Detail Detectives: Using picture book illustrations to develop confidence in writing – Part 4

Get in your Delorian and let’s travel back in time…(and apologies to those who have read the previous blogs – I won’t be long!)

A number of years ago, when working as a teaching and learning consultant in Lincolnshire, I began to explore the possibility of looking closely at the illustrations within picture books to help develop writing strategies and increase the practical aspect of writing development. As I worked with teachers they talked about a difficulty they often experienced: children seemed to be short of strategies to generate vocabulary when asked to write about the illustration in front of them when there appeared to be ‘too much to focus on’.

Subsequently, I created a series of tools that became know as Detail Detectives, named because the children became detectives to investigate an image in specific detail; their eyes became magnifying glasses.

Thank you to everyone in the past twelve months who have shared or used these tools, particularly @MrS_Primary for inviting me into his school to deliver training, @ReadingRocks for allowing me to deliver a session at #RRGoesToUni and to those who attended and to everyone @ClubPictureBook for their continuous support and encouragement. As I write @MissNCleveland has just shared a superb piece of writing inspired by a Detail Detectives strategy I posted about previously – Explosion – and I’ve added it below. Thank you.



Over the last year I have shared further strategies to support writing in Parts 1-3 and after a little break here is Part 4.


Detail Detectives: Collect4

For those of you who have been following @DetailDetects1 you will know that I am a huge fan of using grids to break up an image into smaller sections. Like Jigsaw, Beehive and Plot, Spot and Jot, Collect4 does just that but with an emphasis on collecting ideas before evaluating which of them to use. This strategy could also be used on a working wall, drawn on the table, taped on the carpet large-scale or on the playground.


Sydney Smith‘s illustrations from his exceptional new picture book, Small in the City,  are good examples to use. There are many aspects of this illustration which help to set the scene as the protagonist walks through the snowy street. I’ve placed a 4×4 grid on top. The number of columns and rows can be adapted. Children then place one counter/ring onto one of the boxes and ask the following questions:

  • What can we see in the box?
  • What is to the left or right of it?
  • What is above it?
  • What is below it?

These initial thoughts in the form of nouns can then be built upon using descriptive  and positional language. For instance:

What can we see in the box?

boy, coat, wellington boots, snow, pavement, scarf

Could become:

A boy wearing a green coat, woolly scarf and yellow wellingtons walked on the snowy pavement.

Try these – What is to the left or right of it?

snow, stool, shoes

What is above it?

pictures of fish, bricks, window

What is below it?

(not applicable to this image but imagination may be used to suggest: road, cars, motorbike, sledge)

These ideas can be developed by adding adjectives, verbs, adverbs and so on and consequently into sentences and paragraphs. The more comprehensive the list, the more choice to be made as a writer.

Repeat this using three further counters/rings one at a time. There may be some repetition, e.g. snow, but then that is where we decide that only one or two sentences are required to describe that aspect of the illustration. 

I have added red rings as this may be a strategy that two children work collaboratively on to share and discuss vocabulary and sentence choices.

Why Collect4? Children collect inspiration from 4 boxes.

Detail Detectives: Torchlight

lights on cotton rock

The quality of picture books at our disposal is quite extraordinary and another gem to add to the collection is David Litchfield’s Lights on Cotton Rock. If you are a fan of E.T, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or perhaps even Stranger Things, you will love it.

Torchlight is a simple yet effective idea for focusing the eye as a torchlight does for us in the dark.

On the illustration above a ‘torchlight’ has been placed (not the one held by the girl!). Starting from the actual point, work your way up the inside of the torchlight towards the top right corner. What do you see first? Sky. What comes next? Red hair. Then? A child’s face, open mouth, wide eyes, woolly hat. Finally? Stars in the sky. These initial ideas can develop according to the focus of the learning. cornelia.png

Now try two torchlights. The one starting at the left-hand bottom corner will provide some description of the setting before we move onto the second in which we see a boy and girl swinging through the jungle. So, again, start from the point of the first to see what you can find inside the torchlight. When you reach the end start from the point of the second. There is an opportunity here to collect many ideas and reject any repetition.

Just look at what could be missed if we didn’t look in detail: the shapes of the leaves, the different plants, the variety of creatures, the colour variation. With that in mind, the torchlight could be used to identify colours viewed or as a verb collector. Focus the Torchlight as you see fit. Children in the class could have a range of aspects to find before collating them together for modelled/shared writing.

Why not trying an actual torchlight too.

The illustration is from Nora Brech’s stunning Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Gecko Press.

Detail Detectives: Snowball

Deciding what to write and how much is a challenge for many children. The stimulus needs to be engaging and provide numerous possibilities. Snowball provides a structure for the children to help construct a piece of writing with the intention that the writing snowballs. There is a close link to the strategy Writing by Numbers but the focus here is on confidence building. Like many of the strategies, I think it would be an excellent tool for a 1:1 or group session or modelled/shared writing.

snowball 4

In the illustration above, from Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin and illustrated by Rafael Lopez, I have placed five snowballs. Each snowball represents the quantity of ideas we’re looking for, with perhaps the focal point, in this case the mother and daughter, placed in the largest snowball. So, for instance, we may only expect one idea for the smallest snowball, two ideas for the next one and so on.

Lets start with a word – leading to a sentence about the tree – in the smallest snowball.

