Itch discussion guide

 

The Author: Simon Mayo

Simon Mayo is one of Britain's best-loved and well-known radio presenters. He has worked on BBC radio since 1981 and is now the presenter of 'Drivetime' on BBC Radio 2, which features the Radio 2 Book Club. He is also the co-presenter of 'Kermode and Mayo's Film Review' on BBC Radio 5 Live. In 2008, Mayo was recognized as the 'Radio Broadcaster of the Year' at the 34th annual Broadcasting Press Guild Awards and the 'Speech Broadcaster of the Year' at the Sony Radio Academy Awards.

Synopsis:

When Itch is given a strange rock by a mysterious man, it turns out to be something that no scientist has ever seen. Those who want the rock will stop at nothing, and if it gets into the wrong hands, the whole world could be in danger. Soon, Itch has to draw on everything he knows – and the contents of his rucksack – to keep himself and his family alive…

Weblinks:

http://itchingham.co.uk/ - Itch Booktrailer (ch15) and About Simon (Mayo introducing  the story)

Periodic table

Suggested Activities

Before Reading:

Discuss with the children: Do you like collecting things?: Moshi monsters, football stickers, Pokemon cards, red noses

Itch likes to collect elements. He is an element hunter. He keeps his most precious and useful items in his rucksack:

Share a copy of the Periodic Table of elements (see weblinks) and elicit what children already know about some of the elements:

  • which are the most common/useful?  Oxygen, hydrogen, helium, aluminium, copper, iron, fluorine
  • which are the most precious? gold, platinum, silver, californium?

Did you know - you can fit all the gold in the world under the Eiffel tower!

  • which are the most dangerous? e.g. arsenic, phosphorous, plutonium, radium, uranium.

Share some everyday objects and their elements: copper - coins, chromium - spoon, zinc - toothpaste, calcium - shells, banana - potassium.

Itch’s Mum suggests the table resembles a castle on p.53. See also notes on page 408

Nuclear Energy. Ask your group to find out a little bit about Nuclear Power plants and the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy. http://www.energykids.eu/energy (block sponsored ads).

You may wish to share the short introduction to the story by the author (see weblinks)

During Reading

Chapters 1-6

Setting and context  Cornwall - underground mining. The historical context is particularly relevant to the story. After you have shared the prologue, spend some time discussing the setting. What does the prologue tells us? Share the information on page 411. An excellent supplementary story to share at this point would be picture book Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz. Further information can be found in chapter four when Itch and Jack spend a week at the South-West Mines tin mine.

From the first encounters with phosphorous and arsenic, what can we expect from the elements? - danger, explosions - consequences.

 

Quescussion

A good time to start noting questions.

Hold a Quescussion. Children pose questions one at a time which you write down without comment. They cannot be statements. If someone makes a statement it must be re-phrased as a question. You could start off with:  What were the trucks doing after hours at the Mine? Why don’t the staff at the University support the last Mine in Provincetown? Where does the mysterious rock come from?

When the questions are exhausted read through the list. Are there any questions that they can answer at this point? Which questions do they think will be answered in the story? Display the questions that have been answered. Cross out any questions that have been answered. Add new ones as they arise in discussion.

Important characters

Look back at pages 25 and 29 when we are first introduced to Mr Watkins and Dr Flowerdew - what are your first impressions? We will look at their characters in more detail later in the story.

Chapter 4

Re-cap the events of  the prologue. In chapter four we are introduced to Bob Evert and the South-West Mines - the last mine in Provincetown. It is a tourist attraction and tin mine. Jack and Itch give their impression of Mine on p.74. How do you think it might link to the story?

Chapters 7-12

Compare Mr Watkins and Dr Flowerdew (this could be done by hotseating their characters) Find out their views about: their job as a teacher, the pupils in general and specifically Itch and the strange rock he has brought to their attention. On a large sheet of paper collect thoughts about the two characters and quotations to support any comments.

