Skellig discussion guide


SKELLIG

 

Author: David Almond

Publisher: Hachette

Synopsis:

 ‘I found him in the garage.’ (p1)

 When ten year old Michael finds the strange, creature in the dusty darkness behind the old tea chests surrounded by beetles, dead spiders and bluebottles, it is the start of a personal transformation and redemption.

 Michael’s family have moved into a new home in Falconer Road. Previously owned by a deceased old man, the house is in need of modernisation and repair. But when Michael’s baby sister is born prematurely, it seems to him that all attention is lavished on her and that his needs are pushed to one side.Michael visits the creature in the garage. He finds it  in pain from debilitating arthritis and with strange wing like growths on his shoulders, Michael puts his own troubles aside to care for the creature – feeding him left over Chinese takeaway -  ’27 and 53’, brown ale and aspirin. Then Michael develops a friendship with a girl, Mina who lives close by and is home educated by her mother. Mina’s unusual perspective on the world helps Michael see things in a new light. Together they care for the creature, who tells them his name is Skellig. They move him to a safe place and he appears to grow stronger.When the baby is taken to hospital for a heart operation, Michael finds that he cares deeply about what happens to her. Imagining her heart beat and his intertwined, he is shocked to find that he can no longer feel her heart beat and is convinced that she has died during the operation. When he visits his mother in hospital, he finds that she has seen Skellig in a ‘dream’ and is reassured that the baby will get well.The novel closes with Michael’s return to school and reviving old friendships, though things are not quite as they were before. He has after all had his eyes opened to the most extraordinary and wondrous things. Finally the baby is named – Joy.

Skelling is a short novel and is a good choice for group or guided reading in upper KS2  It is thematically rich and complex, and it can be responded to at many different levels. It is a challenging, but at the same time an accessible story. There are many opportunities for developing student’s inferential and predictive reading skills as well as enriching their language.

Before Reading

Prior to reading the novel, introduce children to the idea of keeping a reading log or journal. Explain that they should note their responses to the novel in this book and that their jottings will be used to generate discussion. In these journals they should write down any questions that arise in response to their reading. For example, if there is something that they don’t understand or find strange.

Also ask them to keep notes of any unfamiliar vocabulary so that definitions and meanings can be discussed.Suggest that they highlight any language they find particularly appealing or effective. Keep a journal yourself to model the process.

Write the title SKELLIG in a sheet of paper or IWB. Ask them to jot down any thoughts suggested by the title. In turn, share ideas, at this point without comment to allow everyone’s ideas equal status.eep a journal by maintaining your own notebook and sharing some of your jottings with the group. Encourage students to be creative in their responses rather than using the suggested prompts as a checklist of things they have to write about. At the beginning of each session start by sharing responses in journals before moving to guided prompts.

 

 

After sharing take the discussion further with some of the following prompts, as appropriate: Do you think Skellig is a place a person or something else? What makes you think that?

 In pairs, look at the front cover and describe the picture, what do you think this book is going to be about?

 Read the opening sentence ‘ I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.’ and ask the students who they think the ‘him’ might be.

 During Reading

Avoid asking too many questions as this can become interrogative. Ask one or two good opening questions that can be further explored through dialogue. Use a range of prompts such as questions or statements as these can help the dialogue develop more naturally.

Ask a variety of questions that invite children to think in different ways about the text

  • What happens to Skellig in this chapter?
  • What do you think Michael will do next?
  • If you met Skellig what questions would you ask him?
  • What role does Mina play in this story? What effect does she have on Michael?
  • If you were making a film of this episode, what music would you chose for the soundtrack?
  • How effective did you find the ending of the story?

 In particular, select rich questions that allow you to probe the themes, relate to children’s experiences, reflect, speculate and evaluate. Encourage the children to ask each other questions and build on each other's ideas.

 Ask the children to read independently chapters 1 -6 and note their responses in their journals.

Session 1: Chapters 1 - 6

 Suggested prompts

  • What are your impressions of the narrator of this story? Why do you think that?
  • Were there any words or phrases used to describe the garage that you found particularly effective in creating a sense of place?
  • Reread page 6 ‘I didn’t have time to dare myself or to stand there listening to the scratching. I switched the torch on, took a deep breath, and tiptoed straight inside.’ Why do you think Michael is drawn to the garage? What would you do if you were in the same position? Why?
  • What possible explanations do you think there might be for the man inside the garage. Encourage children to share their ideas without censure – there are no wrong answers. Which of their suggestions do they think is the most likely?
  • What do we learn about Michael’s feelings towards the baby in chapter four? Have you ever experienced mixed feelings towards a brother/sister or close friend
  • At the beginning of chapter 5 Michael offers to stay at home to help. Why do you think he does this and why do you think he changes his mind?
  • Reread the paragraph p 11 – 12. Ask the students to consider how this observation might be important for a writer. (e.g. to consider the possibilities of what people are thinking, what might be happening in their lives, answering ‘what if’ questions.)
  • In chapter 6 what do we learn about Michael’s relationship with his father?
  • In chapter 6, what words are used to describe movement and sound? What images are created in your head by these vocabulary choices?
  • Is there anything that someone else has said, that particularly interested you? 

