When selecting picture books to use in class I have always tried to be even-handed when it comes to what might appeal to both girls and boys. There are amazing books that have a great 'hook' for both genders and the Shifty McGifty series is a good example. I've chosen Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Cat Burglar by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Steven Lenton in his lovely quirky style, published by Nosy Crow, ISBN 978-0-85763-483-2. As you'll see from the photo, successive classes have enjoyed reading and re-reading it. Initially I selected the book whilst my class were visiting the touring book library and it was one they honed in on. I read a few pages and stopped as we ran out of time to read it all. The children insisted that I bought the book to finish it off in class. It soon became a firm favourite with both boys and girls.
1. If the children haven't met Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam before it is worth explaining that this is one of a series of fun books. The two dog characters, Shifty and Sam in the title, were originally robber dogs who saw the light and changed their ways and have become baker dogs running their own cafe. Read the whole story to the children.
2. Usually the first thing the children notice are the rhyming words. If they don't then ask them to listen carefully to the words on the first page, can they hear any words that sound alike? Hopefully they hear light and night! As you read through the story ask the children to say when they hear a rhyme and then list those words on a flip chart. Most of the rhyming words have the same endings apart from star/are, before/door, wide/cried, eye/buy, said/head, said/bread,sure/door, eyes/disguise, me/free, four/galore.
3. The story follows the usual story structure of beginning, middle and conclusion. The story opens with a description of the setting, we are introduced to all the characters and there are several dilemmas that build the tension. Challenge the children to work in pairs to identify different parts of the story, where does the action take place, who are all the characters and what problem has to be solved?
4. The idea of the secret door in the cellar, leading to a tunnel which then leads to a bank is a great idea. One challenge could be to change that section of the story with another setting, for example opening the fridge and stepping through it onto a woodland path that leads to a treasure cave.
5. If you have had a go at the art idea then use those new animal characters in an adventure story where a dilemma has to be solved. You could make this really challenging and work in rhyme or keep it as a piece of prose writing.
1. The book has many layers about right and wrong. The baker dogs were originally robbers who realised they were wrong to steal things and changed their lives completely. What ideas do the children have as to why the dogs might like their lives as bakers more than being robbers?
2. Why did the two dogs invite Ruby the cat to come and work for them? How do they think the dogs felt when they found out she was really Kitty Le Claw, the jewel thief? Were the dogs right to leave the jewels where they were after they discovered the secret tunnel to the bank?
3. Why did Shifty throw his chef's hat to Kitty when she leapt onto the roof? Did he do the right thing? All through the story decisions and choices have to be made. Have a go at making a decision tree starting with the start of the book and working through each dilemma. How would the story have changed if different decisions had been made?
4. Have a whole class discussion and come up with four different strategies to help the children when they need to make difficult or challenging choices. This could form part of an illustrated display.
Many children's authors use animals as their characters but give them human characteristics and abilities. This is a lovely word called anthropomorphism. In Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam the characters are cats and dogs. Ask the children to choose a favourite animal and draw some sketches in their sketchbooks. Use magazines, web images and books as source materials. Also take a look at the work of animators like Walt Disney with characters such as a lion, bear, mouse or a duck. Now use those sketches and add clothes and speech, a job, a car, whatever they think helps to humanise the animal. Alternatively cut out a photo of an animal's head and then draw the rest of the body as a human.
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