The Brockenspectre discussion guide

The Author

As a child Linda Newbery was a secret writer, filling exercise books with stories which she hid in her wardrobe. Now she is a published author of over forty books, mainly children's and teenage fiction. She has been shortlisted for many prestigious literary prizes and has won the Costa Children's Book Award. Linda lives in an Oxfordshire village and enjoys yoga, gardening, walking and the cinema.

About the Book

Tomas' father loves the mountains and spends as much of his time as he can climbing. He resents the times when the weather prevents him being outside, and becomes restless and depressed. One day Pappi leaves and doesn’t return. After a year's absence Tomas is so racked with guilt that he sets out to find his father, terrified that the Brockenspectre - a mountain monster - has attacked him.  The story is divided into Four Parts. Throughout the story there a short pieces of first person writing, which add a different perspective to the story, which is largely focalised through Tomas’ eyes.

NOTE The Brockenspectre: a magnified shadow often surrounded by a glowing halo. It can appear on a misty mountainside and looks like a giant figure. Don’t share this information too early in the story as it will destroy the suspense.


Before reading (the introductory session)

Setting: the story is set in the Alps, a mountain range across eight countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland. Have any of the group been to the Alps or visited other mountain ranges? We have put together a short PowerPoint of the Alpine setting, which you may want to share with the group before you begin.

To begin: The story opens with 3 illustrations. Take time to look at each one and pose some questions: How do you think the women and children are feeling? How can you tell? Why do you think the woman is looking at the boy? Make the point that body language, gaze and gesture help us interpret the relationships in the illustrations.


Now look at the second picture. What can you see here? Who do you think the figure walking towards the mountain might be?

Now look at the illustration at the beginning of Part One. What words can you use to describe what you see here?

During reading (the middle sessions)


Who do you think Pappi is? And who do you think he is addressing (‘talking to’) in this section? What do you think a Brockenspectre is? Can you imagine what it looks like? Pappi says, ‘Fear everything and you’ll do nothing.’ Is that true? Is fear a good thing or a bad thing? Or is it both?

What can we learn about Pappi from his actions? Discuss and complete this table as a group. On the left write down one of Pappi’s actions and on the right, decide what this tells you about his character. You can start after reading the first few chapters but will need to come back and revisit it later in the book when you have further information.

Some points to include: the way Pappi lifts Johann in the air; the way he talks to his son ‘I was hoping to make a mountaineer of you’; Pappi’s stories about the mountain; his attitude towards the tourists; his lack of care in the woodwork shed; his response when Mama cooks his favourite sausages; the way he treats his own mother.

Make the point that we often infer character traits from the way a character behaves.



It wasn’t unusual for him to be away for a month at a time

He is a loner.










On his return from the mountain Tomas visits the monastery and Father Gerard offers him advice. He tells Tomas, ‘He was false and true. He was foolish and wise. He was cowardly and brave.’ Do you think this is a good description of Pappi? Is it possible to be all of those things at the same time?

Dangerous pursuits and extreme sports

Mountaineering can be treacherous. What do you learn about the dangers from this story? What is Pappi’s attitude towards the danger? Why do you think people participate in activities that they know can be dangerous? What are the rewards?

The Brockenspectre

Why do you think Tomas gets upset when Franz draws the Brockenspectre monster? From what you have learnt in the story, what do you think the Brockenspectre looks like? Draw your own picture of a Brockenspectre. (You will be able to show the children some images when they have finished reading the story).


Most of this story is told in the third person and shifts from an omniscient viewpoint to being focalised the Tomas’ eyes.

This is varied with some sections of text at the beginning of chapters being written in italics. These passages change the narrative viewpoint. In ‘Talk’ we gain an insight into the views of the villagers. Other sections such as Glacier and Mountain are first person pieces. Choose one, for example, Glacier, to read aloud to the group. Do they notice anything different about the way this passage is written? Ask, ‘why do you think Linda Newbery might have chosen to write it like this?’

Choral Speaking

The sections of the book written in Italics lend themselves to choral speaking.

Choral speaking is an opportunity to explore the ‘voice’ of the text. Through reading aloud children learn how they can manipulate text to reveal nuances of meaning. It also trains them visually and aurally to the patterns and rhythms of language.

The choices that can be made when reading a text include:

  1. Volume – how loud or how quiet should a word, phrase, line be read
  2. Pace – how quickly or how fast. Should it speed up or slow down in places. Should some words be dragged out like a long meandering river, or said quickly like a lid snapping shut?
  3. Pause – silence is an important part of music and choral speaking. Are there places where you need to pause? A short pause or a long pause?
  4. Pitch – are there parts of the text that can be read in a high pitch or deep pitch?
  5. Tone – what mood/emotion do you need to convey?
  6. One voice or many? Decide how many speakers read each part. The contrast between single and groups of speakers can make a reading more dynamic, especially if groups of speakers are positioned in different parts of the room.
  7. Repeating words, phrases and lines – you can play with the words in the text. You might want to repeat some words, or have some words whispered in the background while the rest of the text is read.
  8. Voice percussion – the voice can be used as an instrument. You might want to create a sound collage to accompany your reading. Perhaps to set the scene and create an atmosphere before your reading commences?

Encourage the children to think about some of these decisions. Use a code to mark up the text. Experiment by trying out different ideas before settling on your preferred reading.

Rehearse – read a few times, as long as the children are still interested.

Perform – why not read your text in a school assembly. Or you could visit other classes with a poetry bomb (agreed with teachers in advance, of course).


After reading (the final session)

Tomas: an emotional journey

When the old lady asks Tomas if he knew Niklas Rust, he answers, ‘only a little’. Is that surprising?

When Tomas sees his painted bird in the old lady’s cabin he thinks, ‘It seemed now that a different boy had painted it, a simpler and a younger boy.’ Why does he think that? How do you think Tomas has changed?

Use a Feelings Chart to show the different emotions that Tomas experiences as the story progresses. A blank Feelings Chart can be downloaded from The Reading Gladiators website.

If you liked this this book, you might enjoy:

  • Linda Newbery – Lob

Another emotional story.

  • Johanna Spyri – Heidi

A classic story about friendship and family set in the Alps.

  • Eva Ibbotson - The Abominables

A story about a family of not so abominable yetis from the Himalayas.

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