The Mousehole Cat – ideas and resources

storm close-up

I’ve been guided by the Power of Reading notes that go with this book.  I personally find the text way too demanding for Year 3, even for Year 4, but it does fit with the current Year 4 Geography unit on coastal areas well.

Session 2 suggests that children highlight words or phrases from ‘Then one year there came a ….’ to ‘But they could not get out’ that convey the fierceness of the storm.  Session 10 and 11 suggest that children write the story in role as Tom.  The ideas below help with both, particularly if the focus of Tom’s story is the fishing trip into the storm.

I’ve done a ‘storm mountain’, which mirrors the shape of a ‘story mountain’ – you can download it here.  It starts with a slide that you can use to compare the climax and the ending of the storm as they are depicted in the illustrations.  The second slide has the mountain showing the shape of the storm: Antonia Barber describes how it begins by trying to breach the sea defences, then reaches its peak when Old Tom and Mowser are fishing, and finally starts to die away as they return to harbour.

I’ve mostly used photos, prints and paintings to illustrate the stages of the storm, with just the two I’ve already mentioned by Nicola Bayley.  I’ve put extracts from the text alongside each stage.  You could put the ‘storm mountain’ in the middle of a larger sheet of paper so that the children have space to note and annotate words and phrases describing the storm (from beginning to end, rather than the shorter section suggested in the Power of Reading notes).

There is another book that describes a storm at sea really well – The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams.  In this part of the story the hero, the Little Wooden Horse of the title, is attempting to swim across the ocean to return to his master.  While swimming, he is chased by ‘sea horses’ – waves – who are angry that he calls himself a horse too.  He is rescued from the sea horses by a passing ship, then locked in a chest by one of the sailors.  The storm comes on while the Little Wooden Horse is locked in the chest and is so strong that the ship breaks up.

The version I’ve got (The Kingfisher Classics one) has an illustration of the sea horses by Paul Howard.

Little Wooden Horse sea horses pic

Below is the text (edited), which provides good ‘compare and contrast’ opportunities – e.g. the characters of the storm cat and the sea horses, or the relationship between the stormcat & Mowser and the sea horses & the little wooden horse.  There’s a lot of work that could be done on the sounds of the storm, as depicted in the noises that the storm cat/sea horses make.  The description of the movement of the ship is also useful:

With a hundred piercing whinnies and squeals of joy the white horses plunged down the next wave after him, their manes flying wildly.  Others hurried to join them.  Soon the sea was full of the fairylike creatures, all chasing the poor little wooden horse, who had to flee for his life.

“How dare you call yourself a horse!” they shrieked, tossing their heads gaily, delighted with the hunt.

“I may be drowned,” said the little wooden horse, “or killed by these cruel creatures, but a horse I shall die.”

He was now being chased by at least a thousand of the mischievous, proud little sea horses.  Their shrill neighs and whinnies filled the air; they screamed with joy as the little wooden horse before them.  “After him!  After him!” they cried.

Suddenly a dark shape loomed ahead of him, almost hidden at one moment by the great waves, but at the next the whole of its enormous hulk came into view.  A big ship was riding into the storm, right across the path of the little wooden horse.

The sea horses neighed still more shrilly when they saw the big ship, and rode the waves even faster than they had done before.  The little wooden horse could feel the salt spray from their nostrils stinging his painted back.  They had nearly caught him… (he is rescued and taken on to the ship here)

…(he is then locked in the sailor Pirate Jacky’s chest below deck) Another thing which worried him very much was the clamour which he heard through the porthole above Pirate Jacky’s chest.  Outside the sea horses were still charging the sides of the ship till it shook with their buffeting, and he could hear their shrill, piercing whinnies.  The little wooden horse soon slept, he was so tired, but the sea horses followed the ship all night.  Sometimes they were quite silent, plunging in and out of the waves with easy flicks of their silver fins and tails, but towards morning they began to neigh again, waking the little wooden horse with their wild, shrill clamour.

Pirate Jacky left him in the sea chest the whole of that day, but at nightfall the sea horses were still following the boat.  They were wilder now than ever, battering at the timbers till the vessel shuddered and leapt and rolled.  On deck the men were busy, for they expected a bad night.

About midnight the little wooden horse, who had been listening for hours to the gathering storm, felt the ship give a sudden heave, and then roll over so violently that the sea chest slid acros the floor and crashed violently into the opposite beams.  The next moment a second violent roll sent it back again, and thenceforward it could not lie still, but was rolled, shoved, rocked, and buffeted across the planks.  The sea chest was pitched on end, turned completely over, rocked violently from side to side, as the ship swayed, yawed, and wallowed in the teeth of the storm.  The noise was terrible.  There was the wind in the rigging, and such a wind as had never been heard.  There was the hissing scream of the rain, the shatter of thunder, the clattering roar and tumble of the waves.

