The Savage discussion guide

Author: David Almond

Illustrator: Dave McKean

Publisher: Walker Books

Synopsis and reasons for selection

Blue’s father has died suddenly, and finding that visits to the school’s counsellor (Mrs Malloy) only serve to increase his suffering, he turns to writing a story.

It is a violent, gritty story about a ‘wild boy’ who looks for food – animal or human – and lives in an ancient chapel in Burgess Wood. As Almond’s story progresses it becomes the inner story of Blue himself, intent on inflicting vengeance on the local bully, Hopper, who intimidates everyone and taunts Blue mercilessly about his father’s death.

Almond’s revelations about children’s grief are unsettling and profoundly moving. McKean’s tortured, bold illustrations beautifully reflect the characters’ inner turmoil. During the book’s gut-wrenching, dramatic finale, we witness Blue reaching acceptance as his wounds heal and he learns to live with his profound loss. This is a stunning, compelling graphic novel that skilfully deals with the raw emotion of loss, death, bullying and the healing power of redemption and family.

About the author

David Almond is the highly acclaimed author of Skellig, Clay, My Name Is Mina, My Dad's a Birdman, Slog's Dad and many other novels, stories and plays. David lives with his family in Hexham, Northumberland. His books have been translated into almost forty languages and are widely adapted for stage and screen. His numerous awards include the Carnegie Medal. In addition to these, in 2010 he gained the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international prize for children's authors.

Discussion Points

Before Reading

Ask the children:

What do you know about graphic novels and comics? How are they structured?

Then ask some initial questions about the book based on the front cover:

Start by asking the children to make a list of everything they can see on the front cover.

Who do they think the story will appeal to?

Who do they think the book is aimed at? Why?

Does the front cover make you want to read the story? Why? Why not?

Look at the blurb and invite initial responses and ideas?

Ask the children to create a semantic map by noting down as many words associated with ‘loss’  as they can think of and then finding common connections between them.



First Encounters

Allow some time for the children to explore the book up to page 7. 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.

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.


  • What does the word ‘savage’ mean?
  • How do you think the narrator feels about Mrs Molloy? How do you know?
  • There are two font choices used. What do the font choices tell us? What impression do they give you?
  • Look at the images on pages 10 and 11. How do your eyes travel across the page? Which image are you drawn to and why?
  • Look at the image on page 11. Why does the illustrator focus on the Savage’s mouth and teeth? How would you describe his facial expression?
  • Blue wants blood, guts and adventure in his story. What might this suggest about his frame of mind?
  • Why do you think Blue doesn’t show anyone the story?


  • Who does Blue live with and where does he live?
  • Why do you think Blue doesn’t want to go into detail about his father’s death?
  • Look at page 14. How does Blue deal with his father’s death and try to be strong in from of his Mam?
  • Lads need their dads to grow up properly. Do you agree with this statement?
  • Look at the verbs used to describe how Hopper behaves. What do they tell you about him?
  • Why do you think Hopper behaves in such an intimidating manner?
  • When people bully others, they show how weak they really are. Discuss.
  • Why doesn’t Blue tell his Mam about Hopper?
  • What advice would you give to Blue?
  • Look at page 18. Draw lines to match the character to the advice they give to Blue.
  • Look at the image on page 19. What can you see?


  • Look at page 20. Which words and phrases are successful in showing the Savage’s nature and character?
  • Look at the images on pages 22 and 23. How might you describe what is going on? Why do you think there is a border around the Savage on page 22 but nowhere else? What might that symbolise? What might the Savage be thinking and feeling as he watches Hopper approach?
  • Can you use a dictionary to correct Blue’s spellings? Why do you think David Almond chose to write the words with unconventional spelling?

Blue’s spelling

Correct spelling













  • What do you think Blue wants the reader to feel about Hopper? How does he achieve this?
  • Look at the image on page 27. What atmosphere does it provoke? What might Hopper be doing wandering around on his own? What do you notice about the Savage’s hands?
  • Why does the Savage imitate Hopper’s stance?
  • What do you think might happen next? What might the Savage do?
  • What effect does the phrase ‘he growled and grunted’ have?


  • Why does Blue feel better after writing about Hopper?
  • Look at page 31. Can you find a simile? What image does it create in your mind?
  • Who do you think Jess might be?
  • The setting on pages 31 and 32 as Blue and Jess wander out of town is very different to the Savage’s cave? How does the narrator create a relaxed and happy atmosphere?
  • Read up to page 32. What do you think might happen next?
  • Look at the image on page 33. Can you use 5 adjectives to describe the chapel?
  • How does the illustrator create movement on pages 34 and 35?
  • Compare the images of the Savage on pages 36 and 23. How are they similar? How are they different? How has the use of colour and line changed?
  • What do you think the author is trying to say in this chapter about the power of language and the spoken word?
  • What is the Savage starting to learn?



