Our BLG book this week was The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Thank you to Deborah, our BLG reader this week, for sharing this wonderful title with us.
This author/illustrator team (Donaldson and Scheffler) continues to create books that kids adore and adults love reading aloud!
In this story, inspired by the poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, we meet a thieving rat who rides along the highway and steals food from all of the travellers. It begins:
“The Highway Rat was a baddie
The Highway rat was a beast.
He took what he wanted and ate what he took.
His life was one long feast.”
It didn’t take long before the class began to shout out their opinions of this Highway Rat. “He’s so greedy!” “And bossy!” “Jealous and selfish.” “I think he’s a pirate on the road!”
As he continued to hold up travellers and steal their food, students became even more upset. They shouted out and mumbled. Some comments were general. Some seemed to be addressed directly to the rat!
“He is very naughty!”
“You aren’t going to get anything guy if you continue like this!”
“Whoa! He thinks everything is his.”
“You are not the best. Even if you think you are!”
“I don’t understand. Why is nobody standing up to him. They could say ‘Stop it!'”
When the rat came upon a little duck with nothing, no food or treats, he announced that he will just have to eat her up. One student noticed the dark clouds on the page, “Oh no! Something terrible is coming I think!” The little duck led the Highway Rat to a cave promising him delicious treats that her sister who lived in the cave possessed. Our greedy thief followed her eagerly. Students quickly figured out that this little duck was up to something.
“That duck is trying to trick him because of all the things he did! That rat is going to get it!”
We won’t give away the very clever ending. But will let you know that good prevails in the end. And suffice it to say that the only dessert the rat will get for a while is dessert of the “just” variety.
Deborah announced at the end of the story that there was “a little bit of a lesson” in this book. One child quickly remarked, “No it was a BIG lesson!”
A simply delightful story that begs to be read again and again. My students adore this author/illustrator duo and I managed to find some fantastic articles and blog posts for further reading. Here are a few:
- This article: A Page in the Life: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler discusses their 20 years of collaboration that has produced a total of 18 titles.
- There is more about Axel and Julia on the Meet the Creators page of The Gruffalo website.
- Julia Donaldson is The Children’s Laureate for 2011-2013 Read more here.
Students have been learning to address specific questions to the author and the illustrator in their writing. Especially if they have questions or comments. You will see this reflected in their writing below.
Student reviewers respond:
Ava: Author, I love your writing! Where did you get the idea to put a rat in a book? Where do you live? I liked the rat’s hat. The rat at the end deserved it! Because he was mean!
Vicky: My favourite part was when everybody was happy because they got their food back. I liked when the duck tricked the rat. I really enjoyed the story. To the illustrator and author: I really liked the story and the pictures.
Andrew: I like when the duck tricked the rat to go to the cave. The rat was mean because the rat took the traveller’s food. To the author: Where are you from? How old are you? To the illustrator: I like the way you dressed the rat.
Giovanni: I liked when the duck tricked the rat. I liked the horse.
Shereese: I think the duck is the hero. Did you make the duck the hero? I loved the book. I also love your other books. The rat learned his lesson.
Kelvin: That book made me hungry just a bit. The rat made me hungry. To the illustrator: The pictures were so real. It was so nice. The horse looked really funny.
Ethan: To the author: I think you are an expert writer. You could write rhyming words. I think that rat is a pirate because of his hat and his sword. Where were you born? Where are you from? I’m from Vancouver.
Gracie: How did the duck know that the rat would bring the duck to the cave? My favourite part was when the duck tricked the rat. The rat was mean because he was so selfish. Why would the rat like hay that he stole from his horse? Rats don’t like hay. Do they? To the illustrator: I liked your drawings. They’re awesome! To both of you: I love all of your books that you guys made together.
Kevin: Why does the book repeat a lot? Why is the rat so bossy? I think he will never get any present from Santa. I enjoyed the story. My favourite character is the duck. I think that the rat is like a pirate. The duck is very helpful. To the author: How did you print so good? I think you are an expert. To the illustrator: How did you make the colours so bright?
Brian: The character of the duck had a really good trick to trick the rat. He took the rat to a cave and pretend he had a sister. The rat could eat the duck but when the rat stepped in the cave, the duck took his horse and ran away!
Kassidy: When the rat got stuck in the cave, that was my favourite part. I have a question. Why does the rat steal so much? I learned that he should not steal any more. I enjoyed the rhyming!