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KS2 Book Topic – Journey

If a picture paints a thousand words, it’s easy to see why Aaron Becker’s picture book, Journey, tells such a fantastical, epic tale...

  • KS2 Book Topic – Journey

A lonely girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and steps into another world. Aided by her magic crayon she travels through this strange, new place. Shifting landscapes give way to a remarkable city where there’s a villain to confront, and the girl needs all her courage and resourcefulness in order to survive. She does, of course, and goes home with the greatest treasure of all – a friend.

In this glorious – and completely wordless – picture book, the timeless appeal of Aaron Becker’s story is more than matched by his illustrations, which crackle with so much expressive energy that readers barely notice the absence of text.

Becker worked as a designer in the film industry before creating Journey, and his experience is evident in the book’s grandly conceived, yet intimately detailed, spreads.

Executed in watercolour, a demanding medium that requires a delicate balance between control and ‘letting go’, the resulting artwork is gently memorable yet utterly compelling.

With so much to look at and think about, this is a book that can be read on many levels. As Becker says in a mini-documentary on his website: “Each page has to answer questions from the previous spread as well as introducing whatever might be happening next”.

Taken as a whole, his illustrations provide a rich and memorable reading experience that will inspire much in the way of thinking and talking, and make a wonderful starting point for creative projects of all kinds.

1 | Playing picture detectives

Before sharing the whole book, play ‘picture detectives’ to prepare your class for the kind of story-and-image questioning that will help them enjoy this tale.

Choose one double spread – the illustration showing the girl entering the city works well – and talk about what’s going on. What can you see, and what questions do you have? Apart from the boat, the colours in this image are muted. How does this make you feel and what do you think about it? Talk about the characters. If you could take the girl’s place in the picture, what would you hear and touch, and what emotions would you feel? Invent dialogue for the characters, and discuss what might be going to happen next. Do you think the girl can see things that we (as readers) cannot?

This ‘visual literacy’ approach to a picture’s content, narrative and composition is an effective way to boost children’s speaking and listening skills and develop their critical abilities, as well as increase their enjoyment of the book.


2 | Sharing the whole book

Explain that there are no words in Journey and that everyone will need to look closely at the pictures to help create the story as you go along. Provide multiple copies of the book in small groups so that children can see clearly, or project the pages onto a screen, and take your time to explore each image and discuss. When you finish, look back over the book and encourage reflection and further questioning.


3 | Becoming a storyteller

For traditional oral storytellers the structure of a story is a framework that must be kept intact, rather like a set of bones. Individual retellings are marked out by added details and embellishments.

Wordless picture books can be a good way to develop oral storytelling skills and Journey is ideal for this. Using the images as prompts, tell the story in your own words. Start with simple retellings of the bare bones before working in smaller groups to develop your stories by adding details. In this way, each group will create a different version of the story.

Why not record the stories that emerge and make a collection of books to accompany them? These can be shared with another class or added to your own reading corner. Or you can record descriptions of single spreads and ask children to listen before matching each description to its picture.


4 | Magic crayons

Both the children in this story have magic crayons – one red, one purple. Starting with the dedication page, look at the pictures to find the different objects created by each child. If you could have a magic crayon, what would you draw?

In a large, clear space (such as the school hall) mime drawing an object with a magic crayon and make it ‘come to life’. Perform the mimes to the rest of the class, then pair the children and ask them to use their magic crayons to create something together. Take photographs as they perform, then ask them to write about the experience.

Back in class, paint pictures using only black, white and shades of grey. Add ‘magic crayon’ details in a single, bold colour. If the crayons could talk, what would they say? Who created them, and what other adventures have they had? Write about the magic crayons and display alongside your children’s artwork.


5 | Travel by carpet

Bring a red rug into school (the sort you can roll up and carry under one arm) and use it for story sharing in small groups with an adult helper (perhaps in secret locations around the school). Invite children to sit on the rug and talk about the special places they would like to go.

