Author: Emily Gravett
Illustrator: Emily Gravett
Suggested year group: 4
It can be difficult and scary being small, especially if you’re Little Mouse, who has a long list of concerns, fears and worries. Little Mouse has found and doctored Emily Gravett’s Big Book of Fears to document and show his own anxieties, such as loud noises, cats, getting lost and even bathing! The pages of this delightful book (complete with nibbled holes) amusingly, and wisely, reveal his suspicions about the world, until - on the final page – we learn that he is still able to scare someone much bigger than himself, despite his tiny build. Emily Gravett’s book satirically places itself in the “self-help” category and promises to help readers tackle their own fears.
Reasons for selection
This is a witty, informative and snappy book that will encourage less enthusiastic readers with its novelty elements, including die-cuts, an intricate fold-out map and lift-up flaps. The book won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2008 and highlights Gravett's trademark digital collage technique to stylish effect, bringing together pencil drawings, muted colours, torn pages, newspaper cuttings and photos. Young children will identify with the charming, cheeky rodent, whose story offers an interesting starting point for talking about fears and anxieties. Children will also enjoy exploring the rebellious energy and tone of the book. There is indeed much to explore in the frenzied layout – there seems to be something new to find and discuss every time the book is re-opened. Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears invites repeated investigation and the pages are full of inventive, ingenious ideas to inspire children. Readers are even encouraged to investigate their personal apprehensions and add their own artwork! This is certainly an ingenious, interactive book that can be grasped at a number of levels.
Emily Gravett is an English author and illustrator of children's picture books, who lives in Brighton. For her debut book published in 2005 and then again two years later, she won the Kate Greenaway Medal which recognises the year's best-illustrated British children's book. An author/illustrator of distinctive talent and exceptional skill, she has written and illustrated many critically acclaimed books, including Blue Chameleon, Orange Pear Apple Bear and Again!
Cover the title of the book. Ask the children what they think the title might be and why. Reveal the title.
Follow-up prompts might include:
What are you scared of? Have you ever felt afraid before and didn’t know why? Do you have nightmares? Have you overcome any of your fears? Do you know anyone with a phobia?
Returning to the text
There are a number of ways of tackling this text. We suggest allowing the children time to explore the book as a whole. They could then choose their favourite page and discuss and probe the following ideas and questions, which aim to encourage the children to consider how graphic forms convey meaning. Please select and adapt the questions to make them appropriate for your students. Follow the discussion and avoid asking too many questions.
- What is your first impression of this page? What is happening?
- Where is your eye drawn to first and why? How does your gaze move across the page?
- How does the page make you feel and why?
- What are the main colours used on these pages? Why?
- What is the effect of the stains and tears on the page?
- Can you describe how you imagine these dirty, brown pages might smell?
- How do you know from Little Mouse’s body language and facial expressions how he is feeling?
- What do you notice about the style of the writing and its direction across the pages? Who do you think wrote this?
- Can you explain any puns or jokes on the page? e.g. ‘I get edgy near sharp knives’
- How are the definitions in the top corners different from the rest of the page? Do you think these are real word? Which strategies can you use to attempt to read them? Can you research these phobias using the internet or a dictionary?
- Give the children time to read and pore over the newspaper article. Does it remind them of anything else? Any nursery rhymes?
- What do they know about newspaper articles? Can they find the headline? Photograph and caption? Discuss the structure of the article, focusing on the 5Ws – Who? Where? When? What? Why?
- This fold-out lends itself well to discussing the role of puns and word play. Can children recognise any jokes or anything aimed to engage the audience and make them laugh?
- What do you notice about the adverts? Do they have any relation to the famous nursery rhyme? Can you suggest any other adverts that might work well in the newspaper?
- Look at the cover of the map. What are your initial thoughts about it? What do you think might be inside?
- What kind of place do you think the Isle of Fright might be? What would be on your Isle of Fright?
- What do you notice about the shape of the Isle?
- Open the map. Who or what do you first notice? How does the illustrator guide your eye across the page?
- Why is the mouse clinging onto a paper clip? How do you think he is feeling?
- How does the layout of the map contribute to the humour of the book?
- What do you notice about the names of the towns and cities on the Isle of Fright?
- What do you notice about the colours used on the map? Why do you think Emily Gravett has chosen to use these colours?
- Look on the back of the map. Who do you think wrote these directions and why?
- Why is the fold out map in the middle of the book and not the beginning or end?
- How would you describe the overall mood of the story?
After reading the book, read the statements below as a group. Invite the children to discuss each of the statements with a partner and decide whether they agree or disagree with each one. Encourage them to give reasons for their answers. Get them to cut out the cards and organize them into an Agree and a Disagree pile. They can then share ideas with another pair.
You cannot be brave if you are afraid of something
|Fear can keep us safe|
Only babies and young children are afraid of things
|You can be afraid of other people|
|Being afraid is exciting||Sometimes the thought of doing something can be more scary than actually doing it|
Teach the children some of the nursery rhymes which feature in this story, such as 'Hickory, Dickory Dock!' and ‘Three Blind Mice’. Can they perform them to an audience with expression and actions?
Use egg whites, icing sugar, food colouring, chocolate drops and string to create some rustic, vintage Sugar Mice – which is also a great way to develop the children’s measuring and weighing skills. The children could write their own recipes or write a persuasive advert to sell them. You could even sell them on the school playground to parents!
Pop-Up Books and Collage
Can the children create their own page for the book using a range of moving mechanisms, such as a slider, lever or wheel? Encourage the children to measure and cut accurately. They could also use their knowledge of maps and co-ordinates to design their own Isle of Fright map, discussing their feelings and fears.
Encourage the children to explore some other books and films that tackle the topic of fear and being afraid, such as Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt, I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll or Pixar’s Inside Out .