Blackberry Blue discussion guide

 Title: Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales 

 Author: Jamila Gavin


Illustrator: Richard Collingridge

Synopsis: This collection of six original Fairy Tales by Jamila Gavin takes the reader into familiar territory but adds new twists and fresh perspectives, which invite re-reading  and re-thinking about the classic myths and fairy tales.

 In her preface Gavin writes, ‘Fairy tales were my greatest passion as a child. I could never enter a wood without imagining magical characters: princes and princesses, sorcerers and demons. Even in cities, I would suddenly see a character who, among all the teeming crowds and traffic, seemed to have stepped out of a fairy tale.’ The world of Gavin’s tales is timeless, there are forests, palaces and caves but the modern world also intrudes into the stories. The Purple Lady of the second story drives a car and the young boy Abu, who sets of to search for his sister rides in a bus rather than on horseback.

The stories are populated by characters of different ethnic backgrounds, sometimes it is a physical description ‘Her skin was as black as midnight, her lips like crushed damsons and her tightly curled hair shone like the threads of black gold.’ and sometimes a name ‘Abu’ or ‘Chi’ that indicate the ethnicity of the characters. This is just one of the ways in which Gavin celebrates the classic European fairy tale tradition but makes the stories more relevant to children today.

For readers who are already well-versed in the tropes of the classic tales, some of these stories will feel vaguely familiar, but they are not reworkings of specific stories. There is much scope for comparing stories.

Suitable for readers in year 6 upwards (like the classic myths and fairy tales Gavin tackles the darker side of human nature as well as the light).  Characters are placed in real jeopardy, goodness overcomes evil, there are often sacrifices to be made, wit, bravery and generosity of spirit are prized above possessions.

Prior to reading

Making connections with prior experience

In groups, give the children a large sheet of paper and ask them to create a bubble map for the word FAIRY TALE. If they are not already familiar with using bubble maps, suggest some words that might be used in the bubbles e.g. settings. You can then add further bubbles radiating from this bubble giving more specific details forests, castles etc If wanted these bubbles can be expanded again. For instance, put forest at the centre  and add further bubbles e.g. paths that lead to danger, taking the right turn etc.

Avoid giving too much assistance, once you have demonstrated how to use the map. The different ways in which the groups choose to approach the task will give rise to fruitful discussion.

Once the maps have been completed, display them. Use the maps to dig deeper and to challenge the children’s thinking. For instance, if they have put ‘have happy endings’, you might invite them to consider if they know any fairy tales that do not have happy endings? Or ask them to consider of the story ends happily for all of the characters, why/why not?

Following the discussion invite the children to add to their maps, if they want to. If the children use a different colour each time the map is visited, it will provide evidence of their deepening thinking as you work through your teaching sequence.

Reading the stories

Have available some collections of fairy tales for independent reading so the children an read more widely and add to their repertoire of stories. We suggest some good collections of Grimm, Perrault, Andersen, Wilde and Lang as staples. There are lots of beautifully illustrated editions to engage and interest young readers. For information about collections that we can supply email

You may want the children to read the stories independently before the lessons so they can absorb and process their  thoughts and opinions before sharing with the rest of the class/group. Alternatively, you might want to introduce each story by reading aloud to the class.

Always invite the children to share their initial responses and provide an opportunity for them to seek clarification before channeling the discussion. While you will want to check that children understand the story, avoid asking too many questions that interrupt the flow and inhibit comprehension. Plan ahead to identify key points to consider what will happen next or share reflections on  character actions or motivations.

Blackberry Blue


In the preface to this chapter Jamila Gavin writes: 'Who is most likely to be happy: the king in his castle, with all his lands and wealth, or the woodcutter living in his little cottage in the forest?' In small groups invite the children to share their ideas. After a preliminary discussion, ask those who think the king is likely to be happier to stand at one side of the room and those who think the woodcutter would be happier to stand at the opposite end of the room facing each other. Take two or three views from each side. Encourage them to find counter arguments, to justify their thinking.

Comparing Tales


Read the section from 'This king thought he was the happiest man alive'... to 'somewhere on the parapets above her head, a great black raven cawed loudly.' Does this section of the story remind you of any other stories that you know? The children will be able to make their own connections, but you may want to draw attention to similarities with Cinderella and Snow White.

Revisit the question at the end of the story.

