Author: Louis Sachar
Suggested year group 5 or 6
Synopsis and reasons for selection
Substance: Fuzzy Mud
Chemical compound: Unknown
Danger level: Deadly
Bright, polite and hard-working Tamaya is on a scholarship to the prestigious Woodridge Academy. Every day she and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. They never go through the woods. Ever.
School poses its own set of problems for Marshall. Once a popular, out-going young man, Marshall is now a frightened, miserable wreck. All because of Chad. Chad is a bully, who makes Marshall's life utterly unbearable. One day, hoping to avoid Chad’s taunts, Marshall and Tamaya decide to go through the woods ... And what is waiting there for them is both startling and sinister.
The next day, Chad doesn't turn up at school - no one knows where he is. Tamaya's arm is covered in horrible, burning, tingling blisters. Feeling responsible for his disappearance, the two unlikely heroes set out into the woods to rescue Chad. However, the town is about to be turned upside down by the mysterious, frightening Fuzzy Mud ...
This is a funny, exciting biotech thriller full of adventure, mathematical puzzles and terrifying mystery. The book also tackles a range of serious issues such as bullying, belonging, environmental danger and the impact of uncontrolled scientific exploration on our society. This is a creative, thought-provoking read, with daring, intelligent characters, that zips along at a ferocious and fearless pace.
About the author
Louis Sachar is an American author, born March 20th, 1954. He is the author of the New York Times number 1 bestseller Holes. Holes won the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". His other books include, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes and The Boy Who Lost His Face.
- Invite the pupils to look at the front cover – what do they see?
- Discuss the layout and style of font.
- What do they think the story will be about? What sort of story will it be?
- Who do they think the story will appeal to?
- Who do they think the book is aimed at?
Encourage the children to use a range of books to research micro-organisms and to record anything they already know about bacteria and viruses.
Allow some time for the children to explore the double page spread before Chapter One – let them familiarise themselves with the setting and places in the story.
Is there anything that puzzles them about the book?
Do they have any questions?
Use the children’s questions to initiate a discussion – they will be more engaged if it is something they are genuinely interested in. Some questions might be answered easily, whilst others may need to be explored at a later date or after further exploration of the book.
Returning to the text
At all stages, invite the children to share their ideas and responses. Avoid asking too many leading or closed questions. The prompts below are merely intended to be used as supplementary questions. Please select or adapt the questions which you think are most appropriate for the children you are working with. They will ask and answer many of their own questions if they are encouraged to look closely at the pictures and discuss their ideas.
- Look at the text at the top of the page. Have you seen this style of font before? Where? Does it give us any clues about the type of book this might be?
- Why has the author included the date and time at the top of the page?
- How do we know that Woodridge Academy was once a renowned school?
- Find and copy a word on page 2 that means the same as disturbed/crazy.
- How is Tamaya different to the other children at the school? What impression do you have of her?
- What might Tamaya be thinking and feeling when Hope makes fun of her?
- What role do you think the hermit might play in the story? Do you think the boys are telling the truth?
- Why do you think Marshall is sitting on his own?
- Tamaya wonders, “When did it become bad to be good?” (p. 5). Discuss.
- What is odd about SunRay Farm?
- What is Biolene? How is it made? What is gasoline?
- Why do you think the author has included an extract from an inquiry?
- All farms create life to destroy it. Discuss.
- What impression do you get of Dr. Humbard?
- How might the experiments at the farm impact upon the children in the story?
Throughout the story, encourage your children to look at the petri dish in the corner of each new chapter. What do they notice?
- Have you ever tried to stand up for what you believe in and been made fun of, like Tamaya? How did it feel?
- What do the verbs ‘trudged’ and ‘snapped’ suggest about Marshall’s state of mind?
- Look at the description of the woods. How does the author create an atmosphere of foreboding and mystery?
- Why do you think Marshall insists on taking a short cut?
- What motivates Tamaya to follow Marshall?
- Why does Marshall no longer enjoy school?
- What is bullying? Have you ever been bullied? How did it make you feel? Why do people bully others?
