Digging Deeper… Reading with Picturebooks



I firmly believe that he better we know the  books we are using. The more effectively we will be able to help children explore them.  I recently did a workshop at Reading Rocks. In the session I used the fantastic Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd Stanton published by the rather wonderful Flying Eye Books.

I’ll admit the session was planned partly as a way of keeping my hand in.

The aims of the session were as follows.

  • To look and explore a picturebook
  • To understand how knowing a book well allows us to dig deeper
  • Look at how talk/drama techniques can help us dig deeper
  • To look at some ways to dig into a text with children.

To be able to do that we need to give our teachers time to explore as well. Knowledgeable teachers knowing about books will make a big difference to how they use them with their class. It will step beyond the surface into allowing them to dig deeper.

KEY QUESTION 1 What knowledge would help the children explore the book better?

This is always an important question to ask. Are there key bits of knowledge or context that would support the children’s understanding of the text. If there is then teach it. In this case knowing about a little about Norse Mythology and the Vikings would be useful.


This grid is always great for starting point for discussion. it provides a secure framework for children to look and talk. So give it a go look at the front cover and talk about what you like? What you dislike? What puzzles you? What links and connections you might make.


What is always surprising about using the grid is that different people will all see and think different things. Creating time to talk about books is vital in developing deeper understanding, listening to others points helps drive our thinking. Thing is there often isn’t a right and wrong answer. (regardless of whether a comprehension suggests there is only one answer)


Now look the end-papers. (Joe Todd Stanton does just the best end-papers) and ask yourself the same questions. I guarantee some of your children will bring some links and connections here. (Most of them admittedly will be Marvel related…I did love Thor Ragnarok)

Arthur 11.png

The next picture we get is this one. It’s really important to see the illustrator as an author and therefore to think why they may have placed an image or a clue. At this point we may not have an answer, but we may have lots of questions, when we read any good books they often ask us more questions than give us answers. Giving children the opportunity to explore the questions is vital.

KEY QUESTION 2 Do you give children room to ask questions about what they are reading?


In the book we then discover that the Brownstone’s are family who over centuries have collected lots of weird and wonderful artifacts. This page is fantastic both for exploring and making links and connections.


We did this as a game and a race to find ten objects and explain what they were or what they did. It would also be great to come back after exploring the book to use the page as a launch pad for the children writing their own narrative using one of the objects on the page.



We then get this piece of text. Discuss with children what a ‘Hero’ is. What they look like? How they behave? Then ask the children to based on that text to describe Arthur our ‘unlikeliest’ of heroes. Then show the children the first picture of Arthur that we get in the book.


Ask children to think about what the learn about Arthur from the picture. Using a body outline ask children describe around the outline the external features and inside what we learn about his personality, or the internal Arthur. This could equally be done as a Role on the wall or if your brave enough a Hot seat discussion.

Then in the book it all goes wrong for Arthur. The text alongside the images is  great. This next bit I shamelessly stole from the CLPE as I saw Farrah do this brilliantly with ‘The Island’ by Armin Greder. It is now a favourite technique of mine for getting children to look really closely at the text. It is also fantastic for getting children to understand sentence structures, punctuation and grammar in a real context. Really discussing why an author has structured a text a certain way is hugely powerful both when children write for themselves but also understanding the impact SPAG.  I picked this text extract because it allowed so much drama and variety. When I saw the CLPE unit for the book they had done the same thing with the same bit of text. (I just think it’s great minds or their really good teaching)


Arthur 15

Give children an extract of text. Discuss with them what is happening in the extract. Think about the pace, structure and tone of the extract. Discuss the effect the use of punctuation makes. Children then create a performance of the text extract. emphasising keywords and drawing out the authors intent.


Here’s one I did earlier.

Reading aloud with fluency and emphasis is a vital skill. It is important that we regularly model this by reading to our class everyday.

KEY QUESTION 3 Do you read to your class everyday?

If you don’t you’re missing a trick. Plus NO PLANNING.

