Friday, April 13, 2007

Cultural Coordinators - we need them

In late March, I joined Glenzier Primary pupils in all their island raggedness and Head Teacher David MacIsaac to present the Island Glenzier project to a large audience at Eastriggs Primary School. A number of creative school projects were being showcased by Dumfries and Galloway's CREATE team for a visit from Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson who was announcing increased funding for cultural coordinators in Scottish schools. Ms Ferguson commented: “This increased level of funding is in recognition of the positive role culture and the arts can make in the education and development of school children."

I have worked in a number of local authorities and have been lucky to work with exceptional and dedicated cultural coordinators who support and initiate creative arts projects in schools. CREATE's work in particular is ambitious, inclusive and innovative and I am glad to have had the experience of working and learning in Dumfries and Galloway where unusual projects like Island Glenzier have been possible.

More funding for cultural coordinators - great! But what happens after the commitment to the next two years?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Glenzier's story gets an international audience

Children at the International School of Tanganyika were the first readers of Our Island Community when I visited them for some creative writing workshops in Dar es Salaam this week. And so the story came home to its East African setting. The verdict? 'The story made me feel like I was in it,' said one pupil. 'I felt frightened when there was a fire on the island,' said another. And they left us with a question: 'It was fantastic story and how did you write it with those children?'
We hope they will now be writing reviews of it, busy writing their own versions of the story, or writing a new final chapter for the Glenzier children to read. To download the whole story, including the children's illustrations, go to

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Chapter 7 Turning Back

The island was shrinking behind them as they chugged away from it. Jessie felt bewildered to find herself on the deck of the boat. She had a can of juice in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other. The tastes were strange after several days of fruit, coconut and water. This all seemed a bit sudden. They had expected to have to stay so much longer.
Jessie and the older children had been the last ones to get into the small white boat which ferried them in groups to the American cruise ship. The wee ones had gone first, along with Lizzie and Jill who needed a bit of extra help to climb the ladder on the side of the ship. Then the grown-ups went, weak and grateful.

Jessie had stood on the beach with the group left, watching the small boat go to and fro. As their turn got nearer, Scarlet folded her arms.
‘We don’t have to go do we?’ she said. ‘I mean who says we have to go just because they’ve happened to find us?’
‘Well, no, but…’ Kieran seemed undecided.
‘I can’t wait to see Sapphire,’ said Rachel, who had missed her horse. She ran forward to get in the boat.
‘Look!’ said Trigger. ‘They’re giving out chocolate. WAIT FOR ME!’ He was fog-horning, and wind-milling his arms as he ran into the shallow water.
The chocolate seemed to decide the last few. They all got in the boat.
‘Well I suppose it is time to go home,’ said Scarlet once they were settled on the deck. She seemed to like all the tourists coming to take photographs of them. She was good at posing.
‘At least we can get freshened up a bit,’ said Jill. Luckily she hadn’t seen herself yet in a mirror. Her hair was still singed black and standing on end.
The Duchess seemed to have recovered a bit and was pointing things out to them -- coral reefs and birds scudding across the water. Jill had helped her to tie back her wild frizzy hair so she was looking a tiny bit more like a teacher.
‘Good field trip, Mr Barker,’ Scarlet leaned across to where he was sitting and smiled at him. ‘You organised that well.’
‘Thank you, Scarlet. We aim to please.’
‘Back to boring old Scotland,’ said Lizzie. ‘But at least I can get a new inhaler there.’
‘Scotland’s a very exciting country, actually,’ said Mr Barker. ‘Did you know…’
And off he went on one of his long history lessons. They used to yawn and look out of the window when he did this in the classroom. But somehow it was quite nice to listen to now, out in the open with the breeze blowing and fish to watch beneath them. And the story was quite funny and made them ask questions.

Jessie felt a bite of sadness about leaving the island. If only it had all the things they had at home. She couldn’t wait for fish and chips and steak pie and she was looking forward to getting some new glasses, and giving her teddies a cuddle in her own bed. She wondered about her mum and dad. Perhaps they would be watching TV now or her mum would be in the kitchen. She would be able to phone them soon. She would have a lot to tell them. Did they know what had happened, about the crash? She thought about her Mum’s home-made jelly.
She looked around at all the children from her school. It felt like they were her friends now. Even Scarlet had stopped being quite so bad and become a bit softer, more considerate and Ali had started talking and was more part of the school community. He had saved them, really. And now when she looked at Callum, he was far less bossy, and seemed to have relaxed. He was even having a joke with Scarlet.

Jessie’s memory zoomed backwards and forwards over the last few days. She had been a little scared, really, despite all the fun. She remembered the Tunnocks’ tea-cakes, the happy second night, and rescuing the teachers. Then she thought of the terrible fire. She could still smell charcoal and taste smoke in her mouth. It would take a long time to forget that. She spat into the sea over the railings of the boat.
Ali come over to her, ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.
She looked down through the glass bottom of the boat. A shoal of fish swept under them, like a bright blue cloud.
‘I’m fine,’ she said. She looked back at the island. ‘I wonder what will happen to it,’ she said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Whether the island will recover from what we’ve done to it.’
They both looked at it silently. It was half black, half green. And it was shrinking. The place that had been their entire world for the last few days had become just a small lump on a very wide, blue horizon.
Something welled up in her. It was big. It felt as though it was bursting upwards into her chest. She turned to Ali with a big grin. The urge carried on rising. She could feel it bulging up in her eyes, and making her ears tingle. Ali was laughing at her, giggling and holding his stomach.
Then Jessie Mousefield, the quietest girl in the school, took a deep breath, and bellowed at the top of her voice, so that no-one could miss it. When everyone turned and looked at her, she took an even bigger breath and shouted the same thing again.

The End (for now!)

End of the Story (or is it?)

We concluded the project this Thursday with a celebratory premiere of the final chapter to the whole school, parents, etc. We had a proof copy of the whole story in our hands and each of us came (suitably bloodied and ragged) as a favourite character from the story. Despite creating the impression of a school disaster, it was good to see the degree of pride and familiarity that each pupil felt for a particular character. They were able to speak about the qualities, foibles, and even what was in the character's pockets.

I've been involved in teaching this same topic in a secondary Modern Studies classroom before. In that case, the pupils had to learn about the mechanics of the British political system. I am convinced that a project like this more effectively engages children with the concepts of democracy and community, than a more knowedge-based variety. The proof of the quality of the final story will be in other children's interest in reading it, but the process is what counts to me. It was a great deal of fun, with serious discussions, disagreements and changes of mind along the way. Its experimental nature sometimes made it a bit of a hairy ride. We never quite knew where it was going next!

Now the school will consider what to do next with their story - to publish it, or present it on the CREATE website. The pupils were most insistent that it should end on a cliffhanger. So watch this space for further instalments!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What to do about the teachers?
When the Glenzier pupils drew maps of the island earlier in the project, one of them clearly showed a small rocky island, labelled 'teachers'. (The same pupil had the idea that the whole situation might have been set up by the teachers, now waiting and watching in a nearby tree, to see how the children got on!) This stranding of the teachers was a brilliant story idea, meaning no-one had to die, and giving us the chance to see how responsible the children would be about their elders. We discussed this, and decided something had to be done.

We had some fun using storyboards to sketch out how they would rescue the grown-ups and what might go wrong along the way. They also wrote about and drew the state of the teachers. The descriptions in Chapter 6 have included many of their words.

We also looked ahead to the final resolution and ending of the story in Chapter 7. Two of the storyboards had a ship appearing at the end of Chapter 6. But this raised the question of whether the island chidren would want to be rescued at all! Our pupils may have been thinking too much on behalf of the older, more able, children but they weren't altogether happy about them having to leave. They wrote Jessie's thoughts as she started the journey home - reflections on the adventure and on how some of the characters have changed and grown. This was good both from the story-writing point of view, but also an important reflection on the effects of a learning experience. More in Chapter 7!