The noise was so deafening he thought he must die, when all of a sudden there came the loudest crack he had ever heard in his life.  With a desperate shiver the ship stood still – then with one terrible downward plunge she dived to her doom.

Click Little Wooden Horse extract to download this in Word.

The Power of Reading guidance also suggest that children draw what the storm looks like with pastels, as if they were Mowser looking out of her window.

The very beautiful illustration of the storm by Nicola Bayley is a stylised one.  You could supplement it with images of paintings by the 19th Century maritime specialists Charles Napier Hemy, Winslow Homer and Ivan Aivarovsky.

Resources for ‘The Village That Vanished’ – Power of Reading suggestions fleshed out

story mountain picture

These are some resources that I made to flesh out the suggestions on the Power of Reading notes that go with The Village That Vanished.

Without wanting to give way to lazy hyperbole, this is a truly great book in every way.  The illustrations are deeply-felt; the love of the illustrator (the artist Kadir Nelson) for the text shines out of every picture.  They are also technically very beautiful.

Though the pictures do a great deal to convey the meaning of the text, it’s still one that presents a heavy load.

Firstly, I find the structure complicated (I wouldn’t ask children to re-tell this story – also because it’s too long).  I’ve mapped the structure here, with a ‘classic’ story mountain to compare it with.  There’s also an activity that you can do with a whole class using PowerPoint or an Interactive Whiteboard.

Also, the sentences, in terms of language and structure, are demanding.  Here’s a summary, showing how they include more advanced types of punctuation (a colon, hyphens) as well.  Now that (until it changes again…) fronted adverbials are the only kind that matter, I can say that if you’re looking for those, there are some very good examples, particularly of those starting with adjectives (can be hard to model using a good text) and those starting with ‘-ing’ verbs.

Having said that, you could just go through how good the language is in all its aspects (there are some examples of really complex sentences at the bottom of the sentence summary above).  If you want to do that, I’ve saved you the trouble of typing them out in  this document.

Should you wish to focus on fronted adverbials – and you have to, after all – there are some ideas here and here.

The Power of Reading notes suggest:

  1.  writing a prayer, using Njemile’s as a model.  Here’s an EAL-friendly starting point for that.
  2. having a debate about whether or not to leave the village.
  3. deciding which of the characters Njemile, Abikanile or Chimwala is the heroine.

After doing the heroines activity, the notes suggest comparing your one true heroine with other heroines.  You could try the ‘Barefoot Book of Heroines’ by Rebecca Hazel (NB non-fiction) for that.



Teaching Fronted Adverbials ‘Using Mog the Forgetful Cat’

Mog 12

This is a great book for teaching sentence structure.  Read on for teaching ideas and free downloadable resources.

Begin caveat: the structure of the story is quite complicated.

If you look at it in terms of the ‘story mountain ‘ approach, the beginning and build-up are quite long, as the author does a lot to establish the character of Mog. Then there are a series of mini-problems before the problem proper arrives. And this problem is immediately followed by another problem. So if we were to make a story mountain for this story it would look like this:

Mog story mountain

As opposed to the classic:

classic story mountain

Which is why I wouldn’t use this book for anything that required pupils to retell the story in writing – it’s just not a good model structurally.  End caveat.

Having said this about structure, this book is a great choice for teaching fronted adverbials because of the language. It’s written for pre-school children so, even though it has lots of humour and action, the language is very simple – with many subject+verb+object type simple sentences.  It is these sentences that you can use as the building blocks for teaching how to use fronted adverbials.

How to do it

Have a look at the chart with the blue boxes below (also downloadable at the end of this post).  It shows the variety of ways you can teach fronted adverbials.   Some, like those starting with ‘time’ prepositions, come more naturally.  Others are quite literary in their effect and even older children will have to make a conscious effort to use them.

Mog blue chart 1

Mog blue chart 2

The sentences in black are, on their own, simple sentences. The additions in red are fronted adverbials. Together, simple sentence + fronted adverbial = higher value sentence.

The sentences in black here summarise the action i.e. they are not lifted directly from the text. But you can use the sentences in the text as they are and make an activity about adding fronted adverbials.

The teaching progression and sheets for this are here, the story mountains are here and the blue charts are here.

(Font alert – I haven’t got any Sassoon-type fonts, so I’m using Bradley Hand for worksheets, which I hope works for you.)