Mike Bowen discovers a fantastic way to explore English.
Mister Monday. By Garth Nix. Collins Children's Books pound;5.99. (Mister Monday is reviewed on page 19)
This is a must-read: the first of seven Keys of the Kingdom novels from the author of Sabriel and Lirael, pitched slightly younger than those books with great appeal for upper key stage 2 pupils. Mister Monday introduces Arthur Penhaligon, an ordinary 11-year-old boy battling with asthma, who receives a mysterious object from the world of the sinister Mister Monday. What follows is an adventure that will take Arthur to the centre of the universe in a race against time to save everything that he holds dear.
Chapter three opens with a description of a formidable house, which is visible only to Arthur. The author uses alliteration to describe the style of architecture used in its design ("arches, aqueducts and apses", and so on). Discuss how this grabs the reader's interest and creates a detailed description. Encourage children to describe everyday objects using both alliterative and non-alliterative phrases. Discuss which description is most successful and its impact on the reader. This work may then be extended by creating a picture poem to develop the children's vocabulary.
Give each group of five or six children pieces of cards, large enough to be displayed, and ask them to think about words they could use to describe the house. Ask one group to think of three adjectives beginning with "b", one of one syllable, one of two syllables and one of three or more, and write one word on each card. The second and third groups do the same with words beginning with "c" and "d", and so on.
Collect the cards and display them on the wall. Read the phrases aloud with lots of expression. Encourage the children to collect more words that describe the house as they progress through the book, and exchange them with the words that are currently in the picture poem.
In chapter 18, Arthur and Suzy need to climb the Improbable Stair to escape the Deep Coal Cellar. Using the examples of the various eras that they encounter in subsequent chapters on their way up the stairs (dinosaurs, Neanderthal man and so on), ask them to write three additional chapters for Mister Monday. This could be done over two weeks, allowing the children to develop ideas and create images in great detail. Focus on Garth Nix's cliffhanger chapter endings to discuss how the author makes the reader want to continue reading, and look at the way in which he uses speech to finish the majority of his chapters.
The short chapters and the chapter endings make this a great text to read aloud. Encourage the children to predict events after each read-aloud session and record and review their predictions in a story journal. They can also keep notes on character development and an idea of the general style of how the story is written. This work links well to extended writing.
Direct the children to interesting sentences in the book that include nouns, adjectives, adverbs and adverbial phrases of time, place and "describing how". Colour-code the words on to large pieces of card according to the type of word (adjectival phrases could be pink; nouns blue; verbs red and so on). Ask the children to manipulate these words and move them around to create various kinds of sentences.
Examine how sentences are made and how you can add to the basic structure of a sentence. Mix and match words from other groups to create a wealth of good sentences and encourage the children to include some of these structures in their everyday writing.
Mike Bowen teaches at Manselton Primary School, Swansea