Chapter 6

‘Do we have to rescue them?’ said Kieran. ‘It’s been fun without any grown-ups.’
‘You’re so mean,’ said Kia. ‘They might die if we don’t get them some water.’
‘Well can’t we take them some water and a few coconuts, and then come back?’
‘Without them?’ May stared at him.
‘Well,’ Kieran looked at his feet. ‘OK. I guess we have to rescue them. But they have to follow our rules, right?’
By the time it had been agreed what to do, Scarlet was reappearing on the beach with Trigger about two metres behind her. Over their shoulders they carried a huge bundle of cut bamboo stalks. They threw them down.
‘There’s your boat,’ said Trigger. ‘We’re going to lash it together with this twine.’
When Jessie picked one up and tried to bend it, she could feel how strong it was.
‘It’ll be like a raft,’ said Scarlet. ‘Then you can go off on your stupid fishing trips and leave the rest of us in peace.’
‘Actually,’ said David Casket. ‘We’ve got a rescue mission we need it for.’
‘We’ll all give you a hand,’ said Rachel. ‘We need it rather quickly.’
Scarlet kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m helping make a boat that’s going to bring teachers back into my life!’
But Jessie could see that the punishment didn’t seem so bad to Scarlet with all the extra help.
‘The teachers might be different after this,’ said Dennis. ‘If they’ve nearly died and then we save them. Mr Barker might never shout at us again.’
They lashed the bamboo tightly together until it made a big square raft. Jill limped around in the trees and found a couple of long poles they could use to punt it. She’d seen boatmen do it in Venice. Her leg was getting a bit better now, but she kept out of the sea. Lizzie Huston was well enough to sit up and watch what they were doing from the shelter under the trees.
Then they tried the raft out in the shallow water. It floated, but it rose up and down rather scarily as the waves came in and out.
‘It needs some weight on it,’ said Ali.
‘Who’s going to get on it?’ asked Scarlet.
‘Won’t it sink?’ said Jessie.
‘Only one way to find out,’ shouted Trigger, and he waded out and pulled himself onto it. It tipped suddenly, and looked like it was going to flip over, but he flung himself flat across it, and it righted itself. He sat on it cross-legged. It bobbed and swirled as the sea, like a wild horse, carried the raft on its back. ‘Who else is coming? Rachel – you know where this island is.’
Rachel waded out and climbed on in the same sort of way. The raft still floated as she settled herself onto it.
‘At least one more,’ fog-horned Trigger to all the watchers on the shore.
Jessie stood next to Callum. She noticed how since the Judgement, he’d kept quiet. He hadn’t told anyone what to do, or made anyone have a meeting. And he didn’t seem to be trying to organise this expedition, or even offering to go on it. Jessie herself had never been on a boat, not a small one like that. She’d always been too afraid of the water. But, she thought, maybe she was growing less afraid. She’d been next to it and paddling in it for several days now, even though she hadn’t actually swum in it yet. And she wouldn’t have to swim, would she, if she went on this trip?
Suddenly she was wading out too, towards the boat, and Rachel and Trigger were offering her hands to pull her up. She knelt on the raft, fingers gripping at the bamboo. The other two started pushing with the poles. Jessie watched the shore through her blurred glasses. All the other twenty-six children with their smiling faces and waving hands were getting smaller and smaller. She hardly dared to breathe as the raft skirted the edge of their big island, passing the skeleton of the plane with just its tail-fin poking out of the water. They floated around the corner, into unfamiliar territory.
Jessie listened to the swish of the poles. She looked over the edge of the raft and saw turquoise water and underneath it the white sand. It looked very shallow. A shoal of yellow and black striped fishes wafted beneath the boat. She smiled to herself.
‘There it is!’ said Rachel.
They stopped poling and all looked in the direction of her pointing finger. A small high island poked out of the sea in front of them. It didn’t look far, but in between, the water turned from turquoise to a deep purpley blue, and you could see white peaks splashing on it. Her stomach tightened.
‘Great,’ shouted Trigger. ‘Won’t take long. Do you think they can see us?’
‘No,’ said Rachel.
‘They’ll hear you though,’ said Jessie. ‘If you shout.’
‘MR BARKER,’ yelled Trigger. ‘DUCHESS.’
‘She doesn’t know she’s called the Duchess,’ said Rachel.
They waited, but there was no reply, and they started to pole towards the small island again. The raft started to rise and fall more steeply now as they got to the rougher water, and Jessie could hear the gulps in her own throat.
‘What happens?’ squeaked Jessie. ‘If the water’s deeper than the poles are long?’
Rachel and Trigger both stopped poling and looked at her. Trigger looked over the edge of the raft. They had no answer.
They were quite close to the high knobbly rocks of the small island’s shore, when Jessie noticed she was getting wet. At first she thought it was the splashes from the tops of the waves. But then she realised it was coming from underneath her. When she looked down, she saw that the bamboo poles were coming away from each other, parting to open a great hole through which she could see deep, blue water.
The next thing she knew, she was tumbling backwards with water shooting up her nose, into her ears, pushing her spectacles all squint. She surfaced, saw rock, saw blue sky, her own hands splashing and smashing at the water. She gurgled and spat and coughed, arms and legs frantic. Her head was full of noisy breathing. She saw two other heads in the water. Swimming. That was what they were doing. And Trigger was on his back, towing the remains of the raft behind him.
‘I know how to swim,’ she tried to convince herself. She remembered doing lengths of Annan swimming pool with chlorine up her nose, feeling cold and frightened. But this water wasn’t cold. It was warm and salty and floated her up to the surface.
‘Alright, Jess?’ called Rachel.
She thought about it for a moment, took a deep breath of air, not water. ‘Yes,’ she called. She opened her arms in a big sweep of breaststroke, and started following them towards the shore.
It was very different to their own island – so barren and steep and there was very little shade. There was no sign of any people on the island. Rachel led them on a scramble up the rocks to start a search.
‘Here!’ Rachel called, and the other two hurried to join her.
Three people lay in a huddle in the shade of a tree, but Jessie didn’t know any of them. They were very dirty, and the man had a beard and reminded her of a rather wiry terrier that her uncle had. He sat up slowly when he heard their voices. He seemed to be very sleepy and had insect bites and scratches on his face. Rachel, Trigger and Jessie stood and stared. Were these people savages?
‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ the man said faintly. The voice was weak and slow like someone who had been hypnotised. A zombie. But there was also something a little familiar about it, Jessie thought.
Then the woman sat up and rubbed her eyes as if she was seeing things. ‘You came,’ she said, and broke into a smile. ‘Have you got any water?’
‘God,’ whispered Rachel. ‘She looks like a shaggy cat - her hair’s gone all frizzy.’
‘That’s not Ms Chess is it?’ asked Jessie. When she looked at the man again, she could just about see that he was Mr Barker. But he had obviously lost the tie he always wore, and become much hairier. And he wasn’t telling them what to do at all.
The third man was slow and thin. Jessie could see from the remains of stripes on his once-white shirt, that he must be the pilot. The three children pulled water bottles out of the bag that Trigger had carried over from the island down his shirt-front, and opened them for the grown-ups. The pilot slurped his down noisily.
‘We have plenty of water on our island,’ she said to reassure him. ‘We’re going to take you back there.’
‘Kids,’ the pilot said. ‘Rescued by Kids! You seem to know what to do in an emergency. You must have had good teachers.’
Mr Barker managed a laugh.
They helped the grown-ups back to the shore, but then they remembered the problem with the raft. They looked at the pieces on the rocky shore and wondered how they would lash it together again. From the position of the sun, they could see that they only had about two hours’ daylight left. They needed to get going.
The pilot suddenly took off his shirt and started to tear it into long strips. Trigger began to lash the bamboo back into place with it. But another problem had started to occur to Jessie. They had one small raft and now there were six of them. Would they all fit on it without it sinking?
Jessie stared at the sea. The waves on the shore of the island had retreated. It was low tide. She picked up one of the poles they had used to punt them across, and stood it next to Mr Barker. He wasn’t much shorter than the pole.
‘Do you know what?’ she said. ‘I think the water will be shallow enough for some of us to wade across if we have to.’
‘Clever you!’ shouted Rachel.
‘Not just good teachers,’ said the pilot. ‘Brilliant ones.’
The grown-ups went on the raft first because they were weak, and the three children waded and pushed. When the water came up to their chests, they swapped places. There were a few stumbles and splashes, but soon they were through the deepest part and could swap places again. Jessie suddenly realised that she hadn’t thought at all about being afraid of the water. She hadn’t even worried much about jellyfish.
As they rounded the corner of the island and saw their beautiful white beach again, Jessie heard two things. First she heard rattles and bangs and whistles and squeals.
‘Look!’ shouted Rachel. ‘Scarlet’s got her island orchestra together to welcome you.’
‘Welcomed?’ said the Duchess. ‘By Scarlet?’
They could see all the children waiting on the beach, with their drums and whistles. They were jumping up and down, waving and cheering. Callum, the tallest, was clearly visible, joining in. They were all getting bigger as the raft moved towards them, back to safety.
‘And Ali’s getting some coconuts and mangoes ready for you by the looks of it,’ said Trigger. ‘You can see my penknife flashing in the sunlight.’
Jessie looked at Mr Barker. It might have just been a splash from the sea, but she could see a wet streak trailing across his cheek. It looked just like a tear.
Jessie had heard something else too but she ignored it at first. It was a noise she knew and yet she didn’t seem to have heard it for years and years. She couldn’t think what it was.
It was quiet at first, a low hum like a bee. But it was getting louder, closer, turning into a throb. And then it became more like a steady chug-chug-chug.
‘Look!’ she said, and pointed out towards the horizon. The tall white hull of a boat was coming towards them. There were people on the deck in sunglasses with cameras in their hands. They were waving and leaning over the railings. Right at the front a man was raising to his mouth a big white trumpet.
‘Oh my god,’ said the Duchess ‘We’re being rescued. We’re all being rescued.’

