Author: George Layton
Synopsis and Reasons for Selection
George Layton’s collection of bittersweet short stories set in the 1950s is brilliantly funny and moving. Each story follows a working-class young boy and chronicles his adventures and an escapade as he navigates the pressures and changes of growing up, including: bullying, lying, sadistic teachers, playground warfare, girls, friends and, of course, football. Layton writes with warmth and a keen eye for detail – he really seems to be able to climb inside a child’s mind and understand what is important to them. Indeed, many of the comic sequences will have child and adult listeners chucking for more. A pleasurable read, full of colourful characters and engaging storylines!
About the author
George Layton has combined a successful acting career with a successful writing career. In July 2000, George received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Bradford in recognition of his work as an actor and writer. He is perhaps best known for being the narrator of Pigeon Street. His other books include The Swap and Other Stories and The Trick and Other Stories. These tales describe family life in the North of England in the post-Second Waorld War era.
Ask the children:
What can they see on the front cover?
What do they think the book will be about?
Who do they think the story will appeal to? Who do they think the book is aimed at? Why?
Share familiar stories which deal with issues and dilemmas.
Do they know anything about life in the 1950s? Some may have grandparents who they can interview about their lives in this period.
Read the Guardian comment - does this persuade them to want to read the book?
Review the chapter page and invite a discussion about the title of the collection. Why do you think ‘The Fib’ is on page 65 but is the name of the book? Why isn’t the book called ‘The Balaclava Story’ as that’s the first short story in the collection?
You may want to discuss the context of this book further with your children by looking at:
- leisure and entertainment
- everyday household items
- popular singers and dancers including Elvis
- food, diet and the effects of rationing
- creation of new plastic toys e.g. Lego, Barbie
- Edmund Hilary's expedition to Mount Everest
Returning to the text
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 Balaclava Story
- Who else had a balaclava?
- How did the Balaclava Boys start?
- What is the narrator’s favourite story? Why do you think this might be?
- Whose balaclava did the narrator steal?
- Why does Mum eventually buy the narrator a balaclava? Was it the right thing to do?
- What is amusing about Miss Taylor’s reaction to Tony throwing paper pellets?
- What impression do you get of Tony and Barry?
- Do you think ‘Noddy in Toyland’ is really Tony’s favourite story?
- What do you think the narrator is thinking and feeling on page6 when he steals the balaclava? Use a post-it note to record your ideas.
- Find three phrases on page 8 which emphasise that the narrator feels guilty about stealing the balaclava.
- Why do you think Mum won’t buy the narrator a balaclava?
- How does the author create tension during the assembly scene?
- There is nothing wrong with wanting to be part of a gang and feeling like you belong. Discuss.
- What do you think the narrator has learned by the end of this first story?
The Christmas Party
- Find and copy a word on page 11 that suggests the classroom looks brilliant.
- What game is Norbert playing at the beginning of the story?
- What food will the narrator be bringing to the party?
- Who stays with the narrator and his Mum every Christmas?
- What time does the narrator return from carol singing?
- What is aspic?
- Look at page 14. What impression do you get of Miss Taylor?
- Why did you think the children all said they would want a lemon curd tart?
- How does Barry convince the narrator to come carol singing with them?
- What might Mum be thinking and feeling when she sees the narrator return from his carol singing?
- Can you use the information on page 22 to write a set of instructions for making jelly? Remember to include imperative verbs and time connectives, such as firstly, next and then.
- Why do you think Mum bring the jelly into school and doesn’t give it to the narrator before he leaves for school?
- Miss Taylor says people who ‘boo’ and jeer are cowards. What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her?
- What do you think the most important thing about Christmas is?
The Long Walk
- What has Grandad made for the narrator?
- What colour is the boy’s windcheater?
- What is a ‘trackless’?
- Look at page 32. What is a ‘cul-de-sac’?
- Read the first few paragraphs. What impression do you get of how the boy feels about his grandad?
- Why do you think the boy has to wear clogs for these outings?
- Grandad always calls the narrator ‘son’. What does this tell us about their relationship?
- Look at page 29. Why might Grandad by feeling sad?
- What might Grandad be thinking and feeling as he sees the new bowling alley?
- How does the author make Grandad sound old and frail on page 33?
- Look at page 34. Why does the narrator want to go home?
- How does the author create a sense of mystery throughout this story?
- Why do you think Grandad took his Grandson to his grave?
- How does the author hint at the fact that Grandad is very ill?
- Why do you think this story ends so abruptly? What effect does it have on the reader?
- Grandad was wrong to take the boy to visit his grave. Discuss.
- The ‘long walk’ is both literal and metaphorical. Discuss the meaning of this statement.
- Where do the family stay every year?
- What does the narrator kick over in anger on page 40?
- What is the Black Hole?
- What poem were the boys supposed to learn for Miss Taylor’s class?
- Who does the narrator end up having to share a tent with?
- Why doesn’t the narrator like the boarding house?
- Look at page 39. What is surprising about Mum’s reaction? What might she be thinking and feeling when the narrator says that he wishes he had a dad?
- What clues are they are page 40 that suggest the narrator is feeling cross?
- What impression do you get of Norbert Lightowler?
- What evidence is there to suggest Mr Garnett is a strict teacher?
- Look at page 49. Why do you think Mum has changed her mind about the school camp?
- Why doesn’t the author tell us where everyone is going until the second paragraph?
- Look at page 37. What advice would you give to the boy to convince his mum to let him go camping?
