“The Snail and the Whale” by Julia Donaldson (Teaching Ideas)

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is a lovely picture book and narrative poem about adventure; helping each other; and being different. It would be a nice book to read for all primary ages and has lots of potential for discussion about human impact on wildlife, geography and a responsibility to help each other.

Synopsis: An tiny sea snail longs for adventure and, despite her friends discouraging her, she takes matters into her own hands and uses her trail to write a message asking for a lift around the world. A whale sees this and offers her a lift on his tail. They go to see “towering icebergs, fiery mountains” and lots more amazing sights. One day, the whale gets lost and confused by noisy speed boats and is beached. The resourceful snail finds a way to help her friend by writing a trail message for local school children, who come and help keep the whale hydrated until the tide comes in. When the snail returns home, they regale the other snails with stories of their adventures and all the snails decide to join them.

Vocabulary and language:
There are lots of great opportunities to develop vocabulary and and inference skills:

What is a trail? Have you seen a trail before? What other types of trail are there?
Why does the author say the snail has an “itchy foot“? (“itchy feet” metaphorically meaning an urge to travel, snails’ bodies are referred to as a foot).
What is soot?
What is a “fiery mountain“?
What type of snail is it? Is it the same type of snail you would find in your garden?

Wow words: arched, crashed, frolicked, hideous, vast, earsplitting, helpless

Activity ideas:
Art, Reading – Draw the snail and the whale – can you think of or draw any other unlikely animal pairings? How could a very small animal save a larger, stronger animal? (Potential link to Aesop’s Fable: The Lion and the Mouse)
Writing – Can you write a story in rhyming couplets? Can you write another page of the story?
Geography – Can you use your geography knowledge to work out where in the world the snail and the whale might be on different pages? Is there a clue about where the snail started? (The ship says “Pride of Glasgow”) Could you plot their route around the world? You could use Ventusky interactive world map to explore the temperature of different locations. Where could there be icebergs? Where could the volcanoes be?

Ventusky interactive world map showing temperature around the world.

Science – Do you know the names of all the animals you can see in the book? What do you know about their habitats?
PSHE – Why do you think the snails told the adventurous snail to stay where she was? Do you think that was the right thing for them to do?

Links to other books:
(Year 2 Greater Depth Teacher Assessment Framework for reading: “make links between the book they are reading and other books they have read”)

Have you heard any other stories of beached whales?
Have you read any other books written by Julia Donaldson or illustrated by Axel Scheffler?
Have you heard any other stories where a smaller animal helps a larger animal? (e.g., Aesop’s Fable: The Lion and the Mouse)
Have you heard any other stories where someone wants to go on an adventure?

Image result for humphrey the lost whale a true story
Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story – another book featuring a a whale.