When writing for learning becomes writing for pleasure

    Published: 11 June 2019
    Hermelin, the Detective Mouse


    “It was a brave new day on Offley Street.” So starts ‘Hermelin the detective mouse’, one of my favourite picture books by the wonderful author and illustrator, Mini Grey. That first double-page spread goes on to introduce characters and set the scene:

    ‘Lady Chumley-Plumley was talking on the phone and also dangling her arm out of the window.’

    Captain Potts was trying to feed Parsley, his cat.’

    “Hmm – no free gift again …”

    ‘Baby McMumbo had just thrown his toast into the flower bed.’

    Then we meet the main character: “And I … Well, I was trying out the new binoculars that I’d found in my breakfast cereal that morning.” A main character who snoops. Excellent.

    With my English adviser hat on, I’m noticing the display of verb forms and range of punctuation that is going to be just perfect for upper key stage 2 writers; with all my other hats (including that one), I am delighting in the hugely entertaining scope of both writing and illustration (on these first pages alone) that is going to ensure that children of all ages will want to read and reread this book.

    So I decided to make ‘Hermelin, the detective mouse’ the focus for the HfL Love that Book detailed education plan that I was about to write, and which would go onto our PA Plus website for subscribers to download. You can find the plan at the bottom of this blog.  I had a gorgeous time writing it. I know it was work and of course there were bits, as you write and rewrite, that were frustrating, but gosh, it was fun overall.

    To me, the rationale for using a picture book like this with upper key stage two writers (apart from the sheer enjoyment) is that the sentence constructions they need to be bringing into their own writing are very clearly exemplified, but because the amount of text is limited, the complexities are easy to focus on. Alongside that, there are a host of secondary characters, details about whose lives can be gleaned from text, illustrations, actions and speech (inference-building anyone?). And a hero whose engaging personality builds up across the book until he is faced with an awful realisation:

    “Back in my attic I consulted the encyclopedia. Unclean. Unhygenic. Unwanted. The devastating truth was …”


    Small pest


    What will he do now? I’m not going to spoil it for you – you’ll have to read for yourselves.

    That was a few months ago, but lately we’ve heard from some teachers who have used the plan and I have been lucky enough to go into their schools, see some of the outcomes produced and talk to them about the work that was undertaken. Three things stood out:

    • The children had just loved the book and the teachers were very definite that this had led to high quality outcomes.
    • The teachers had taken the plan and shaped, adapted and extended it to suit the needs and wishes of their children.

    (And the best bit)

    • It was so evident how much the children had ENJOYED THEMSELVES WRITING for a variety of different purposes.

    Judge for yourselves – here are a selection of photographs. The first three stick closely to suggestions in the HfL plan.

    Using the text to look closely at sentence construction (grammar in action).


    Sentance construction


    Shared writing to support developing characterisation through speech.


    Shared write


    Part of a diary entry (the sad one…)


    End write


    The next shows an extension activity from one of the schools, inspired by the text and illustrations in Hermelin, the detective mouse.

    ‘Missing’ poster.


    Missing poster


    The final two show how a school decided to run with the children’s enthusiasm and extend what was on the plan with a new adventure for Hermelin (and his friend).

    Outcomes from World Book Day, when the children became authors and spent the whole day writing their own stories. And loved it.


    School display


    An excerpt from one of them. (In case you’re wondering, the other members of the family are called Cheddar and Parmesan.)


    Story extract


    With huge thanks to teachers and children at Kenilworth Primary School in Borehamwood, and Martins Wood School in Stevenage; to Mini Grey for her gorgeous book and permissions to use her illustrations; and of course to Hermelin himself (my second-favourite rodent). If you like this plan, follow this link to PA Plus  https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/resources/pa-plus-subscription-package

    The story of how Mini Grey came to write ‘Hermelin, the detective mouse’

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