School Visits

Marilyn was privileged to visit Arnside and talk to Years Five and Six.

A selection of ideas and extracts from Year Fives – teacher Miss Piper:

So how about this for an opener?: “The young leopard cub named Khan yowled for his mother as the two men ran into the distance, holding her dead body in their arms. Why had they killed her? He was all alone in the world now, not knowing how to hunt, fight or where to find food.” And it doesn’t disappoint, it goes from strength to strength this story. Well done.

Some good observation of animal behaviour here: “That night there was a horrendous storm. Merlin woke with fear in his eyes and he licked his nose. Then he scampered off into the darkness.”

Black Whiskers is a kitten with a whole problem about his mum. He just doesn’t like her but then all sorts of things happen to him and he gets very frightened. And finally “he was so scared he jumped out of the window. He found a cat. It was his mum. His mum took him home. After that she took care of him so much and he was her favourite kitten. Every time he went into the farmyard his mum would go with him. All they heard was the wind blowing …and of course Miss Marr listening to music whilst baking. She was the best baker in the world.”

“Buster the dog woke with a start. He had been washed up on the beach of a small island.” And so it goes on, with Buster befriending a human called Steve and they both have a scary encounter with a giant spider but that night Buster eats spider meat before being rescued by a cruise ship who takes them both home!

And this for the promise of drama: “Delta sank her teeth into the lioness’s back. ‘You will rue this day!’ she roared, turning her back on Delta”. And well may Delta stay awake for hours musing what the lioness meant by that threat. ( Shades of Henry VI just before his death!)

And more suspense here: “Angel prowled through the forest, cold and close to freezing, her tummy hanging. How she missed the warm spark of the fire.” She is in a bad way and worse is to come and the next day she gives birth to four kittens and at the end we hear: “She scuttled back and gave her kittens the food they needed and found herself with no food … how was she and her family going to survive?”

“What’s the point in watching EastEnders” I thought, thinking guinea pig thoughts and watching Luke and Mary my owners enjoying EastEnders and eating popcorn. When it had finished they gave me a carrot forgetting to lock my cage door” … so begins the amazing tale of this particular guinea pig who goes outside and gets caught in a cruel trap and is rescued by the Princess of England who takes the guinea pig to the King. And the end of the tale of this doughty guinea pig is that after being reunited with Luke and Mary “from then on I enjoyed a royal life”.

And then we have one about a little cat called Magnificat who had a terrifying time in the forest and the most dreadful thing happens to her tail. No wonder she has a phobia about foxes. And “a few minutes later she saw a house. Oh how she was filled with joy but she could not get in. Then she saw an open window…”

And I asked for examples of how a human shows love for an animal and here it is in what begins to have the flavour of a Dickensian tale: “She looked up at the lovely ginger tabby. She stroked Ginger and tickled him behind his left ear. ‘I love you, Ginger’, she whispered. Ginger was purring softly, cuddling up to her. Just then the door opened and Mrs. Stout walked in. She was the strictest, bossiest, most scary person in the whole orphanage. All the kids usually called her Mrs. Sprout but if she noticed them they would spend all night in the horrible, dark and gloomy cellar, so they only said it when they were well out of earshot.”

And a great story about a yearling called Phoebe and her other stable mates who all share a field, except poor old Jacko, who is in another field, all on his own.

And another great account of the birth of a calf struggling up to have its first drink. It had a little nose which was “cute and little blue eyes and soft ears and long thin little legs. I wish I was as cute. The calf let me stroke its soft fur.”

There were many other great stories, more about horses with lots of fine knowledge about the difference between road riding and jumping and hacks;

and a heartbreaking account of a fish being flushed down the sink and ending up in the sea

and another about two parrots called Jambo and Bubber who had a baby and who had to bite the cat and the fox to protect their young until they were rescued.

We meet a hamster called Smoky who had a near escape when he realised the creature he could see on a pillow was nothing less than a cat!

And a handsome black labradoodle sees lots of action with a tractor and a scary encounter with a Rottweiler with the fantastic last para which reads: “After a few months in the forest he thought he might try and get back home. But it was a harder journey than he thought”

These stories displayed wonderfully vivid imaginations and some powerful descriptive writing. Well done Year Five and keep it going.