  • Look at page 41. Does anything surprise you about Mam’s reaction?
  • What does the verb ‘giggled’ tell you about Mam as she listens to the story?
  • Look at the images on pages 42 and 43. What sort of atmosphere do you think the illustrator is trying to create? How does he do this?
  • How does the image and text work together on page 46 to surprise the reader?
  • Why do you think Mrs Stokoe suggests they just go back to bed? What might she might be thinking and feeling as they watch the Savage ride the pig?
  • Read to the end of this chapter? How does the atmosphere suddenly change? Why do you think Jess might be crying?


  • Look at page 49. What does the verb ‘forced’ tell you about Mam’s smile? How might she really be feeling?
  • How does Blue soothe Jess?
  • How is Blue ‘a savage, too’? What does Mam mean by this?
  • Do you think the Savage feels lost, lonely, bitter and furious too?


  • Look at the images on 52 and 53. How does the illustrator create movement?
  • Can you show a partner how you think the Savage moves? What clues have you used to help you?
  • Look at the images on pages 54 and 55. How does the illustrator create tension? What might the Savage be thinking and feeling as he ascends the staircase?
  • How would you describe the Savage on page 58?
  • Why do you think the Savage pulls the curtains open?
  • What do you think Hopper is thinking and feeling? Why has the illustrator boxed him in with a thick black border on page 59? What does it symbolise? Has your opinion of Hopper changed after looking at this image?
  • How does the illustrator show the change in power between the characters?
  • Look at the image on page 61. Has the depiction of the Savage changed at all? What might he be thinking and feeling?
  • Why do you think the Savage visits Jess’s room?
  • The author repeats the word ‘gentil’ on page 63. What effect does it have?
  • The Savage seems to have both positive and negative qualities. Use a table to record evidence of both his positive and negative qualities.Do you think most people have good and bad points, or d you think they are usuall eith good or bad?

Positive qualities

Negative qualities










  • What might Hopper be thinking and feeling when he learns that Blue sent the Savage in the night?
  • You should never fight violence with violence. Two wrongs don’t make a right. How do these sayings apply to the story? Do you agree with them?
  • Do you think the Savage really has visited Jess and Hopper?


  • Why does Miss Brewer come and stand next to Blue? Is she angry with him? Concerned? Worried?
  • How is Blue becoming like the Savage? What might be running through his mind as he writes?
  • Look at the image on page 69. Is there anything different about the illustrator’s use of colour?
  • What do you think will happen when the Savage and Blue meet?


  • What do you notice about Blue’s spelling in this chapter? Has it changed, and if so, how?
  • Is the inside of the cave what you imagined it to be like?
  • The Savage is just another part of Blue. Do you agree with this statement?
  • How does the Savage help Blue reach acceptance?


  • How has Hopper changed?
  • What do you think Blue might say if Hopper ever asks him about what happened to him in the night?
  • Blue feels ready at the end of the story to share his own story. What does this symbolise?

After Reading – Themes and Cross-curricular links


After reading ‘The Savage’, organise the children into groups or partners. Encourage the children to talk to each other and share which of these themes they feel are most important in the story and why. Ask the children to use evidence from the text.

Stories write themselves

Bullies are weak and jealous

You have to feel sadness to be able to appreciate happiness

Everyone has someone watching over them and looking after them

Everyone deals with things in different ways

Words and language help us express ourselves and heal old wounds




Extension Activities

Draw a map of the little town of where Blue lives. Try to include all the places mentioned in the story, such as: Burgess Woods, the ruined chapel, Stokoe’s pig farm, Blue’s house and Hopper’s house.

Imagine you have just seen the Savage. Create a Wanted poster, Remember to include a description of the Savage, where he was last seen and what the reward might be for his capture.

Try writing the story from another characters’ point of view. Can you retell the story as if you were Hopper or Mam?

Ask the children to use a Double Bubble Map to compare and contrast the Blue and the Savage. How are they similar? How are they different?



The Savage has recently been adapted for the stage. You can find a review of it here:

Ask the children to think about how they would adapt the story for the stage. Which actors and actresses would they employ to play the main characters? What would the set look like? How would they use lighting and music to create mood and atmosphere?

Further Reading

Judith Kerr Goodnight Mog

E B White Charlotte's Web

David Walliams The Boy in the Dress

Anthony Browne Willy the Wimp

Carl Hiassen Hoot

Katherine Paterson Bridge to Terebithia

Patrick Ness A Monster Calls

Clive King Stig of the Dump

Anne Fine Angel of Nitshill Road

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