The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch discussion guide

The Author

Maudie Smith began her career as an actor. She spent years perching on scenery in the back of a van, while touring with a small-scale theatre company. In children's theatre, she played well-known characters such as Piglet and the Snow Queen. She co-devised many of the plays in which she performed and has written lyrics for musicals, cabaret and a libretto. She recently graduated from Bath Spa University with an MA in Writing for Young People.

The Illustrator

Tony Ross is a well-known and well-loved book illustrator. He has illustrated books for many authors, including Roald Dahl, Paula Danziger and Michael Palin. He is probably most well-known in recent years for his hugely successful partnership with Jeanne Willis producing gems such as Tadpole’s Promise, Chicken Clicking and Slug Needs Hug. He also writes and illustrates his own books.

About the Book

Max doesn't believe in happy endings. He doesn't even like stories.  So when he finds himself whisked away in a giant cake to The Land of Ever After, Max is NOT impressed. But the people of Ever After are in trouble, and they need Max's help. Will Max agree to go on a dangerous quest to save their world? And if he doesn't, how will he and his brand new brother and sister ever get home?

 

Before reading (the introductory session)

Discuss the Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm brothers.

  • Which traditional stories do the children know?
  • Ask if they have heard of the Russian witch Baba Yaga.
  • What kind of endings have we come to expect from traditional stories?
  • Discuss whether the group like stories with happy endings.

 

Briefly introduce the author and the book:

Read one or two chapters aloud to the group. In the beginning we are introduced to the protagonist, Max. It is the day of his Dad’s wedding and Max is an unwilling participant in the ceremony. In this chapter we learn a lot about Max’s feelings. We know that he hates heights and believes that stories do not have happy endings. However, there are unanswered questions about the reasons for these feelings. Through the course of the story Max undergoes a hero’s quest, but it is also a journey to self-discovery and growing up.  One way to chart this development is to use the Role on the Wall technique. This visual strategy is a useful way of revisiting characters to see how they change through the course of the story.

Procedure: Work together as a group and encourage discussion and dialogue as you work. Draw an outline of a body to represent Max on a large sheet of paper. If possible, use a roll of lining paper and draw around one of the children. Annotate the character either by drawing directly onto the outline or using coloured post-its. As you will be revisiting the Role on the Wall later in the story, you might want to use different colours so that you can instantly see the changes in character as the story progresses. Invite the children to add to the wall when they discover anything important about Max.

  • Write words inside the body to explain how Max is feeling.
  • Write words inside the head to show what he is thinking.
  • Choose some words that Max says and write them in speech bubbles
  • Write words near his hands and feet to explain any actions.

 

During reading (the middle sessions)

Portals: Max, Nettle and Wild are whisked away to The Land of Ever After in the pool of portent inside the giant wedding cake. What other portals do children know about from stories? What are the portals in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? The Wizard of Oz? Harry Potter? wardrobe/house in a tornado/platform 9 ¾

The Quest: ‘Believe me, Max, it’s no mistake that you are here.’ What is Max’s quest? Why do you think he has been chosen? What other stories do you know where a character has to go on a quest? (Prince Caspian, Odysseus, Dorothy, Frodo, Bilbo). Are they successful? What obstacles do they overcome before they reach their goals?

The Land of Ever After: What kind of place is The Land of Ever After? Make a story map of the journey from to Beyond showing the different places that Max and Nettle go to on their quest and the characters that they meet on the way. This is best done as a group drawing activity on large sheets of paper so the children can talk about the story as they create the map. The characters can either be drawn direct on the map or separately and stuck on.

Narration: Review the plot from the moment Max and Nettle find Wild to the death of Babs Haggard. Although the story is written in the third person, we mainly see events through Max’s eyes. Max thinks Stark is helping the witch, although there are clues that he has really been helping Max. Using a storytelling circle, retell this part of the story from Stark’s point of view (using first person narration)

After reading:

Character development: How has Max changed since the beginning of the story? Has he learnt anything? Revisit the Role on the Wall, adding new ideas to reflect the changes.

If you liked this book, you might enjoy

  • C S Lewis - The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

A classic fantasy with another wicked witch.

  • Frank L Baum - The Wizard of Oz

A journey through a fantasy landscape with a cast of helpful characters.

  • Francesca Simon - The Lost Gods

A contemporary retelling of Norse mythology.

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