Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates/ Spiders from Space discussion guide


Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates/ Mungo and the Spiders from Space

Author: Timothy Knapman

Illustrator: Adam Stower

Publisher: Puffin

Synopsis: Mungo and the Picture Book Priates: Every night, Mungo reads his favourite book - a swashbuckling tale of kidnap and adventure, where the dashing hero always swings to the rescue. But on this fateful night, Captain Fleet is nowhere to be found. How can the story end happily ever after now?

Mungo and the Spiders from Space: Mungo was really enjoying his new book "Galacticus and Gizmo Save the Universe". The dashing hero, Captain Galacticus, had just been captured by the evil Dr Frankenstinker and things didn't look good. Mungo couldn't wait to find out what happened next, but when he turned over, the last page was missing! Who would foil Dr Frankenstinker's dastardly plan? Who would save the universe now? There was nothing for it - Mungo took a deep breath and jumped into the story ...and his very own space odyssey! With a lot of courage and a little help from a Vroom-101 spaceship, Mungo saved the day (and the universe) and became the youngest ever member of Star Squadron.



Reasons for selection: These two picture books have much to offer to a wide age-range. They work on different levels and can be enjoyed in varied ways. It is useful to consider them together because the similarities in structure offer possibilities for supporting children’s understanding of stories, while at the same time encouraging comparisons between the two very distinct worlds created in each book. Looking closely at how the author and illustrator created these worlds encourages children to think about choices that have been made and the effect of those on the reader. To understand and enjoy the books fully, children will need to begin to develop an understanding of a wide range of written and visual techniques. They will need to develop a vocabulary that will enable them to describe and respond to what they observe. Although the instant appeal of the books is to the younger reader (KS1), there is much in the humour and in the interpretation of the visual construction of the books which would make them suitable for younger juniors (lower KS2). 

Discussion points:

In both books there is a distinct difference between the illustrations in the framing narrative and those in the ‘story within the story’.Encourage the children to look at the way the illustrations have been made and to notice these differences;

  • What do you notice about the choice of colours?
  • How is the space used differently for the two narratives.?
  • Look more closely at a specific page. For instance in 'Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates', the vertically split double page spread which illustrates Mungo falling into the book can be used to. Introduce the idea of 'framing an image'
    • How have these images been framed?
    • Do any of the images extend beyond the frame?
    • How might this help us understand what is going on in the story?
  • How does the layout affect the pace of the story?
  • Look at contrast of these pages with the double spreads (in both books) that show Mungo defeating the ‘baddies’. There are striking similarities in the design of these pages in both books.
    • How do the illustrations convey a sense of movement in this pictures?
    • What shapes, colours and spaces are used?
    • What do you notice first in these pictures? What do you look at next? Begin to consider how a reader's  eyes are led across the page in sweeping movements as they read these images.

The opening pages of 'Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates' offer another striking contrast.

  • Consider the effect of the choices of colour, the use of light and shadow, the placing of the characters.
  • Children who are unfamiliar with comics may need to spend some time learning how to read the pages, exploring the kinds of writing which are found in different parts of the comic: the speech bubbles, explosions and text and caption boxes.
  • Older children can spend time focusing on the kinds of sentence structures and punctuation which are used in comic strips and how these are chosen for dramatic emphasis and succinctness.

Word Play

  • These funny books are rich in word play, which will delight children. The rhythmic quality of the text makes it perfect for reading aloud and it is easily memorised by children who will enjoy joining in with repeated re-readings.
  • What do you notice about the way Timothy Knapman uses language to tell his story? (there are axamples of rhyme, alliteration and onomatopoeia.
  • Do you think the characters are well named? Are there any names that you particularly like?
  • In 'Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates', Timothy Knapman introduces a number of seafaring words.
    • Can you find any?
    • What do they mean?
    • Do you know any other seafaring words or phrases? These could form the basis of a class display.
  • More sophisticated fun can be had with Knapman’s creative coining of new words by adding roots and suffixes: ‘unplundered and delooted’. Encourage children to consider derivations of new words and creating their own examples through playful interactions with words..
  • The text and illustrations work together to exploit the humour e.g. ‘electric eels’and ‘piranha fish fingers’.
    • Explore and collect examples of word play and puns – comics and joke books are particularly good for this
    • Make comic illustrations for words and phrases which have a double meaning – idioms are good for this. 

