Ask a teacher to name a book about WW2 and they can usually throw around the names of quite a few. ‘The Silver Sword’ (classic one), ‘Good Night Mr. Tom’ (Heart-warming one), ‘Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (shocking one) and ‘Once’ (graphic one). Ask though, which of these books describes the setting of a bomb crater the best and less books may be suggested.
It is imperative though, that teachers have a good working knowledge of the texts, the language used and the structures in order to weave them skilfully into English lessons. For this to happen, a wide range of texts need to have been read by the teacher or teachers so that they can recall features, concepts and even sentences which they can use with their students as model texts.
Take the examples below, each of them is from a different text but each of them describes a forest. It doesn’t really matter what genre the children are writing; a good description can be utilised across a range of writing episodes.
In a hypothetical classroom, somewhere around Year 5 or Year 6, a child is writing about ‘waiting in a forest ready to go into battle during WW2’ based on a picture, film or other stimulus that the teacher has provided. If the class teacher wants to show them a model, they generally have two options – try and find a book where the exact same scenario is occurring (this may not even exist) or write their own model. (Some teachers find difficult).
However, much of the language used in the extracts below would be useful, as would some of the sentence structures and techniques such as building atmosphere or using similes. None of the books below are about World War 2 or are from battle scenes though. With some slight adjustments they can be adapted to work for any narrative which needs a description of a forest.
The Wizards of Once
Perhaps you feel that you know what a dark forest looks like. Well, I can tell you right now that you don’t. These were forests darker than you would believe possible, darker than inkspots, darker than midnight, darker than space itself, and as twisted and as tangled as a Witch’s heart. They were what is now known as wildwoods, and they stretched as far in every direction as you can possibly imagine, only stopping when they reached a sea.
Cowell, Cressida. The Wizards of Once: Book 1 (Kindle Locations 32-35). Hachette Children's Group. Kindle Edition.
In this description the teacher can discuss how Cowell has directly addressed the reader, used rhetorical devices and repeated the word darker and how this effects the audience.
Tanglefern Forest was vast, with some trees so old and tangled that few had passed beneath their branches. But there were places you went and places you didn’t. The Ancientwood in the north of the forest was safe: there was the glade of brilliant spring bluebells and yews beyond Oak’s camp, then a grove of crab-apple trees, and beyond that, after the forest, the farm itself and Tipplebury village. But south . . . Well, south was another place altogether. So she’d heard. The Deepwood was rumoured to be full of shady trees and rotting undergrowth and, when it ended, the heathland, with it sinking bogs and soggy marshes, began.
Elphinstone, Abi. The Dreamsnatcher (Dreamsnatcher 1) (pp. 9-10). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.
I like in this extract how Elphinstone paints a positive picture of the forest in the North but then lets the reader imagine what the forest to the South is like. Think back to the scenario of world war 2. The soldier is in the forest and using Elphinstone’s technique, they could say something like:
‘The North side of the barbed wire was safe. The animals went about their daily business, birds were in the trees feeding worms to their chicks, fox cubs frolicked in the long grass of the clearing and a few of us managed to take off our boots and clean ourselves in the babbling brook. But on the other side of the barbed wire? Well that was another place altogether, from what he had heard it was worse than hell, a mud filled hell…’
The Lie Tree
Faith walked through a midnight forest. The trees were pure white, and rose high above her head, disappearing into a blue-black darkness. There was no wind, and yet the snow-white leaves shivered and whispered. She raised one hand to push aside low-hanging foliage, and felt her fingertips brush paper. The trees were flat and pale. The ragged-torn ferns stroked the skin of her hands, paper-cutting her, slyly cruel.
She was not alone.
Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree (pp. 234-235). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
The colours that Hardinge uses here are interesting and the last line. 'She was not alone' could be utilised in the scenario above to describe the soldier as well as in many other narrative scenarios.
