Call of the deep;Open book;Books

27th August 1999 at 01:00
THE WHALE'S SONG. By Dyan Sheldon. Illustrated by Gary Blythe. Red Fox pound;4.99.

Kevin Harcombe on a tale grandma told about life beneath the sea

Grandmother tells Lilly of the time when, as a girl, she used to see whales dancing at the ocean's edge and listen to their singing. Uncle Frederick complains that Gran is filling Lilly's head with nonsense. Then one moonlit night a strange sound draws Lilly to the shore. . .

11 = This picture story can be enjoyed by children of a range of ages and abilities. The characters are stereotypes, but enjoyable. Grandmother is warm, gentle and lyrical, while Uncle Frederick is a prototype of Harry Enfield's Old Gits. His bones-and-blubber view of whales contrasts with Grandmother's dreamy vision of dancing giants.


Text level work

Read the whole story with the children - preferably at the seashore, but a classroom will do. Then ask them to:

* Describe Lilly, Frederick and Grandmother before looking at Gary Blythe's illustrations. Is it possible to say which is more important: the text or the pictures?

* Think of a question to ask Lilly, Frederick or Grandmother. Write the question in a speech bubble. Ask a friend to be the character and answer the question. Display the questions and answers.

* Write pen portraits of Frederick and Grandmother as Lilly might write them in a letter to a friend.

* Tell the story as an improvised play in groups. Try writing a formal playscript for radio which incorporates some of the speech in the story. Include sound effects and music.

* Stage a debate between "Fredericks" and "Grandmothers" - should we value whales for their beauty, grandeur and mystery or for their blubber and meat?

* Retell a part of the story in the first person from Lilly's point of view.

* Write a "blurb" for the book which summarises the plot and sells it in no more than 30 words.

* Continue the story in note form, describing what happens next.

Sentence level work * Identify where apostrophes are used to show possession and where to show contraction.

* Rewrite a passage of direct speech as reported speech and note any changes in punctuation and words that have to be changed or added.

* Take a passage and devise aural versions of the punctuation: a drum beat for a full stop, a whistle for a question mark, finger clicking for speech marks, and so on. "Perform" the sentence.

* Rewrite a page from the story in the present tense.

* Rewrite summaries or sections of the story as different text types. For example, instruction ("In order to hear whales sing, first bring them something special, such as a shell"), or newspaper item ("Beauty v Blubber - Whales dispute deepens").

* Grandmother's "voice" is in stark contrast to Frederick's. How does the author use direct speech to establish the twocharacters?

Word level work

* Compile a list of collective nouns: a school of whales, an exaltation of larks, and so on. What would be an appropriate collective noun for pencils, dinner ladies, and so on?

* In the passages of direct speech, Gran "smiled", "whispered" and "sighed"; Frederick "snapped" and "grumbled". List the range of alternatives that might have been used instead of "said" to help establish character. Decide which fit best and why. Can you come up with better words than the author? Could Grandmother be made less sympathetic, say, by using words such as "droned", "blabbered" or "squeaked"? For example, "Lilly's grandmother snorted. 'Once or twice,' she spat, 'I heard them sing...'" Kevin Harcombe is headteacher of Orchard Lea junior school, Fareham, Hampshire

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