To be continued…..

Saturday, November 18, 2006

'Hang her upside down from a tree and beat her with bamboo'

That was one of the ideas proposed by a pupil during a discussion about how Scarlet should be treated following the fire on the island which she may have helped instigate. The children were rather awed by the turn of events in Chapter 4, and keen that no-one should die, especially the characters they had been responsible for creating.

We spent a good deal of time talking about what the meeting would be like the next morning, when they would have to decide who was to blame and how to punish them. I wanted them to see it as a scene in the way a film director might - focussing on sounds and sight. To this end we also did a role play. This created great enthusiasm but didn't quite get across what I had intended - namely that characters' feelings such as contrition or anger could be shown by their actions and what they said rather than told directly to the reader. They saw it more as an opportunity for the characters to have a good squabble!

Each of them wrote a version of this scene the next day and I was able to use them quite extensively in Chapter 5. Their horrific ideas for punishments had moderated by then and we will vote on the most appropriate next week - drinking sea water, withdrawal of mango-eating rights, or collecting everyone's food for a week?

But what will they decide to do about the news from the small island nearby?

Chapter 5 Owning Up

The morning started as usual with the red glow of the sunrise and the blue glow of the sea. But Jessie and everyone else knew that today would be Judgement Day.
As soon as she woke up, the smell of charred wood filled Jessie’s nostrils. It was as if she was waking up in the middle of a dying bonfire after Guy Fawkes Night. She’d seen a hedgehog do that once – uncurl and scurry away from the cinders.
The smell reminded her of the terrible events of the day before. She sat up and looked around. The island was very quiet. All the birds seemed to have flown away after the fire. A few of the children were awake but they spoke only in whispers. No-one had run down to the sea. Jill was crying quietly from the pain in her leg. Jessie noticed for the second time that Ali was missing.
Jessie joined Callum on the beach. He was shading his eyes and looking back into the forest. There were tails of smoke rising from the black sticks of trees, but no signs of any flames now, and none of the wild crackling and blasting heat which had been so frightening the night before. We’ve been lucky, she thought. Half the island was still green and had not been affected by the fire. Then she almost laughed at herself. Lucky? Were they really lucky to be blackened by fire and all alone on an island?
There was something happening back at the camp. Jessie and Callum found that Ali had returned and was kneeling next to Jill. He sliced open a big green fruit. The flesh was orange inside. He scooped some out with a knife and mashed it up. Then he spread it onto the raw burn on Jill’s leg.
‘Papaya,’ he soothed her. ‘Good for healing.’
‘Ouch,’ she squealed with pain.
‘Give it time,’ he said.
Then Ali took some curly green leaves from his pocket and put them in an empty coconut husk. He poured in some water and began to squeeze the juice from the leaves. He took it to where Lizzie lay on her side on a special sand-bed they had built for her. She was breathing noisily.
‘What is it?’ asked Jessie.
‘If she drinks this it helps to relax the breathing.’
‘You’re so clever,’ said Jessie.
Ali just smiled.
Callum helped Lizzie to sit up and drink from the coconut. They had taken turns all night, an hour at a time, to sit next to her and listen to her breathing. If there was any problem, they were to wake up Callum or Trigger who both knew how to do mouth to mouth life-saving.
After everyone had calmed down a bit the night before, the story had been partly told. They had heard how Lizzie had asked Jill for her inhaler when she’d been in the forest running around with the Red Devils. But when she puffed it, she discovered it had run out. They were all so busy running around and shouting that no-one took much notice of how worried Lizzie was. When the smoke started rising, she had collapsed.

