Author: David Almond
Illustrator: Dave McLean
Suggested year group: 5/6
Long ago, the Gods created a dazzling world. They built chains of mountains, sparkling seas and endless skies. But now, pleased with their work, they lazily sit on the clouds, napping and eating cake. Confused by all the gaps and spaces in this peculiar world, Harry, Sue and Little Ben decide to fill it with a squeaky thing, a scaly, slithery thing and a feathery, flying thing. As the children’s ideas take shape, they decide to create a fearsome, large wolf, leading them on an exciting, frightening adventure across this lovely, unfinished world.
Reasons for selection
This is a beautiful, haunting creation myth. Words and pictures work together wonderfully to move the story along with rhythm and pace, until it accelerates to an end that is dark and unnerving. The language in the story is simple, matter of fact and sometimes even light-hearted. The pictures, on the other hand, are striking, dramatic and intricate and children will want to linger over them. This is a powerful, highly inventive graphic novel that will challenge children to explore a range of themes about imagination, courage, power, faith and the consequences of making mistakes.
About the author
David Almond is the author of Skellig, The Savage, My Dad”s a Birdman and many other stories. His work is translated into over 40 languages. He is the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award (2010), the most prestigious international award for children’s literature. His major UK awards include The Carnegie Medal, two Whitbreads and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. His inventive, intense and strange work is loved by readers of all ages, receiving widespread critical acclaim. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and lives in Northumberland.
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 do you think this story will be about?
- What might happen?
- Do you know any creation stories?
- Any fables about how certain animals were created?
- What do you notice about the presentation of the animal names?
Allow some time for the children to explore the book up to the page which begins:
‘Little Ben sighed. “Have you ever looked into an empty space?” he asked his friends.
You can use a paperclip to secure the pages so the children don’t read past this page. If it is possible for the children to have their own copy, they can read at their own pace and write down their responses.
- Is there anything that puzzles them about the book?
- Do they have any questions?
- Is there an image they like or dislike?
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.
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.
The Gods – Colour, layout and line
Look at pages 5-10.
- What do you notice about the colours used to portray the Gods?
- How does it differ from the colours used to portray the children?
- Why do you think this is?
- Use Post-It notes to record the adjectives used by the Gods to describe their creations (sparkling, sweet, extraordinary). What do they suggest about how the Gods feel about their creations?
- What do the verbs (sipping, nibbling, shrug, blush) used to describe the Gods suggest?
Look at page 27.
Why do you think the God has his arms folded?
Look at pages 71-72
Look at the colours used on this page.
- Are there any new or different colours used?
- Why do you think this is?
- Do the Gods look different in anyway?
- Have their facial expressions changed?
- Which group seems to take more interest in the creation of the world: the Gods or the children?
The Children – Thoughts and feelings
Dave McKean’s illustrations beautifully and subtly highlight the children’s thoughts and feelings. Crumpled eyebrows, wide eyes, creases, frowns and open mouths convey shock, surprise, excitement and fear. Can the children explore what the children might be thinking and feeling throughout the story. Use thought bubble shaped post-its to write on and have the children place them in their copy of the book.
- How does the relationship between the children change throughout the story?
- Why do you think on the last page, the author refers to Ben and not Little Ben? Has Little Ben grown up at all? What does, ‘Ben took their hands and pulled them away’ suggest about who is now in charge?
- Can you use a ‘Feelings Line Graph’ to plot how what the characters are feeling throughout the events of their adventure?
Here’s an example of a character feelings graph. You can make one for each of the four children.
Look at page 14.
- Compare Ben and Harry’s faces to how they look when they are creating the wolf?
- How have they changed?
The Creation of the Creatures – Compare and Contrast
How is the process of creating a new animal represented? Think about the thought as it forms in the child’s mind, how words are used to describe the creatures, how the mind contours the image and finally sends it to their hands which then turn it into a physical being.
Are the children similar in any way to the animals they create?( Little Ben seems small and nervous with his mop of soft, blonde hair, Sue moves gracefully with her arms out-stretched like a swooping bird and Harry twists and turns like a snake.)
- What do the creatures tell us about the children and their personalities?
- Which colours are used to portray the wolf?
- What do you think the wolf symbolises?
- After being swallowed by the wolf, Sue and Harry seem to be cloaked in darkness.
- What might this suggest? (A coming-of-age? Growing up?)
After reading ‘Mouse Bird Snake Wolf’, read the big ideas below. Talk to your partner about which of these big ideas is the most important in the story and why. Share with your partner what these ideas mean to you. Have you ever created something you were proud of? Have you ever done something you regret?
You can never undo a mistake
|Children are imaginative and resourceful||The world is a scary, dangerous place|
|Humans are more important than animals||You should always try and improve the world around you and make it better||Don’t be lazy and arrogant|
Identify a set of target words for teaching. Suggestions are given below, but choose those most appropriate for your class or group.
Ask the children to read through the list of words with their partner. Find each of the words or phrases in Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf. 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
tender (page 4)
|fondness (page 5)|
|trembled (page 26)|
stirred (page 51)
Each child in the story invents something new.
What would you create and why?
Either create a comic strip in the style of the book to show the formation of your animal or paint a picture of your new animal. You could write a non-chronological report on your new creature and how to look after it.
This story provides an excellent basis for dramatic improvisation and theatre. Can you create a piece to perform to an audience, including:
- mime and movement
- freeze frames
- -music and sound effects
- words and phrases taken from the story
Compare a variety of creation stories from different cultures, in each one consider:
- Who made the earth and animals? Why?
- How long did it take?
- Are there any important symbols in the story?
- What is the purpose of the story?
You may wish to explore the aboriginal story of Dreamtime, the Ancient Egyptian creation myth and the Christian, Hindu and Muslim creation stories.
What are the similarities and differences between the stories of creation in different religions and cultures?