SPaRK - A Child of Books

By Kelly Hodkinson – Head Teacher English at Erskine Park High School.

SPaRK overview

A using quality literature Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK) for English Stage 5, Years 9-10.

Resource: ‘A Child of Books’ by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston, Walker Books, UK, 2016.

Learning and teaching activities in this springboard are centred on outcomes and content from the NSW English K-10 Syllabus and the English Textual Concepts resource.

What is it about?

‘A Child of Books’ is a unique picture book experience; a collaborative creation between Oliver Jeffers (well known for his picture books, including ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ and ‘Once Upon an Alphabet’) and Sam Winston (best known for his typography and ‘A Dictionary Story’). The story revolves around two children, one of whom is timid, the other adventurous and a lover of books and the imagination. She introduces herself in the opening pages, ‘I am a child of BOOKS. I come from a WORLD of stories / and upon my IMAGINation I float.’ She asks the boy to join her and subsequently shows him the way into many different genres, including lullabies, fairy tales and adventure classics. There are over forty intertextual references in total. The imagery uses lines of text from these classics to create seas and mountains, forests and the night sky. At each stage, the characters share experiences and insight into the world through the imagination until the boy is ready to move through the world of literature alone.

This text is appropriate for teaching students about Intertextuality, Connotation, Imagery and Symbol, and Theme. It could also be used to teach many of the other concepts such as Literary value, Character, Narrative, Style, Perspective and Point of view. It can be used to address cross curricular priorities and capabilities including Critical and creative thinking, and Literacy.

Why is this important? Why does it matter?

‘A Child of Books’ is a book which can be read at many levels. It provides an opportunity to discuss and explore the use of Intertextuality and the ways that our own knowledge and social and cultural upbringing influence our readings. The use of canonical texts invites discussion regarding the value of these books and the influences they have on our formation in our youth. The interviews with the creators (see Resources) clearly show the power of books and the importance Jeffers and Winston place on imagination. These interviews could be used in conjunction with the book to understand themes and explore the techniques used to develop them through both plot and imagery. Connotation, Imagery and Symbol can be explored on every page with intertextual references appearing in both words and images symbolically. For example, the written text, ‘Discover treasure in the darkness’, is accompanied by a cave formed by words from ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Treasure Island’. Some text is clear to read, while other words blend together to create the form of the cave and the darkness which contrasts strongly and symbolically with the children in the light. The colour symbolism throughout the book is also worth considering, especially the changing strength of the colour blue in relation to the protagonist. This picture book also provides the opportunity to explore collaborative works and have students experiment with their own works in a collaboration with peers.

Illustration from 'A Child of Book's showing a cave and two children in a row boat

How do I use the text to teach the textual concepts of Intertextuality, Connotation, Imagery and Symbol, and Theme?

Intertextuality and Connotation, Imagery and Symbol activity

As an introductory activity, ask students to find as many intertextual references as they can in the language, words and visuals. Identify how they knew they were from another text and then how well they know each text.

Intertextual reference

How was it recognised?

How do you know this text?

(Read it, seen the film, heard of it, don’t know it etc.)

Robinson Crusoe

Bold italics in the sea image

Seen the film


Image of the children climbing down the side of the tower and the text about long hair

Read the story


Discuss the purpose of intertextuality and the ways it can influence our responses to texts. Ask students if they noticed any patterns in the way that texts have been included. The ideas on the pages are reflective of the genre of classics that have been used in the lines of text used to create the images. For instance, the ?we can lose ourselves in forests of fairy tales? page includes ?Snow White and Rose Red?, ?Beauty and the Beast?, ?Tom Thumb?, ?The Golden Goose?, and ?Hansel and Gretel?. The written text forms the branches of the trees, while the trunks are photos of the side of ageing books. Ask students to choose 5 of the intertextual texts they know well and evaluate the way they have been incorporated by answering the following questions about each.

  1. How and where is the intertextual reference incorporated?
  2. How does it relate to the overall story and the specific instance(s) in the plot where it has been used?
  3. Does it augment meaning in this text? If yes, how so? If no, why don?t you think so?
  4. Is the interpretation of this text influenced by the cultural perspective of the classic?

Students write an exposition on the value of Intertextuality in ?A Child of Books? using their analysis as the basis of their argument (understanding, engaging personally, connecting and engaging critically).


  • analyse and explain the use of symbols, icons and myth in still and moving images and how these augment meaning (ACELA1560)


  • compose and respond to a wide range of visual texts, e.g. picture books, graphic novels and films, using a range of appropriate techniques and metalanguage
  • analyse and explain how text structures, language features and visual features of texts and the context in which texts are experienced may influence audience response (ACELT1641)


  • analyse and evaluate text structures and language features of literary texts and make relevant thematic and intertextual connections with other texts (ACELT1772, ACELT1774)


  • analyse how the construction and interpretation of texts, including media texts, can be influenced by cultural perspectives and other texts (ACELY1739).

