Blue John

Published by Barrington Stoke. Authored by Berlie Doherty. Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis.

Recommended for: Year 3.

Suggested length of study: 3 weeks.

Blue John is a story inspired by the limestone caves in the Peak District close to where Berlie lives. It is a classically told story about a child fashioned out of fire and ice by the Queen of Darkness, who wants the child to keep her company forever in her dark underground world. The story tells how Blue John encounters the overworld and its inhabitants and longs to be with them.

Why choose this book? Lessons and resources Supplementary books

Why choose this book?

Beautifully wrought poetic language and with universal themes to discuss, this is both a challenge and a delight for year 3 readers.

Text potential

This diagram gives an overview of the potential for teaching offered in this text. If you teach the entire sequence, you will cover these aspects. We advise teachers to produce their own text potential diagrams as this helps them to get to know the books well. Our Getting Started with Take One Book course for new schools has a module about Text Potential.


Making connections is an important part of children’s reading and developing comprehension. We can help children build their knowledge by making explicit links throughout the year and across years. As well as making connections with other books they have read, we signpost curriculum connections. Sometimes, we will look for a book that connects with the children’s current studies in history, geography or science, but we can also spiral their learning by either foregrounding a topic that we know they will study later or revisiting a topic that they have already studied.

This book links well to a study of soils, rocks and fossils.

Take One Book Connections

Blue John links to several books in Take One Book. In Year 3, Meredith Hooper’s The Pebble in My Pocket is a poetic interpretation of the history of the Earth told as the journey of a pebble through time. It also links nicely with our year 4 text  A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long, a poetic text that introduces various rocks from Lapis Lazuli to Obsidian. In Year 5, Linda Newbery’s Brockenspectre is a story about living in the mountains. In Year 6, Ben Garrod’s Extinct: Trilobite tells the story of the prehistoric creature that will be familiar to us in its fossilised state.

Links to National Curriculum in England

This sequence of work covers the following elements of the English National Curriculum for years 3 and 4:


  • develop positive attitudes to reading, and an understanding of what they read, by:
    • listening to and discussing a wide range of fiction, in this instance, a short story by multi-award-winning author, Berlie Doherty
    • reading books that are structured in different ways and reading for a range of purposes
    • using dictionaries to check the meaning of words that they have read
    • increasing their familiarity with a wide range of books, including myths and legends, and retelling some of these orally
    • identifying themes and conventions in a wide range of books
    • discussing words and phrases that capture the reader’s interest and imagination
  • understand what they read, in books they can read independently, by:
    • checking that the text makes sense to them, discussing their understanding, and explaining the meaning of words in context
    • asking questions to improve their understanding of a text
    • drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence
    • predicting what might happen from details stated and implied
    • identifying main ideas drawn from more than 1 paragraph and summarising these
    • identifying how language, structure, and presentation contribute to meaning
  • participate in discussion about both books that are read to them and those they can read for themselves, taking turns and listening to what others say


Take One Book focuses on develop depth of reading comprehension. However, the writing opportunities in this sequence afford the opportunity to develop elements of the Writing Programme of Study.

Curriculum connections

  • Dance
  • Geography

Lessons for this book

Our lessons are organised as meaningful chunks of learning. Most of them will fit a standard 45 minute to 60 minute session. However, some of them are shorter and others will run for a series of linked sessions. It is anticipated that you will not teach all the lessons. Select those that suit the needs of your class and add them to your personalised plans.

Download the full scheme of work

Before Reading


Deep Down in Blue John’s Cave

Creating an immersive hook to provoke interest in the story.


Caves and Caverns

Building background knowledge and introducing vocabulary about the geology of caves.

During Reading

First Encounters


Reading and responding to the first section of the story.

Required reading: Pages 3-9

Visualising the World of Ice

Visualising a setting and reflecting on the use of descriptive language.

Required reading: 3


Close Reading of illustration to locate details and establishing literal understanding

Required reading: Pages 12-21

Sounds From the Outside World

Make inferences about Blue John’s thoughts and feelings and then make a prediction about what will happen next

Required reading: 25


Conducting a Think Aloud to develop comprehension skills.

Required reading: Pages 25-33


Making inferences about a character’s actions.

Required reading: Pages 37-47


Using improvisation to explore nuances in character.

Required reading: Pages 51-61


Reading closely to find clues that make links across the text.

Required reading: Pages 65-76

Digging Deeper

‘Stalactites grew like twisted coral’

Introducing similes using ‘like’ as a comparison and discussing their effects.

Required reading: Pages 12-21

‘As the sea is drawn by the moon’

Introducing similes using ‘as’ for comparison and discussing their effects.

Required reading: Pages 25-28

Wriggling and clambering; dancing and skipping

Exploring contrasting movements and the effect created through verb choice.

Required reading: 20, 46

After Reading

Review and Reflect

Retelling the Story (Blue John)

Identifying key moments to prepare to retell the story.

Required reading: Whole book

Light and Dark (Blue John)

Finding patterns of light and dark and considering the positive and negative connotations.

Required reading: Whole book

The Promise!

Exploring the concept of ‘promise’ using Conscience Alley.

Required reading: Whole book

What is Blue John?

Finding out about the real Blue John using a website

Writing Opportunities

Class poem from chapter titles

Using the chapter titles to write a poem.

What Happens Next?

Writing an alternative ending using the ‘What if...?’ question.

Dear Blue John, Dear Queen of Darkness

Writing a letter to explain a personal point of view.

Wider Learning Opportunities

Light and Dark in Art

Investigating art techniques for creating light and dark.

Supplementary Books

These books are recommended for wider reading and further research to support this teaching sequence. A supplementary pack is available from our bookselling partner, Best Books for Schools. Books can also be purchased individually.


Author: Aaron Becker. Illustrator: Aaron Becker.

The Dark

Author: Lemony Snicket. Illustrator: Jon Klassen.


Author: Lizi Boyd.

The Pebble in My Pocket

Author: Meredith Hooper. Illustrator: Chris Coady.

The Queen in the Cave

Author: Julia Sarda.

The Rock Factory

Author: Jacqui Bailey. Illustrator: Matthew Lilly.

The Secret Explorers and the Cave Crisis

Author: S J King.

The Cave Challenge

Author: Bear Grylls.


Author: Hannah Salyer.