A selection of ideas and extracts from Year Six – teacher Mr. Sharp:

And the very first one I came to was a story about Magnificat written in the first person (I mean cat). It began arrestingly.

“..I crept alongside the slow travelling stream going through the woods behind King’s Close in the West End of London. I drank from the stream with my ears high. The traffic was nearly deafening me.” And it ended with the cat hiding from a little girl who climbs a tree immediately over the cat and following a loud CRACK “I looked up and the little girl looked down at me through the broken floor. She looked straight into my eyes and said ‘Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.’” Good stuff, you were thinking pure cat here.

And another with Magnificat as the heroine. In this one she has a terrifying time with a bear, whom she just couldn’t shake off until she found “an old abandoned house. It was perfect for Magnificat and here she knew she would be protected.”

And a third. “She had finally reached the farm. It had taken days to get there. Days.” And once there she greets her almost but not quite best friend, the horse Storm and afterwards the pigs and new born piglets with names like Patch, Whirl, Swirl and Curl and after that to the hens but they are too busy laying eggs to talk to her.

The fourth tale about Magnificat has her in the middle of a wood, up a tree but when she comes down for a meal of worm she finds herself being chased by two gigantic dogs who come after her “like a cheetah chasing its prey”.

And then we have a tale in the first person but this time from a lioness who after much tearing and ripping finally manages to kill a buffalo and take him back for her cubs. This keeps them quiet and happy for many days. But eventually she is faced with the dilemma of her growing cubs who are increasingly involved in violent playfighting and so “I decided to take them hunting with me, to show them how to do it. They were fascinated about how their Mum took down a baby buffalo from a herd, then the cubs tried from the herd, and failed a few times, then they got the hang of it”. Eat your heart out David Attenborough.

Brilliant animal observation here with great awareness of the senses: “The startled cat looked at his surroundings and took in the smell of rotting wood and the strong smell of fox.” And, when he finds himself trapped by “a big bunch” of dogs as he flees them he asks himself the question “would these dogs ever give up?” as they bark after him, but eventually he does manage to shake them off and at this point the little cat is able to find himself some temporary shelter inside a hollow log.

A germinal writer here I think: “The next morning he yawned and stretched, then set out for food. His long, glossy coat of fur shining in the daylight as he padded out of the alleyway, happily. The scent of meat met his nostrils as he absorbed it. A life for a stray cat is hard. Then he stopped suddenly as he saw his prize.” Great stuff.

And another budding writer here: “It was dark and Basil needed shelter. He puffed out his long fur and to sustain warmth wrapped his tail around himself. Dark was fast approaching as Basil trekked forwards towards the base of a thick tree. He rotated his ears and heard the sound of an owl hooting far in the distance.” And then later “He was woken sharply by a peck on the back from a leaf falling through the opening” (Oooo I would so like to have written that!) and he finds he is surrounded by an enormous flood. The river has burst its banks and there is no dry land to be seen. Wonderful stuff, thank you so much! Really good writing and electric atmosphere of impending disaster and adventure as well.

And another rip-roaring yarn, with wonderful gory details of hunting and killing based on Magnificat, but there is worse to come. “There was a creaking sound, she paused, the trunk of the great oak had been chopped and was now being split for other use. The home of the woodpigeon had gone. The underground house of the mole had been demolished and the second home to Magnificat had been pulled up and taken away.” Thank you, thank you. A lot of vivid imagination here.

And this I just simply have to use, in some form, one day in the future, so please may I have your permission? “Once there was a cat called Pixie. She was a cat of elegance even though she was half mad.”

This one came complete with marginal illustrations which were extremely good. “The trees seemed to bow as I walked through them and I knew I had left my young long enough alone. As I walked into the barn I could hear the small squeaks coming from the hay and I was soon greeted by happy meows. I could see my five children were all well. All except one. A single black one lay cold and dead and not moving. My heart filled with sorrow and I howled to the darkness.” Fantastic! So sad!

And this for the build up of suspense: “As Lucky ran along the cliff edge in fear of being killed by the three grey wolves that were following him, he suddenly saw that the cliff edge wasn’t as far away as he had thought. It was right next to him! Lucky tried to stop himself falling off the cliff. He sank his paws into the mud and gritted his teeth but it was no use. The poor dog went flying off the cliff and one of the wolves fell off with him.” Great stuff.