Then let’s move to the river for two ideas, perhaps about the fish, the flow or the colours.

Our next snowball is placed on the palace. So, let’s generate three ideas about what we can see there.

Our next snowball is in the sky with a book, bird and a star to describe, perhaps using more than three ideas.

Finally, the largest snowball. We can go to town here describing the mother and child, their clothing, what they are doing, their held hands and perhaps their relationship with the sky and the whole illustration.

Snowball is a build up of ideas, identifying the focal point first, before selecting four other elements of the illustration which will create the scene before we reach that focal point. There is no right or wrong here, it just depends what your focus is and what you want the children to achieve so play around with the positioning and order of the snowballs. Alternatively, give children the freedom to select the position of the five and what the focal point would be.


Detail Detectives: Gi_Ant

This is a strategy I’ve used before to try and help children view an image differently, to take a viewpoint within the illustration – and to jump into it eventually.  And yes, to those who know, it’s by Anthony Browne.

The idea is simple: to find and describe elements of the image which differ significantly in size and then transport yourself into the image; what would you see if you were a giant in the picture? What would you see if you were an ant?

So, what can we see in the illustration which is large in scale? In this case, the trees, the branches, the forest as a whole.

What can we find which is small in scale? The grass? The girl’s shoes? Buttons? Of course perspective and depth could play a part but that would potentially confuse things- let’s keep it simple.

Is there anything we can find which we haven’t mentioned yet?  Girl. Axe. Trunk.

anthony browne

After collating a list of large (giant) and small (ant) elements plus the things that don’t fit into those lists, let’s jump into the picture. The lists will help this part.

You are a giant walking through the woods. Look down, what can you see? Be careful, what could you stand on?  This may provide opportunities to introduce language linked to looking down, e.g. ‘Down below…’ or ‘Beneath my feet…’ Think about how small those things are from your position. Could you use language linked to size?

Now, imagine being a tiny ant. This time think about what is all around you (grass, flowers, the camp fire) and what you view as you look up. Consider the size of the girl, the trees, the axe. Again, lots of opportunities to use the language of size and perspective, e.g. ‘Up above…’ or ‘High in the distance.’

Thank you for reading Part 4 of the series. Do please get in touch if you have any questions and, if you use any of the strategies, feel free to share.

Duke Skywalker  @DetailDetects1  @KarlDuke8






What would ‘To me…’ be without ‘To you…’?

Pop Quiz:

Let’s throw a few names into the bubbling cauldron of creativity to begin with, shall we?

Wilder and __________

______________ and Wise

_________ and Walters

How about…

Laurel and __________

_________ and McCartney

McFly and _________


______________ and Iron Man (sob)

_________ and Mindy

Jay Z and _____________

French and ___________

Oh, let’s not forget the most incredible duo of all…

The Chuckle Brother! Sorry. The Chuckle Brothers.

Double acts. Two people putting their skills together to create magic. Working on their own they have individual talent. They possess a skill or skills from which they can earn a living and bring joy to those around them, listening to them or watching them.

But, put two people together who work so wonderfully well as a duo and what do you get?

Magic. (Think Smith and Dyson at #PrimaryRocks for those that were there)

I’m still relatively fresh to this Twitter lark but the majority of my time on here I spend conversing and sharing ideas about books and more often than not picture books. I am fortunate to spend time once a month discussing a specific picture book or illustrator/author in @ClubPictureBook in which the illustrations of a picture book are scrutinised with Sherlock’s eye (the Cumberbatch version) for hidden meaning or suggestion. The name of the illustrator of the artwork is always at the forefront of our minds. In fact, more often than not, the illustrator is the reason we have chosen the book in the first place.

Here’s another short list, pop-pickers:

________ and Blake

________ and Scheffler

________ and Rackham

________ and Klassen

I think we all could add in the missing names. Why?

Because we recognise the partnership.

The team.

The magic that happens when author and illustrator add their ingredients to the picture book cauldron and create something extraordinary. Roald Dahl’s stories may still be magical without the illustrations of Blake, but, ‘boy’, (pun intended) they magically add to the writing. The wonderful A.F.Harrold’s genius on a page would still be genius on a page, but he constantly acknowledges in his social media presence the vision that is created from the skills of Emily Gravett, Joe Todd-Stanton or Levi Pinfold. Imagine having that triumvirate as a team to work with! I’m sure they feel equally blessed.

Perhaps, because I concentrate much of my time absorbed in picture book illustration and conversing about them in general, I often notice when the author is recognised in a tweet but not the illustrator; this often happens regularly in book lists or recommendations. Now, before you go searching through my tweets for occasions when I have also failed to acknowledge the artist because I’m sure I have at times, (I did so in a #PictureBookCurriculum blog a few months ago and was rightly picked up on it) I do think we can all do better. I am included in the ‘we’.

Imagine Rebecca Young’s Teacup without the talent of Matt Ottley. Imagine Charlotte Guillain’s The Street Beneath my Feet without Yuval Zummer’s stunning visuals. Imagine (a personal favourite of mine) Rachel Noble’s Finn’s Feather without the beauty of Zoey Abbott’s illustrations. Imagine books by Mac Burnett without Jon Klassen. For me, more often than not, it is the illustrations that attract me, that pull me in, that help me to lose myself and that excite me. They take me to worlds know and unknown. Combined with the words we are first observers and then participants within a magical potion which toys wonderfully with our imagination, manipulates us and leaves us begging for more.

