Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jake's Cave by Lou Kuenzler, illustrated by Nick Maland

"Your imagination made that cave big enough for a dragon," said Uncle Paul. "A dragon as big as a bus!"

Jake is excited when Uncle Paul offers to take him and his little sister out for the day. Jake wants to go to the big dark cave at the beach – they haven't been there for ages, and he can pretend to be a brave knight and save Princess Pip from the terrifying dragon. Pip is excited too: she'll get to wear her princess costume, and she knows that Sir Jake the Brave will save her! But when they arrive, the cave is much smaller than Jake remembers; he's too big even to fit inside it. Jake is so disappointed. Why can't things just stay the same? He soon realizes, however, that it's your imagination that counts. He'll just have to pretend – for Princess Pip!

Jake's Cave is a well written story, perfect for children who have gained independence in reading and need to build their confidence and stamina. It is one of the 'Walker Story' collection, which is advertised as 'the perfect first step into fiction.' The story is told in 3 short chapters, not three short stories, as stated on the back cover of the book. It is one complete story. The first chapter provides the orientation of the story. The second chapter is the build up leading to the problem and the final chapter explores the problem, provides the climax and finally the resolution.

The language used in the book provides a good quality model for children's own writing. Each of the three characters are developed through the use of dialogue which utilises a range of alternatives for 'said'. Teachers in years 2 and 3 could use extracts from the book for discussion and examples of how to punctuate direct speech and vocabulary development.

There are also some lovely examples of descriptive language, such as 'a shimmer of sea, sparkling bright blue in the sun.' Other examples make use of simile: 'as big as a bus and bright red. As shiny as your new Wellies.' Immersing children in quality fiction which models such language features will have a positive impact on the quality of the children's own writing.

Being a short story, organised into 3 chapters, also makes it ideal for use during guided reading in years 2 and 3. Each chapter could be managed in one guided reading session. Comprehension skills of inference and deduction can be developed through discussion of key aspects of characterisation. For example, in chapter 1, why does Jake think that Pip is likely to have a tantrum? Children will have to draw on their prior knowledge of younger siblings and evidence drawn from other known texts to be able to answer that. Likewise, in chapter 2, why does the walk to the cave seem much shorter than Jake remembered?

The black and white illustrations provide support for those children who are making the transition from picture books to longer chapter books. They also help visualise the different settings encountered during the story: Jake and Pip's home, the town in which they live, the journey through the countryside and finally the beach. These would provide a useful resource for comparing and contrasting the different settings. 

All in all, Jake's Cave is a story that will be enjoyed by both girls and boys aged 6-8. By the end of year 2, many children will probably be able to read the book independently. 

Published: 2010 by Walker Books
ISBN: 978-1-4063-2153-1