Later in the morning, Callum, Trigger and Scarlet were standing up in front of everyone. Scarlet was scowling and had her hands on her hips.
Callum had called a meeting as he did each morning. But this one was different. The sun glittered through the leaves onto them as usual. But without the bird-song it didn’t seem as beautiful as before on the island. And they had to decide who was to blame.
At the beginning of the meeting, they only spoke when they were holding the ….., as they had agreed, but gradually people had started to call out and interrupt each other. And now a curtain of silence had dropped around them.
‘It’s ridiculous,’ said Callum. ‘Having to wait five minutes for the answer to one little question. This is serious. Someone might have died.’
‘I saw Trigger. He was running around with fire in his hand,’ said one of the children. ‘He was barking like a wild dog.’
‘You all heard Scarlet,’ Trigger said. ‘When the first boat went past, she said she wanted to set the island on fire.’
‘And she made everyone join the Red Devils and broke all the rules,’ Jessie said.
Scarlet turned her back on everyone, hugging herself with her arms. Then she suddenly turned around, head low and hissed out, ‘OK. OK. I’m sorry.’
There was so much surprise that no-one spoke. They knew how much Scarlet hated to say sorry. She was famous for it at school.
‘There. I said it,’ she whispered. ‘Are you happy now?’
Still no-one spoke. Scarlet’s head was down, but when Jessie looked closely, she could see that tears were dripping onto her arms. Plop. Plop. Plop. Jessie felt a bit sorry that she had spoken against Scarlet. She wondered if anyone would say anything to defend her. She always got the blame for everything.
Ali took a deep breath. ‘It’s not that fair,’ he said. ‘Shouldn’t we ask Trigger about his stick of fire?’
Trigger looked away. Everyone was looking at him.
‘Well?’ asked Callum.
Trigger turned and stomped off onto the beach.
‘Get here now,’ roared Scarlet.
Trigger kept walking.
‘You heard what Scarlet said,’ shouted Callum. ‘We’ve got to do this properly or we won’t get anywhere.’
Trigger stopped walking. He turned around and moaned, ‘It was an accident. I didn’t mean to.’ He slunk back to the group under the trees. ‘One of the little ones thought they saw a plane. I dropped the stick to wave my arms at it. Before I knew it, everything was on fire.’
‘So you were both to blame. Scarlet for causing chaos. Trigger for dropping the fire.’ Callum said. ‘But at least you’ve been honest. What does everyone think. Should we give them a punishment?’
They debated this for several more minutes until it was decided that for their punishment, Scarlet and Trigger should build a boat for the children to take on fishing expeditions.
‘How do you build a boat?’ asked Scarlet.
Trigger shrugged.
‘Good time to learn,’ said Dennis J Joans. ‘You’ll have to work as team.’
Trigger and Scarlet looked at each other. It was clear they were not looking forward to their task.
‘That idiot won’t be much help,’ said Scarlet.
‘Shut up,’ said Trigger.
Kieran suddenly stood up and sprang towards Trigger and Scarlet, with their sad, dreadful faces. Out popped his water pistol. Squirt. Squirt. Each got a faceful of water. They jumped back in surprise, wiped their eyes. They were shocked into smiling. Suddenly everyone was laughing. Even Lizzie Huston, who was still lying on her side nearby, gave a little chuckle. Then Kieran turned on Callum, and he got a faceful too.
‘OK. Now can we have fun again?’ Kieran sang out. ‘If we have plenty of fun, no-one will have to make a separate group and cause trouble.’ A big group of them ran for the sea, taking huge plunges into the turquoise water as if they were a school of dolphins.
Scarlet, for once, didn’t lead the charge, and Trigger stayed near her. Jessie heard Trigger say, ‘Actually, I’ve got an idea. Do you remember all that bamboo we saw?’
‘For building a boat? That’s a good idea,’ said Scarlet. ‘As long as I didn’t all get burned down.’
‘Shall we go and look?’
And off they went.
Jessie paddled on the shore. She was still a bit afraid of the water, how deep it might be, swallowing her up. Or there might be beasts in there like sharks or jellyfish. But this time, she went a bit deeper, wading in and feeling the water lapping against her legs. It made her feel happier. When Ali and Rachel went past and swiped great waves of water at her to splash her, she laughed, and did the same back, even though she could only see them as blurs because her glasses were covered in salty water.
As she swished her hand in the warm water, it bumped against something hard. She flinched away from it. But when she wiped her glasses on her T shirt and put them back on, she saw that it was just a floating water bottle. She picked it up, and looked at it. It looked just like the bottle that she had sent off across the waves a few days before. And in fact, inside was a crumpled leaf, just like her own. Had it just turned around and floated back to her?
She carried it onto the beach and opened the bottle. She pulled out the leaf, but already she could see that it was longer and yellower than the one she had used. When she uncurled it, though, there were words on it, words that made her heart race.
‘Look,’ she shouted. ‘Look what I’ve found!’
Everyone gathered around her, amazed to hear Jessie Mousefield making such a loud noise. They all stared at her, waiting to know what it was.
She held the leaf in her hand, and read it aloud: ‘We are teachers and pilots stuck on an island. We have no water or food. Help us please. 29 children also lost.’
There were gasps. Hands went over mouths.
‘But where could they be?’ asked KC.
‘We haven’t seen any sign of them here,’ added Karen.
‘Ah!’ Rachel Wellard sprung forward. ‘We never got a chance to tell you.’
Everyone turned their round eyes on her.
‘What we saw from the top of the island yesterday. We forgot to tell you all, with all the other things happening.’
‘Did you see land?’
‘Not exactly,’ said Rachel. ‘Not the mainland. But there’s a very small island with just one or two trees and some big rocks on it. It’s not very far. In that direction.’ She pointed away around the corner of the island, where they could no longer see the water which they knew lay between.
‘So that’s what’s happened to them,’ someone said.
‘Poor things,’ said someone else.
‘Hadn’t we better help them?’ asked May.
And they all looked at each other for an answer.

To be continued…..

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Vote Scarlet!
This week the Glenzier children each chose a character to back as leader on the island. Several candidates emerged - Callum Knight with his 'Knights of the Island' group intent on maintaining control and thus saving all their lives; Dennis J Joans - the best runner; Jessie, who will listen to everyone; Kieran Coolster who will rule with his water pistol; and of course the chaos-loving Scarlet. If other characters join her 'Red Devil' group, they are guaranteed fun, and can do what they want, when they want. In Chapter 4, many of them are tempted, but what will the Glenzier children think about the result?
We have already discussed punishment and how it should be decided. This included listening to an extract from a David Greig radio play, 'Dr Korczak's Example', in which they heard children running their own court to pass judgement on their peers in the orphanage that Korczak set up in Poland. He was a writer and champion of children's rights, before he and the children were tragically sent to a death camp in Treblinka in 1942.
Chapter 5 invites the question - will Scarlet be punished, and how?

Chapter 4 Life or Death?