- Use a bubble map to record everything you have learned so far about Marshall. Use the Bubble Map as a working document, adding new information as you read further.
- What might Tamaya be thinking and feeling as they walk further and further into the woods? Record your ideas on a post-it or whiteboard.
- Identify some words ad phrases which describe the mud – what image do they create in your mind? Can you draw a picture of what you think the mud looks like? As appropriate talk about how Sachar builds description, for example through adjective choice.
- From where do you think the fuzzy mud has come?
- What do you think Chad is going to do next?
- What is ergie?
- How much did the first gallon of Biolene cost to produce?
- What impression do you get of Dr. Fitzman? Choose three words to describe him? Tell a partner. Make a list of the words. Are they all adjectives? If not, what other classes of words have you used? If appropriate, make the point that adjectives are used to describe nouns but other words such as nouns and adverbs also help to build images.
- Do you know any other scientists in other stories you’ve read? Share ideas.
- How do you think Biolene will be used?
- In a group, act out the exchange between Chad, Marshall and Tamaya on pages 32 and 33. You might use 'Reader's Theatre' as a way of bringing this section to life.
- What do you think might happen to Chad now?
- Why do you think the author has included two mathematical calculations at the end of the chapter? What might they represent?
- How has Fitzman been able to create so many ergonyms?
- What might the Senators be thinking and feeling as they question Fitzman?
- Look back at the calculations on the previous page. Do they have a new relevance now, after reading this chapter?
- Look at page 39. What impression do you get of Tamaya’s house? What do we learn in this chapter about her home life?
- Why might Tamaya’s hand be tingling?
- Do you think Tamaya’s mum is a good mother? Why? Why not?
- What do you notice about the calculations in this chapter?
- At the end of the chapter Tamaya prays for Chad. What does this tell you about Tamaya?
- Is Marshall wrong to hope that Chad is expelled?
- What advice would you give Marshall to help him deal with Chad?
- What are micro-organisms?
- How does air affect ergonyms?
- Why might the senate be looking for a non-polluting alternative to gasoline?
- Do you think Fitzman is taking the inquiry seriously? Why? Why not?
- What might Tamaya be thinking and feeling when she wakes up?
- Should Tamaya tell her mum that the rash has spread?
- How does Louis Sachar create a sense of dread and panic on pages 58-59? Encourage close reading by inviting pupils to pinpoint specific phrases and sentences. Choose one to look at more closely and consider word choice and structure.
- What impression do you get of Monica?
- How is the seventh grade similar to a dungeon? What might Marshall be thinking and feeling as he walks into school?
- Governments should try and limit and control their country’s birth rate. Discuss.
- Why do you think Ms. Filbert has given them this writing task?
- What evidence is there in this chapter that Tamaya is struggling to concentrate on the task?
- Why are Tamaya’s hands bleeding?
- What might Tamaya be thinking and feeling when she discovers that her hands are bleeding?
- Why do you think Marshall kept quiet about having been in the woods with Chad? Do you think he should have said something? Do you think not saying something makes him a ‘bad person’? What would you have done if you were Marshall?
- Why do you think no one has stood up for Marshall? Why do you think they all seemed to turn against him?
Should Marshall confess to having seen Chad? Create a table to record your ideas.
Marshall should tell an adult that he was the last person to see Chad
Marshall should not tell an adult that he was the last person to see Chad
- Why do you think Mrs Latherly showed no interest in the fuzzy mud? How might the story have changed if she had listened to Tamaya?
- How do you think the author wants us to feel towards Mrs Latherly? Use evidence from the text to support your ideas.
- Why do you think Tamaya is keen to believe an allergic reaction has caused her rash?
- Is Hope a good friend? Why? Why not?
- Whatever has happened to Chad, it’s his own fault. Do you agree? Discuss your ideas with a partner.
- 'Now that Chad is gone, Marshall’s life will go back to normal.' Do you agree or disagree?
- Read to the end of the chapter. What do you think Tamaya is going to do? Encourage pupils to use evidence to support their opinions.
- Do you think Marshall really kept quiet for Tamaya’s sake?
