Reading Planet Book of the Month: Grandma’s Story


It’s interesting to us as co-writers of a story featuring the Moon landing of 1969 that our memories of it are so different. Charlotte wasn’t born until 1971 so she didn’t really register the event for years, by which time it was already history. Like Asha’s Grandma, who tells her story in this book, I was born in the early 1960s and like so many people of our generation, our memories of the event are vivid – even now. So, for me having lived through the event, and Charlotte having come to it through stories told, we realised that these were both powerful experiences we could use together when collaborating on this book.

In the story, when Asha first asks her Grandma to come into school and recall her memories, it’s because her teacher wants the class to learn how different the past was compared to children’s lives now. It’s a story that adults throughout generations have been telling the children in their communities. It’s the way we all learned things. It’s also why hearing these stories about the past - even now, when there are so many other ways of gathering information - will always be fascinating to children. Not only that, but to the storyteller, they are the very stories that define who they are and are thus so pleasurable to tell. They certainly were to Charlotte and I when writing this book!

In our story, Asha’s grandma is anxious as she’s not used to standing up and telling stories and is not sure she can do it. This emotional response is one many young children can relate to as they strive to overcome their own fears when sharing their experiences, ideas and stories in school. With Asha’s support and encouragement, as well as the willingness of the wider group to engage, Grandma is finally able to share her story. Of course, it really helps that her story is part of her own life experience. It’s hers. She owns it. And that enables her to tell it with confidence and conviction.

As writers, the story Asha’s grandma tells was an easy one to write because it was based on real-life experiences. Grandma tells the children of a happy childhood I recognise as very close to my own. A childhood of few toys. Where playing out on the street was the norm. Where the only household toilet was outside and the first family TV I ever saw was bought in the summer of 1969, just in time to watch the moon landing. Grandma also remembers fondly just how often she would gaze up at the moon at that time with awe and wonder as she thought about the American astronauts being there. That’s a memory both I and many of the children of our generation have – even while sitting on the outside loo!

The story of the moon landing is fantastic on its own right and is infinitely enriched through the eyes and memories of others who experienced it, too. It’s the very essence of storytelling because each storyteller relates it with their own spin and in their own voice.

Ideas for Grandma’s Story in the classroom

Having shared Grandma’s Story with the class, it’s fun and rewarding to explore its two main themes through oral storytelling.

  1. Personal Histories through Tell Me More

A good starting point might be to interview members of your community who also experienced the moon landing as children. Your pupils should find asking questions that raise comparisons with Asha’s Grandma’s experiences much easier having heard her story but it’s always a good idea to plan these in advance. Questions like: Did you have a TV? An outside toilet? and so on are sure to crop up.

After that of course, your pupils can enjoy the challenge of exploring storytelling from personal experiences themselves. They could tell simple stories to their talk partners with stimuli like: What are you first happy memories? Do you remember the first time you ever went to a swimming pool/to school/to visit the shops in town/the beach?

To help children develop their personal stories, teach them the storytelling game ‘Tell Me More’. In this game, the storyteller starts by answering one of you target questions. The child listening is then encouraged to use the oral frame, “Tell me more about…” and then choose the thing they found most interesting to explore further. After that, the children can tell their stories to larger groups – even the whole class – who, having learned how to be supportive listeners following their exploration of Grandma’s Story, can play their own part in being a good listener.

To reflect upon the storytelling experience, ask your pupils to discuss with their partners any issues around their emotional responses to it: Did you feel nervous/anxious when you told your personal story to the class/group? If not, what were the things that helped you to not feel this way? These questions will help support the next reflective activity.

  1. Overcoming anxiety and self-care

Asha’s grandma shared her anxious feelings about speaking in public. Your pupils can now reflect upon any personal stories of anxiety they might have experienced and explore in more depth the strategies that could help them handle these feelings in the future.

Again, working in pairs or small groups and using the storytelling game ‘Tell Me More’, start by raising questions or direct instructions that your pupils can discuss. e.g. Talk about an event or time you felt anxious. What were the things other people might have done to help you? Were there any thoughts or actions of your own that helped? What advice would you give someone who was feeling anxious? Remember to remind the children – perhaps through modelling – how to play the game. (See previous activity).

When your pupils share their ideas to the class, perhaps you could create a list of self-care strategies that might help with anxiety. e.g. taking deep breaths, talking about their feelings to a friend or adult etc.

  1. Create a shared story

Making up a story with your class is great fun. Taking in their ideas and drawing simple pictures on a shared story map, decide on an animal and where it lives. Then discuss something that your animal character might feel anxious about. (It must be something everyone in the class cares about.) Why are they anxious? Is there something that has happened in their past to make this a problem? What do they do? And what do they learn in the end?

As a teacher, you might even be anxious about making up a story yourself but don’t worry – you have a whole class to help you!

About the authors:

Adam and Charlotte Guillain are the creators of many best-selling children’s books. Their stories are published in many languages and often pop up in places like the CBeebies Bedtime Hour! They perform at major UK literary festivals and regularly give virtual performances and talks on writing and creativity online to audiences all over the world.

Adam was born in Leicester where his family ran The Guillain School of Performing Arts but Charlotte says she doesn’t come from anywhere because she moved around so much when she was growing up. She always wanted to be a writer and worked as a bookseller before training to teach English as a Foreign Language. This took her to the Czech Republic and Ukraine, before she headed to Zanzibar to teach English to student nurses with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). It was there, that Charlotte met Adam who was also volunteering as a teacher trainer. After their Zanzibari adventure, Adam and Charlotte moved to Oxford where Charlotte started working in publishing and Adam became writer-in-residence at the Roald Dahl Museum before co-founding Storytelling Schools, an international organisation dedicated to training teachers in oracy, literacy and creativity.

You can find out more about their work on their website and YouTube channel. Follow them on Twitter @aguillain and @cguillain

About the book:

Grandma’s Story (Gold) focuses on the Comet Street Kids character called Asha. Asha’s class is learning what life was like for their grandparents when they were young. Asha can’t wait for her grandma to come in to talk to the class. But Grandma is nervous and Asha is worried – will she be able to tell her story after all?

Reading age: Age 6-7/Year 2/P3

Themes and topics covered: Moon Landing (History). Personal histories. Anxiety. Being supportive. Storytelling.

Read an extract from the book here and view teaching notes here 

Access the book as an interactive eBook via an Online Library trial or subscription. Already signed up? Access your trial or subscription here. Want to sign up? Get your trial or subscribe here

Buy the book as part of the Comet Street Kids Gold Pack here or as part of the Complete Comet Street Kids Pack here

To buy multiple copies, contact your local consultant here

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