It was Jessie who heard the noise first. Great thuds, not far into the jungle. They fell quickly, one after the other, then more slowly. Then there was a silence before the noise started again. Jessie imagined a huge creature with monstrous feet.
‘Ssssh,’ she said to everyone. They all listened, moving into a closer huddle, still miserable with hunger and their disappointment that the ship hadn’t seen them.
‘Is it coming closer?’ someone asked.
Thud, thud, thud.
Kia drew the little ones around her.
‘No,’ said Jessie. She breathed out a big sigh. ‘What can it be?’
They crept through the undergrowth towards it, trying not to crackle the branches, until they came to a grove of coconut palms, rising their straight trunks tall above the scrabble of bushes.
‘Look!’ shouted Scarlet, pointing to the top of one of them. As she said it, three fat coconuts fell to earth, one after the other. Thud, thud, thud.
‘It’s Ali,’ shrieked Lizzie. ‘That’s where he’s went.’
Right up at the top of one of the trees, under the palm leaves, was Ali. His feet were against the trunk and his knees splayed out. One arm hugged the trunk and with the other, he slashed the coconut stems.
‘I wondered who had my penknife,’ said Trigger.
Then Ali was backing down the trunk. His feet worked as if they were one. He stretched them down, then brought his hugging hands to meet them. When he reached the bottom, he took off the piece of plaited twine that bound his ankles together.
‘Wow, that looks fun,’ said Rachel.
The others just stared at him. He picked up one of the green coconuts, and with the knife flicking and flashing in the sun, he pared away the thick case of the coconut, and then cut a hole in the top. He handed the first one to Callum.
Drink,’ he said.
He gave them each one, and some of them shared. Jessie found the water inside was fresh-tasting and slightly sweet. She wiped her mouth and threw down the husk, but Ali shook his head and picked it up again. Soon he had cut it open into a bowl, and carved a small curved spoon from one of the off-cuts.
‘Eat,’ he said.
She peered inside the bowl, and with the spoon, cut away at the soft white slippery flesh inside. It slid down her throat, deliciously smooth and rich. It was like custard - nothing like the lumps of coconut she’d chewed on when she’d won hard, ripe ones at the Shows. Their stomachs filled quickly. Suddenly, everything seemed so much better.
But that wasn’t all Ali had for them. He’d collected more of the green fruits they’d seen the day before. Using a big banana leaf as a plate, he’d sliced them open. They could see the orange flesh gleaming. The children bit into the slices nervously at first, but then they went back for more and more.
‘It tastes like sunshine,’ said May, who had a line of orange juice trickling down her chin.
There was a great chorus of Mmmms.
‘Mango,’ said Ali. ‘Not too much.’ He rubbed his stomach.
‘Or we’ll all get bad tummies,’ said Karen.
They were so much happier and stronger now, that they all ran off with great energy to do the tasks of the day. They’d agreed that they should play as much as they liked, once the water was collected. Some went swimming, some built a rough shelter for the camp out of woven banana leaves, some had piggy-back races up and down the beach. Even Lizzie Huston joined in.
She said, ‘I don’t hardly need my inhaler here.’
‘It’s because the air’s so clean,’ said KC.
A few boys tried to spear fish in the shallow pools, but the fish were still too fast for them. They drew a big game of snakes and ladders on the beach instead. Jill Beaddie and Scarlet squeezed some colourful dyes from plants and flowers and decorated each other’s shoulders with little tattoo-pictures of stars and fishes and butterflies.
Callum and some others thought about how to make themselves more visible to rescuers. They cut down some palm leaves, and laid them in a huge ‘HELP’ on the beach. They hung spare T-shirts on sticks along the edge of the water, and speared the Tunnocks Tea-cake wrappers so they would glitter in the sun. But all day no boats came past, and no aeroplanes flew over.
Jessie found Ali. ‘Thank you for getting us coconuts,’ she said. ‘How did you know how to do that?’
‘My uncle had a coconut plantation in Iran,’ he said. ‘I used to watch.’
‘You should teach someone else really,’ she said. ‘So you don’t have to go off on your own. We were worried about you.’
Rachel Wellard came running up, ‘Teach me, teach me,’ she said. ‘I’m good at rock climbing.’
Jessie went and added a rule to the list in the sand. ‘No-one goes off alone.’ They’d forgotten to write that one down.
When they laid down to sleep that night near the fire, they were all scratching at insect bites, but it didn’t seem as scary as the first night, and they had a kind of roof over them now. Jessie kept near to where Ali was in case a snake came again.
As soon as the sun went down, the insect music started amongst the trees. It sounded like tambourines shivering and trumpets tooting. Kieran Coolster told them a bed-time story about a robber who used a water pistol to hold up a bank. His get-away vehicle was a surfboard. Their laughter added to the night music. And then their snores did.
Now that they had enough water and food, the days started to pass. They played and did the jobs that had to be done. They started to look tanned and rugged. One day Trigger even speared a fish, and paraded up and down the beach with it on a stick, shouting, ‘GOAL’. But when Karen and KC barbecued it on the fire, it became very small. They only had the tiniest taste each.
Every day they looked at the sky and the sea for their rescuers. But no-one came. Every day Callum called a meeting in the morning, to decide what they were going to do. Some of them were getting impatient.
At first there were no new ideas. Then after they’d been there a few days, Rachel Wellard said she was going to climb up to the highest point on the island and see if she could see land. Then they might know if it was worth trying to build a boat. Dennis J Joans and Callum went on the expedition with her. They took plenty of water, the penknife, and a mango each.
Jessie noticed that as soon as they had set off, Scarlet and Jill started whispering. They sat under a big mango tree in the shade, and called the other children over to them one by one or in small groups. Jessie listened very hard and she heard them say things like, ‘If you join us, you’ll be guaranteed FUN!’ and, ‘We’ll give you an island where you can do what you want, when you want.’
Some of the children came away with an excited glint in their eye and a colourful tattoo on their arm or leg. They went away and made drums out of old coconut shells, and whittled away at bamboo to make bazookas they could blow through. Jessie was getting worried, especially as Callum was away from the camp for the day.
Then she noticed that Jill and Scarlet were standing where the rules were written in the sand. Jessie plucked up courage and went over to them. Using a coconut palm leaf as a brush, they had wiped away all the rules.
‘What are you doing?’ Jessie squeaked.
‘We hate school,’ said Scarlet. ‘We hate rules. And so does everyone else. We’re not having rules anymore.’
‘But we agreed,’ said Jessie.
‘Well, we’ve un-agreed. We’re starting a new group. We’re called The Red Devils.’
And they ran off, shrieking and bellowing, onto the beach. All their new followers ran towards them, squealing on their whistles and banging on their drums. They made a raggle-taggle parading orchestra along the shore with Scarlet stomping along at the front, raising her knees up high. Lizzie Huston was with them, and so were quite a few of the little ones, who had been bribed by the promise of ……
Jessie ran to where Ali, Trigger, Kia, May, KC and Karen were standing watching. They had been collecting firewood and building the fire for the night, and had not been invited to join Scarlet’s group.
‘That looks fun,’ said Trigger. Before they could stop him, he picked up a burning branch from the fire and ran off to join the parade. He swung the fire-brand over his head, fog-horning, ‘TRIGGER’S COMING TOO!’ as he ran.
The others just stood there watching. Jessie felt her feet twitching a little, as if they wanted to dance, and her hands fluttering at an imaginary drum.
The parade grew quieter as they went out of sight.
‘Where are they going?’ asked Jessie.
‘I don’t know,’ said Karen.
‘I hope Callum gets back soon. They’re voting with their feet.’
The sun was getting close to the horizon. Rachel’s expedition hadn’t come back, and nor had Scarlet’s parade. The only ones to come back were two of the little ones. They had been crying when they got to the fire and said it wasn’t fair because Scarlet had ordered them to go and fetch water for everyone in her group.
When they’d said to Scarlet that this was supposed to be a job they all did, she’d said, ‘Not any more it isn’t. Your job is to shut up and do as you’re told by us older ones.’
At first they thought it was just smoke from the campfire. But then they started coughing. It was too thick to only be that. Jessie was the first to hear the crackling noise, and the screech of birds moving quickly over their heads. They escaped onto the beach and looked back at the jungle. Then they realised what was happening.
Smoke was belching from the trees on the left hand side of the island. Cracks and bangs burst into the air as the fire tore through branches and tree trunks.
‘What about all the poor animals?’ whimpered May.
‘What about Rachel and Dennis and Callum?’ said Jessie. ‘They might be caught in it. And Scarlet’s group.’
The fire was still some distance from the camp, but already they could feel a fierce heat coming from it.
‘Will it burn the whole island?’ asked Kia.
‘It depends,’ said Ali. ‘On which way the wind blows.’
‘What can we do?’ wailed Karen and KC. ‘I wish Mr Barker and Ms Chess were here.’
But they couldn’t think of anything to do. They had a few bottles of water stored up but that wasn’t going to be enough to put the fire out, and they would be in danger themselves if they went into the forest. Jessie hated to stand still and do nothing. She felt sick.
Then they noticed, where the trees edged the beach to their left, a few children were lurching out of the forest, coughing and vomiting. They got clear of the fire and then fell over, onto the sand. Jessie and her friends ran over. They helped more children away from the trees and to safety on the beach. Jessie began to count who was there, just as Mr Barker would have done. There were still some missing.
Finally they saw some shadowy shapes moving amongst the trees. At first they looked like monsters with several legs. As they became clearer, and reached the beach, Jessie saw that Trigger was supporting Jill Beaddie. Jill was walking with one leg and dragging the other. There was a massive raw burn down one side of it. Her hair was singed black.
The second monster turned into Scarlet and David Casket. They were carrying something between them which seemed to be very heavy, and Jessie couldn’t at first see what it was. It drooped in the middle, almost dragging in the sand. Finally they let it down gently.
Jessie ran over, and gasped with shock. She heard all the gasps and small wails around her as everyone else saw what it was, who it was. Lizzie Huston lay there, very still. Her face was blackened with smoke, her clothes torn. Jessie longed to see her move. But she didn’t.
‘She must have breathed in too much smoke,’ said Kia, pushing to the front. She dropped to her knees beside Lizzie and felt for a pulse at her neck, lay her head against Lizzie’s chest.
Jessie heard footsteps behind her, approaching fast, at a run. She looked around and Dennis was there, panting, then Rachel. And Callum, the tallest boy in the school, was looking over the heads of the crowd that now surrounded Lizzie.
He pushed to the front. His face was pale and sweaty. ‘Is she still breathing?’ he asked.
Kia looked up at him. The flames beating in the forest behind her reflected on her face. It looked like the flashing light of an ambulance. But it was red rather than blue.

To be continued…..

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rules or No Rules?
We've had a lot of discussion about rules this week. Do rules spoil any chance of fun, or will having some ensure that things are shared equally onthe island, and everyone has a chance to survive? Does it matter if a few boys eat all the Tunnocks Tea-Cakes? The Glenzier children decided on the need for the island children to have some 'not-so-strict' rules. They also decided the children should feel free to play whenever they wanted, unless they were supposed to be hunting for food.
They also wrote some wonderful, evocative pieces about what the first night on the island was like. Most of them have a few lines in Chapter 3, describing the sensations, and they have also contributed to what happens next.
Then we discussed leaders. Should leaders be good-looking, good at sports and popular, or good at listening and able to work in a team? Or all of these? We're now looking at which characters in the story we would want to be our own leaders.

