Talk, Talk, Squawk discussion guide

Author: Nicola Davies

Illustrator: Neal Layton

Publisher: Walker Books

Synopsis and reasons for selection

How and why animals do the things they do

How does an elephant-nose fish say, “Where are you?”, a bee give orders, or a panda warn, “Keep out”? Humans aren’t the only creatures who can communicate with each other without saying a word…

This is a funny, colourful and informative book on animal biology, looking at how and why animals communicate. Biologist and children's writer Nicola Davies takes the reader around the world and across a wide range of beguiling species to uncover the mysteries behind animal communication.

About the author

Nicola Davies studied zoology at Cambridge, and worked with numerous different animals for several years, including humpbacked whales in Newfoundland. She went on to become a writer, producer and presenter of radio and television. Her books include A Girl Called Dog, Rubbish Town Hero, Big Blue Whale and One Tiny Turtle. Her novel Home was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award. She lives in Wales.

Discussion Points

Before Reading

Ask the children to look at the front cover of the book and use a post-it to record everything they see.

It would be interesting at this stage to ask the children which genre they feel this book belongs to? Is it fiction? Non-fiction? How can they tell?

What do you already know?

Before beginning the book, ask the children to record everything they already know about how animals communicate.

  • ‘Write down everything you think you know in a circle.
  • Write where you learned this information in the rectangle.
  • Share your ideas with your partner and add any new ideas to your diagram. ‘


First Encounters


Allow some time for the children to explore the book. You may want to focus on a specific spread or section of the book. If it is best if the children to have their own copy, so that they can read at their own pace and write down their responses.

  • Is there anything that puzzles you about the book?
  • Do they have any questions?
  • Is there an image you like or dislike?
  • Did anything make you laugh?
  • Did you learn anything that you didn’t know before you read the book?

Use the children’s questions to initiate a discussion – they will be more engaged working on their own areas of interest. Some questions might be answered easily, whilst others may need to be explored at a later date or after further exploration of the book.

Questions to ask while reading

We have used three types of question you can focus on during the exploration of this book (Wayne Tennent, 2014). These are literal questions (‘looking’, e.g. When? What? Who?), inference questions (‘clue’, e.g How do you know that…?) and thinking questions (‘thinking’, e.g Do you think that…?)

Additionally we have used evaluative questions – e.g. how well…, how effective…

At all stages, invite the children to share their ideas and responses. Avoid asking too many leading or closed questions. The prompts and activities 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 text and pictures, and discuss their ideas.

Questions about the text type

Looking questions

  • What are these texts?
  • What is their purpose?

Clue questions

  • How do we know this is an information text?

Thinking questions

  • Why do you think the author and illustrator chose to set the text and diagrams out in this manner?
  • How is this information text different to others that you have read? How is it the same?

Evaluative questions

  • Did this information text make you want to find out more?

Identifying features

Give the children an envelope which contains labels for the features of an information text: introduction, titles, sub-titles, words in bold or italics, pictures and captions, diagrams, table of contents and an index page. Ask the children to use these labels to identify the relevant features on their favourite page. The children could also use a large piece of tracing paper to draw around these features on their favourite page so they can understand the layout.

Comparing texts

Ask the children to compare this book with another, more traditional, information text. Which features are similar? Which features are different? Which is the better text for giving the same information? Why do you think this? You could use a double bubble map to record the differences.


  • How do human beings communicate?
  • Look at the double page picture and make a list of all the ways in which humans communicate.
  • How does the author try to engage the reader on this page? Is it successful?


  • What is the purpose of the arrows and labels on these pages? How do they direct your reading of the text?
  • How do stink bugs communicate?
  • What is special about parasol ants?
  • What is the purpose of the illustration showing the communication between worms on page 9?
  • What happens when humans or animals can’t communicate effectively?


  • Why do you think this chapter is called ‘uniforms’?
  • What is the purpose of a uniform?
  • How do cleaner wrasse fish use their appearance to their advantage?
  • Can you give another example from the text that highlights the importance of an animal’s uniform?
  • Can you find a group of words that show the author did not like their own school uniform?
  • Are uniforms a good thing? Can you explain your ideas to a partner?


  • Find two examples that show the advantages of being bright and stripy.
  • Identify three animals that use stripes to warn off predators.
  • What does the simile on this page suggest about the poison arrow dart frog?
  • Are bright colours always used to communicate danger? Can you think of any other reasons that animals might be brightly coloured or humans might choose to wear bright colours?


  • What is the technical name for a beaver’s home?
  • Find a word on page 13 that means the same as ‘smell’.
  • Look at the illustration of the beavers on page 13. Discuss with a partner what it is showing?
  • Use a bubble map to record anything new that you have found out about beavers on this page. You do not need to fill all the bubbles and you can add additional bubbles, if you need them.


  • Before reading, what do you think this page might be about? Why do you think that?
  • In what way is a smell like a “No entry” sign?
  • Does the description of the desert iguana help you to picture what it looks like? Can you explain how?
  • The word ‘beacon’ is closest in meaning to….
  • Why do animals regularly scent-mark territory?
  • The word ‘disputes’ is closest in meaning to….
  • How have male howler monkeys adapted to their role in the troop?
  • With a partner, choose another title for this chapter?