- Look at the top of page 94. What might Marshall be thinking and feeling when he learns Tamaya is missing?
- Where do you think Marshall is going? What should he do next?
- How does Tamaya remember where she is going and in which direction she is travelling?
- Look at page 97. Why do you think Tamaya ‘slowly’ moves towards the mud?
- What are the ‘heebie-jeebies’?
- How do we know that Tamaya is becoming braver and more resilient at the end of the chapter?
- Why are the hearings no longer secret?
- What do you think has happened to Chad?
- Why has the author moved the story forward by three months? What does this make you think or feel?
- How important to the story is this chapter?What purpose do you think it serves?
- Why does the author use the adjectives ‘dead’ and ‘broken’ to describe the tree? What other words might he have chosen? Discuss word choice and how this affects the reader.
- Look at page 102. How do we know that Tamaya is scared when she puts her foot in the mud?
- What would you do if you were Tamaya and had just fallen in the fuzzy mud?
- Look at page 105. How do you think Mrs Thaxton is feeling? Encourage the pupils to identify specific words and phrases to support their opinions.
- What do we learn about Chad’s family life in this chapter? Why do you think this information is included?
- What device does the author use to signal to the reader that something might happen to Marshall?
- Explain one way in which the author has created tension in this chapter. Encourage the pupils to refer back to the text when explaining their thoughts.
- Were you surprised when Chad appeared at the end of the chapter? Where do you think he has been? What has happened to him?
- Chad is weak and very ill. Do you agree? Can you fnd three examples that support this statement.
- What might Tamaya be thinking and feeling when she sees Chad?
- What do you notice about the illustration on page 112? What might it represent?
- Why do you think Fitzman had been instructed not to use the word ‘disaster’?
- Why do you think the lawyer keeps repeating, ‘There is no evidence of any connection…’?
- Do you believe Fitzman when he says he never wanted to hurt anyone? Do his intentions matter? Is he a bad person?
- How is Mr Walsh feeling in this chapter? What clues can you find to support your opinion? Does the author directly say he is feeling worried?
- What might Mrs. Thaxton be thinking and feeling when she realises Marshall has disappeared?
- Why might Tamaya be shaking as she opens the juice box?
- Chad is described as a ‘wounded animal’. Do you think this is a good simile to describe his behaviour? Why?/ why not?Can you think of another simile to describe Chad?
- What evidence is there that Chad is jealous of Tamaya’s home life?
- How do you feel towards Chad in this chapter?
- Why do you think Marshall has allowed the bullying to continue so far?
- Look at page 127. What do you notice about the length of sentences? Why do you think Louis Sachar might have chosen to use short sentences here?
- How do you think the discovery of the sock and shoe will change Marshall’s attitude? What will he do next?
- Why do you think Chad is so mean?
- 'No one’s all bad'. Do you agree with this statement?
- How did you feel when Tamaya fell into the gully?
- Which part of this chapter was your favourite? Why?
- Why do you think Marshall calls Chad a ‘thumb-sucking coward’ on page 138?
- Work in a small group create a freeze frame to show the relationship between characters in this chapter. How can you use body language, gesture and facial expression to show the children’s feelings?
- Marshall is foolish to wade into the mud to save Tamaya. Do you agree or disagree?
Why has Chad hated Marshall up until this point?
Do you feel any sympathy for Chad?
Do bullies ever deserve our sympathy?
What do you think is happening to Tamaya’s eyesight?
Use a double-bubble map to compare and contrast Chad and Marshall. How are they similar? How are they different?
- What do you think the climbing of trees represents for Chad?
- ‘A little mud never hurt anyone’. What is ironic about this statement?
- What can you find out about the detectives (Miss Marple, Sherlock, Rockford) mentioned in this chapter? Perhaps you could read some of the books they appear in?
- Who do you think the man is who has rescued the children?
- How does Dr Lee think the mutated ergonym got into the woods?
- What role does Dr Crumbly play in this chapter?
- Read this chapter aloud in a small group. Can you use expression to highlight the senators’ frustration towards the doctor and their disbelief that a vet saved the day?