Chapter 3

‘So what did everyone find?’ asked Callum Knight. The sun was getting low on the horizon now, and they had gathered back on the beach with all the things they had found. It was turning into a beautiful sunset and the sea was rich blue. Jessie kept turning to look at it.
Some of the hunters had been more successful than others. The fish spear had come back empty. The boy said there were loads of fishes, but they moved too fast.
The most exciting thing was that Trigger and Dennis J Joans had found a cave. The rock was very hard and prickly and inside it was greenish and slippery, but after they had followed it down a bit, they heard dripping and found an underground pool. They had filled up all the bottles they could, and they had also lain a trail of red flowers all the way back to the camp so that others would be able to find the pool too. Jessie tasted the water. It was very slightly salty but it was cool and washed away some of the sandy dryness in her throat.
Rachel Wellard and her team had come back with three big hands of bananas. There was enough for one banana each to eat that night. They had also seen some coconuts hanging from palm trees, but they were so high up a long tall trunk with no branches that they couldn’t reach them. They had picked up some rocks to throw at them but hadn’t managed to shake any down.
‘That’s a shame,’ said KC.
‘Why?’ asked Rachel.
‘Because they’re very nutritious,’ said Karen, who seemed to know everything about food. ‘If we have coconuts we can survive.’
‘And we found these lying on the ground.’ Rachel laid two large green fruits on the ground. She'd found them under a big tree with overhanging branches, but no-one knew what they were and they were all a bit afraid of being poisoned by something they didn’t recognise.
Jill and Scarlet had made a big pile of branches and twigs. And Callum had started a fire with some dried leaves using the special method he knew with a stick and string. But he’d been complaining at the girls.
‘You shouldn’t have torn branches off the trees.’
‘Who says, Mr Sheepdog?’
‘For one thing,’ Callum stood tall, ‘it doesn’t burn when it’s all green like that. You have to get wood that’s been lying around on the ground, that’s got dry.’
‘Collect it yourself, then,’ said Scarlet, folding her arms.
‘And for anther thing,’ piped up May Pillow. ‘We said we weren’t going to harm anything on the island. And that includes the trees.’
‘You said that,’ said Jill. ‘We didn’t.’
The group who had been looking for things from the crashed plane had kept quiet so far. They were shuffling around at the back of the circle, looking at their feet. Finally they were asked what they had found.
‘Just a few more bottles,’ said Kieran Cooster.
‘Nothing else?’
‘And a tin of peaches.’
‘Great!’ said David Casket. ‘Has anyone got a penknife?’
‘They found a suitcase too,’ the words burst out of Jessie. She was still feeling very angry about it.
All the heads turned to Kieran and his friends.
‘Well?’ Trigger asked.
‘Whose was it then?’ Shouted Scarlet.
‘David’s’, Kieran finally said.
‘Oh brillaint,’ David burst out. ‘Who’s for a Tunnock’s Tea-Cake then? My Mum packed 30 - enough for one each and two for me!’
A big cheer went up. Trigger did a little victory dance and trumpeted out ‘Goal’ in his Foghorn Voice.
‘Where is it then?’ They all asked. One or two ran off and found the suitcase where it had been left lying under a tree and dragged it back, but when they opened it, there were some wet clothes, and a copy of ‘Treasure Island’, but only an empty yellow box and some torn foil wrappings.
‘You idiots,’ screamed Scarlet. ‘They were for all of us.’
David Casket looked as though he might cry.
Jill Beaddie walked up to Kieran Cooster with her hands on her hips. ‘I think you’d better apologise to us all.’
‘Or else.’
‘Or what?’
Jill turned to Scarlet and some of the others. ‘What will we do to them? Did someone say they’d found bamboo? That sharpens very nicely doesn’t it? It can be poked under fingernails.’
After Callum had calmed things down, they all went and gathered around the place where ‘The Rule’ was written. ‘Maybe we need more than one rule, after all,’ he said. ‘If we have no control, we might not all survive.’
This time Scarlet and Jill were a bit keener on having rules themselves. ‘They should be ‘not-so-strict rules’, though,’ said Scarlet.
Jessie picked up the writing stick again and asked what she should write next to the rule for meetings.
‘If you find water or food, you share it,’ said Jill.
Jessie wrote that in the sand.
‘Can I have my rule too?’ asked May. ‘That we shouldn’t harm anything on the island?’
Some of the children weren’t so keen on that rule.
‘Does that mean we can’t eat fish?’
‘What does it matter if we harm it? No-one else is here to care.’
In the end they had a vote by show of hands and decided that …….

‘I always thought if we got stranded on an island, we’d just run around and have fun, not spend the whole time arguing and making up rules,’ said Lizzie Huston. She ran off to chase some more hermit crabs across the sand.
‘Come on,’ said Kia to the little ones, and started running to the sea. The waves were crashing and foaming like the mouths of wild horses. Ghost crabs scuttled along the beach between the children’s toes, making them squeal and dance about, kicking the powdery sand. This was the first time they had laughed since the crash.
Jessie sat on the silver sand, running it through her fingers and toes. It reminded her of holidays at the seaside – laughing and playing. This was not fun, though.
It got dark in the blink of an eye. The sun was there one minute and gone the next. Then the wind started and blew away some clouds to make a beautiful big full moon shining down on the sea.
They were frightened and tired and had no adults to help them. It had been a long day since the horror of the plane crash and they were still in shock. They had a quick meal of bananas collected from the jungle and made a bed as comfy as they could from palm tree leaves.
Most of the children couldn’t get to sleep quickly because it was hot. Bugs flew about, and some of them woke up spitting with them in their mouths. They laid leaves of the trees over them as blankets, but the bugs still got through the holes. They heard things flying about, and the song of the grasshoppers. All they could see was the moon and a few stars. They smelt the salty sea air and smoke from the fire. There were loads of shadows and the kids were wondering what they were. Everyone who was there at least woke up once or more.
Jessie could see all the shadows that the animals made and could feel all the creepy-crawlies moving on top of her. She nearly fell asleep and then a bug crawled up her leg. With the fright, she kicked the person next to her, who groaned. She got up and lay down again near a group who had gathered around the fire. Although she was frightened and scared, she felt safer as she watched the dancing flames. They took her thoughts back to memories of home – sitting by the huge roaring fire toasting marshmallows. She could almost taste the sweetness. She so wished she was cuddled up in her bed at home. But what she tasted now was blood from a cut on her lip.
She noticed that Ali just sat there, looking around.
She closed her eyes and could hear a murmur of voices. Then she heard a slithering noise in the branches above them. ‘It’s nothing,’ she said to herself. ‘It’s nothing at all.’ But it got louder.
Then she heard Ali speak, so very quietly it was like the sound of a wave lapping on the shore. ‘Snake,’ he said. ‘Keep very still.’
Jessie gasped.
‘Ssshh’, he whispered.
She lay there, without breathing, and finally heard the slithering and rustling in the branches getting quieter, moving away. After that, she must have slept for a while.
She woke to a dazzle of sunlight spearing through the branches and hunger rumbling in her stomach. They had all forgotten where they were, and sat up, quiet and confused. She heard some voices coming from the beach and could see that some of the children were already up and had gone for a morning swim. It was a bit different to getting in the shower and going to school, she thought.
The voices from the sea suddenly rose into an explosion, and drew all the remaining children from under the trees down to the shore to see what was happening.
‘There’s a ship, there’s a ship,’ Karen and KC screamed. ‘We’re going to be saved!’
Jessie looked at the horizon through her smudged glasses and saw a ship chugging across the horizon, tall and solid-looking, with a puff of black smoke trailing form a chimney.
‘Hurrah, hurrah,’ the children leapt in excitement.
But Callum Knight was frowning, and started calling instructions very quickly. ‘Dennis. You take some others and get some big leaves to fan the smoke from the fire. Where’s Trigger?’
‘Here,’ He stepped forward.
‘We need your Foghorn Voice. As loud as you can.’
Trigger started to broadcast, ‘HELP. HELP,’ in a chorus that went on and on. Some other children joined in. But their voices got sore and croakier, and the ship continued to chug on a straight course towards the right hand end of the horizon.
‘Surely they can see us. What else can we do?’ said Rachel. She started to jump up and down and wave. But nothing seemed to make any difference. ‘Who’s got something we can make a flag out of?’
But they were too late, and they watched the stern of the ship finally disappear from view, and they all sat down, sad and very hungry.
‘He’s so bossy, that Callum Sheepdog Knight,’ said Scarlet. ‘Why should we do as he says? If we’d set the whole island on fire, they’d have noticed us, wouldn’t they.’
Some of the children looked at her as if she’d had a good idea. But some looked shocked.
As Scarlet gathered a huddle around her, who whispered and looked over their shoulders, Jessie looked around at all the faces. It was only then that she noticed that one of them was missing. There was no sign of Ali. And when she asked, ‘Where’s Ali,’ it turned out that no-one had seen him since the night before.

