confused
  4. everything is revealed
  5. they live happily ever after

Black and White also follows the comedy blueprint.

See Macaulay talk about his work on TED.

Other blueprints are voyage and return 1 Comment

Leon and the Place Between

It was only in December that I came across one of my favourite books of the whole year. Leon and the Place Between written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

leonThis is the story of a young boy called Leon who steps into the world of magic via the travelling magician Abdul Kazam.

There are so many things that are wonderful about this book.  To start off with the illustrations are stunning.  The magic seems to be in purple but the gold filigree is beautiful as are all the details in each image.  The fonts are stupendous and just what you would expect to see used on a poster/flyer for a circus or travelling show.  I love the windows in the pages that are portals through to the other worlds.

Like all good fantasy stories, you enter through a portal, Leon brings something back with him from the place between so that at the end children are left wondering whether he really went there or not.  Such a classic story pattern of voyage and return (as described by Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots).

Voyage and Return Plot

I have paraphrased Booker here and have used the language that I use when I talk to children about this type of plot.

  1. We meet the main character/s and they move into a strange world unlike anything they have experienced before
  2. the new world seems exciting but it can never feel like home
  3. the mood changes to frustration and difficulty and a shadow begins to intrude which becomes increasingly alarming
  4. the shadow starts to dominate and pose a threat
  5. the hero escapes the threat back to where they started.  The question is asked – what did they learn or gain?

The only difference is that in Leon and the Place Between the shadow doesn’t really appear.

The language is rich and the use of patterns of three as sentence constructions emphasise the build-up of the excitment and tension.  A wonderful book that should be in all school libraries and if you teach Yr 4 and haven’t looked at the fantasy unit of work yet then this could be the book for you.  Get the children to imagine their own place between.

Let the magic begin……