What would the world look like from a flying carpet? Make a picture map to show the girl’s journey through the landscape in the book. To help with this, look carefully at each image for clues about the next location – for example, when the girl enters the forest, the jetty can be seen in the distance.


6 | Body language

The characters in this book are amazingly expressive. Look at their postures and gestures and discuss what this tells you about how they feel. Make a collection of the best words you can find to describe these emotions. Talk about body language and try expressing different emotions physically.

Have a go at staging some of the spreads in this book as tableaux. The image showing the king throwing the crayon overboard works well for this, as does the scene in which the girl steals the bird.

Go back to the spreads showing characters interacting and invent some dialogue. If a character is angry or scared, make sure that what they say reflects this, or add a ‘stage direction’ telling a reader how the lines should be delivered. Read the dialogues aloud. Do they sound convincing? How could you improve them?


7 | Magical forests and wonderful birds

Using the forest in the book as a guide, paint a magical woodland backdrop and create some fabulous birds. It’s quick and easy to make 3D paper mâché birds out of old telephone directories and masking tape. Remove the pages and scrunch them up to form spheres and other shapes. Tape to secure, and attach individual forms to build birds. Cover with a mix of paint and glue and add fabric, glitter and decorations as required.


8 | Crazy Contraptions

How many forms of transport are used during this story? Look closely at the marvellous flying machines, especially the cogs and pipes and gears.

In a large, clear space, explore repetitive motions before creating a giant working ‘machine’ by combining individual actions. Start with a single child before adding each new motion to the whole.

Back in class, design some vehicles. Include cross-sections through the ‘workings’ so that everybody can see how they’re powered. You might like to look at Stephen Biesty’s cross-sections through vehicles and machinery to help with this.


9 | Where do ideas come from?

Look at the picture showing the girl in her bedroom. Can you see things that make an appearance later in the book? Sometimes ideas for stories come easily, other times they need a bit of help.

Collect some everyday objects in a variety of shapes and materials (a saucepan, an old bicycle wheel and an umbrella, perhaps?) and use them to spark ideas for stories. Create a box of ‘story prompts’ by writing questions on cards.

For example: what would happen if this object…grew to be enormous? ...had magic powers? ...wanted a friend? ...came to life? …belonged to somebody else (the queen, a lion, a visitor from outer space)?

Sit everybody in a circle and invite children to pick an object, then dip into the box for a story prompt. Depending on your children’s abilities and preferences, ask them to talk independently or invite the whole class to contribute questions and ideas. This activity can be developed into writing, drama or art.


10 | Taking your pencil for a walk

Read The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman, and imagine your pencil has come to life. Let it dance over coloured and textured papers to explore different kinds of mark making. What happens when you press harder, or hardly press at all? Think of sketching as taking a pencil for a walk, and try drawing from observation in a way that lets the pencil have some fun. Hold the pencil lightly and let it make some interesting marks.

Look at the picture showing the girl falling through the air. If you were holding a crayon while you went for a walk, jumped, or turned somersaults, what kind of marks would you make? During PE, explore different types of body movements and imagine the lines and shapes you would create.

Explore circles of all sizes by drawing them, large and small, in a variety of colours and media. Create enormous chalk circles in the school playground with smaller circles inside, or brightly coloured interlocking circles on long rolls of wallpaper. Paint some circle backdrops, then let your magic crayons go for a walk in and around the circles you’ve created.

Put on an exhibition to show your artwork. Don’t forget to have a launch party with invitations and refreshments, and make sure your exhibits are well-labelled and catalogued.


Books to read alongside Journey

If you could draw a door in the air and step through it, what kind of world would you be in? Have fun imagining new worlds, and while you’re talking, drawing and writing, why not explore some of the imaginary worlds created by these other writers and illustrators?

  • Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney
  • The Tunnel by Anthony Browne
  • Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley by John Burningham
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Journey is the first in a trilogy that continues with Quest. For other wordless picture books you might enjoy, try Clown by Quentin Blake, Tuesday by David Wiesner and Wonderbear by Tao Nyeu.


Carey Fluker Hunt is a freelance writer, children’s book ambassador and creative consultant.

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