To be continued…..

Monday, October 30, 2006

Chapter 2 Rules or No Rules?

Callum Knight’s question hung around the group of children as they stood on the beach, kicked sand over their feet, and rubbed at bruises. Jessie noticed that Kia had already gathered the youngest children together and was giving them hugs and telling them that everything was going to be OK. She’d had a lot of practice at babysitting.
‘I’m hot!’ shrieked Scarlet. ‘I’m too hot.’
Her loud voice set off a whole chain of voices agreeing.
‘Me too’.
‘So am I.’
‘I’m frying’.
‘I know,’ said the boy they called Trigger. ‘Let’s cool off in the sea.’
He was very good at water sports so this wasn’t a big surprise. He was also Captain of the Football Team.
‘But..’ said Callum Knight. ‘We need to talk about what to do.’
Jessie nodded. But Rachel Wellard, the most sporty girl in the school, was already running towards the waves. ‘We can talk about it in the water,’ she called over her shoulder.
Trigger was catching her up. ‘Last one to get their head underwater is a boiled potato.’
A herd of children followed him, howling as they ran. But Jessie stayed at the back. She didn’t run. And she found herself standing on the shore with Dennis J Joans and Lizzie Huston. They took off their shoes and dipped their toes in, but they didn’t need to explain to each other why they weren’t swimming. Everyone in the school knew they were afraid.
Most of the other children had dived straight in and were splashing and dive-bombing each other.
‘It’s way warmer than Annan swimming pool’, shouted Kieran Cootser. He’d taken his water pistol with him and was shooting at anyone he could get close to.
Jessie heard a wail go up and saw the twins coming out of the water. KC was rubbing at a cut on her sister’s arm.
‘It stings, it stings,’ wailed Karen.
Kia was following close behind them. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said to Karen. ‘It’s doing it good. Salt cleans wounds. I read it in one of my encyclopaedias.’
Jessie noticed that the twins, with their strawberry-blonde hair and pale skin were already looking sunburnt. She was about to suggest that Kia took them and the youngest children into the shade under the trees, when a terrible scream went up. It was so loud and shrill that the silence afterwards seemed to echo and turn everyone to statues for a few seconds.
Jessie saw a flash of Scarlet’s red hair, the sun glinting off all her piercings, as she charged towards the shore. She sucked behind her all the others, shrieking, running, splashing, their mouths like square black holes.
Trigger was at the front, running the fastest. ‘Is it a shark?’ he shouted.
The children behind him caught at his last word, and echoed it back louder, and with more certainty. ‘Shark! Shark!’
When they reached the beach, they clung to each other in a huddle of wet, shaking, jabbering bodies. The murmur, ‘shark, shark,’ continued until Scarlet piped up.
‘Shut up, idiots,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t a shark. It was a jelly-fish. And it was this big.’ She held her hands over a metre away from each other, which produced more gasps and shrieks.
A small voice came from the back of the huddle. ‘I want to go home’. Then the beach was a chaos of wails, sunburn, cuts fizzing with salt, and a strong thick smell. Jessie knew it was the smell of fear.
Callum Knight stood tall again, and stepped forward. Jessie could see that he was being brave. Although he took a deep breath and spoke loudly, she noticed his hands shaking very slightly.
‘I think we need to talk about this sensibly,’ he said. ‘It might be two weeks before anyone even realises we’re missing. We’d better get organised.’
There was a lull in the noise. Somewhere in the throng, Scarlet’s voice mimicked, ‘Sensible, sensible. Organised, organised.’
‘He think he’s Mr Barker, or what?’ said Jill Beaddie.
Jessie pushed her glasses up her nose. She stepped forward. She heard her voice come out in a high squeak which she didn’t recognise, but she said, ‘I agree with Callum.’
A murmur of agreement came up from the crowd, and drowned out Jill and Scarlet. They all walked towards the trees.
Soon they had spread some big palm leaves on the ground and were all sitting down in a clearing. It was much cooler under the trees, and they had found some half-drunk bottles of water floating in the sea which they took with them. By that time they were all very thirsty. Jessie felt like she had sandpaper for a mouth.
‘So,’ said Callum. ‘We’d better work out what are the most important things we need.’
‘I’m hungry,’ said one voice.
‘So am I. I want chips.’
‘I want chocolate mousse with smarties sprinkles,’ said someone else.
‘We’ll finish the bottled water soon. Hadn’t we better find some more?’ Callum tried to get back to reality.
‘But what are we going to eat?’
‘Terrys Chocolate orange.’
‘My mobile phone’s full of water. How are we going to call mum and dad?’
‘If we’re going to be here two weeks, we’ll need a TV.’
Jessie sat quietly, bewildered by all the voices shouting at once. It got so loud that you couldn’t make out any individual voices, it was like standing on a roundabout in the middle of Glasgow. She put her hands over her ears. She could see Callum looking red in the face. She saw that the only other one who wasn’t saying anything was Ali, the boy from Iran.
‘SHUT UP!’ Trigger stood up and shouted. He had a voice like a foghorn. He was used to shouting at the team during football matches. Everyone stopped and looked at him but he just sat down again and didn’t seem to have anything to say.
‘OK,’ said Callum. ‘We need to decide what’s really important and do something about it before it gets dark. Who has an idea?’
Jessie put her hand up. ‘I think it would be a good idea if we had some rules about how to talk about it,’ she said.
‘Why do we need rules?’ said Jill Beaddie.
‘That sounds just like being at school again,’ agreed Scarlet. ‘How are we going to have any fun if we’ve got rules?’
Jessie pushed her glasses up her nose and tried to stop her voice squeaking like it did before. ‘We need rules so we can hear each other speak and so that the shyer ones get a chance.’
No-one disagreed. They were perhaps a bit surprised that Jessie had pushed herself forward like that. They agreed on a rule for meetings. Jessie found a stick and wrote in a bare patch of sand near where they were sitting: ‘We can only speak at a meeting if we are holding the …..’
After that it was easier, and they soon agreed that the most important things they needed were clean water, protein and fresh food, and to feel safe and be protected from wild animals if there were any. They would need fire if they found anything to cook and also it would help them to be spotted by a passing ship or aeroplane. And they agreed that they needed to be protected from the sun which had bitten at them while they’d been on the beach so that some of them were now very pink and even feeling a bit sick. It wasn’t like the sun they saw at home in Scotland. Kia also reminded them that Lizzie Huston had asthma, and she needed to be careful not to run around too much in case her inhaler ran out.
‘OK,’ said Callum. ‘We’ll all have to do different jobs.’
‘I’m the fastest runner, so I’ll go all round the island and look for a lake or a river,’ said Dennis J Joans who was training to run a marathon.
‘I’ll go with you,’ said Trigger. ‘We can take some of these empty bottles to fill.’
‘I’ve already seen some coconuts, and I think those are banana leaves,’ said Rachel Wellard. She was very practical because she had a horse. She had also done some rock climbing. ‘I’ll find out what’s growing that we might be able to eat.’ A couple of others volunteered to go with her.
‘You can take my penknife if you like,’ said Trigger.
‘Thanks. We’ll need that to cut down any fruit we find.’
‘I meant to kill the monkeys or the pigs or the frogs we can eat.’
‘Urghhh,’ went up the cry.
‘We’re not going to kill any animals are we?’ said May.
There were lots of disagreeing murmurs of yes and no around the group.
‘I’ll put the penknife on a stick and look for fish to spear,’ said one of the other boys. ‘I do loads of fishing with my uncle.’
Soon it was decided who would do what. The twins would stay in the shade and help Kia look after the little ones. They were going to make up stories to tell to them so that they felt more at home and might go to sleep when it got dark. The twins were really good at cooking so if anyone found any food, they would be ready to cook it. Callum and some others were going to look for a way to make fire – by making friction with a stick and string like they’d seen on TV, or maybe with a lens from Trigger’s watch and the sun, or they would see if they could find flints to make a spark. They’d build a fire in the clearing with the twigs and branches that Jill and Scarlet were going to collect. Another group were going to see if any of the luggage from the plane had floated out when it crashed.
When they talked about the crash, everyone went a bit quiet, and eventually May Pillow said. ‘What about Mr Barker and Ms Chess.’
‘The Duchess,’ one of the boys corrected.
No-one really had an answer. A picture floated into some of their minds though, that they tried to push out again.
‘Right.’ They were all ready to run off and do their jobs, when Callum said, ‘Be careful everyone.’
‘Bark, bark, Mr Barker,’ mimicked Scarlet.
‘We should stick together shouldn’t we, no-one go off alone once we’re out of sight of the camp.’
‘And we shouldn’t harm anything on the island, the trees or animals. Not unless we really have to,’ said May. ‘It’s a beautiful place isn’t it, and it looks like no-one’s lived here before us.’
‘Everyone agree?’ asked Callum. They all nodded. ‘And we all report back here, before it gets dark.’
‘Bark, bark, Mr Sheepdog,’ Jessie heard Trigger say to Scarlet as they turned away, and they both laughed.
Jessie realised that she had been forgotten. No-one had given her a job to do. She could collect firewood or look for the luggage. But she’d had another idea. She picked up an empty water bottle and felt in her pocket for the pencil and notebook she always kept there. She knew everyone would laugh at her for doing this, but it might be worth a try. She would keep it a secret. But when she found the notebook, the paper was wet and the inky words she had written had run all over the pages into a blue blur.
A big surge of sadness came over her and she sat down suddenly, and tried not to let the tears come out of her eyes. Her hand fell on a dried brown yellow leaf. She put the pencil onto it, and it left a mark. She wiped away the tear and thought hard about what she would say in her message. She wrote ‘Help’ on one side of the leaf. On the other side she wrote more explanation. ‘We are crashed on an island. Please help us.’
Then she walked to the edge of the water, and threw the bottle as far as she could out to sea and watched it bob away towards the horizon.
But she didn’t watch for long because at that moment a huge shout went up.
‘Look everyone!’
A group of children were pulling something big and heavy-looking from the sea. They banged it down on the sand, and then opened it up, screaming with delight.
Jessie ran over to them. By the time she got there, there were little flashes of silver and red flying through the air around them, and they were all chewing something, grabbing down to the thing on the beach for more. Through the scrum of arms and legs, and pushing and shoving, and mouths being crammed with something, she saw what it was. And she wanted to tell them to stop, because it wasn’t fair.

