Birthday Bob

story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Douglas Holgate

1. Literary value–text connection
Before reading the story, have students look at ‘Meet the Countdown Crew’ on the previous page. Discuss the visual similarities/differences between the characters. Brainstorm briefly what may have brought these three unlikely characters together.
Discuss the idea of a ‘back story’ with the class; this can be linked to the idea of an ‘origin story’ in superhero comics and movies (like the recent Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, which has a back story for each of the seven Spider-characters). Read Bob’s ‘back story’ from p 9.
As a whole class or group activity, come up with a ‘back story’ for how Ahab and Shasta came to be part of the same crew before discovering Bob together.
For students having difficulty getting started in comparing and contrasting the characters, you could scaffold the activity by providing categories they can compare and contrast—for example: type of animal, physical characteristics (size, colour, shape), gender, interests and personality traits.

2. Relationships/friendships/quest journey
This story would fit nicely when exploring a theme of friendship or exploration or in a genre study of adventure fiction or journey stories. Some suggestions for related texts can be found in the ’Further reading’ section.

3. Dialogue
After reading the story, discuss how the author used differences in how the characters spoke to give us information about the characters. Draw attention to the descriptions of Ahab speaking in a ‘deep voice’, ‘bellowing’ and ‘booming’; Shasta talking to herself about different ideas as she prepares for her cooking on pages 7 and 8; and Bob using homely and invented words like ’indeedy’ and ’otter-acious’ and leaving off the final sound of some words.

Ask for volunteers to dramatise reading some of the dialogue from the text, representing each character with multiple readers. Then ask students to form small groups and write a dialogue among the three characters that the students think might happen as the characters are setting off to explore the island. Encourage students to use the individual speech characteristics noted in their analysis section. Have each group perform their dialogue for the rest of the class.

4. Cliffhangers: analyse, then write your own
The first part of this serial story ends with a cliffhanger—some hungry lizards who have a taste for one of the main characters are spotted in the foliage. Have students identify the cliffhanger situation. Discuss what purpose it serves and whether they think it is effective. Brainstorm other cliffhangers the class has encountered in their reading and viewing. The episodes of both comic serials in this issue also have cliffhanger endings—students can compare and contrast these, providing arguments for which they think is more effective and why.
Demonstrate how a story could be turned into a serial with a cliffhanger ending by editing ’Lots of Latkes’ to end the first instalment when the family has finished the latkes and the doorbell rings with the guests arriving. Have students, individually or in groups, create a two-part story with a cliffhanger from the story ‘Stripe’.

5. Onomatopoeia
Use the Onomatopoeia song video to introduce or review the definition of onomatopoeia. Have students brainstorm categories of types of sounds for which onomatopoeia can be created, using the song as a starting point. Another good source text is Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type.
Have students go on a word hunt in the story to find examples of onomatopoeia and record (manually or digitally) the words or phrases they find together with the category of sound. Some great examples include ‘BOB-OTTER, BOB-OTTER, BOB-OTTER’ and ‘chugged’ to describe the engine noise, ‘clacked’ to represent the sound of Shasta’s beak opening and shutting and ‘squawked’ to portray the sound of Shasta speaking to herself.
Ask students to consider what effect the use of onomatopoeia has on the intended audience and how it serves the purpose of each text, including the comparison between the onomatopoeia and the actual sound that it represents.

Assemble some clips or live-action demonstrations of sound effects related to the story. For instance, otters and boats make splashing sounds as in the ‘Water Splashing Sound Effects’ clip, or ‘Brolga trumpeting’ from the Auckland Zoo. Ask students to come up with their own onomatopoeic words and phrases to describe the sounds they hear. Compare results and discuss how different people (and different cultures) represent the same sounds in different ways.

Auckland Zoo. (2015, August 9). Brolga Trumpeting [Video file]. Retrieved from
Cronin, D. & Lewin, B. (2003). Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Bauer, Mindy. (2012, March 26). Onomatopoeia [Video file]. Retrieved from
Sound Effects. (2014, December 18). Water Splashing Sound Effects [Video file]. Retrieved from

Further reading
Barrows, A. & Blackall, S. (2007) Ivy and Bean. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
White, E. B. (2012, 1952). Charlotte’s Web. New York: HarperCollins.