The Runaways, 2019 - Ulf Stark (illustrated by Kitty Crowther)
"Grandpa didn’t like hospital. So together we made a plan…”
The front cover alludes to what is going to take place. We have a boy, we have his grandpa, and they’re on the run from a hospital. Grandpa’s health is failing, but he has some unfinished business, and his grandson is going to help him get it done. This 2019 addition by Ulf Stark isn’t local, it’s from Sweden, so may not gain prominence here, but maybe it should. There are subtle differences to most local children’s books that add some flavour (e.g. grandpa drinks a little and swears a lot – though never explicitly).
There is some loss in here, that children’s literature can sometimes shy away with, but it’s handled with grace. I challenge anyone to read this aloud to their grade! The characters and their relationship feels authentic, and you’re likely to have students respond to it.
How can I use it to teach? What awareness can students take to other texts?
Analysing how authors develop characters. We only have two main characters to focus on, so they are rich. Character traits are IMPLIED, so this means the students must INFER them (or, the author uses “show, don’t tell”). We learn about the character traits through their dialogue, and their responses to each other. Examining how authors do this, sits within Vic Curric Level 4, (VCELT284). Some of it is obvious, and some of it less so. Any discussion around character traits can last throughout the book, as grandpa gradually changes, right up until the end.
PREDICTION. There is scope to make predictions based on what we know about the characters. If we know what they’re like, we can make predictions about what they are likely to do. Also, when their actions were unpredictable, we can question why this is happening?
Questioning. There is room to ask questions about the text, looking at what the author is doing. If you’re familiar with the “signposts” from “Notice and Note, this is loaded with them.
Flashbacks occur frequently. When we see them, it’s time to question, “Why was that important?” or “Why did the author want to include that?” They will have plenty of instances to practise those.
Analysing sentence structure. Stark uses a range of sentences. Sometimes non-sentences, with just a single word, to make a point. He will vary complex sentences, followed by abrupt short simple sentences (it could be explored at the same time as “The One and Only Ivan” if analysing this).
As always, be selective and don’t kill the text by over analysing it! This is another one that would suit those middle years in primary, yet is rich enough to have conversations that will extend their thinking beyond those years. If you have used this book in your grade, it would be interesting to hear about it.