This is not a post to create tension between the word and the image. I value them both immensely. It is a post that aims to highlight the discrepancy which can occur in a tweet or book list. Acknowledge the pencil, the paper, the paint, the pastel, the palette, the panorama, the perspective, the pigment, the positive space and the print. Acknowledge the artist’s gift.

A picture book is just that. A book with pictures. Take away the pictures and it’s a book with words.  The illustrator has equal importance; let’s not forget them, let’s acknowledge them. Let’s celebrate them.

After all, what would ‘To me…’ be without ‘To you…’?

MrD:HT  – BA (Hons First Class) Graphic Design and Illustration – DeMontfort University, Lincoln, 1995)










Picture Book Curriculum – Issue 4: The Arrival by Shaun Tan


the arrival

Visiting Salt’s Mill in Saltaire, near Bradford, is one of life’s great pleasures. A Victorian mill transformed into the most spacious, atmospheric and beautiful book shop you can imagine. Yes, there’s also products for the home, restaurants, an antique shop and many works of art by Bradford’s own David Hockney displayed, but it has always been the bookshop that has held a special place in my heart.


Well, on the third floor, there is one table there, a regular circular table which is the first piece of furniture you reach. Every time I visit this table has the most incredible books on display; books that anyone (apart from @smithsmm probably!) may never have seen.

About twelve years ago when I ventured excitedly towards ‘that table’ I came across ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan. I was a consultant at the time who encouraged the use of picture books as an incredible tool for learning, so I knew of his work on ‘The Viewer’, ‘The Rabbits’ and the wonderful ‘The Lost Thing’, but this was a new one on me. I think many of you have had that same feeling as you have discovered the book in the years since its publication. I could not put it down. I could not believe the amount of time, Tan must have put into this book. This book was special.

At the earliest opportunity I shared ‘The Arrival’ with colleagues and then to teachers in Lincolnshire and I’d like to think I did my bit to promote this visual treasure. I emailed Shaun Tan at the time to express how incredible I thought this work of art was and to say we were now using it in schools because the opportunities were endless. His reply is still attached to a print I own from ‘The Arrival’. I remember asking him whether there had been interest from any film companies at the time and he said that there had been many, particularly from the UK.  Amongst the many teachers who were using the book in 2007/8 was @SarahLouP. Through the source material and her exceptional teaching the children produced writing of such quality.  On my (very hopeful) request, Tan sent a thank you card to them for using ‘The Arrival’ with an original piece of artthe-arrival-2.jpgwork on it.

It has been wonderful to see how ‘The Arrival’ has taken off in this country over the last decade or so and it remains not only my favourite book but my favourite one to use in school and is a huge part of our Year 6 curriculum at BcL.

In the English section, I have organised the ideas into the chapters of the book and created a name for each one to help. Thank you again for reading #PictureBookCurriculum – I hope you find the ideas useful. This is very much the tip of the iceberg.


Chapter 1: Departure

  • Mystery Cards: give the children each individual image one at a time from the start of the book (below). Ask them to develop a storyline from each image and build a plot. It’s interesting to see how often the Titanic plays a part! Obviously it’s imperative the children do not know the story at this point.
    arrival 3
  • If you were a migrant moving to a new land, what would you put in your suitcase?
  • Wrap a personal photo in brown parcel wrap. Write about it’s meaning to you.
  • Collect metaphors for the threat (the creature’s tail) that appears to be hanging over the town.
  • Drama: recreate the still images using sepia photography. Alternatively, make them come to life through scripting a scene, like the one around the dining table or at the train station.
  • Compare and contrast the table scene at the beginning of the story with the one at the end. How have emotions changed? What has stayed the same?

Chapter 2: The Arrival 

  • The journey on the ship is mainly kept from us. Recount the journey on the boat and the people he may have met. Alternatively, write as another person on the ship who is observing our traveller.
  • Drama: Interview the migrant coming into the country. What would you ask? What would you want to know? As the migrant, what would  you want to ask? the arrival 5teh arrival 4
  • Describe the bustling town scene using your senses and #DetailDetectives strategies (beehive/story-line/jig-saw) @DetailDetects1
  • Describe the traveller’s guest house room. How is it different from his home?
  • Ask the children to only communicate using drawings as our migrant has to do initially to help people understand.
  • Inspired by the scene in which he opens the suitcase and remembers his family, write emotively about that moment. If he could hear the voices of his family from the suitcase, what would they be saying to him.
  • There is a hidden letter in the suitcase from his daughter/wife. What does it say?
  • Recount his journey so far as he looks into the suitcase and the emotions he has experienced.
  • Present a vlog of the first day in the new home. (create a contrasting one later in the story as he settles down)

Chapter 3: Discovering 

  • Write a non-chronological report about a creature which lives in this land or create your own.
  • Explore the use of ‘a story within a story’ as seen when our traveller meets numerous people from this new land
  • Explore dialogue between characters to develop the punctuation of speech.
  • Write the narrative for the girl’s story as she recounts her life in child labour
    arrival 6
  • Describe ‘the land of the giants’ (above) and the subsequent escape.
  • Present the above as a news item to camera

Chapter 4: Hope

  • Recount the old man’s recollections of war and the reason why he had to find a new home
  • Write a job application for one of the positions shown.

Chapter 5: The Arrivals

  • Write a poem showing how time passes (the life cycle of the flower)
  • Write a letter home sharing his quest for employment and make the letter into an origami bird.
  • Compare the departure to the families arrival in Chapter 5.
  • How does the girl feel when she finally arrives in the new land? Write a diary of the first days in the new land.


As always, if it’s tenuous don’t do it, but there are opportunities to explore the use of 2D and 3D shapes to create landscapes. Our migrant also plays a game later in the book using shapes. The children could create their own point-scoring game using shape. Any story involving a different currency opens up the opportunity of comparing values.


  • Make comparisons between the girl’s experience in child labour/slavery and those in the past, e.g. Harriet Tubman (The Underground Railroad) and Victorian workhouses.
  • Research Tan’s inspiration for the boy with the placard.
  • Explore migration and the reasons for it.
  • Research boat journeys made by migrants both historically and in present times.


  • Research great historical boat journeys discovering ‘new’ worlds.
  • Map reading: explore the symbols used on ordinance survey maps and use maps of other countries to show how symbols help travellers who speak different languages (these can be found cheaply in many charity shops).
  • Explore maps from other countries to find key rivers, mountains, cities and landmarks.
  • Create a map of the new land our traveller has migrated to. Use references from the book to help.
  • Our traveller experiences many new foods; taste a range of exotic foods and locate the country/climate they are grown in.


  • Shaun Tan uses clay to visual his ideas. Create a creature that would live in the new land from clay.
  • Recreate the end pages of the book using sepia/pencil portraits from the class.
  • Origami: explore making a range of different birds/creatures
  • Cloud Art: investigate the different cloud formations as our traveller observes on his journey. Create a piece of art showing these changes.
  • Shaun Tan takes everyday objects and shapes and imagines them at a different scale, which is how his buildings are often formed. Take an everyday object and design a building from it.
  • Hands play such an important part in the ‘The Arrival’. Create hand-inspired artwork to show love, friendship and hope. (RE links)
  • Paint the same flower through four seasons
  • Recreate the soldier’s footsteps through different terrain using photography.
  • Explore the links between Nevinson’s ‘Paths of Glory’, war photographs by Frank Hurley and ‘Parade to War’ by John Steuart Curry with the war scenes in Chapter 4 (Thank you @MissSMerrill for these ideas)

war war2

  • Retell an extract of the story using photography with children taking on the roles.


  • Explore the feelings of loss/sadness when someone departs
  • Wrap a picture/present for a loved one
  • Which origami animal would you make to send back with a message to your family?
  • Look at a range of different picture books which explore migration.
  • Write a letter of acceptance to a friend expressing the qualities you recognise in them.


  • Design a mode of transport which could at home in the new land.
  • Create a 3D model, using a range of construction  techniques, of the families home town, complete with the metaphorical threat.
  • Follow recipes which include a range of exotic foods, e.g. an exotic fruit salad. Why not invite parents along to taste?
  • Design and make a musical instrument to fit into the scene in Chapter 3.


  • Create a soundscape to a selected extract, e.g. the land of the giants image.
  • Produce news items for significant extracts from the story, e.g. the recollections of the citizens
  • Use green screen to recount key emotive moments in the story.
  • Create an animation of an origami creature moving


  • The bird could be seen as a symbol of hope throughout the book. Investigate whether there are other stories from religions which explore this idea.
  • Design a giant gateway to a city (like the one shown in Chapter 2) which expresses a hand of friendship, hope and togetherness. Other values could be used.


  • A key theme of the story is ‘new beginnings’- how could this be linked to religious stories?
  • How do the family put their trust in him?
  • Which values do you feel are represented in ‘The Arrival’? Express why.
  • At which points of the story are certain values expressed by those he meets?


  • Hope
  • Friendship
  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Trust
  • Peace


  • Suitcase including a wrapped photo frame
  • Each child is given an origami bird with a message inside
  • Recreation of the dining table at the start of the story
  • Clay models of creatures

I do think that if I sat down again to create ideas for how ‘The Arrival’ could be used across the curriculum many different thoughts would come to mind and I may follow this up in the future with part 2! However, whether you use the book in school at the moment or plan to do so in the future, I hope you find the blog useful.

And Shaun Tan, thank you.

Karl Duke











Detail Detectives: Using picture book illustrations to develop confidence in writing (Part 3)

As everyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I absolutely adore picture books. The monthly discussions @ClubPictureBook are wonderful and I have made so many like-minded friends through sharing books on a regular.  However, I not only have a passion for collecting picture books and talking about them, but a drive to ensure picture books are used throughout school and that they are used in the classroom to inspire our developing writers. Our school curriculum is reading-inspired because I want books to be at the heart of learning.

The Detail Detective series aims to provide strategies for teachers to support children who are struggling to develop ideas. Thank you to everyone who has responded so positively to the first two blogs of the series and particularly to @MrS_Primary for inviting me into his school to share Detail Detectives. It has been wonderful to see how he has used the strategies so far and I look forward to sharing them @RRGoesToUni in March.

In this blog I will be sharing the strategies: Explosion, Ripple Writer and Push the Button.



There are many everyday tools on Word which can be used to help our children become Detail Detectives. The ‘explosion’ shape can be added to an image and we can use the points to focus on specific areas. Look at the example above using an illustration from Torben Kulhmann’s outstanding book, ‘Armstrong’.