 

Dr Nathaniel Flowerdew

Supporting quotation

Mr John Watkins

Supporting quotation

e.g.  arrogant

“I am a very well respected chemist, you know…”

sincere

vindictive

 

 

popular

bully

 

knowledgeable

 

Summarise the plot so far

It is important to keep the keys facts in mind as the story unfolds:

  • Who? What do we know about Itch and other key characters - Mr Lofte,Jack, Mr Watkins, Dr Flowerdew?Bob Evert (you may wish to share this one among the group)
  • Where? Which places have been mentioned? Do we know why are they significant?

Cornwall, Dorset, Zurich (Switzerland), Nigeria?

  • What? What has happened so far? What is significant about the latest addition to Itch’s collection - it is radioactive?

Add to the Quescussion sheet - can you answer any of the initial questions? Do you have more questions to add?

Chapters 13-18

In chapter 13 Itch questions his own integrity. Is it morally wrong to steal something that belongs to you?

Teacher assaults Pupil. Chapter 14 - Using your summary of the plot as a backstory, role play the news report from either outside the school or outside the Itch family home.

How does Itch’s Dad know Flowerdew? Do you think this background information is significant to the story?

Chapter 15  play the book trailer for Itch (see weblinks - it is the second trailer on the page).

Read aloud the letter from Cake on page 212 and discuss its contents and implications. Children may have discovered the symptoms of radiation sickness during their research on Nuclear Energy but clarify the main symptoms: nausea and vomiting ,spontaneous bleeding, hair loss, severe fatigue. What effect does Cake’s death have on the other characters and what does it tell us about what might happen later in the plot?

Chapter 16 also relates to Nuclear energy and can be linked back to the earlier research. Information can be gathered for a debate entitled Oil versus Nuclear Power. This would be well placed after chapter 19 when the positive uses of radioactive matter are mentioned - nuclear reactors, cancer treatment, etc..

Chapter 19 Different things to different people The reaction to the potential of the rocks by the scientists. Re-read the passage when Dr Alexander tests the rock in his lab - p.254-255 “At first Itch thought a wasp…” How do you think Archimedes or Sir Isaac Newton felt when they made their discoveries? What must it feel like to discover something completely new that has the potential to change the lives of so many people?  Later you can compare Dr Alexander’s reaction with Dr Flowerdew’s - who is only interested in fame, money and power (page 337).

Chapter 20 - Re-read this chapter together - what do you think is happening? How is the tension building - the reader knows before the characters do that help is not on the way.

Chapter 23 Motivation.  Motivation is what drives character's actions. On a large sheet of paper draw the rock/s in the centre. Identify the key players and their motivation for wanting to have possession of the rocks.

Greencorps, Nathaniel Flowerdew, the police (see chapter 24), the government (MI6), Roshanna Wing, Agu Osiegbe, Itch.

Dilemma - characters often face a dilemma and the choices they make affect the course of the story. Why do Itch and Jack think it is better NOT to hand the rocks over the police?

Chapter 28  Climbing into the unknown.

Dr Watkins says to Itch, “I have none of your bravery.” p.401 Is Itch brave? What is the bravest thing he has done? Is it braver to face a known fear or to face the unknown?

Why do think Itch is sorry on p.381?

Irony

What is ‘ironic’ about the South West mines mining gold and discarding the earth and rocks they dug up to find it? The rocks they were discarding are worth more than the gold!

Narrative structure

The story employs a non-linear narrative technique in order to tie up the loose ends in the last chapter and reveal what happened at key moments earlier in the story e.g. when Chloe was left at the lab with Watkins and Dr Alexander, when Itch left Jack at the station. The purpose of using this technique is to maintain the pace of the action.

After Reading:

Setting up a sequel. Itch is part of a trilogy that must be read in order. Can you identify how Mayo sets up the sequel in the final pages of Itch? A new character is introduced near the end of the story and Dr Fairnie also mentions he is moving to Cornwall, news that Flowerdew has escaped, the unanswered question of who pulled Itch out of the well? To find out you will have to read the sequel:Itch Rocks! Return to the weblinks and play the book trailer for Itch Rocks.

Further Reading:

Itch Rocks and Itch Craft the other titles in this trilogy

Beetle Boy and Beetle Queen by MG Leonard - genetic engineering

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge - quantum physics (parallel universes)

George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy and Stephen Hawking- Hawking’s Black hole theory

 

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