Exploring the themes

The Candlewick Press YouTube clips (see Resources) show aspects of the collaborative partnership between the text?s two creators and their purpose and inspiration for ?A Child of Books?. Watch the opening 10 seconds of the second video (part 2) and pause to ask students to answer the question that initially stumps Sam Winston: ?3 words to describe the book? 1,2,3, go?. Share and discuss student responses and then watch the end of the clip and discuss what they found out about the book?s authors as well as their intent in creating the book. Oliver Jeffers describes the book as an ?ode to literature? and Sam Winston describes it as a ?world of words?. Does this suggest some themes to students? Can they see similarities and differences in the two creators? thinking and creation processes? Explain that an author?s world view can help us to uncover the theme of a work. Determine, as a class, the possible themes of the book, based on the interview and students? reading of the book. For example, ?stories have the ability to transform lives?, ?we all need an overarching narrative?, ?classic books help your imagination flourish?, ?storytelling is a huge part of our identity? etc. Split students into groups to explore the book for evidence on a given theme. Ask students to consider the characterisation; plot line; intertextual references; connotations, imagery and symbols; tone; and point of view used in the book, and how they support or negate the given theme. Based on their analysis, groups design a short argument to present to the class as to whether this theme should be considered as a major or minor theme in the work or if the theme is not evident or needs reconsidering (understanding, engaging personally and engaging critically).


  • explore and explain the combinations of language and visual choices that authors make to present information, opinions and perspectives in different texts (ACELY1745)
  • present an argument about a literary text based on initial impressions and subsequent analysis of the whole text (ACELT1771)


  • analyse the ways in which creative and imaginative texts can explore human experience, universal themes and social contexts.

Page analysis activity focusing on Connotation, Imagery and Symbol

Explain to students the key ideas from this concept. Discuss notions of audience and purpose for this text. Who is the intended audience? Is there more than one age bracket here? Both adults and children can appreciate this book at different levels and we need to consider this in our reading. Consider the page with the colourful images flying around the world. How does this page appeal to both a child and an adult audience? What is the purpose of the page if we consider it from the perspective of the different intended audiences? Ask students to choose 2 or 3 of the images and write a paragraph explaining what each image symbolises to them, both in terms of the text they represent and what that text means to them personally, socially and or culturally. For example:

The image of the frog wearing a crown, with ?a kiss!? written around it, symbolises the fairy tale ?The Frog Prince?. This makes me personally think about love and kindness and how people can be transformed. It links to my cultural heritage of fairy tales being told to young children and my social world of promoting understanding and ridiculing selfishness and self-centred behaviour. This highlights one of the ideas of ?A Child of Books? in that books and the imagination can help make the world a better place.

Ask students to find other students who chose the same symbols and compare their answers to see how their own knowledge and personal perspectives may shape meaning in different ways. Then as a class, consider the page as a whole and the story text. What are the different interpretations of meaning we can create from the line, ?For this is our world? we?ve made from stories??? Which interpretations are supported by the symbols, and intertextual references made? Next ask students to create/find a symbol, using technology, to represent a text of their own choosing ? one that they believe deserves to be added to this image. Students should then decide on a line from the text to accompany their image and write a reflection about their choice, what it adds, and why they value this text. If possible, merge all the students? work into one image representing the class to share with students or display in your room. Ask students to decide what the compilation of images suggests about the class, their upbringing and cultural context. Do they think it is an accurate depiction or is it surprising in some way (connecting, experimenting, understanding and reflecting)?


  • appreciate, explain and respond to the aesthetic qualities and the power of language in an increasingly sophisticated range of texts
  • analyse and explain the use of symbols, icons and myth in still and moving images and how these augment meaning (ACELA1560)


  • use a range of software, including word processing programs, confidently, flexibly and imaginatively to create, edit and publish texts, considering the identified purpose and the characteristics of the user (ACELY2748, ACELY2776)


  • respond to and compose texts that use inference and figurative language, e.g. symbolism and allusion, in complex and subtle ways
  • respond to and compose texts that use inference and figurative language, e.g. symbolism and allusion, in complex and subtle ways


  • analyse and evaluate text structures and language features of literary texts and make relevant thematic and intertextual connections with other texts (ACELT1772, ACELT1774)


  • choose effective learning processes, resources and technologies appropriate for particular tasks and situations.

Pages from A Child of Books, showing a spinning globe and the words For this is our world we have made from stories
Image: For this is our world... we have made from stories

Related texts

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

Dictionary Story Book


‘A Child of Books’ teachers’ guide, Candlewick Press

Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston discuss ‘A Child of Books’ part 1, Candlewick Press [video]

Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston discuss ‘A Child of Books’ part 2, Candlewick Press [video]

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s ‘A Child of Books’ cover reveal and interview, The Guardian, 31 March 2016

How to cite this article - Hodkinson, K. 2017, 'SPaRK – A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston', Scan 36(1).

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