I have highlighted four particular objects or areas that the points ‘point’ to, these include the teddy bear, a pile of newspapers, a cardboard box and the wooden panels. Children could be asked to write a sentence about each of these aspects of the image. They may repeat using the other points. We may now have a bank of sentences describing the scene but we haven’t yet described the focal point of the illustration: the mouse looking through the telescope. So, now lets move inside the Explosion and write about our hero.

Alternatively, shrink the Explosion again. What could we now focus on?

explosion 2

Now, we view the telescope stand, the lens, the pile of books and, finally, the mouse. So, with the first Explosion we have set the scene and with the smaller second Explosion, we have identified the focal point for our writing. Additionally, each aspect could be numbered to provide an order as we gradually move towards the mouse.

Ripple Writer

Ripple Writer

Like many of the Detail Detective strategies, Ripple Writer helps the writer gradually move in towards a focal point but the journey taken will enable a number of sentences to be created. Let’s start in the outer circle here using an illustration by Anthony Browne. What can you see within the outer circle?

The patchwork quilt.

The flowered wallpaper.

A girl’s head on a pillow.

Let’s write sentences about those aspects of the scene.

Now let’s take the next step on the journey. What can we see?

The gorilla lampshade.

A wooden lamp.

A bedside table.

A spotted dickie bow.

As we move into the next circle the mouth and fur of the gorilla comes into focus. Using the examples given a significant number of sentences could have been written about the scene before we have even reached a possible focal point: the gorilla’s eye.

Push the Button

Push the ButtonAs teachers we often encourage children to use their senses when writing. For Push the Button you will need some small (thumb-sized) images like the ones above with each one representing a sense. No prizes for guessing where I found the images to use but, having said that,  I’d happily buy you a chocolate bar if you work out the origin of the ear image!

Using one sense at a time, ask the children to move the button around the image. They may decide where and when to stop moving the button or may work with a partner. The example above uses Brian Selznick’s artwork from The Marvels. One of the ears is hovering over the fire. What could you hear there? The crackle of the wood? The spitting of the fire?

Now move the sound button again. Stop at different areas of the illustration and consider the sounds heard.

Try with different sense buttons. Hopefully, through using each sense button, we will have accumulated a number of ideas to build on.

I hope you find these ideas useful and when added to the bank of strategies from Part 1 and 2 you have a wide selection to use with your children. I would love to see how Detail Detectives has been used in your classroom so please feel free to share.

Shortly, I will be starting a new series based on how picture books can be used to inspire the curriculum. Looking forward to it!

Thanks for reading.


Duke Skywalker  @KarlDuke8

Picture Book Curriculum – Issue 3: Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd-Stanton


rope 1

There are not many author/illustrators at the moment who provoke as much excitement when a new book is published as Joe Todd-Stanton. His ability to create adventurous stories in comic-like book form has created a huge fan base and his work is frequently celebrated by the likes of @smithsmm and @PaulWat5, amongst many others, on Twitter. His new book, A Mouse Called Julian, will be on a bookshelf near you soon.

The first book of Todd-Stanton’s that I came into possession of was Arthur and the Golden Rope – one of (I hope) an ongoing series linked to the Brownstone family alongside Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx and The Urn of Uruk.

In this series I aim to provide a number of ideas for how to link a picture book to the curriculum. They are just ideas which may, in turn, trigger others.


Research and write a biography of Thor/Odin

Compare the Marvel versions of Thor/Odin with Todd-Stanton’s characters and those in other retellings

Create a museum guide for the Brownstone family vault

Write a short story to add to the Brownstone collection of books possibly introducing a new family member

Write the stories for Eleanor Brownstone’s Discovery of Crystal Kingdom or Eric Brownstones epic battle with the hundred-headed snake king of Tuckernuck Island (possibly reduce the length of title!)

Compare Arthur’s adventures with the film Jason and the Argonauts

Describe Arthur’s town in amongst the mountains

Write a poem from the point of view of Atrix: Atrix’s wonderous and frightening tales

The illustrations on page 14/15 suggest Arthur’s other adventures: flesh out one of these stories

Create a non-chronological report about Arthur’s adventures (creatures, adventures, items found, dangers)

Complete a ‘verb journey’ of the book, collecting the powerful vocabulary on the way that would describe Arthur’s adventures

Journalistic writing: The Day the Black Wolf Attacked

Detail Detectives: Story-line – describe the journey of the map.

Poetry: Sounds in a Jar – imagine the sounds Arthur heard on his journey – write a poem about them or alternatively, give the children a jar and walk around the school/the local town/a forest and capture the sounds

Fly on the Wall: recount a day in the past when Arthur or a relation returned to the vault with an incredible artefact – what did the fly see?

rope 5

Create a Brownstone vault reading area

Sit around a fire, role-playing as Atrix, and tell mythical stories to the townsfolk (the children – see next idea)

Children come to school dressed as one of the townsfolk (page 20) and rewrite the story of the wolf putting out the fire from their chosen perspective

Describe the journey by night, filled with danger, that Arthur takes

Arthur’s library challenge: give children a series of facts to find in the library/using the internet and perhaps linked to periods of history

The Wind Weaver bird is a hero in the story. Explore other stories in which birds take a leading, and perhaps, heroic role.