The Spell Thief (Little Legends Book 1)
The air in the dark woods was thick and damp. Anansi stopped in front of a fallen tree. The roots rose above him like huge dead claws.
Percival, Tom. The Spell Thief (Little Legends Book 1) (pp. 41-42). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
This is a great example of simile, but it is from a book that most teachers would use with Year 3 and Year 4. Having a knowledge of books from other year groups and other key stages, including books for adults is also useful.
I am working on collecting some texts around a number of themes like these which I will continue to blog and discuss in my CPD sessions.
I am currently updating my CPD courses and the range which I offer for the next academic year so keep your eyes peeled for updates here www.literacyshed.com/cpd
Click the book covers for more information about each
Heard of App Smashing? Just in case you haven’t it is ‘the process of using multiple apps in conjunction with one another to complete a final task.’ Perhaps then you have heard of the music mash up? Again the dictionary definition ‘a recording that combines vocal and instrumental tracks from two or more recordings.’
So these are tech answers to something teachers have probably been doing for decades. I have decided to call this ‘Book Blasting,’ using multiple books to inspire pupils to come up with a final outcome.
I have decided on the following ‘rules’ in order to create the ultimate ‘book blasts.’
1) It should be 3 or more books
2) Linked by theme/character/setting etc
3) There should be a range of genre including fiction and non-fiction.
4) They should inspire a range of writing activities.
In short there should be a diverse range of books.
Here is one of my examples.
The three books I have chosen are:
· ‘Flanimals’ by Ricky Gervais
· ‘The Land of Never Believe’ by Norman Messenger
· ‘Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There’ by Lewis Carroll
If we start with ‘Flanimals’ we can see a range of creatures such as the ‘Grundit’ who “staggers around half-witted and grumpy, trying to start trouble.” The ‘Blungling’ who “hamble-springs around happily caring for its young. It’s not so happy when it has to watch the adult Mernimbler rip its baby’s head off.”
As you can see; lots of made up creatures names along with illustrations of each creature. The descriptions include further nonsense words for description such as ‘gruntloid’ and ‘sproodling’
The students could draw their own creatures and develop descriptions for them using strange nonsense words, they could create a nonsense word class dictionary in order for there to be some commonality of language.
This is where our second book of the ‘Book Blast’ comes in. ‘The Land of Never Believe’ is a wonderful book which is set out like a children’s encyclopaedia with hand drawn plates. However it is completely made up.
Examples of creatures from The Land of Never Believe are ‘The Fisher Bird’
“Disguised as fish, these sleek, clever birds sit quietly in a menacing row, waiting to strike, which they do with phenomenal speed”
‘The Lurking Otter’ is another made up creature which “pretends to be a rock as it waits for passing fish.” Mr Messenger had an enormous fright when he sat on one.
The students could create their own “Land of Never Believe” in order to house the new creatures that they came up with when looking at ‘Flanimals.’ The book could then inspire some explanation and ‘Non-chronological report’ writing where the children add many more details to their creatures such as habitat, feeding habits etc.
This then leads onto the third book. ‘Through the looking glass and what Alice saw there’ by Lewis Carroll written in 1872. I will only use ‘The Jabberwocky,’ poem from the text as it links to the previous two, it has a number of strange creatures contained within its verses, the ‘frumious bandersnatch’ and the ‘slithy toves.’ But these pale into insignificance when compared to ‘The Jabberwocky.’
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!”
These lines are the warning that the young hero is given. Teachers can analyse the poem with their class and the strange creatures that the students have invented can then be incorporated into their own poems.
Following the creation of their poems the students can create a narrative which tells the story of the young boy looking for and overcoming the Jabberwocky, a retelling could be developed by the students creating their own narratives containing their own scary creature.
Perhaps this would take a whole half term to create and in my classroom I would definitely be using some visual stimuli alongside but you can see how finding these three very different texts your lessons could ‘Blast off’
Enjoy ‘Book Blasting’ I would love to hear of any ideas you have for a ‘book blast’