Great build up of suspense as we discover Whiskers wants to discover the outside world – spine tingling as you can tell no good will come of it!

Powerful storytelling muscle put to use here: “Before the race began all was silent. The excited crowds in the stands held their breath, the music that had been blaring from the loudspeakers stopped and even the wind was hushed, as if one powerful gust would blow the entire racetrack away. I looked around at the beautiful racehorses lined up beside me. Each one of them longing for the same thing, to be crowned the winner of the famed Derby race.” Suspense, atmosphere, vocabulary, and narrative drive….

A brilliant account of an eagle soaring above the ground and eventually spotting and diving for a rabbit to save the life of her starving chicks. She swoops down in a dive “plummeting at 50mph towards the rabbit” brings her talons to the fore and makes her kill efficiently carrying the food back to the young in her nest. But meanwhile the now motherless baby rabbits are comforted by their father as they mourn the loss of their mother.

A cat called Magnificat hears a great commotion going on and runs and runs and eventually gets to the farmhouse which is burning down with escaping animals charging all over the place and she sees a little girl “crying on her bed. Through the flames she tried to get in but the door was locked so she had to climb up the drainpipe…the little girl saw her and opened the window and tried to pick her up” and then, sadly for me, the author of this adventure ran out of time!

Heartbreak: “Lucy watched her owners driving away, a little blonde girl in the back waving and crying. Where are they going? Will they be gone long? Lucy, a grey-haired Norwegian Forest Cat thought….She crawled and crept back through her cat flat and wept on the little girl’s bed, slowly she fell deeply asleep.” And it goes from bad to worse with strange men coming in and just watching tv and not feeding her and she misses her owners soooo much.

So many stories of such a different nature. We learn about Zigi and Biscuits who live in a cage with a wheel and hate cats, so I guess they are mice, but might be hamsters and they are tempted in spite of the cat to visit the outside world. We know, but they don’t that it’s a really bad idea!

And then there is Meg and the great escape. Meg, the dog, lives on a farm with Rose and Eric but a thunder storm causes the most dreadful flood and they go and see their friend Marilyn for help.

Mack gets fed his favourite ham with much accompaniment of noises off as the plate is struck, “Ding, Ding, Ding….” And then “Thump, thump, thump” as he walks down the stairs followed by “mneeeow!”

And one that is extremely gripping. An animal, a ferocious animal, who wakes up in a zoo and manages to break out of his cage and break into a monkey’s enclosure when he then promptly catches and kills and eats a monkey. But what exactly he is remains a mystery?

And a very brave and tiny mouse saves the life of a deer by sinking his teeth into the bony parts of the wolf, before running away into the safety of his tunnel to lick his wounded tail better.

And another wolf tale, this time the wolf is pursuing poor Nell, who finally barks her alarm and gets away by running into an old stable and hiding behind some old haybales.

Patches the rabbit behaves very oddly and after a visit to the vet it becomes clear that she isn’t ill at all, but instead she is going to give birth to 8 baby rabbits. Tragically Patches gets attacked and killed by a fox so the baby rabbits become orphans very quickly in their young life but to make up for that Amy promises her mother that she will look after them for the rest of their lives and until she dies, which she does.

Holly and her mum, Millie sent a search party to look for the missing Daisy and Holly even rang her father Richard overseas, but although they heard a galloping in the distance and they ran towards it it wasn’t Daisy. Holly was very upset.

All Year Sixes revealed a real talent for powerful story-telling and some of you have an exceptional gift for creating atmosphere. Don’t let the writing go, it is a precious gift and as you move towards the next school it is one you need to develop further.

Marilyn would like to add here a message meant for children and teachers alike. Firstly thank you to the whole school for your wonderful welcome and most importantly a huge thank you to Years Five and Six for your enthusiasm and the way you buckled down to the writing exercise. It was, as my editor would say, awesome! And I do have great hopes for you all in the future. You showed me that the written word and storytelling is seriously alive and well. And now a special word of thanks to your two inspiring teachers, Miss Piper and Mr. Sharp and to the generous welcome of your Headteacher Alan Cook - all three of whom made me feel truly welcome and keen to work with you all. For me it was a memorable and rewarding day, and also I hope for you. Thank you all.