Write and perform  Thor’s speech at the end of the book, or alternatively, in the role of Arthur


rope 4

Explore Iceland and the countries around the Norwegian Sea

Compare temperatures of the countries included in Todd-Stanton’s books (Iceland, Egypt)

Contrast the climate, landmarks, history of Iceland and Egypt or with the UK

Link to learning about mountains


Learn about Viking Gods such as Thor and Odin

Compare Arthur’s quest with others in myths and legends including Theseus and the Minotaur

Linking to a period of history, design and create the story behind an artefact for the Brownstone vault

Investigate the most famous artefacts discovered in history – this could link to a country you are studying and may link to Religious Education

History Detectives: What is the most valuable artefact ever discovered?


Paint the Wind Weaver (each child painting a feather?)

Create a 3D model of the World Tree

Create maps in the style of the Norse World on parchment

Use appropriate materials to create an artefact for the vault, e.g. a clay pot from Ancient Greece and perhaps inspired by a visit to a museum

Use a shoe box to re-create a model of the Brownstone vault

Journey into the woods to collect small items like Arthur – create a piece of art inspired by nature artists

Design/paint a magical creature which would inhabit the forests or mountains around Arthur’s town

Create a journal showing Arthur’s adventures (using a range of media)

Decorate ‘sound jars’ (page 40)

rope 2


Explore sounds (like those captured in the sound jar)

Solids and liquids: melting and solidifying (inspired by the fire being put out by the black wolf and its impact on the town: ‘everything will be frozen solid in less than a week’)

Explore light and shadow by creating puppets of Arthur and Fenrir as seen later in the book

Create a boat for Arthur which floats on the Norwegian Sea – investigate bouyancy


(As always, I don’t like to make tenuous links – but there’s no harm in throwing in one or two ideas)

Give artefacts in the vault (or from actual history) a value. Solve problems involving money or measures

Inspired by the Hand of Time, learn about Roman numerals

Solve problems linked to distances from towns/cities in Iceland


‘Arthur the Meddler’: conscience corridor – should Arthur be allowed to be the hero? Had he led the wolf to the town? Write a letter of support to him

Explore the value ‘courage’ in relation to Arthur

Compare Arthur overcoming obstacles with real-life examples involving people from history, e.g. Harriet Tubman

Journey to the god of storms: what would you take in your rucksack to keep yourself safe?

If you could create a ‘World Tree’ which represented everything good about the world, what would it include?


Write lyrics telling the story of one of Arthur’s adventures

Create a soundtrack to the journey across the sea/ up the mountain

Explore sounds/instruments which could represent different characters in the story

Physical Education: 

Using a range of PE equipment (indoor or out) set a range of challenges to overcome linked with the book (working individually, in pairs or as a group)

Create a dance which tells the story of Arthur and the Golden Rope

rope 3


Courage, Hope, Thankfulness, Friendship

Ok, so that’s just a few ideas to get you thinking – I hope you find them useful. Arthur and the Golden Rope is one of my favourite books and if you haven’t discovered it yet, I urge you to do so.

Thanks for reading. Issue 4 will be on it’s way soon…mmm…which book to choose?






Picture Book Curriculum – Issue 2: Florette by Anna Walker

First of all, thank you to everyone for the kind replies, retweets and likes for Issue 1 of this new series. The focus of that first issue was Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann, which is a beautiful book with so much potential for use in the classroom. To catch up, have a look: #PictureBookCurriculum.

The choice for the second book in the series is Florette by Australian author and illustrator, Anna Walker.  I discovered this stunning picture book about a year ago on a visit to Salt’s Mill in Saltaire, near Bradford. (If you are ever in that part of the world, please do visit as it has the most superb bookshop with the quirkiest titles). After just one reading the book became a personal favourite and I believe it can be used in so many creative ways.

I am proud to say it is also one of the few books that I have ever introduced to @smithsmm!

For those new to this blog, a bit of info:

So, what is the aim of Picture Book Curriculum?
The answer is simple. I want to provide ideas to help you in the classroom. How the ideas are used is up to you. It’s important to say, I don’t intend to look at all aspects of the National Curriculum and make tight links to what is specified in there; yes, there may be some clear links, but others may be less obvious. Some may also appear a little tenuous until you read the book. So immerse yourself and the children in each book as there is much to explore and to get excited about.
If, after reading the blog, it means you use the book as a stimulus for learning, great. I will only focus on wonderful books. If it makes you think how a picture book may be used when you plan in the future, even better.
Also consider using my #DetailDetectives series alongside these ideas as they share tools to develop confidence in writing.