  • How many times a day can a bird sing their song?
  • Why do different birds have different songs?
  • Find a word on this page that means the same as trespassers.


Put the actions of the male lyrebird in order by numbering them 1 to 5. One has been done for you.

  Raises his lacy feathers above his head
  Begins to sing a complicated song by copying up to twenty different sounds
1 Builds a flattened circle of earth and uses it as a stage
  He begins to shimmy and jump about so his feathers shake about
  Performs for hours on end and can attract six different females birds to each show



Use the information from this page to complete this table to show how other animals attract their mate.

Animal What does it do to attract a mate?
Male blue bird-of-paradise



  Inflate throat pouches and stick out their feathers

Male humpback whales





Flash their wings


  • Why do elephant-nose fish have to use electricity to find a mate?
  • How does the description of the stink bug help you to understand its size?
  • Can you explain the phrase, ‘they home in on each other!’ to a partner.?


  • How do crickets make sounds?
  • How is the mole cricket’s burrow like a trumpet?
  • Discuss with a partner any interesting facts have you learned about sound on this page?
  • Look at the illustration at the bottom of the page. What do you notice?


  • Find a group of words that show seahorses work well together.
  • What is special about the reproductive cycle of a seahorse?
  • Why do you think this chapter is called ‘happy families’?
  • What is a baby seahorse called?
  • How would you explain the relationship between male and female seahorses to someone younger than yourself?
  • Is it unusual for male animals or humans to look after babies? Why do you think that?


  • What can you find out about the life cycle of a crocodile?
  • How are crocodile eggs kept safe?
  • Can you find an example of where the author has used humour on these pages? Is it successful?
  • Look at the picture of the crocodiles. What does it show? Why has the author decided to use it?
  • What is the most important message a baby needs to give their parents?
  • Look at the diagram of the bats. How has the author tried to engage the reader?
  • Find a group of words on page 23 that suggests the Antarctic is a harsh environment.


  • How do you think the author feels about chaffinches?
  • How do we know that chaffinches are hard-working? What evidence can you find to support your ideas?
  • What does the word ‘composition’ mean? Does it sound like any other words you know?


  • Look at the diagram on page 26. How is it different to a traditional, non-fiction diagram? How is it the same?
  • What are pheromones? How do colonies of bees rely on them and use them?
  • Find and copy a phrase which shows that a bee colony is well organised.
  • What is the technical name given for a female elephant who leads the herd?
  • How does the old-saying ‘an elephant never forgets’ apply to this chapter?
  • A herd of elephants is more intelligent than a colony of bees. Do you agree? Discuss your ideas with a partner and support your opinions with evidence from the text.


  • What might this chapter be about?
  • How are some animals like liars?
  • How does the female bolus spider attract her prey?
  • Why is it important that there aren’t too many ‘liars’ in the animal kingdom?
  • Look at the illustration on page 29. Can you use the information about red-deer males to explain what it is showing to a partner?
  • Have you heard the word ‘rivalry’ before? What do you think it means? How is it used in this chapter? Now check the meaning in a dictionary. Does the dictionary definition fit the context?
  • ‘It is OK to lie to save yourself from harm’ Do you agree or disagree?


  • Words are made up of…?
  • How do words help vervet monkeys survive attacks from other animals?
  • How do researchers try and figure out what monkeys are saying? What are the disadvantages of these methods?


  • ‘Alex the parrot was more advanced and more intelligent than Washoe the chimp’. Do you agree or disagree?
  • Do you believe that Alex and Washoe understood what they were saying?
  • Why does the author use an analogy of humans learning “alien”? What is she trying to tell us? How does it help you understand what you have read so far?
After reading questions

Can you find an example of a page that has an interesting layout? Why did you choose it?

Are the illustrations and diagrams useful? Why? Why not?

Do you think the author is an expert on this subject? Why? Why not?

How would this text be useful in everyday life?

Who would you recommend this book to?

Further learning activities

Choose an animal mentioned in this book and create your own report on it. Where does it live? What does it look like? What does it eat? How is it adapted to its environment? How does it communicate? What sounds does it make? Go on a ‘Sound Hunt’ around the school. What sounds can you hear? Are they man-made or naturally occurring sounds? Make a list.
Look at page 21 again. Write a conversation between the two seahorses, remembering to use speech marks.

Carry out a number of sound experiments, including:

Finding out how sound is made

Exploring how sound travels

·Discovering how to change the pitch or volume of a sound

·Researching how the human ear works


Listen to some monkey sounds and calls and then have fun creating your own ‘Vervet Dictionary of Words and Phrases’?


What is an index? How do you use one?

Which page/s would you use to find out about:

  1. Elephant nose fish
  2. Fruit flies
  3. Queen bees
  4. Velvet monkeys?


Type out some of the words and definitions, muddle them up and then ask children to match the correct technical vocabulary to its meaning?


By the same author…




Further reading…

Why not explore our ‘Animals’, ‘Bugs, Insects and Minibeasts’ and ‘Go Green!’ book collections?

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