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Rationale - Re-telling - Translation - Activities - Reflection

Language: English
Title: Katie Morag and the new pier
Author: Hedderwick M.
Publisher: Red Fox (1993)
ISBN: 0-09-921161-0
Chosen by: Alan Hill
9 Lennox Rox, Trinity, Edinburgh, EH5 3JP. Formerly of Moray House Institute of Education, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Rationale for choosing the book:
Mairi Hedderwick is one of the very few Scottish picture-book authors of outstanding literary merit whose books have a recognisably Scottish setting. The feelings and the themes in the book are universal, yet the stories spring from events and situations that are firmly local. The pictures are rich in the detail of everyday life, and give the stories a depth of perspective and an impact that fascinate children and hold their attention very powerfully; they are the oxygen that supports the life of the stories.
This book has been chosen partly because of these qualities, but also partly because its theme - change - offers a great opportunity for teachers to explore one of the most important facts of life. It is also particularly interesting because, while in all the other titles in the series Katie Morag has been the central, troubled character who needed help, in this one it is she whose sympathy and concern help to support Grannie Island and the Ferryman in their time of trouble. This is an interesting and valuable development of the traditional child's role. Katie Morag is beginning to have a place in the community, and it is possible for someone else, even an adult, to be the centre of concern.

A new pier is being built on the island of Struay (a fictitious island somewhere in the Hebrides.) The weekly boat from the mainland has always unloaded its passengers and cargo into the ferryboat, which then landed them at The Jetty. The new pier will change all that. The boat will come three times a week now, alongside the pier, bringing tourists and much more trade. Nothing will ever be the same again, and Katie Morag's Grannie and the Ferryman are very depressed. But change can bring gain as well as loss, and they begin to see that the new pier is not going to be such a bad thing. After all, now they will be able to take all the new visitors out in the ferryboat to show them the delights of Struay. and tell them about the old ways of life!

Activities for use in school:
(If there is only one copy of the book, this activity can be done by two, or perhaps three children at a time, working with the teacher. If there are enough copies, however, the activity is probably best done with a small group of 5-10 children.)
(a) First the children can explore the island. The end-papers are an outstanding feature of the Katie Morag books - each book in the series begins with a full two-page opening panorama of the Isle of Struay, showing the houses of all the characters, and all the features referred to in the stories. These main items are all labelled, but the panorama is full of additional detail of the islanders' everyday life. The children can identify these, but anything that they do not recognise can be discussed.
(b) The children can also explore the pictures. Another of the outstanding features of the Katie Morag books is the vivid life conveyed by the detail in the pictures. However many times one 'reads' one of these pictures, one always seems to find something new in it. Every opening, and every single page, offer many opportunities for talk, and often for discussion. At the simplest level there is recognition and identification of objects, situations, labels on tins and boxes, and foods etc... All of these provide chances for making links between the life in the pictures, especially the domestic ones, and the children's own lives - 'What do you think is in that cake? How do you know? Do you ever have chocolate cake? What is your favourite cake?' There is also a lot of implied information in the pictures, calling for interpretation and inference, speculation and hypothesis. These frequently give rise to discussion, and inevitably lead the children to draw upon their own experiences, creating very powerful links that help to bring the book to life for the children.

To construct their model of the village and the bay, the children can use the end paper panorama as a guide and plan, as well as occasional glimpses of various places from other angles, seen in some of the pictures. The model can be made to almost any convenient scale from match-box size houses to shoe box ones. In addition, the children can make movable cut-out figures of the various characters in the story. These should be capable of standing up.
There are two potentially very valuable learning processes involved. The first lies in the extensive and possibly quite complex language interactions that are likely to occur as the children work out how they will make the various items, where they should stand, and all the other practical details. A second learning opportunity is offered by labelling. The characters can be rearranged limitlessly to represent not only the events of the story, but new incidents invented by the children themselves. Descriptive and explanatory labels can be made for the individual characters eg 'Grannie Island is sad.' 'Katie Morag found a blue rope.' If the children are more ambitious they might make narrative labels eg 'Grannie Island and The Ferryman rescued the hut.' (NB Blue or green tissue paper is ideal for the sea. It can be quite flat (dead calm) or slightly rumpled (normal waves) or heavily rumpled (storm).
Once the basic model has been made, different groups of children could be given the opportunity to use it to depict an incident of their own choosing, either from the story or invented by themselves. The labelling, perhaps with the teacher's help, would also be the children's responsibility.
If the children are working in their mother-tongue, this activity will provide opportunities for purposive language interaction, for writing and for reading (especially for guidance in writing the labels/captions). If they are using English as a second language, the activity will provide strong motivation for scanning the text for appropriate words and sentences with which to write the labels and the captions.

(Talking to older relatives and neighbours)
The theme of Katie Morag and the New Pier is change. For Katie Morag the new pier is exciting; the boat from the mainland will now be able to come right inshore to the village. The villagers are excited because now the boat will come three times a week, and will bring lots of visitors. But for Grannie Island it means the end of the ferryboat and the old ways.
Once they have heard or read the story (or both) and have discussed it - especially the different ways in which the new pier will affect people's lives on the island, the children could be asked to talk to their parents and grandparents and older neighbours to ask them about changes that have happened since they were children.
In preparation, the children should discuss what kinds of things it would be interesting to find out about, and what kinds of questions they could ask. Do they themselves know about anything that is changing (or has changed)? Has it affected them or anyone they know? They could rehearse their questions among themselves.
Once they have quizzed their relatives, they could report back any information they have discovered. It is likely that several children will have learned about the same changes, though their relatives' attitudes to the changes may not have been the same. Such reporting back, and possible contrasts and comparisons are likely to prove very interesting indeed. The children are also, in a sense, finding out about recent history at first hand, and they will be having to use language for very specific and clearly defined purposes.

Reflection: Discuss the issues raised in this book alongside those in Kan du Vissla Johanna.

NB Further literature and language-based activities can be found in
Picture Books sans Frontières
available from or

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ncrcl April 2003