It is just about ideas. So, here goes…

Picture Book Curriculum – Book 2: Florette by Anna Walker 


A beautifully illustrated book about friendship and resilience. Moving house is often a time of struggle and this is no different for Mae. But Mae loves nature…

From Mae’s perspective, write a persuasive letter to mother to allow you to bring the garden with you
Diary entry recounting Mae’s first day in the town without her garden
Contrasting diary entries from the day Mae arrived and the day she changed the town
Journalistic writing: ‘Marvellous Mae saves the Day’
Non-chronological report: Recycling                                                                                         Write a narrative from the perspective of the apple tree bird as it observes Mae through the story                                                                                                                                            Poetry: write a poem to describe different human movements inspired by the line ‘people moved like ants’
Investigate prepositions like those used as Mae walks through the town                  Describe Mae’s feelings when she first sees the Florette                                                    Poetry about nature’s treasures inspired by the line, ‘Mae held her new treasure up to the light.’                                                                                                                                                Write an information booklet for the Florette or for the new garden area created by Mae Write an information guide about different plants and flowers                                      Debate the consequences of creating a city garden

Important to note: I am not a fan of making tenuous links to maths for the sake of it, but here are a few suggestions:                                                                                                     Measure the volume of a range of cardboard boxes                                                               Measure the height of a range of plants/flowers or their leaves (link to growth in science) Problem solving using a timetable for the opening times of Florette                     Investigate area and perimeter when designing a garden for Chelsea Flower Show

Research Charles Darwin and his journeys                                                                              Visit a Victorian walled garden and research the flowers and plants found

Explore town maps to investigate their features/common features                            Improve the ‘park filled with tiny stones and empty chairs’ by re-designing it for the town including amenities for all ages                                                                                        Visit the local park or (if possible) a city garden

Explore the features and functions of plants and flowers
Investigate the conditions required for a plant or flower to grow                                              Plant a range of flowers and plants to create a school garden – monitor the growth and conditions                                                                                                                                           Set up a Garden Club

Create a leaf collage inspired by the end papers in the book
Mae left behind her garden. What do you think her garden looked like? Paint the garden or create a 3D model
Create a 3D model of the new town as it looks at the beginning of the book. Inspired by Mae improve the town by adding flowers, plants and trees                                              Create a picnic (like Mae’s cardboard picnic) using cardboard boxes                                       Each child decorates a cardboard box to create a giant class garden scene (like Mae created)                                                                                                                                    Research the styles of artists well know for painting gardens, e.g. impressionist, Claude Monet                                                                                                                                         Inspired by The Lost Words, create flower and plant paintings                                            Use playground chalks to create flower and butterfly designs                                     Inspired by Mae and Andy Goldsworthy, create designs using pebbles and stones

florette 3

COMPUTING:                                                                                                                                   ‘She listened to the hum of the city’ – Record the sounds of your village, town or city. Create a soundtrack to your home based on the sounds using a music app                          In the role of Mae send a Vlog to mother persuading her to allow you to bring the garden to the new home


florette 4
Using cardboard boxes, create a large scale town considering how the buildings are constructed. Then, in the role of Mae, improve it by adding flowers, plants and trees.
Design playground games (e.g. counting games) using flowers and garden creatures as inspiration.                                                                                                                                    Create a healthy picnic and the menu for Mae and her family                                          Design a shoe-box setting for the Florette


How does a leaf represent hope?

Friendship  Hope  Resilience

HOOKS: (continued thanks to @MissSMerrill for inspiring me to add this)                           A small plant growing from the wall or from each of the tables in the room                         A room full of cardboard boxes ready to be painted                                                                Sad empty plant pots around the room or alternatively plant plots with seed packets attached                                                                                                                                    Decorate the room like the Florette

Leaf Man by Lois Ehart                                                                                                                   The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris                    Planting a rainbow by Lois Ehart                                                                                                 The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle                                                                                             Botanicum: Welcome to the Museum                                                                                           On the Origin of the Species by Sabina Radeva                                                                         The Flower by John Light and illustrated by Lisa Evans                                                          The Promise by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin                                               Not a Box by Antoinette Portis                                                                                                          A Little Guide to Wild Flowers by Charlotte Voake                                                         Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson

Wall:E (the leaf of hope)                                                                                                                 The Secret Garden

I hope you find these ideas helpful.

Thank you as always to everyone on Twitter who shares their love of learning and their love of books.

Look out for the next #PictureBookCurriculum coming soon.

Duke Skywalker @KarlDuke8


Picture Book Curriculum – Issue 1: Armstrong – The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann

Using picture books to inspire learning has always been a passion of mine. From my early days as a teacher in the early 2000’s, through a number of years working as a Teaching and Learning Consultant in Lincolnshire, followed by the journey into leadership, I have promoted the use of picture books as a stimulus for the curriculum. One of the greatest pleasures has been sitting down with a colleague to map out a term’s learning using a book and I know from feedback that this has opened their eyes to the possibilities available to them and added a tool to their teacher toolkit.

As a headteacher, I have worked with my team to map out a curriculum based on books: both picture and novel. After six months, we are seeing children engaged with books, increasingly willing to pick up a book and – this possibly gives me the most pleasure-  we have developed each child’s thinking around books. Year six children now appreciate and value picture books, they can read meaning into the visuals and in my Picture Book ‘Worship’ on Friday, we explore and enjoy new and old beautifully-illustrated books. It’s important to note at this point that the illustrator gets equal billing. The illustrator will pay a huge part in this blog, it just so happens the illustrator is also the author!

So, what is the aim of Picture Book Curriculum

The answer is simple. I want to provide ideas to help you in the classroom. How the ideas are used is up to you. It’s important to say, I don’t intend to look at all aspects of the National Curriculum and make tight links to what is specified in there; yes, there may be some clear links, but others may be less obvious. Some may also appear a little tenuous until you read the book. So immerse yourself and the children in each book as there is much to explore and to get excited about.

If, after reading the blog, it means you use the book as a stimulus for learning, great. I will only focus on wonderful books. If it makes you think how a picture book may be used when you plan in the future, even better.