Session 2: Chapters 7 – 12

 

Suggested prompts:

After reading chapter 9, what impression do you have of Mina? Suggest 3 words to describe her character. (Ask students to explain their selection). How do you think Michael and Mina’s relationship will develop? Why do you think that?

  • Reread p- 23 from ‘Look at this…’ to ‘Typical’. Why does Mina respond in this way when Michael says the blackbird is black?
  • After reading chapter 10. What does Michael notice about the blackbird and how does this relate to the previous chapter?
  • What have you discovered about Skellig so far? In pairs, locate clues in the text which tell us something about Skellig. Draw attention to the way David Almond gradually reveals this information.
  • Chapter 11 and 12: Michael is curious to know why humans have shoulder blades. Mina tells him: ‘They say that shoulder blades are where your wings were, when you were an angel.’ (p36) What do you think an angel is? What do you think of Mina’s explanation for the purpose of shoulder blades? Is it fanciful or is it based on fact?
  • Is there anything that someone else has said, that made you think differently about what you read?

Session 3 chapters 13 – 18

 

Suggested prompts.

  • What secrets do Mina and Michael share with each other? Why do you think they confide in each other? Why do you think they do not tell anyone else their secrets? Have you ever shared a secret with a friend? Can you think of some good reasons for keeping secrets? Can you think of some bad things that might happen if you keep secrets?
  • What are the differences in the way Michael and Mina are educated?
  • What positive and negative things are suggested about Michael and Mina’s different educations? Would you prefer to be educated at home or at school? Why do you think that?
  • Reread p 49 ‘ I don’t even know if it’s true or if it’s a dream.’
  •         ‘That’s all right. Truth and dreams are always getting muddled.’
  • And p 59 ‘I dream. I walk in my sleep. Sometimes I do things really and I think they were just dreams. Sometimes I dream them and think they were real.’
  •  Do you agree that truth and dreams can be muddled? Have you ever had an experience in which dreams and truth have become muddled?
  •  Is there anything that someone else has said, that surprised you?

Session 4 chapters 19 – 26

 Did anything surprise or puzzle you in these chapters?

  • How does Mina react when she first meets Skellig? Is this how you expected her to respond? Why? Why not? 
  • There is a lot of concern about the baby in these chapters. Why do you think the baby has no name? How does this affect your feelings about the baby? How do Michael’s parents react to the baby’s illness? Why do you think they respond in this way? (Prompt the students to find evidence in the text to support their ideas).
  •  Is there anything that someone else has said, that made you think differently about what you read?

 Session 5 chapters 27 – 34

 

  • Reread chapter 31 from Moonlight cane through the arched window…’ to ‘Remember this night, he whispered.’ (pp 109 – 111)
  • What happens in this chapter? Did you find anything puzzling or surprising? What feelings did you experience when you were reading this chapter?
  •  In what way are Michael’s friendships with Leaky and Coot different to his friendship with Mina? Why is it important to him that his old friends like or accept Mina? What do Coot and Leakey think about Mina? What does Mina think about Coot and Leaky? How does Michael react when Coot and Leaky tease Mina? How does Mina cope wit the teasing? What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a good friend?
  •  Reread chapter 34. What image of Mina’s kitchen is created in your mind? How does this contrast and compare to other settings in the story?
  •  How does Michael’s relationship with his parents compare with Mina’s relationship with her mother?
  •  Is there anything that someone else has said, that made you think differently about what you read?

 

Session 6 chapters 35 -

Reread chapter 37. Why does Dad display extreme changes in his behaviour towards Michael?

  • Why is drawing important to Michael? He says ‘I felt how by drawing my mind became concentrated…’  Encourage students to discuss their own experiences of activity that is all absorbing and helps focus the mind.
  •  In what ways has Michael changed from the beginning of the book? In pairs, have the students scan the text and encourage them to exemplify their ideas with specific references to the text.
  •  Do you see any connections with myth of Persephone and Michael’s story?
  •  The baby is finally given a name, Joy. Michael suggests Angela and Persephone as possible names. Consider the appropriateness of each of these choices. Suggest some other appropriate names and give reasons for your choices.
  •  Did you disagree with anything that someone else said today?
  •  What do you think is Skellig's purpose in this story? What do you think has happened to Skellig at the end of the book? Do you think Skellig will ever return?

 

Final reflections

  • Was there anything that you particularly liked about this book?
  • Which character interested you most? Why?
  • Is there anything that still puzzles you?
  • If you could ask David Almond a question about this book, what would it be?
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