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Teach fake news and hoaxes with Lisa Thompson’s The Boy who Fooled the World

Even after my childhood verse proved pleasingly popular, I never dreamt I would one day be sharing it with children in primary schools as a published author, says Lisa Thompson...

  • Teach fake news and hoaxes with Lisa Thompson’s The Boy who Fooled the World

When I give assembly presentations in schools, my favourite section is where I talk about my first brush with writing fame as a child. I show them a photograph of me aged 10 (complete with 1980s bowl-cut fringe) and then I reveal a piece of my earliest work: a piece that has stayed with me for decades.

Here is small taster [clears throat]:

There was a young girl called Fay Doodle,
Who had a gigantic poodle.
It ate sixteen tins of meat a day,
And nearly ate poor little Fay…

Yes, my writing career began with a limerick/poem-fusion. It was a unique piece of work (And then poor Fay’s big poodle died, and its grave was ten-foot wide) but in the eyes of my teacher, it was an absolute masterpiece.

She mounted the poem onto some thick paper and put it onto the wall for all to see. This was unheard of in my class. Our teacher never put our work on the wall.

Maybe Blu Tack hadn’t been invented then, or perhaps the staple gun was just at the pre-production stage.

Whatever the reason for not displaying our work, seeing my poem on the classroom wall that day was a very, very big deal indeed.

In fact, it was so unheard of my mum kept the poem for 36 years. Every now and then the ‘Fay Doodle’ poem would come out and make everyone laugh, and it has only been very recently that I have realised just how important this poem has become to me. And sharing it with children today has been a joy.

When I eventually became a published author, I never dared to dream that my books would be used in schools and that I would see work inspired by my stories on classroom walls. It has been absolutely thrilling to see.

I have visited students around the country and been dazzled with displays and amazed by some brilliant character analysis. I have also been blown away with the incredible, creative ideas that teachers have come up with to use across KS2 and lower KS3.

Now that my fourth book, The Boy Who Fooled The World, is being published, I am very excited to see how it might be used within the classroom.

It’s about a 12-year-old boy called Cole who inadvertently becomes an overnight modern-art sensation. Cole’s painting ‘Catch’ sells for £100,000 at an auction in a top London gallery and he is thrust into the spotlight.

His family have been struggling financially but now they have more money than they could ever imagine.

However, Cole’s painting isn’t exactly all that it seems. He has fooled the world and when his secret is exposed, everything comes crashing down around him.

I hope that Cole’s story might inspire teachers to use the book in conjunction with a variety of subjects and here are some starting points to whet your appetite…

Art followed by critical thinking

Read chapter four and then ask the students to create their own piece of art, just like the modern artist Marika Loft instructs Cole’s class.

After they have finished, have a class discussion – would any of their pieces sell for a lot of money, do you think? How about if someone from a top art gallery says it was highly valuable?

This could provoke an interesting debate about whether a piece of art is worth a lot of money just because someone in a position of power says it is.

Is this the same for other material things like trainers? Phones? Hoodies? Does something only have great value when consumers want to own it en masse? What other examples have there been where things have sold way over their actual value?

Using the descriptions in the book, can your students create their own interpretations of ‘An Enigma In Oil’ – the mysterious painting from the local museum that contains a treasure hunt.

Take a look at the 16th-century painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger. Can you find the mysterious skull which Isla mentions in the book? Can you imagine how amazing this trick of the eye must have been back when it was painted?

History/critical thinking

There have been many famous hoaxes throughout history that have baffled a lot of experts. Some examples to relay to your students could include: the 1917 Cottingley Fairies, PT Barnum’s Fiji mermaid and Panorama’s spaghetti trees.

Which one of these hoaxes does the class think was the most successful? Do they think that there are hoaxes in modern times due to the internet and social media? How can we avoid fake news?

This could lead into a lesson on how we need to be aware of the news stories that we read – to ask questions and investigate further if something doesn’t sound right. Can the class create their own hoax that might fool the rest of the school?

Local history

Cole’s mum works at the local town museum which is closing down due to poor attendance. Research your local museum and find out what treasures are kept there. What makes a good museum? Are museums still relevant in this digital age?

Ask your students to create their very own museum by making a map and visitor guide. What artefacts would they have to entice visitors?

Creative writing

In The Boy Who Fooled The World, a national newspaper journalist writes an article about Cole and his new-found wealth, but the piece is false, causing embarrassment to Cole and his family.

Read a classic fairy tale and ask the class to write their own newspaper article about the story, but tell them to twist the truth. For example – The Big Bad Wolf is an innocent victim! Three Little Pigs ignore eviction notice! Cinderella is a lazy and ungrateful stepchild!

I hope that these ideas might inspire you to use The Boy Who Fooled The World in your lessons and I’m really looking forward to seeing how teachers and students will interpret the book.

And if one day you find yourself stapling a piece of artwork inspired by Cole’s story onto the classroom wall, remember this… it all began with Fay Doodle and her gigantic poodle.

Lisa Thompson is author of The Boy Who Fooled the World (£6.99, Scholastic).

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