Posts Tagged Tales

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf



There are some brilliant stories of how things became – take Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, Ted Hughes’ How the Whale Became.

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, a collaboration between author David Almond and illustrator Dave McKean, is in this tradition. The gods have made the world that Sue, Harry and Little Ben live in. But they’re lazy; they’re up there in the clouds and they’re sleepy. The children can see that there are holes in creation, and sometimes they can see what might go in those holes.

mouse Mouse-Bird-Snake-WolfAll goes relatively well until Harry and Wolf start having wolfish thoughts:


wolf 2

I love the metaphorical muscle of this book. We live in such a world. A lot is created, but there are spaces left for us to create. Much of what we create is benign, but we have the power to create what is fearsome, destructive.


We’ve been reading it with the Year 4 classes, and getting the kids to respond to it imaginatively, and the quality of their responses has been good to see. The book is deep enough, resonant enough with what we face outside fiction, for there to be plenty to discuss. The myth is both deep and lighthearted, and the kids entered into it from the first page, filling in the gaps that it’s creators have left.


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The Daydreamer

the daydreamerI’m teaching  Year 4 next year (8 and 9 year olds).  So I’ve started to read books that they might like.

I like Ian McEwan’s The Daydreamer a lot, though maybe it’s a bit too old for most Y4 children. Why too old? Perhaps the element of threat. But then again, maybe it’s OK…

It’s a book about a young boy who’s a daydreamer, dreaming about transformations.

My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.

Ovid, Metamorphoses

So, in the wonderful chapter called The Cat, Peter discovers something unexpected about his cat:

Looking down through the fur, and parting it with the tips of his fingers ,he saw that he had opened up a small slit in the cat’s skin. It was as if he were holding the handle of a zip. Again he pulled, and now there was a dark opening two inches long. William Cat’s purr was coming from in there.

The choice of Anthony Browne as illustrator is perfect. His detailed realistic images always have an element of the surreal in them, and McEwan’s writing embeds the mysterious in the quotidian detail of family life:

In the big untidy kitchen there was a drawer. Of course, there were many drawers, but when someone said, ‘The string is in the kitchen drawer,’ everyone understood. The chances were the string would not be in the drawer. It was meant to be, along with a dozen other useful things that were never there: screwdrivers, scissors, sticky tape, drawing pins, pencils. If you wanted one of these, you looked in the drawer first, then you looked everywhere else. What was in the drawer was hard to define: things that had no natural place, things that had no use but did not deserve to be thrown away, things that might be mended one day. So—batteries that still had a little life, nuts without their bolts, the handle of a precious teapot, a padlock without a key or a combination lock whose secret number was a secret to everyone, the dullest kind of marbles, foreign coins, a torch without a bulb, a single glove from a pair lovingly knitted by Granny before she died, a hot water bottle stopper, a cracked fossil. By some magic reversal, everything spectacularly useless filed the drawer intended for practical tools. What could you do with a single piece of jigsaw? But, on the other hand, did you dare throw it away?

I think maybe this would be a good read-aloud book, to make the trickier ideas more accessible, and to be together for the weirder parts. The language is, as you’d expect, just right, good to hear.

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Varjak Paw

“There are Seven Skills in the Way of Jalal,” whispered the Elder Paw.  “We know only three of them. Their names are these.  Slow-Time.  Moving Circles.  Shadow-Walking.”

SF Said‘s Varjak Paw is a tale of a pet cat who must grow up, learn to survive Outside, and learn the Seven Skills of his ancestor Jalal. He uses the skills, which he learns from Jalal in his dreams, to help his new street cat friends, Holly and Tam.

As usual David McKean’s illustrations are amazing, and complement the text brilliantly.

Varjak Paw 1

Varjak Paw 2

Varjak Paw 3

Varjak Paw 4

Varjak Paw 5




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Of the frogge and the crabbe

The frogge vppon a tyme whan she sawe the crabbe swymmynge by the watersyde spake and sayde: “What is he, this so fowle and vncomly, that is so bold to trouble my watyr? Forsomoch as I am mighty and stronge both in watyr and lond I shal go and dryue him away.”

And aftir this saying she made a lepe as though she wold haue oppressyd the crabbe and sayde: “O thow wretche, why art not thow shamefaste to entyr in to my restynge place? Arte not thowe confusyd to defyle the watyr that is so fayre and bright whan thow arte so fowle soo blacke and soo odyows?”

The crabbe as he is vsyd to do went euyr bakwarde, saynge to the frogge, “Syster, saye not soo, for I desyre to haue thy loue and to be at peace withe the. Therfore I praye the entyr not vppon me withe vyolence.”

And the frogge, seynge hym goynge baltwarde beleuid that he had doone soo for fere of her.

Wherfore she began to greue him more and more both with woordes and dedys, saynge: “Withdrawe not thy self, thowe moost fowle, for thow mayst not escape, for this same daye I shall fede fysshes with the.”

