Stone Age Stories

By Hannah Sackett (School Librarian Widcombe Junior School, Bath) with Konni Jackish (Teacher, St Martin’s Garden Primary School, Bath)

Using the expertise of librarian Hannah Sackett, Konni Jackish and Julie Jones created a vibrant Caves and Creatures topic with year 2.

Model of a cave with an animal outsideAt the end of the spring term, cardboard caves popped up in the display areas around St Martin’s Garden Primary School and a wall of cave art handprints appeared next to the library. Knowing that Plum Tree Class (Year 2) had been studying ‘Caves and Creatures’ as their topic, I headed down to their classroom to see what else I could find.

A whole cave experience awaited me! The walls were covered with artwork and photographs of cave-dwelling animals and famous caves in Britain and around the world. Strung across the classroom was more artwork – collages of children dressed as Stig of the Dump. At the front of the classroom, prominently displayed, was a line of books. I decided to ask class teacher Konni Jackish about the choice and range of books used, and how important these books had been to the topic work carried out by herself and Julie Jones (who shares the teaching of Year 2).

Konni told me that they had chosen these topic-related books because they were fun and packed with brilliant illustrations. The range of language, in particular the repetitive, rhyming language of some of the picture books, had also been a consideration. When reading the books in class, teachers had drawn the children’s attention to the differences in the design and use of font and text in each book (e.g. blocks of text, labels, speech bubbles).

What follows is a list of the books used in Plum Tree class, and Konni’s comments on how they were used as the basis for art, DT, hot-seating / drama and literacy work.

Cover of Ug Boy Genius of the Stone AgeUg: Boy Genius of the Stone Age and his Search for Soft Trousers by Raymond Briggs (Red Fox)

This book takes the notion of the Stone Age literally, with beds and even trousers being made of stone. The story follows cave boy Ug in his quest for a soft pair of trousers. The story is told using Briggs’ distinctive comic strip narrative.

Konni: “I used this book the least, as I found that it was too complex to read as a whole class and harder to follow. However, in Guided Reading groups it was used to look into cartoon type writing. Children could then create their own cartoon strip and think about why Ug needed soft trousers and how he could overcome this problem.”

Cover of Stone Age Boy - two children standing at the mouth of a caveStone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura (Walker Books)
In this book, a boy falls into a cave and wakes up to find himself in the Stone Age. Satoshi Kitamura has done his research for this book, so instead of generic cavemen in furs, we see people dressed in deer-skin clothing, who are friendly and welcoming to their visitor from the 21st century.

Konni: “This was a brilliant book for helping the children with the idea of time travel. The page with all the jobs and tasks was especially useful to explain to the children visually what would happen in a normal day of a Stone Age person. After reading the story, the children made up speech bubbles and acted out the possible conversation between the boy and the girl.

The book gave lots of opportunity for predictions and 'what happens next'. It was also great to see the impact the boy's adventure had on his choice of job/ career, and allowed us to learn about archaeology and digging up bones, etc.”

Cover of Cave baby showing a baby on a mammothCave Baby by Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Cave Baby is bored. His mum is too busy painting and his dad is too busy hunting to give him attention. When Cave Baby finds a paintbrush and makes imaginative additions to his mother’s cave paintings, it doesn’t go well. But perhaps there is someone out there who appreciates his artistic abilities…

You can watch Malcom and Julia Donaldson performing the Cave baby song online: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tZZwQfgno0

cave art of hand outlinesKonni: “We read this lots of time to children, especially when we created our own cave painting and cave hand prints.

We learnt the Cave Baby song and presented it to the parents and sang it in front of the whole school in assembly.

The class also learnt Nick Sharrat’s Caveman Dave (Walker Books) and James Carter’s wonderful lullaby for a Woolly Mammoth (from Journey to The Centre Of My Brain, Macmillan Children's Books).

Cover of mammoth pieMammoth Pie by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross (Andersen Press)
This picture book tells of a very hungry caveman and his quest to make a mammoth pie. But the large mammoth on the hill won’t be easy to catch. His friends come along to help, but will they ever get to eat their mammoth pie?

Konni: “Mammoth Pie was great for sequencing, and learning about being too greedy! It made great use of rhyme (Og, Bog, Mog, etc) and provided the children with inspiration for poem writing. It was also great for maths: e.g. if there are 6 caveman and 60 mammoths, how many mammoths will be chasing after each caveman?”

cover of Stig of the DumpStig of the Dump by Clive King (Puffin Books)

This modern classic is about a boy, Barney, who discovers a Stone Age boy living in the dump. The boys become friends and have a series of adventures, culminating in a trip back in time.

Konni: “Stig of the Dump was our main class book, read throughout the term. The book is too wordy for Year 2, so we often rephrased or skipped paragraphs/ words, as well as watching clips from the 1980s television series (10 mins each) to speed up the process of reading a whole book. The book gave great opportunity for exploring character and writing character descriptions (a skill they need for the SATs).”

Conclusion

Overall, Konni told me that the literacy immersion was fundamental to the children’s engagement with the topic. They enjoyed the sense of humour in the books and the clear connection between the characters and the topic. The sing-song and rhyming elements of many of the stories made them easier to remember and allowed children to join in with the storytelling. The visualisation of the stories in the picture books was another key element. Certain stories, for example Cave Baby, worked best for topic work, while Stone Age Boy and Stig of the Dump led to work in literacy.

Child's model of a cave interior interior of cave

As a librarian, I love to see books being read and used in the classroom. Konni and Julie chose an excellent range of books and drew on their rich potential to engage children with the topic of Caves and Creatures and to develop their skills in literacy and visual literacy. I hope that this article encourages teachers to create cave experiences in their own classrooms.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to: Konni Jackish, Julie Jones and Plum Class, St Martin’s Garden Primary School, Bath

Other suggested reading:

Oscar and Arabella and the Mammoth Academy series by Neal Layton (Hodder)

Manky Monkey by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross (Andersen)

Littlenose by John Grant (Simon and Schuster)

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