In pairs or groups select one story to compare and contrast to Blackberry Blue. Use a Double Bubble thinking map to help the children organise their thoughts.

Some questions for discussion:

    • Is the forest a safe or a threatening place in this story? How does Jamila Gavin make you feel that?
    • Does this story have a message? If so what do you think it is?
    • Do you know any other fairy tales where the characters transform into animals? What does this make you think or feel?
    • Do you know any fairy stories where a character has to wear a special item of clothing? The children will know Cinderella but may be less familiar with Donkeyskin, Catskin, Cap of Rushes, Mossycoat and Tatterskins. Who needs the special clothes and why do they wear them? Is it for the same reason in the different stories?

For further ideas see our interview with Emma Faulkner, winner of Our Class Loves this Book.

The Purple Lady

Loss and Recovery

Read the preface to the story: 'If something precious is lost, then the search must never end until it isfound. But sometimes it means paying a high price to win back what has been taken away.'  Discuss with the children whether they have ever lost something that was very precious to them. Allow some time to share personal stories. Were they able to retrieve the thing that they had lost? Based on the introduction, what do they think this story will be about.


Read up to the section 'A figure in purple caught his eye.... to 'simply slipped through the bars'. Who do they think this woman is? Reread and ask the children to visualise the character and then draw what they see. For the purposes of this exercise it is best if they have not previously seen Richard Collingridge's illustration. Share the drawings and ask the children to explain how they have responded to the passage.

What role do they think the Purple Lady will have in this story?

Comparing stories

After reading ask the childr








 Do you know any other stories which features brothers and sisters? (e.g. Hansel and Gretel, The Seven Swans) Does one sibling have to rescue the others in these stories? How do they do that?

Do you know any other stories where an animal guides and helps the protagonists? Are there other kinds of guides in fairy stories?


Now that you have read the story, does the Purple Lady remind you of any other character from myth or fairy tale? ( they may be familiar with the Medusa myth).

In what way is the setting The Purple Lady different from a classic fairy story? ( set in modern times with cars and buses). Why do you think Jamlia Gavin might have chosen to use a more up-to-date setting?

Do you know any other stories which are about a character seeking eternal life or remaining young forever?(potential linking texts Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'; Colin Thompson's 'How to Live Forever') Do you think it would be good to live forever? Why/why not?

Other areas for research and  discussion

Abu meets Shast who tells him what he must do to rescue Leyla, 'She was sitting cross-legged on a rich, patterned carpet, her long grey locks tumbling from her head like writhing snakes.Miskouri sprang and coiled up into her lap, purring loudly.' Find out about the Hindu goddess, Shasti. What does she have in connection with the old woman in The Purple Lady?

How important is Miskouri to the story? What would have happened to Abu if he didn't have Miskouri with him? Are there any points in the story where Abu takes the lead?

Why do you think Shasti demands an eye for helping Abu to rescue Leyla?

The Golden Carp

Read the preface to this story. Do you agree that Greed and Laziness are two of the deadliest sins? Why do you think Jamila Gavin writes'... because they lead to other evils.' What do you think this story will be about? How could a Golden Carp be involved in the story?

Making Connections?

Does this story remind you of any other stories that you know? (there are some lesser known Grimm stories that they children may not be familiar with: Diamonds and Toads, Mother Holle, The Three Little Men in the Wood. All these stories deal in a similar way with rewards and punishment).

The story ends, 'As for the stepfather and his son, they didn't return to the farm but disappeared, never to be heard of again. Perhaps they tricked another innocent widow, or perhaps they got the punishment they deserved. who knows?'  What do you think  happens to the father and his son? What do you think would be the best outcome? Accept the children's responses but challenge with alternative viewpoints. For instance, should there be a redemptive ending? Is it possible for villains to repent and become good?

'Chi drifted towards the middle of the lake, listening to that silver voice. Tipping his head back, he felt as if he were already in heaven; as if the lake were his comforter. Sank  down, down, down.'Do you know any other stories where a character is transported to another realm? 

Grammar and meaning

In the above passage, Jamila Gavin uses the subjunctive mood 'he felt as if he were...' and 'as if the lake were his comforter.'  Why is the subjunctive used here?

 Further points for discussion

Where do you think this story is set? Why do you think that?

Cut out the theme cards and discuss which are the most relevant to this story. Select three cards and find evidence to back your choice.











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