Once upon a time, very close to where you are now, an English Consultant and a Librarian had a conversation about picture books and the Greenaway Award, specifically about The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. And so my love affair with picture books began. From then on we walked hand-in-hand through lesson after lesson, and into the sunset together, me and the picture books.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always liked picture books, had fond memories of them, loved them even, but I didn’t perhaps appreciate their depth, their fine art quality as much as I should, which is strange since art is one of my deep loves.
The Wolves in the Walls is an edgy graphic novel in picture book form, with illustrations from McKean that, simply put, blew me away the first time I read it. The narrative is simple. The illustration deep, a Picassoesque family and wolves so grotesquely violent they would scare the sturdiest of Year 6s even if you turned the pages very, very fast. There are pages that need no words, the illustrations do the talking. McKean and Gaiman have a long standing professional partnership in the grown up graphic novel world and this comes across in this beautifully crafted book.
It is perfect for using in the classroom (most suited I think to KS2). Children love it! It is dark, and based on the deep seated fears we all have. (Is it just me that hears a sound and gives it a back story? No, thought not!). Children like dark. It’s a picture book that challenges. Not everyone likes it, but I don’t think the Wolves care. It leads you into writing a sequel like a dream – how could you leave the story of the Elephants in the Walls untold? Less happy ever after, more horror all over again…
So I shall stop waxing lyrical. Here are a few ideas for how you might use it:
- As McKean would cite Picasso as an influence, this book is perfect for looking at his cubist period in particular, and looking at the construction of these images to support the children in creating their own version of the book.
- The book uses some collage techniques. This could be explored as part of an art unit looking at new illustration styles, and could be compared with Lauren Child who also uses collage but in a different way.
- The text is perfect for looking at onomatopoeia, the hissing, creaking, squeaking, bustling noises…what sorts of noises might other animals make? This could be turned into poetry.
- Explore the everyday, the familiar, Dad playing the tuba, Mum making jam, what might be happening in your house? What more unusual actvities could your family be doing?
- Use circle time to explore the family sitting around the fire coming up with plans. What plans can the children come up with for getting the wolves out of the walls? Record these so they can be used to support writing their own version
- Box the story up so the children know the structure inside out
- Talk with the children about the noises their house makes. What do they imagine those noises are at night? Can they describe the noises?
- “We should go and live in the arctic circle,” said Lucy’s father, “we must go and live in the Sahara desert” said her mother. “I think we should go and live in outer space” said her brother.
Discuss with the class what they think it would be like to live in any of the three places Lucy‘s family mentioned above. After discussion, split the class into three groups and tell each group which one of the three places they are off to live in. Each group should come up with a list of 10 things they think they should take with them.
- Look at the fonts, size and style in the book. Isolate the text from the pictures if you can. How does the font style, shape and size make you read the words? Take the phrase “She heard clawing and gnawing, nibbling and squabbling.” Can the children choose a font/size to give the words a sinister meaning? e.g. chiller, or adjusting the size of the onomatopoeia words to be larger.
These are just a few of my ideas, others can be found here:
Need more ideas for picture books to use in KS2? Check out our Pinterest board here
Charlotte Reed – Primary English Consultant Coventry