Inter-textual references



The books include references to other kinds of texts: the central story of 'Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates' is inside an old leather bound adventure book and in 'Mungo and the Spiders from Space' it is a comic strip. Children will naturally make references to other books/ films of the same genre and this will help them with their understandings of character, setting and authorial intent.
  • Do you know any other stories in which storybook characters collide with real life (e.g.  'Beware of the Story Book Wolves' by Lauren Child 'The Three Pigs' by David Wiesner 'The Tunnel' by Anthony Browne or where objects from the make believe world are referenced in the real world setting of the story 'The Emperor of Absurdia' by Chris Riddell or 'The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed' by Helen Cooper)? 
'Mungo and the Spiders from Space' includes details which evoke the film Toy Story. In the opening spread, the toy Captain Horatio sits disregarded between the books on the shelf in a room which has changed entirely to a Space theme, while an astronaut toy with a strong resemblance to Buzz Lightyear sits on the bedside cabinet. This might be a useful reference to pursue and may encourage children to look further at some of the ideas in the book about imagination, adventure and heroism. There are some allusions which children may not instantly recognise– the ‘Horatio Fleet Needs You’ poster in Mungo’s bedroom and the great line from Dr Frankenstinker ‘so here are several million others I made earlier’. Older children might want to consider the effectiveness of these references when thinking about audience and purpose. Some things to explore::

    Exploring issues

    Focus on the resolution to both of these books, taking into consideration the intended audience. Both books resolve the problems with the ‘baddies’in a very age-appropriate and comedic way. There is no real violence. Although Horatio Fleet brandishes his cutlass, he simply ties the pirates’throats in knots to pre- vent them singing their foul sea shanties. When Mungo defeats the pirates, he pegs them on the rigging like bedraggled bits of washing to dry. In 'Mungo and the Spiders from Space', Captain Galacticus has to be saved from the terrible torture of being tickled and Dr Frankenstinker is defeated by getting ‘poinked in the bottom’. This might provoke interesting comparisons with other children’s books/ films/ computer games and help children to begin to consider issues of violence and comedy.

    These topic could be developed as an issue centred debate. (e.g. should children's books avoid violence? Is the depiction of some violence more harmful than others? should violent children's books be banned from the classroom? Children can draw on their own experience and providing evidence for their ideas from a range of visual and written texts.


    How would you describe the characters in this story?

    Throughout 'Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates' children can use the pictures to consider and track the feelings and possible thoughts of the characters. Exploring the pic- tures and the character’s body posture will help children infer the character’s feelings and to consider actions and behaviour. There are many jokes in the illustrations of 'Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates' – the tattoos, the cork on the pirate’s hook, the hankie tied in knots on the Captain’s head, the mouth-spraying pirate and their pretty floral patches on their trousers which undermine the ferocity of their facial expressions and offer reassurance about the nature of the ‘violence’.

    'Mungo and the Spiders from Space' gives clues to the changes in his responses and often undermines his heroic status. Again this is humorous and may lead children to think about ideas of what makes a real/ comic book hero. •Use sticky post it notes or role play to explore the thoughts of characters within the book.Collect and compare information about both real and comic heroes.

    Setting: Using the opening double spread of each book and finding clues which suggest the theme and setting for the central story.

    • What details have been added that give us clues as to where this story is set?

    Explore the settings in detail by considering the sounds which might be heard and creating a musical sound-scape which might illustrate the setting and mood.

    Story structure

    Both of these picture books use the same story structure. Mungo shares and enjoys a book with his mother, is transported into the world of the book where he takes on the role of hero and solves the problem, is rewarded and returns to the real world. This story structure is a simple one and a useful basis for children’s own writing.

    Map out the story structures to create a model that can be used for writing.

    Reading and imagination:



    Mungo’s imagination is apparent in both his physical environment and his response to the books. Thinking about this could involve children with interesting and useful discussions about the nature of reading and personal response. Reading with mum is associated with safety and comfort. Within these bounds, the dangerous worlds opened up by the books frighten Mungo in an enjoyable way. Captain Horatio Fleet, when he escapes from the book, holidays in a non-fiction book about the seaside and again this could lead to interesting discussions about reading preferences and the different challenges of fiction and non-fiction. Ask children to explore their reading preferences:

    If you could enter the world of a storybook, which book would you chose and why?


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