- How does the author use humour in this chapter? What point might he be trying to get across?
- Look at the title of the chapter. What do you notice?
- What do you think is the worst thing about the rash – the blisters and bumps or the fact that there is no pain?
- Which of the ten virtues do you think Tamaya possesses?
- List three ways the frankengerms have affected the town.
- How does the author elicit sympathy for Miss Marple in this chapter?
- What impression do you get of Dr Crumbly?
- What is an enzyme? How might the turtle enzymes help cure the infection?
- Why do you think Fitz wants to buy Tamaya something?
- Describe the relationship between Ronda and Tamaya. Why do you think they get on so well?
- What might Tamaya’s mum be thinking and feeling when the phone rings?
- What do you notice about the calculation at the end of the chapter? How is it different to the others? Did this surprise you? What might the calculation represent? What could the author be hinting at?
- Do you think the crisis is over?
- How would you feel if you had a disease named after you?
- What is an oxymoron? Can you think of any?
- Do you think Tamaya has ‘extraordinary virtue and valor’? Where in the story has she exhibited these qualities?
- What do you think Chad had learned from his near-death experience? How has he changed?
- Ask the children to read out loud, “You’re next, Tamaya.” How many different ways can they say it? Compare how Chad might have said it at the beginning of the story to how he might say it now.
- Have you ever been faced with a ‘Hobson’s choice’? What decision did you make?
- Do you think Tamaya is brave?
- Who is to blame for the spread of the rash?
- Was it right to support the production of Biolene?
- Which character do you think has changed the most over the course of this story?
- In your own words, explain what message the author is trying to give the reader. Record your ideas on a post-it or whiteboard.
- Can you suggest any alternative titles for this book? Have a class vote on the best alternative title.
After Reading – Themes and Cross-curricular links
After reading ‘Fuzzy Mud’, organise the children into groups or partners. Encourage the children to talk to each other and share which of these themes they feel are most important in the story and why. Ask the children to use evidence from the text.
The perils of science
Bravery vs cowardice
Looking after the environment
Write a diary, as if you were Marshall, describing your day to day life since Char arrived at school.
Identify a set of target words for teaching. Suggestions are given below, but chose those most appropriate for your class or group.
Get the children to read through the list of words with their partner. Find each of the words or phrases in this chapter. Write down the sentence in the story in which each word appears.
Discuss in pairs what they think each word means.
Share their ideas, directing attention to where they may have heard or seen the words before.
Next, they use a dictionary to check ideas, then write down a definition. Use more than one dictionary to check for nuances of meaning
Reread the text and decide which meanings make the best sense to the story. Finally ask them to write their own sentence
Best printed in landscape.
Sentence in story
What I think it means
Looks like or sounds like
My own sentence
embellishing (page 78)
revulsion (page 111)
subpoenaed (page 112)
insidious (page 153)
How to blow up a balloon
In Chapter 14, the class are set a task by Ms. Filbert to write instructions about how to blow up a balloon. Can you write your own set of instructions and tell someone how to blow up a balloon? Remember to include an introduction, a list of equipment, imperative verbs, time connectives and diagrams.
Write a newspaper report about the epidemic caused by the fuzzy mud. Remember to include a catchy headline, perhaps with alliteration. Include quotes from interviews with the children about their experiences. You could also include information from the inquiry and a statement from the inventors of Biolene.
Global warming and the environment
How does gasoline affect the environment? Can you carry out some research into global warming, pollution and renewable energy? Use the information to create a leaflet, persuading people to recycle and reuse materials.
What can you find out about micro-organisms, fungi, viruses and bacteria? Can micro-organisms be helpful? Perhaps you could research how cheese, beer and bread are made? Perhaps you could investigate the conditions that cause mould to grow on bread and consider how to make your experiment a fair test?
Holes by Louis Sachar
Frankestein by Mary Shelley (The Real Reads series offers an accessible format for classic tales)
This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel
All Around the World by Geraldine Cosneau
Whale Boy by Nicola Davies
The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snær Magnason
Stories for a Fragile Planet by Kenneth Steven
Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman