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The Explorer – Katherine Rundell

With what I think is one of the best sets of opening lines I read to a class (‘Like a man-made magic wish, the..’), this is one of my all-time favourite classroom books to use each year. With more opportunities for cross-curricular links than you can shake a sharpened stick at, this story of four children struggling to escape the rainforest after a plane crash is not just a great adventure, it has stunningly beautiful description and language describing the Amazon too.

Children are bound to see themselves in one of the four quite different characters, who each battle personal issues in their struggle to firstly get along with each other, and secondly get out of the jungle! The eponymous ‘Explorer’ is a mysterious figure with his own historic demons – a reluctant helper in their journey for these reasons – and their hard-fought efforts to survive the horrors of catching tarantulas, maggot-infested wounds, bullet ants and caiman- and piranha-infested rivers will have readers crying out for one more chapter every time you stop.

This entire novel just ‘sings’ to me every time I read it. Danger, drama, dry humour, and description: the evocative language that Katherine Rundell uses – never talking down to her reader by using childlike or simplified vocabulary – evoke a real sense of wonder at the jungle, its creatures and environment, all combining to create what I wouldn’t hesitate to call my ‘desert island’ book.

Task ideas:

· Write diaries in role as characters.

· Create a news report about the missing plane.

· Write a transcript of the conversation between the cockpit and air traffic control (I used transcripts of the ‘Sully’/Hudson river conversation).

· Research and write geography topic texts around South America and the Amazon river.

· Write a deforestation report and persuasive letters.

· Create instructions for a survival task (raft-building or tarantula-hunting).

· Research and write history topic texts around the Maya and early 20th century explorers of the Amazon.

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