Boy in the Tower discussion guide

About the Author: Polly Ho-Yen was born in Northampton and brought up in Buckinghamshire. After working in publishing for several years, she now works as a primary teacher. Somewhere between five o’clock in the morning and sitting down in front of a classroom of five year-olds, Boy in the Tower was written.

Synopsis: Boy in the Tower is a first person narrated story in three parts. It is a dystopian, science fiction story in which mysterious new plants, named the Bluchers, are taking over south-east London, feeding on the glass and cement of the large tower blocks. The tower blocks start to collapse and people are starting to die, so the inhabitants evacuate to safety. However, Ade can’t leave the 17th floor of his high rise block of flats. His Mum suffers from agoraphobia and he must stay to take care of her. Every day he notices the Bluchers advance. Is there any chance of rescue? All seems hopeless until he meets Dory, Obi and the cat, Pigeon.

Note: although there are some deaths early in this story, they are not described in detail, other than the policeman who simply appear to fall asleep. All the major characters who the reader comes to care about survive, in this story about survival and overcoming adversity.

Before reading

Introducing the book: Blank out the title and the strapline and show the children the front cover. Invite them to discuss in pairs what they think this story will be about. Prompt them to think about the image and also the colours. Ask them to suggest a title that goes with the cover image. Reveal the strapline. What do they imagine the ‘they’ refers to? What does the word ‘creep’ suggest? Now reveal the title. What do they think the boy might be doing in the tower?

Questioning Before reading the first section. Tell the children that the first part of the book is called ‘Before’. Ask them if this prompts them think of any questions.

Read chapter 1 aloud  and then invite the children to write down any questions they have. Write the questions on post-it's and display. Any questions that are answered as you read further in the story can be moved to a different part of the display: ‘questions that have been answered?’ Further questions can be added as they occur to the children.

During Reading

Role of the Wall chapters 2-22

After reading this section discuss Ade with the children. Do they think they would like him? Why? On a large sheet of paper draw around one of the children so you have a life size outline of a child. Ask a series of prompt questions encouraging the children to build a picture of Ade. For example,  ‘what do you think Ade is thinking at this point in the story?’ Encourage them to look for evidence in the text to support their ideas. Use a marker pen to add a large thought bubble to the character outline and add the thoughts that the children have suggested. Move on to a new prompt e.g. What do you think Ade is feeling? You may need to clarify the difference between thoughts and feelings. As before encourage the children to support their ideas by referring to the text. Draw a large heart in the middle of the character outline and fill it with the suggested feelings. You might want to use different colour markers to represent different emotions. Other possible  prompts include what does Ade see? This could be recorded in a television like box coming pointing to his eyes. What does Ade say? Could be represented by a speech bubble, What does Ade do? Pictures could be drawn close to his hands or feet. Display the role on the wall and refer back to it at different points in the story. Invite the children to consider,  has anything changed?’ ‘What stays the same?’

Character words Which 3 of these words do you think best describes Ade? Select in pairs and then justify your choices to the rest of the group: lonely, thoughtful, stupid, kind, resourceful, scared, brave, alone, loyal, reckless, unfriendly. Words can be distributed on small cards for the children to sort. You may want to include some blank cards for the children to add their own words.

Building Suspense! Chapters 21 -26

After reading these chapters, talk about the different ways in which Polly Ho-yen builds suspense in part 1. Make a list of words, phrases and techniques that you think build suspense. You can add to the list as you read further. Create a space on your working wall or or a display.

Part 2 Now

Survival and rescue. Ade wonders if he will be rescued. Talk about stories in which characters have to survive in spite of difficult circumstances e.g.  Kensuke’s Kingdom. Briefly discuss what Ade will need to survive the tower block. Take suggestions and confirm that food, water and shelter are the three most important things. After that the next most important things to signal for help. Ask the children to imagine they are Ade and he has assembled some items to help him? Which are the most important and why? In pairs ask the children to order them in importance and then explain their thinking.

Two large containers of water, a radio transmitter, a small mirror, 10 chocolate bars,  8 litres of milk, a box of matches, a map of London, some clean clothes, 10 cans of baked beans, a compass, a penknife, first aid kit, brightly coloured material, oxygen tank and mask, a wind up torch, a book by your favourite author.

The Bluchers: provide drawing materials and ask the children to create pictures of the Bluchers based on how they are described in the story

After Reading

Return to the role on the wall that you created for Ade. How do you think he has changed and what do you think he has learnt during the course of this story? Has anyone else changed?

Do you think the Bluchers have gone for good? Do you think Gaia’s information about sibling plants was relevant to the story?

If you liked this story you might like:

Michael Morpurgo Kensuke’s Kingdom another story about survival

Lucy Hawking George’s Secret Key to the Universe a science fiction story about space, cosmology and clever computers

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