- How does the author use humour to engage the reader in this story? Is it successful? Did it make you laugh? Why? Why not?
- What lesson do you think the narrator has learned at the end of this short story?
The Gang Hut
- Why did the narrator miss the last gang hut meeting?
- What does ‘ouvrez la porte’ mean?
- What does Tony think the password is?
- What is the ‘secret seal’?
- Why is Tony staying with the narrator over the weekend?
- Why do you think Barry is the leader?
- Using the clues from this chapter, draw a picture of the gang hut.
- What might the boy be thinking and feeling when he realises the other boys have two sets of grandparents?
- Why do you think Barry wrecked the gang hut?
- Why do you think the narrator is friends with Tony and Barry?
- The three boys are beginning to grow up. Do you agree with this statement? Use evidence from the text to support your ideas.
- List two reasons the boy doesn’t want to go to school.
- What excuse does the narrator use to try and get out of going to school?
- Why do Norbert and Gordon start fighting?
- Use the information on page 75 to describe what the temporary changing room is like.
- What is the fib?
- Which celebrity switches on the Christmas lights?
- Do you think the narrator’s mum believes him when he says he has earache?
- What might the narrator be thinking and feeling when Gordon Barraclough is teasing him?
- What might Norbert be thinking and feeling when Mr. Melrose tells him off?
- What prompts the narrator to tell the fib?
- How does Gordon get his comeuppance in the story?
- How does the author highlight the brutality of school life in the 1950s? Give examples.
- Would you like to have gone to school in the 1950s?
- Lying is always wrong. Do you agree with this statement? Discuss your ideas with a partner.
- Who do you think the real hero of this story is and why?
The Firework Display
- We did the boys build their bonfire?
- What had they found to throw on the bonfire?
- What had the narrator still not paid his Mum back for?
- What is ‘Robinson’s’?
- Norbert had one pound’s worth of fireworks. Is this statement true or false?
- What do the family always eat on a Saturday night?
- What made Norbert angry when the boys were in the park?
- What might the narrator be thinking and feeling when he is told off by the Park Ranger?
- Look at page 88. Why do you think Mum won’t allow the boy to have his own fireworks?
- Why do you think the boys pick on Norbert so much?
- Read up to page 94. Was it a sensible for the narrator to swap his bike for the fireworks? What do you think will happen next?
- Mum is old-fashioned and difficult. Do you agree with this statement?
- What is the narrator’s favourite meal?
- Why does the boy hate Mr. Melrose?
- What and where is Smokers’ Corner?
- What is the name of the girl the narrator likes?
- Which verb on page 99 tells us that Mum is angry?
- What is amusing and ironic about Mum’s reaction when she reads the narrator’s English Language report?
- Using clues from the text, can you work out what ‘capricious’ and ‘dilettante’ mean? Use a dictionary to check their meaning afterwards.
- Find and copy a verb on page 104 that means the same as ‘stamping’.
- Look at page 105. What might the girls be giggling and laughing about?
- Why do you think Mr. Melrose is picking on Arthur so much about smoking?
- List five adjectives to describe the narrator. List five adjectives to describe Arthur. How are they similar? How are they different?
- Who might Archie remind the narrator of and why?
- The narrator was wrong to give up on the running race. Discuss.
- Bullies are usually lonely and afraid of failure. Can you find any evidence in this short story to support this statement? Do you agree with the statement?
- Why is the narrator dressing up in a shirt and tie?
- Where was the narrator meeting the rest of the group? (page 118)
- What does Barry use to style his fair?
- What are the names of the girls the boys have arranged to meet?
- Read page 116. The narrator has saved up money to buy his new trousers. How has his behaviour changed from ‘The Firework Display’?
- Find three examples in this short story that demonstrate how the narrator is growing up.
- What evidence is there to suggest that Barry feels he is older and more street wise than the narrator?
- Why do you think Barry gives the narrator a peppermint before they go into the cinema?
- What lesson do you think the narrator has learned at the end of this story?
- How is this story similar to the other stories? How is it different?
- What exam is the narrator taking at the start of this story?
- What is the name of the exam invigilator?
- What has happened to Barry? Where is he now working?
- What has happened to Tony?
- What is Bulmer’s?
- Read up to page 127. What evidence is there to suggest that the narrator has been working hard for the last seven years?
- What do we learn about Tony’s family life in this story?
- How do you know the narrator’s opinion of his mum has changed?
- Why do you think the narrator’s mum keeps the extra pound?
- If you had a choice would you rather be like Arthur Holdroyd or Dennis Gower?
- What valuable lessons do you think the narrator’s mum has taught him over the course of these stories?
- There comes a point in your life when you realise you parents aren’t perfect, and that’s OK. How does this apply to the events in ‘The Exam’?
Compare and Contrast
Choose two stories from the collection. Use a ‘Double bubble’ diagram to compare and contrast the two stories. How are they similar? How are they different? Which one do you prefer and why.
Turn one of the short stories into a playscript. Use dialogue from the text and add your own dialogue where it is needed.
Playscript conventions: a setting, reference to scenery and props, stage directions in brackets, a new line for each new speaker and characters’ names with a colon after them.
Encourage the children to perform their plays, focusing on movement, character interaction and facial expression
Identify a set of target words for teaching. Suggestions are given below, but chose those most appropriate for your class or group.
Get the children to read through the list of words with their partner. Find each of the words or phrases in this chapter. 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
windcheater (page 29)
deposit (page 41)
mithering (page 87)
pest (page 90)
mantelpiece (page 96)
apprenticeship (page 130)