Cirque du Freak By Darren Shan Collins Children's Books pound;3.99
arren Shan is a normal kid. He loves football, finds school boring and hangs around a lot with his friend Steve Leopard. But when Steve buys tickets to a freak show featuring a giant spider, Madame Octa, things change. Darren faces a horrific choice: on one side, a dying friend; on the other, a godless creature of the night. He can save his loved ones but can he save his soul?
This page-turning read is a lot of fun for upper juniors. The first story in a long series (seven books so far, around 15 to come), Cirque Du Freak will keep any class entertained to its thrilling conclusion.
*Encourage children to empathise with various characters, focusing on their points of view and feelings. For example, Chapters 29 and 30, when Darren fakes his own death to protect his family, or offers himself as an assistant to the vampire, Mr Crepsley.
*Discuss the different styles of writing used in the book, such as the cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. Why does the author do this? Ask the children to keep prediction diaries and guess what will happen next. Look at how tension is created. The section on pages 157-8, in which Darren seems to be turning into a vampire, is a good start.
*After reading the chapters that include the freak show, encourage the children to create and write profiles of some characters that are soon to join the circus. These can be any type of freak - monster, human or animal.
*They can then write a brief synopsis of events prior to the freak show, and five additional chapters about their new characters. Encourage them to complete one chapter a day and focus on one aspect of writing, such as creating tension, description, or audience reactions.
*Look at other texts associated with spiders: do they portray spiders differently? Discuss differences between fiction and non-fiction.
*Conscience Alley: ask the children to give arguments for and against Darren becoming a half vampire. Get them to form two lines facing each other, one for those in favour, and the other against. One child at the top of the lines can be Darren, and one at the end can be Mr Crepsley. As Darren walks along the "alley" the children whisper their reasons, and at the end he decides whether to accept or decline the offer.
*Play-write a meeting between Darren and Mr Crepsley. Focus on dialogue and ways of delivering lines to create tension, sadness, happiness and so on.
*Encourage the children to solve problems based on the freaks. For instance, Rhamus Twobellies eats 350g and 1.5 kg: how much in total? Mr Tall takes pound;375.60 each night for 10 nights; how much in total?
Using tuned and untuned percussion instruments, compose and perform a piece of music to depict Darren stealing Madam Octa.
Compose a short piece of music that can be used when Darren is walking down Conscience Alley (see Drama). A good model for this is the main theme music by Wojciech Kilar from the film Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).
*Get the children to design the leaflet that Steve brings to school advertising the Cirque Du Freak (this links nicely with looking at other styles of writing and selecting appropriate information).
*Work can focus on minibeasts, and in particular spiders (see link with English).
*Darren Shan's website (www. darrenshan.com) is easy to navigate, and gives children an opportunity to enter competitions, e-mail the author and submit pieces of class work for display.
Mike Bowen teaches at Manselton primary school, Swansea The latest Darren Shan book is Hunters of the Dusk, Collins pound;3.99