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Escape to the high seas

THE MAN WHOSE MOTHER WAS A PIRATE. By Margaret Mahy. Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. Puffin, pound;4.99

A respectable little man leaves his neat office and humdrum life for a journey of discovery on the high seas with his swashbuckling pirate mother. This is a fable about living life to the full which can be enjoyed on different levels. It appeals to both girls and boys; younger children enjoy the exhilarating story and illustrations, while hard-bitten 11-year-olds like the throwaway humour.

How to use it Literacy Word level * Using a thesaurus, generate synonyms for some of Mahy's adjectives describing the sea. After a first reading to the whole class, try to work out the meaning of unknown words from the context. Ask children to write their own definitions using standard dictionary conventions.

* Identify the author's use of alliteration and onomatopoeia - "booming", "slaps", "sighs", etc - and its effect.

Sentence level * Note-making: edit down a page of text by deleting descriptive language. Discuss the effect this has.

* Some of Mahy's descriptions of the sea have the rhythm of a poem, with sentences ebbing and flowing like the tides. Note how this effect is achieved by balancing sentences around a conjunction or a comma.

Text level * How would you describe the sights, sounds and smells of the sea to someone who had never seen it? Write a postcard home.

* Rewrite the story as a newspaper report. Include interviews with characters - Mr Fat the boss, the farmer and the philosopher - using direct and reported speech.

* Write a summary of the book in 50 words. Write a summary of the summary in one shortsentence.

* Identify the main characteristics of the characters, justifying with reference to the text.

* Discuss how the illustrations of the man and his mother (particularly at the breakfast table) reinforce his dullness and her vibrancy. How is this effect echoed in the language?

* Send a message in a bttle from Sailor Sam to Mr Fat detailing your life as a pirate.

* Compare Mahy's descriptions of the call of the sea with those in John Masefield's poem "Sea Fever". List similarities and differences. Discuss the authors' intent.

Literacy and drama Create a playscript from the story. Include sound effects and staging tips. Use ICT skills to word-process. Record the play on tape andor video. Include: Dance Devise a hornpipe dance, based upon a sequence of four moves, one for every two beats of the music. The Mike Oldfield tune "Portsmouth" is a good hornpipe (available on an Elements recording, The Best of Mike Oldfield). Include clapping and stamping to enhance the rhythm.

Music * Listen to "Portsmouth": identify the instruments used, comment on timbre, dynamics, texture and duration; discuss the place of the hornpipe in maritime history. (Used to entertain and keep a steady work rhythm.) * Identify the main rhythm used on the recording: invent your own rhythms to maintain as ostinati (recurring phrases) during the piece.

* Use the hornpipe as incidental music in your own dramatised version of the story.

* Sing sea shanties. Try "Blow the Man Down". Write your own words to the "Blow the Man Down" melody.

* Devise the "song" of the sea as an abstract piece, using tuned and untuned percussion. Record in a graphic score.

Art Look at representations of the sea in the history of art: Turner provides dramatic examples. Compare with the stylised illustrations in this book, Shirley Hughes's sea pictures in Stories by Firelight (Red Fox pound;5.99) and the sea itself. Develop art vocabulary.

History The Tudors. Francis Drake was a pirate. Research some of his activities in the service of the Crown.

Geography Identify: the seas around the UK; the two largest seas round Europe; the oceans. Study how the sea causes erosion and deposition.

Kevin Harcombe is headteacher of Redlands primary school, Fareham, Hampshire.

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