To be continued…..

The children decide...
The Glenzier class have taken my Chapter 1 and are running with it. They created a cast of characters for me to work with, from red-haired Scarlet who likes nothing more than causing chaos, to the fair-skinned twins whose skills at cooking may come in handy once the children have speared a few fish.

The class are looking at how the characters in the story make decisions, but they are also making decisions about the story themselves in pairs and groups and as a class. They voted on the first decision the children on the island take - they are hot, they need to discuss what to do next. So what do they do? Get in the sea. The choice of location for a meeting may not have been the best one.

On the other hand the class have made some wise choices about what the children really need if they're going to survive, once they'd got beyond the initial cravings for chips and chocolate.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Chapter 1

When Jessie first opened her eyes, all she saw was a blur of white. She felt very hot and there was something rough and grainy against her cheek. Her ears seemed to be full of squawks and squeals. She assumed they must be coming from her school-mates.

As her eyes began to focus, she saw many tiny pieces of shell, making up paper-white sand. There was a smell of salt, and a rhythmic rushing sound which could only be – yes, waves breaking.

She closed her eyes again, as she was obviously still in a dream. Her mind drifted her back to the recent past. She could remember trying not to cry when her Mum and Dad hugged her at the airport. She remembered all the sounds of laughter and excitement on the plane. The older ones were pointing out of the windows at some of the things Mr Barker had promised they would see. Some of the younger ones were asleep, or being comforted if they were still missing their mums or dads or dogs. The new boy from Iran sat quietly. He was always quiet but Mr Barker had told the rest of them to be helpful to him and kind because it was the first time he’d been on a plane since he’d had to run away from his country with his parents.

The teachers had walked up and down the aisle. Mr Barker, as always, was telling them what to do.

‘Feet off the seats,’ he roared. ‘Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.’

He’d given them a list of exactly what to pack for a two-week field trip in east Africa. When they landed, he was going to tell them what to do next.

Ms Chess, the other teacher, was new. She usually wore her hair in a tight bun on the back of her head so everyone had been a bit surprised when she’d turned up at the airport with her hair down. It seemed to be very long for someone so old. She must be forty at least. It was also the first time they’d ever seen her wearing trousers. They were a khaki colour and had lots of zips on them.

A huddle of boys had sat at the airport trying to guess her first name.
She’d arrived with a battered brown suitcase on which was painted her initials and surname. D. U. Chess.
So then they’d moved onto the second name. ‘Ursula,’ was all they could think of so in the end they gave up and decided she was simply called ‘Duchess’.

Jessie had noticed that some of the children had brought more luggage than they were supposed to. David Casket was blushing as he hauled his case onto the Check-In scales. She wondered if his mum had packed him a fortnight’s supply of Tunnocks Tea-Cakes. He’d never been known to go without. May Pillow had said secretly to Jessie that she couldn’t leave Herman behind, so he was going to have to stowaway. Herman was her hamster.

Jessie was very good at listening. She never missed a thing and they called her ‘Earwig’ for it. She’d sat and listened to all that noise on the plane and Mr Barker bellowing,
‘Eat your last snacks, everyone. Won’t be long now. Only forty-five minutes till landing.’
Jessie had looked out of the window onto a massive turquoise sea. As they got lower, she could see little sandbanks poking up through the water, and coral reefs, just like Ms Chess had told them. She saw the tiny curved sails on fishing boats, and a big metal ship trailing a line of white foam behind it. There had been small islands too, widely spaced from each other. They were deep green with trees and had little strips of white, white beach.

And then with a bang, the last thing flew back into her memory. Being very low over one of the islands, so low that she could see the huge glossy individual leaves of the trees and she thought she saw a monkey sitting at the top of one of them. He ears had told her that something was different. The engine had started to growl and then a wing of the plane had seemed to brush against a palm frond. She knew something was wrong. Mr Barker stopped shouting and sat down very suddenly in his seat. And after that all Jessie could remember was opening her eyes to whiteness.

Something nudged against her hand. She opened her eyes and saw a small whelk shell. It had a cluster of scruffy legs poking out the bottom of it that were moving it sideways over her hand. She sat up suddenly and shook it off. She saw then that she was on a beach, staring out to sea. The sun scorched the top of her head, and inside it there was a banging feeling. She screwed her eyes up at something poking from the dazzling water. A fin? Could it be a shark?

But as her eyes adjusted, she recognised it. In the shallow water near the shore, the tail-fin of an aeroplane broke the surface. She gasped, and willed the siren to start. It would begin faintly in the distance and come closer. She’d heard them do that millions of times in the village at home. A siren would bring help. But all she heard was the waves lapping up to her feet, and birds trilling and calling from the forest behind her. And then what she heard was the unmistakeable sound of footsteps crunching on hard sand behind her. She couldn’t turn around.

She jumped up, and there was May, tear-streaked and with a cut oozing red on her forehead. She still clung to the teddy that had travelled with her.

Then Jessie heard more sounds. Murmurs were getting louder all around them and there were sobbing sounds too. Then she saw that there were children appearing from the edges of the beach, from out of the forest, even some pulling themselves up from the shallow water. They all moved to stand together on one spot on the beach. All twenty-nine of them gathered there, as if they were at a Monday morning assembly.

There was one difference though. There was no Mr Barker. No Ms Chess. There wasn’t a single grown-up in sight.

They looked at each other. There were cuts and bruises and torn clothes. Even the brashest boys had been silenced and didn’t look as cocky as usual. Jill Beaddie’s bleached hair was all messed up, and she had stopped chewing for once.

Finally, the tallest boy in the school, Callum Knight said in a quiet, rather shaky voice, ‘What are we going to do now?’

Everyone looked at him.

To be continued…..