Get into the spirit
Mike Bowen explores primary cross-curricular ideas from a story about dyslexia
Frankie Ruggles, the new kid in town, wants to prove that he's DBNT (dyslexic but not thick). When he joins St Olaf's school, he is drawn into a 100-year-old mystery.
Julia Jarman's exciting novel in short chapters, with its strong flavour of primary school life, will appeal to Years 5 and 6. It was highly commended in last year's TESNASEN Special Educational Needs Children's Book Award.
Ideas for using this book
* Frankie's class designs coats of arms in chapter two. Discuss why certain objects are included in coats of arms. Ask the children to design their own, using objects that would tell future generations something about them.
* To raise issues of inclusion, the class can create posters to put up round the school to encourage pupils to think about including children they would not usually consider in games or groups.
* Like Frankie, children can research their school's history by looking at its old logbooks. New schools can start with copies of other schools' logbooks. Ask your local history society or public library for help.
* School punishment books are also fascinating. The class can discuss the misdemeanours and the punishments children received.
* Children can compare and contrast pictures of Victorian classrooms with their own. Have a Victorian lesson or co-ordinate a Victorian day throughout the whole school. Arrange the classroom accordingly, and get children to practise reciting times-tables, handwriting, Bible readings, marching and other military exercises. Encourage pupils to dress up (and don't forget your cane).
* Before reading the story, ask the children how it feels to be different from others around you. How do you know if someone is treating you differently? Brainstorm these ideas and keep them handy for later work.
* As you are reading, ask the class to keep a checklist of the various attitudes that characters in the story have. As the list grows, discuss how the author uses these attitudes to influence the reader's view of these characters.
* Then discuss the meaning of dyslexia (the Issue section of TES Friday magazine, February 28, 2003, may be a useful resource). You need to be sensitive to any individuals that have dyslexia, but talking about the condition should help pupils begin to realise that having a particular need does not in itself make a child different from others.
* Encourage pupils to attempt mirror-writing, which is how the ghost in the story communicates with Frankie. Who can read another child's mirror-writing? Turn it into a competition.
* Frankie's mother can "reel off a list of famous dyslexics" in chapter four. Ask the children, in groups, to research the lives of historic figures who suffered from dyslexia, such as Albert Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci - or more contemporary examples, such as Eddie Izzard, Jamie Oliver, Robbie Williams and Richard Branson, and present their ideas to the class.
* Ask pupils to create character profiles using the attitudes checklist that they have drawn from the story (see PSHE). Ask them to devise questions that they would like to ask characters from the story. Encourage pupils to take on the role of one of these characters and "field" the questions as they are asked.
* Before reading chapter eight, ask the children to write a short paragraph to include a number of similes. Then discuss Frankie's example in that chapter: "A full moon like, like I a swollen silver coin on a velvet blue-black sky." After reading the first two pages of the chapter, then discuss whether "the Pitbull" (Miss Bulpit) was right in making Frankie stay in after school. What could she have done to encourage Frankie?
Mike Bowen teaches at Manselton Primary School, Swansea