And euyn forthwith that same woorde she made a lepe wyllynge to sle the crabbe. The crabbe, seynge the greate iubardye and that he cowde not escape, he tournyd him self and disposyd him to batell and caught the frogge with his cleys and bote her and plukkyd her to smale pecys and sayde:

“He that to batell is compellyd to goo

Let him fight manly with his mortall foo.”


Another story from the first English version of the Dialogus Creaturarum. The picture is again from Claude Nourry’s 1509 edition printed at Lyon.

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Of a Fyssh callyd a Carpe, and a Fissh called Tymallus

It happyd in a greate solempne feste, Fisshes of the floode walkyd togidre after Dynar in great tranquillyte and peace for to take ther recreacyon and solace; but the Carpe began to trowble the feste, erectynge hym self by pryde & saynge, I am worthy to be lawdyd aboue all othir, for my flesshe is delicate and swete more than it can be tolde of. I haue not be nourished nothir in dychesse, nor stondyngh watyrs, nor pondes; but I haue be brought vppe in the floode of the greate garde. Wherfore I owe to be Prynce and Regent amonge all yowe.

Ther is a Fissh callyd Tymal’ lus, hauinge his name a Flowre, for Tinius is callyd a Flowre; and this Tymallus is a Fissh of the See, as saithIsidore, Ethimologiarum, xii. and allthoughe that he be fauoureable in sight and delectable in taste, yet moreouir the Fyssh of hym smellyth swete lyke a flowre and geuith a pleasaunte odour. And so this Fyssh Tymallus, hering this saynge of the Carpe, had greate scorne of him and sterte forth & sayde: It is not as thou sayste, for I shine more bright than thowe, and excede the in odowre and relece. Who may be comparyd rnto me, for he that fyndith me hath a great Tresowre. If thow haue thy dwellynge oonly in the watir of garde, I haue myn abydynge in many large floodes.

And so emong them were great stryuis and contencyons. Wherfore the feste was tournyd in to great trowble, for some fauowryd the parte of the one and some of the othir, so that be lyklyhode there shukl haue growen greate myschefe emonge them: for eueiy of them began to snak at othir, & wulde haue torne eche other on smale pecys.

Ther was monge all othir a Fissh callyd Truta euyr mouyd to breke stryfe;and soo thys Trowte for asmoche as she was agjd, and wele lernyd, she spake and sayde: Brediyn, it is not good to stryue & fight for vayne lawdatowris and praysers; for I prayse not my self though some personis thinke me worthy to be commendid; for it is wryttyn, the Mowth of an othir Man mote commende the and not thyn owne, for all commendacyon and lawde of hym self is fowle in y*. mouth of the Spekar. Therefore bettyr hit is that those that prayse them self goo togider to the see luge, that is, the Dolphyn, which is a iust luge and a rightfull and dredinge God, for he shall rightfully determyn this mater.

This Counsell plesyd them well, and forth went these twayn togider vnto the Dolphyn. and shewyd to him all ther myndes, and to ther power comendid the self. To whom the Dolphyn sayde: Children, I neuyr sawe yowe tell this tyme, for ye be alwaye hydde in the floodes, and 1 am steringe iu the great Wawys of the See; wherfore I cannot gyue ryghtfull Sentence betwene yowe, but yf I first assaye and make a Taste of yowe. And thus saynge, he gaue a sprynge and swalowyd them in both two, and sayde,

Noman owith hym self to commende,
Aboue all other, laste he offende.


This fable of the Dolphin and the Fish is from a medieval collection called the Creature Conversations, or in Latin Dialogus Creaturarum. It’s very like the story told here before of the Two Otters and Jackal. Even though it makes hard reading – can you read it? – I’ve left the English as it was five hundred years ago.

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a machine for tales

Thanks Mick for the Story Cubes.

Already they’ve been generating all sorts of fantastical fictions.

Not only that, but I obviously think, “How would that work with children?” I’m going to try it out.

And then I think, “What if the pictures were different?” and “What pictures would I put on the dice, that would lead to the most interesting and various places?”

There’s heavy cloud sweeping over Skye, so already they’ve been in use today.

Then again, maybe a more complicated story generator is needed.

I saw, via the Internet, at the Story Museum in Oxford they had reconstructed a nineteenth century Storyloom.

The machine is more precisely known as Rochester’s Extraordinary Storyloom. This page tells us that “Victorian inventor Barnabas Rochester had an interest in stories but little talent for writing them – which is why he is said to have built the Storyloom.”

It’s Ted Dewan who is the engineer behind the reconstruction of the storyloom. His website is

Ted Dewan is an amazing illustrator when he’s not doing reconstructive engineering. I especially like his black and white pictures for Robert Ornstein’s books:




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The Mouse and His Child – the play

The Mouse and His Child – wonderful book! – is now a play!

And to make it complete, there’s a clockwork installation from the MAD museum.

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