Books Are Launch Pads...with Mini Grey

We know that books
are masters of disguise and can be many things. And one of them is – a launch
pad, a starting place for new things. This week I want to look a little bit at the making-projects in schools that books can inspire

But first: I’m
going to get into my time machine and zoom back to being 6 years old.

What are my
strongest memories from primary school?

Well, there is:

µ helping make a lunar command module clad with tin foil
with toothpaste tube top controls when I was in Mrs Alexander’s Class (it was
big enough for us to sit in); 

µ making my own royal crown and being William III in Mrs Wall’s Class (and thus remembering forever the
1689 – 1702);

µ and, also I think in Mrs Alexander’s class, making my
Christmas Lunch Hat* but not putting my name on it -  and then seeing a girl called Karen wearing it
at the actual lunch. Which is when I learned a hard lesson about putting my
name on things, and also became very suspicious for several years about girls
called Karen.

*OK you may be thinking of an amazing hat of piled up sprouts and Christmas pudding but it was just a hat to eat the lunch in.

But what those
memories have in common is that they all involve making things.

Response and

As a picture book
maker/illustrator, what I’m doing a lot is responding; responding to words with
pictures, responding to pictures with words., and generally playing with the
words & pictures dynamic double act.

As an author who
was once a teacher, what I just adore is when teachers in schools use my
stories as launch pads for their own projects and investigations.

Children engaged in outdoors activitied inspired by The Last Wolf.

Books in Schools

Though Twitter has
been flagging a bit lately, it is a brilliant way to be in touch with schools, and see
what children have been doing and making. Below are some tweets about activities inspired by Egg Drop, The Last Wolf and Traction Man.

Sometimes knowing a
story well can gives you a familiar structure to improvise around. It gives you a model to copy but make your own. Claire
Williams is an amazing and inspiring teacher who took Hermelin as a starting place. Children used the Hermelin story structure for extended
writing with a partner.

From Hermelin the Sequel - set in a perfect mystery location -  on board a cruise ship

 From The story of Pringle the Detective Eagle

Tiddles the Detective Corgi, set in Buckingham Palace.

Again - a fantastic setting for a detective story  - and we see what's going on in all the rooms - I particularly like the King organising his pants collection.

On the 5th January this year, as the children returned to school at Charles Darwin Community Primary School in Cheshire, they discovered a meteor
had crashed in the school playground. And this was the beginning of a whole school project inspired by my book The Greatest Show on Earth. The children responded by making poetry and art, but were picking
up the science themes along the way.

Here's that crashed meteor.

Each year group was given a particular geological era to focus on, and the project culminated in a full-scale exhibition of the work made by the children, including spectacular sculptures of prehistoric plants and animals, artwork and poetry.

Ice Age animals and a big blue whale

Entering the Carboniferous Era - about 350 million years ago

A Carboniferous waterfall where plants explore the land, and insects get to grow big.

Dino sculptures, DNA, jellyfish and carnivorous plants.

Read all about it in this article in the Northwich Guardian!

Cheshire was too far away for me to be able to visit, but I got to meet the children several times with good old Zoom, and I was given a virtual Zoom tour - it was really like exploring Earth's history phase by phase, and very atmospheric. What an incredible achievement by everyone involved. Speaking to the Northwich Guardian, head Adam Croft said: "I hadn't thought anyone could be more wide-eyed than our children when they first explored the interactive work, but adult visitors were possibly even more blown away."

So it's worth remembering that making things takes persistence and hard work - but the rewards are pride and ownership, and a deeper connection with the content involved.

The satisfaction of
having made something.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of his book Art Shaped by Darrell Wakelam. Darrell's book draws from his huge experience of 3D making wth children, usually using waste cardboard. There is a guide to core methods for building models – and this gives children a chance to build up a 3D making repertoire and engage in thinking in three dimensions.

Lovely ideas for science and the natural world projects from Art Shaped.

Using making to investigate skeletons and ecosystems.

Maybe there aren’t so very many opportunities in school
to make longer term messy projects. Immersed  in the world of the virtual, we can get out of
touch with real materials, and how they’re unpredictable and don’t necessarily
do what you want them to the first time. I remember, making a picture with real
paint after doing a lot of working on a computer tablet, feeling a perplexed moment when
I couldn’t undo the last thing I did, and take that paint away again. The virtual world isn’t messy and
sticky and doesn’t involve much tidying up afterwards. But when you make a thing,
the satisfaction lasts as a joy you can return to forever.

Dunkleosteus from The Greatest Show on Earth

 And whoaa!! – most brilliant
of all – Darrell was inspired by my book to make his own
3D Greatest
monster armoured placoderm! 

Darrell's fantastic riveted monster fish
Watch Darrell make it here:

Darrell's Website

You make a book
and that’s where you think you finish - 
but that’s where the book’s new life begins: as a springboard, a model, a launch pad, to be used to blast off to new discoveries.

 Mini’s latest book is The Greatest Show on Earth, published by Puffin.




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