If you hadn’t guessed it all goes wrong for Arthur at this point. Arthur is blamed for the destruction of the village. The story provides us with a perfect moment to use THOUGHT-TRACKING to explore a little deeper with Arthur


Exploring  what Arthur might say and equally what he is thinking is hugely powerful. This picture when we compare it to the first time we meet Arthur also gives us an interesting opportunity to use a SHOW, NOT TELL technique and use this to write about Arthur and by describing him show the reader how he is feeling.

We at this point are left with a character sunk in a dilemma. Unable to sleep Arthur has to make a choice. Using CONSCIENCE ALLEY to explore the dilemma would work well here but I prefer an ANGELS and DEMONS approach. In groups of three, where one child is Arthur and the other two are advising him the children must explore the dilemma and ultimately Arthur must decide what he is going to do next.

Arthur, being the hero, decides to try to save the day and he sets off on an epic heroic quest. The next page is probably my favourite in the whole book as I’m a sucker for a map.


This page as well providing us with an idea of the scale and epicness of the adventure is also a perfect oppotunity for a mini write. Limiting the words and getting children to be really precise is a great way of getting them to think about language choice and sentence structures. MINI-SAGAS are perfect for this (I think along time ago I may have stolen this off Pie Corbett) Write an adventure in fifty words then perform them as a Norse fireside epic. Easy as that.

That about sums up my presentation but leaves you on tenterhooks as to where the story is going. Needless to say it is epic with one of the best suspense page flips ever.

I would say it’s a perfect book for Year 3 and 4. @toddstanton1 is a fantastic picturebook author/illustrator. I would thoroughly recommend all his books.

Thanks Flying Eye books for giving me permission to use the images from Arthur and the Golden rope

The CLPE have produced an excellent unit to accompany this book.


Link to book on the Flying-Eye website.




Shouting in the Wind


Fiddes, Christopher John Ellis, b.1934; Shouting in the Wind

“This coat my royal gown
A stolen hand-me-down
No need to scrape and bow
We can be heroes now
For more than just one day
Heres how
Look both ways when crossing roads
Dont wear slippers till youre old
Never do what you are told”

Chumbawamba “Never do what you are told”

I’ve been asking myself recently…Why I blog?…Why I tweet? I Think that is an important question to ask ourselves.

I started just over a year and a half ago partly driven by frustration. As a head of a small coastal primary school, the challenges you face are huge yet your voice feels practically non-existent. Finance, budget, recruitment, SEND all massive issues but ones which you feel you have no power.  So that was the motivation to provide a voice for the average school. The school doing their best in challenging circumstances. I have at times been outspoken.(I’m OK with that). I’ve more often been ignored (often when you post something that doesn’t agree with someone elses narrative). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shout out. Sometimes people are afraid to shout out. The thing we must realise is that every person’s voice needs to be listened to. Some people seem to wield blocks and mutes on twitter as a way of shutting down debate, clearing their timeline of dissenting voices. Thing is if we only listen to the voices that agree with us we don’t actually get a real picture.


“Anything worth shouting about is worth shouting into the wind.

Because if enough people care, often enough, the word spreads, the standards change, the wind dies down. If enough people care, the culture changes.

It’s easy to persuade ourselves that the right time to make change happen is when it’s time. But that’s never true. The right time to make it happen is before it’s time. Because this is what ‘making’ means.

The most devastating thing we can learn about our power is how much of it we have. How much change we could make if we would only speak up first, not last. How much influence we can have if we’re willing to look someone in the eye and say, “yes.” Or, “this is our problem, too.” Or, “this must stop.”

Yes, there’s wind, there’s always been wind. But that doesn’t mean we should stop shouting.”

Seth Godin


I’ve been lucky enough to get pieces in the TES to share my voice.

Why Picturebooks are Important…TES article archive #1

The Fight to be an Inclusive School… TES article archive #2

Getting rid of staff isn’t the answer…TES article archive #3

Evidence is important but great teaching is still art…TES article arhive #4


So what I’m really saying is don’t be afraid to shout out and keep shouting even if it feels no one is listening. Whether you have 1 follower or 500000 your voice is equally as important.