Review Blog

Mar 28 2016

The big fish by Pamela Allen

cover image

Penguin, 2016. ISBN 9780670078974
Once upon a time a little old man, a little old woman, a small boy and a small girl went to spend the day by the river. The little old man took out his fishing line, put some bait on his hook, and cast it into the river because, like everyone who goes fishing, his dream was to catch a really big fish.
I wish, I wish,
Oh, how I wish
I could catch a big fish!
It's not long before there is a tug on his line, so strong that he nearly falls in and he has to call on the little old woman to help him. But even together they are not strong enough so the little old woman calls to the small boy. Will the old man and his family land the catch - and just what is on the end of the line anyway?
This is a delightful story reminiscent of the traditional tale of The enormous turnip and with its repetitive refrain and cumulative language it has a rhythm that will draw the young listener in so that soon they will be engaging with the language as well as the story. And with a few simple necklace-type signs to designate their roles, they will be clamouring to be involved in a re-enactment of it immersing themselves even more so that it becomes a treasure trove of riches for drama and a language study.
Students will love to tell their own tales of going fishing and the tips and tricks they can pass on to their friends. They could make a class map of favourite fishing spots - river, lake, sea, waterhole - and investigate the sorts of fish that inhabit them that they might catch. The class expert could explain the parts of a fishing rod and the different types of lures that are used and why, as well as explaining the procedure of getting a fishing line ready for use or what to do with their catch once they have landed it. Speculating and illustrating what is on the end of the old man's line offers huge scope for the imagination and because the author doesn't disclose what it is, no one can be wrong so the smug chorus of 'I was right!' that usually accompanies predictive questions is avoided.
There is a range of 'the mechanics of language' that could be explored from understanding the word 'tug' and how the author shows its meaning through its repetition to examining the various fonts and how they add to both the meaning and the reading of the story. Even the use of speech bubbles and exclamation marks and the cumulative language structure can be discussed to help develop their understanding of book language and the conventions used to make it more like speech, thus enhancing their own reading through their 'inner voice'. Throughout, Allen uses words like 'tug', 'pull' and 'haul' so there could be an introduction to the concept of synonyms and a challenge to find as many words that could be used to replace 'got' as possible.
The story also lends itself to the mathematics of size, order and position particularly through the illustrations and the re-enactment, offering lots of opportunities for the students to be physically involved as they position themselves according to height or age or gender.
Pamela Allen is one of the mainstay authors of literature for the very young and she never fails to deliver the most wonderful stories that are perfectly illustrated so that the marriage between text and illustration is seamless. Even our very early readers can tell themselves this story without having to have heard it let alone read it for themselves. Miss Just-Turned-Five is going to love sharing this with Grandad, an ardent but not always successful fisherman, as they snuggle up for their bedtime story soon.
Barbara Braxton

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