Dunmow St Mary’s Primary School

Case study about Grandma Bird


Grandma Bird is a picturebook written by Benji Davies. It is in the same series as The Storm Whale and features some of the same characters and place settings. We planned an entire topic around the book. We chose to work this way because our school has developed a creative curriculum where all learning is linked to a central topic. Below is an extract from our topic overview.

‘The children will begin by receiving a mystery scroll and will be taken to the beach to be able to explore and gain first-hand experience of what life is like living beside the sea. During the topic the children will study the book Grandma Bird. There will also be other supporting books (others by Benji Davies, First Book of the Sea, The Book of Clouds) used alongside. In English the children will focus on poetry – reading, responding and writing. They will also respond more directly to the book by exploring characters and places. The children will work in science with various materials to test for waterproofing and strength when designing dens and boats. They will use mixed media in art creating pastel land and seascapes. They will make their own birds using clay and will experiment with various glazes. In DT the children will explore weaving and sewing to make a patchwork blanket like Grandma’s. In music the children will work with Benjamin Britten’s Storm Interlude from Peter Grimes. They will respond to the music creating artwork and will then write their own score in response to the storm sequence in Oliver Jeffer’s film Lost and Found. The topic will end with an exhibition of the children’s work and a musical performance.

A Trip to the Beach

The children receive drawings of pieces of equipment they will need to bring with to the beach. The scroll is battered and torn and tied with a piece of old rope. It smells of fish. The paper has a boy’s name on the back ‘Noi’. The drawing is entitled, ‘Things to take to Grandma’s’ shows:

  • a bucket and spade
  • a fishing net
  • a seashell
  • a balaclava hat
  • a crab
  • a bottle of sand
  • a photograph of a shipwreck

There is also a postcard from Grandma asking Noi to come and see her (give address). She tells Noi to write a list of all the things he thinks it is important for him to take.

Encourage the children to find out about islands and then to add anything else they think Noi will need to his drawings.


What’s in a Name?

We started the topic using some of the hook lesson ideas. Relating the subject of the learning back to the children’s own families was an excellent way to start as everyone had something they could contribute. The teachers shared their own family names and then we voted to see which names were most common and which were most unusual. This is also a really nice way to talk about children who have links to other countries. The children really enjoyed talking about their Grandmas and the EAL children particularly liked teaching the others how Grandma was said in their language.


Sail Away

During the ‘Sail Away’ sequence the children enjoyed drawing.

First encounters

Reading Grandma Bird

When we first read the text with the children they enjoyed just listening without any interruptions to begin with (up to a certain point) this allowed them to come up with some questions they wanted to know. The second read through allowed the children to make some predictions about the text, they needed to think about whether they thought Noi enjoyed staying with Grandma and were able to back up their answers with evidence from the text.

What do we know about Grandma Bird?

The children used their reading journals to write key words and draw pictures. This activity provided the opportunity for the children to answer questions and infer meaning from the text. They gave answers such as, ‘I can guess that Grandma doesn’t get many visitors because she doesn’t know how to play with Noi’ and ‘I can guess Grandma has looked after animals before because she is confident with the birds.’. This was a great activity as the children had to justify their answers.  After this they thought of lots of questions that they wanted to know about Grandma such as: where does she get her clothes from? Why does she only eat seaweed? Where are the rest of her family?

Creeping, Hopping, Skipping

the children thought about the different verbs in the book, the children had to pick out the verbs and showed they understood what these looked like by acting them out. They began to think of other ways of describing how the characters moved, they came up with words such as tip toed, galloped and run.

Dark and Light

The children enjoyed creating artwork. They talked about the parts of the cave that were dark and how they thought Noi would feel (frightened, anxious, curious) and then we talked about the parts of the picture that had light on them. The children explained that they thought the bird was very important because it was in the light.They then went on to use black card and white chalk to make their own illustrations of this scene.

Digging deeper

‘What is Grandma Bird Thinking?

By this point the children were becoming very confident with the story and had developed a close relationship with the characters. They were able to consider Grandma’s feelings during different parts of the story, ‘she was happy when she found Noi’, ‘she was cross when he was gone but that was because she was worried.’.

The Raging Storm

We linked this with our music lessons and used Britten’s ‘Storm’ to inspire the children. After we read the passage of text the children drew out the sound words and we listened to the sound file and the children came up with their own words to describe the sounds, “crash” “rumble” “pitter patter”. The children represented these sounds in drawings, this made them think about the dynamics of the music and whether the words sounded harsh or soft. They then used the sound cards and drawings to demonstrate the different sounds of a storm. They performed some to the class and the children had to guess which sound word was being represented. The children really enjoyed the classical piece of music we used alongside this and were able to identify whether they liked it and how it made them feel.

The Rescue

This lesson went further into considering how Grandma was feeling and engendering empathy for her character. The children were able to suggest lots of emotions that Grandma might have felt and explain why she might have felt this way: worried, sad, nervous, angry, furious. The children had different opinions and we discussed why. We considered is there is one correct answer or different possible interpretations.

Review and reflect

Returning to the Title Page

This lesson offered a great opportunity for the children to look more closely in the book. The poem was read aloud to the children and they drew what they thought the poem represented. The class found it difficult to interpret when looking at the whole poem but made thoughtful comments when it was read and discussed line by lin the suggested: ‘Rock to rock might be stepping stones.’, ‘Side by side is the sea and the sand/grass and flowers/sea and sky.’, ”You’ could mean anyone reading the book and ‘I’ could be the author!’ and ‘It might be God making the world.’.

Writing opportunities

Inspired by the poem at the beginning of Grandma Bird, we looked at The First Book of the Sea by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton. This book worked wonderfully alongside our trip to the beach. We looked at a variety of poems from the collection and the children highlighted interesting vocabulary. We then worked together to write our own poems using words or phrases taken from some of the poems in the collection. The children enjoyed this collaborative learning as children can tend to get fixated on making something rhyme.

We produced a class painting to enhance and display our poem.

Wider learning opportunities

We worked closely throughout the project using additional texts to enrich the children’s learning. We connected via Twitter with the illustrator, Beth Waters, whose first book, A Child of St. Kilda had just been published. The illustrator was able to come into school and work with children in year one to deepen their understanding of living on a remote island. The children found this real life experience invaluable in helping them to understand what life would have been like for Noi and Grandma.

During Beth’s visit the children learnt how to monoprint. This is the printing method that the illustrator used in the book. The children were fascinated to discover how the prints were made and enjoyed the idea of working with negative space.

Sacha Hancock

I am an infant teacher currently teaching in year one. I am a passionate reading teacher and encourage the children I teach to become readers too. I have now been teaching for ten years and during that time I have developed an ethos of high expectations, independence and engagement.