Also consider using my Detail Detectives series alongside these ideas as they share tools to develop confidence in writing.

It is just about ideas. So, here goes…

Picture Book Curriculum Book 1:

Armstrong – The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon


Quite simply, I believe Torben Kuhlmann is up there with the very best author/illustrators out there; he creates the best links between rodents and history since the Great Plague!

Did you know that an adventurous mouse (the Moon Mouse) landed on the moon fifteen years before Apollo 11? Me neither. This is that story.


Write a job application to be a space cadet like the Moon Mouse
Using images of the moon, create moon poetry (personification?)
Recount the journey to New York, as illustrated in the book, from the perspective of a mouse (consider the height and how the world is experienced from that viewpoint)
Describe the journey to the moon
Create a biography of a famous aviator/stronaut or the Moon Mouse
Journalistic writing: ‘The Rodent Saboteur’ including eye witness accounts of the fire in the apartment
Suspense writing inspired by the Moon Mouse’s race to the spacecraft
Describe the feeling of weightlessness in the spacecraft/on the moon
Non-chronological report: The Moon/Journey to the Moon
Diary comparison between the Journey of Apollo 11 and the Moon Mouse’s journey
You have 2.5 hrs on the moon, what would you do?
Press conference: ‘Welcome Back, Moon Mouse’ – The mouse’s return to Earth (children in role of the press, the mouse, friends – this could be dramatized/filmed)
The Moon Mouse inspired the moon landings. Write another historic story inspired a point in history, e.g. Rosa Parks (see Kuhlmann’s other books for support)
Neil Armstrong meets Armstrong the Moon Mouse – what was their conversation?
Explanation text:The spacecraft/spacesuit (see DT link)                                              Emotive writing: Landing 20th July Moonwalk 21st July – What were those hours like within Apollo 11 from the time of landing to the walk – from the point of view of the Moon Mouse/the Apollo astronauts


Important to note: I am not a fan of making tenuous links to maths for the sake of it, but here are a couple of suggestions. There will be further possible mathematical links through science, for instance, the measuring of distance when the mouse is catapulted.

Comparing distances from city to city in the US.
Comparative journeys – how many journeys to ___ could you make in the time it takes to travel to the moon?


Research the first landing on the moon
Explore 1950s/60s USA (transport/clothing/foods/entertainment/ technology)
Find out about the History of flight
Create a ‘live’ museum about the history of flight for parents to attend inspired by The Smithsonian as mentioned in the book
July 20th 1969: What was the world like on this incredible day?
Amstrong: The First Moon Landing TOP SECRET folder (illustrated at the end of the book) What is in the folder? Recreate some of the documentation.
Research the famous space explorers as documented in the back of the book and create an information leaflet for the Smithsonian museum. (Those named include Galileo, Goddard, Gagarin, Shepard. Laika the dog)


Discover cheeses from around the world (as identified in the book).                            Taste cheeses from around the world. Cook a dish included cheese. Invite parents to a cheese tasting event.                                                                                                                      Visit the places where the cheeses originate from using google maps.                           Discover the USA including its climate, landmarks, traditions.


Gravity/ Forces – design a single parachute which will help a toy mouse to land safely from a height. Investigate whether a 3 parachute design (as seen at the end of the book) further impacts on the speed of descent.
Find out about the phases of the moon.
Design and make a catapult (inspired by the Moon Mouse’s design) to propel the mouse into space. (forces then measuring distances/trajectory)
Investigate light and shadow                                                                                                              Design a spacesuit after exploring materials which would be suitable for space conditions


Explore how the moon has been painted by artists/illustrators through time including by film director Georges Melies
Create sepia art in the style of old photographs or manipulating photographs
Selecting media to create views of Earth from space


Create a news report of ‘The Rodent Saboteur’ event using imovie                               Design and control a moon vehicle (disguised Beebot?)                                                          Use Chatterpix to recount the mission from the mouse’s point of view


Spacecraft/moon vehicle design (motorised or using recycled materials)
Design a spacesuit (explanatory text) using white pencil on black paper for the mouse. Construct the spacesuit using a range of materials and joining techniques.
Design a shoe-box setting inspired by illustrations in the book


Courage     Hope     Resilience    Endurance

HOOKS:   (thanks to @MissSMerrill for inspiring me to add this)

Watch the moon landing footage                                                                                                  Find the ‘mouse-sized’ letter with an invite to the Smithsonian.
Display the burned rocket design showing only fraction of the design.                                     Create a draughtsperson’s workshop in the classroom for children to design spacecraft and spacesuits.


Moon by Britta Teckentrup
Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield illustrated by the Fan Brothers
The Sea of Tranquility by Mark Haddon illustrated by Christian Birmingham                        Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly illustrated by C F Payne                                               Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets and Frontiers of Space by Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman                                                                                                                                    Toys in Space by Mini Grey                                                                                                                 Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum                                                               Q Pootle 5 in Space by Nick Butterworth


Flight of the Navigator                                                                                                                           Wall:E                                                                                                                                                       A Trip to the Moon (Georges Melies)


Thank you as always to everyone on Twitter who shares their love of learning and their love of books, in particular all those @ClubPictureBook especially @smithsmm, @PaulWat5 and @f33lthesun for your ongoing support.

Look out for the next Picture Book Curriculum coming soon.


Duke Skywalker @KarlDuke8