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Tale has a hoppy end

A rabbit with an identity crisis helps develop skills across the curriculum, says Mike Hirst

YOU'RE A HERO, DALEY B! By Jon Blake. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Walker Books pound;4.99

Daley B has a big problem: he doesn't know he's a rabbit. He doesn't know where to live, what to eat, or what his big feet are for. Not until he's threatened by the sharp teeth of Jazzy D, the weasel, does he find a use for them.

Jon Blake's simple, repetitive text builds up to a final groan-inducing joke. But it's Axel Scheffler's fantastic pictures that make this book irresistible. Daley B has the expression of every puzzled four-year-old you've ever seen.

My copy is 10 years old, dog-eared and finger-marked. I have used it to teach speech-marks to bolshie Year 5s and help mousy, reluctant Year 4s enjoy reading. Now I've got a Reception class, I've picked it up again.

Four-year-olds love the silliness of a rabbit that doesn't know what he is. And Daley B is also an ideal springboard for maths and science work in early years.

Knowledge and understanding of the world

* Find out about rabbits. What do they really like to eat? Where do they really live? (Certainly not in trees, like Daley B!) Learn about their life cycle. Do they live in families? Ask children to record their findings on tape.

* Focus on the question "Why?" Why do rabbits have fur? Sharp claws? Long teeth? Big ears? Ask children to draw pictures to show the answers. Make a "Why?" display showing rabbits digging a burrow or gnawing carrots.

* Explore some of the animal habitats mentioned in the text. Who lives in a cave? In a tree? On a pond? Once you've worked out who lives where, you can start to identify ways in which the animals have adapted to their habitats.

* Explore what animals like to eat. Start by comparing the diets of pupils' pets. Be prepared for the revelation that some animals - like Jazzy D, the weasel - will eat other creatures if they can.

Mathematical development

* Daley B is full of opportunities for whole-class counting. There are several rabbits on some pages and several kinds of animals on others.

* Make cardboard Daley B stencils and ask the children to draw a specific number of rabbits. Now count again ... How many ears? Eyes? Paws? This introduces the most able children to counting in twos.

* Look at pictures to practise positional language. Where is Daley B? On the branch? Under the tree? Next to the weasel?

* Set up a table with sorting rings and plastic animals, guided if necessary. Put the animals into categories, such as zoo, farm, pets. Or sort by habitat: cold, hot, wet or dry places. What do we do about animals that might fall into several categories?

Communication, language and literacy

* Each animal has a different initial letter. Draw animals and match initials to pictures.

* Act out the story, with children reproducing the dialogue in their own words.

Mike Hirst is assistant head at Saltdean Primary School, Brighton

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