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Traveller's tale

JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA. By Eva Ibbotson. Macmillan Children's Books pound;4.99

Patricia Sealey shows how one story can illustrate many subjects

What it's about

This book was a Smarties Gold Medal Award winner in 2001. It relates the adventures of an orphan, Maia, who is sent to Brazil to live with distant relatives on their rubber plantation. She meets another orphan, Finn, whose rich family back in England is trying to "persuade" him to return. Maia helps him evade capture. Along the way she is helped and hindered by selfish twins, a governess with a past and a boy actor.

Tasks for Years 5 and 6 Guided reading

lBefore starting the book, look at the cover blurb for clues to the storyline, theme and setting. Who is the main character?

lSome of the incidents in the story take place at the same time. Draw a timeline plotting all the major events.

lOn finishing, read the "Praise for Journey to the River Sea" comments.

Write up to 15 words giving your own opinions.

lFind clues that show the story is not set in the present day (for example, there is no mention of aeroplanes ortelephones). How do we know where it is set? (Brazilian currency is mentioned.) Word level

* The twins' father collects false eyes. Using the root "optic" and the word "philatelist" (a collector of stamps), can children think of a suitable name for a collector of false eyes?

* Using a dictionary, explore words such as "consul" (p5), "juvenile" (p16), "gallivanting" (p67) and "vagabond" (p117). Identify the root and its origin, and list other words with the same root. Are they similar in meaning?

Sentence level

* Discuss the term "Standard English". Rewrite the words spoken by the Carter servants (pages 93, 236 and 237) in Standard English.

Text level

* Read the author's introduction explaining how she came to write the book.

Find other examples of authors introducing their work, such as Michael Morpurgo's Kensuke's Kingdom.

* Write diary extracts as the governess based on the assumption that Maia died in the fire (p249, p258).

* Describe Maia for a police "missing persons" poster.

* Compile a list of what Maia thought the twins would be like (p5, p23-24) and compare it with a list of what they were actually like (p30 onwards).

* Explain why "the crows" is a good nickname for the private detectives sent to bring Finn back to England.

* As Maia, recount the first few days at the Carters' house in the form of a letter to a school friend in England.

* The twins are described as "nasty little pigs" (p70) and "nasty, money-grubbing worms" (p194). Choose another character from the book and think of an animal that might be used to represent their behaviour.


* Make a list of the creatures in the Amazonian jungle. Use reference books to categorise them.

* List food chains using plants and animals in the book.


* Find out where the story takes place on an atlas.

* Use ICT to develop fact files on the River Amazon and Brazil.

* Describe Manaus and the surrounding area, using information in the text.

* Discuss what is happening to the land taken over by plantation owners.


* Maia sings a lullaby to send the Indian baby to sleep. What lullabies do the children in your class know?

* Listen to music from pan pipes music and describe the sounds. How are they played?

* Teach the class "Blow the Wind Southerly" (http:uk.geocities.comenglishtunes) and "The Ash Grove" (www.pdsl.comtbcat000479.htm)


* Compare the lives of the Indians in the jungle with the Carters' lives on the plantation. Do you think the Carters were happy in Brazil?

* Discuss the way the Carters treated their Indian servants and compare it with the way Maia and her governess treated them. Why did the Indians seem friendlier towards Maia?


* Calculate the distance from Liverpool to Manaus in kms.

* It took Maia six weeks to sail from Liverpool to Manaus. How far did she travel each day?

Patricia Sealey is a Year 56 teacher at Belton Lane Primary School in Grantham, Lincolnshire

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