Learning through play
I was recently contacted by Marjolijn Sonneveld, Youth Librarian at Bibliotheek Westland in the Netherlands, who wrote to tell me how her team of Educational Librarians use my book, DANGEROUS! to inspire early readers.
They have repeated the event over the last four years. 'It is still a big success,' says Marjolijn. '41 groups in a year hear about your cute crocodile. And they love it.'
DANGEROUS! (Little Tiger Press 2014) is set in a sandy, boggy, coniferous forest - the kind of place you might find a Heffalump trap or spot a misplaced Swimming Animal atop a tall pine. It's a habitat I roamed as a child, and continue to enjoy nowadays, here in Dorset.
Featuring an obsessive little mole, my story begins:
Mole loved labelling things.
All sorts of things.
Naming things was what Mole liked best.
Using post-it notes, Marjolijn dresses the library as if Mole has visited, covering everywhere with labels ("On the computer, the chairs, the books, on everything!) - and tells the children that something strange happened during the night. The kids are then sent on a word hunt. "Children love to read all of them."
When Mole finds 'something unusual on the path', he is dumbfounded. Unable to name it, he begins to describe it instead, covering it with a multitude of sticky notes and adjectives. 45 in total!
Lumpy, bumpy, knobbly, bobbly, scaly, rough and peculiar… it was tricky to find so many. (I asked my boys for ideas - they came up with mossy and pine-coney, which I thought were really descriptive.) From time to time, I come up with a new word. I wish I could just keep adding to the list. For example, last week I discovered the word scabrous, meaning ‘a rough surface’. If only it had been in my vocabulary when I was writing the book.
Marjolijn recreates this pivotal scene using a large, inflatable crocodile, adorned with more post-its. As the young visitors gather round, they wonder, ‘Who did this?’
Using a powerpoint presentation, she reads my story, introducing de kinderen to Mole and the Lumpy-Bumpy Thing. 'And we play and see words and tell them how your vision on what first seem strange and big and sharp and dangerous can change if you make friends.'
That last line brought a smile to my face. Because although DANGEROUS! has turned out to be a fun tool for teaching the difference between nouns and adjectives, it was not my primary goal in telling the story.
For me, it was about being non- judgemental, not acting on first impressions - because the real danger is that we may be wrong. Beneath all the wordplay, DANGEROUS! is a story of acceptance, tolerance and ultimately friendship.
(Credit goes to my editor at Little Tiger Press who suggested we restrict Mole to nouns at the start. In fact, my very first sketches for the story show Mole labelling stuff - but using a mixture of nouns and adjectives.)
What I find most exciting about Marjolijn's email is her enthusiasm. Imagine being a youngster and experiencing that! My local library, with its thoughtful librarians, played a massive part in my early years - so hearing from this Dutch library really made my day.
Have you used my books (in the classroom or at home) as teaching tools? I'd love to hear your suggestions for engaging literacy activities. Please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With thanks to Marjolijn Sonneveld for allowing me to share Bibliotheek Westland's teaching ideas
available from your local indie bookseller or wherever books are sold
"Packed with adjectives, it's fantastic for expanding your child's vocabulary too."
"a charming lesson in the perils of judging a book by its cover"
Rebecca Davies, The Independent
DANGEROUS! by Tim Warnes (Little Tiger Press 2014)
Nominated - Kate Greenaway Medal 2015
Finalist - Coventry Inspiration Book Awards 2016
Shortlisted - Oscar's First Book Prize 2015
Longlisted - North Somerset Teachers' Book Awards 2015
Shortlisted - IBW Book Award 2016
Good to Read
Featuring other Lumpy-Bumpy Things!
Guji-Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen (Gecko Press 2003)
Melrose and Croc by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins 2005)
The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, ill. by Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape 1978)
Alligators All Around, part of The Nutshell Library Collection by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins 1962)
The Crocodile’s Toothache, featured in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (Harper and Row 1974)
WARNING! This Book May Contain Rabbits by Tim Warnes (Little Tiger Press 2016)