Escape to the high seas

21st April 2000 at 01:00
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.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today