- Grades: 1–2
On the first day of school, eager 2nd graders ask, "Are we reading Redwall this year?" and beg, “When can we start Redwall?"
Throughout the year, my students continually bring up Redwall by Brian Jacques (pronounced Jakes). I explain they'll need to build listening stamina for long books before we can read Redwall. I want to give my students most of the year to mature. From past experience, I know Redwall will work best with 2nd graders who have become strong listeners and thinkers. I usually start this read-aloud in mid-March, hoping to complete the 300+ page book by the end of the school year. More than just a book, Redwall Day has become part of 2nd grade mythology.
Read on to find out about this book and celebrating Redwall Day.
Redwall, an epic fantasy adventure, is the story of Matthias, a novice monk-mouse who, with his fellow Redwall Abbey monks and woodland creatures, fights evil forces that threaten the abbey's safety. The mice of Redwall Abbey, inspired by legendary hero Martin the Warrior, defend their sanctuary against a horde of sea rat pirates and villains under the leadership of arch villain Cluny the Scourge. Redwall, written by British author Brian Jacques in 1986, is the first in a series of 22 animal fantasy adventure books. The final book, The Rogue Crew, was released in May 2011. In Redwall chronology, about half the series' books occur before Redwall and half after. The books, which are popular in England and less so in the U.S., were written primarily for readers ages 9–12, yet appeal to younger listeners.
As with other author studies, I’ve built my Redwall unit over the last eight to ten years and have used it as a vehicle for teaching comprehension skills and literary genres, as well as for developing a love of books.
Before I start this book, I download photos and set up a Smartboard lesson with photos and new vocabulary. I make posters with photos and frequently featured words to post in our classroom.
Vocabulary students need to know before you begin reading:
And animal species students will need to know:
Redwall is told from multiple perspectives, with alternate chapters narrated from the viewpoint of good and evil characters, so students need to understand the structure of the book at the outset. Only the reader knows both sides of the story, which adds to the thrilling and sometimes frightening aspects of the book.
Cast of Thousands
Brian Jacques created good characters who are noble, caring, and selfless, and evil characters who are bullying, manipulative, and cruel. Jacques painted characters so broadly that there is no mistaking which side they’re on. To keep track of all the characters, we create lists of good and evil characters and their species. We draw small skulls next to those characters who have been killed.
Riddles and Clues
Part of the novel centers on Matthias’ search for the sword and shield of Martin the Warrior, the long-dead leader of Redwall Abbey. To find the sword and shield, Matthias must first discover and decipher clues in riddle-poems. Students need to think to figure out the clues. I frequently sketch on the board to illustrate and clarify tricky parts of the story.
Activities for Redwall Study
Shields — To makes shields, you'll need poster board shield templates, acrylic paints, and a yardstick. Last year I found pre-made shield templates.
Styrofoam Model — I used Styrofoam from old packing boxes. We arranged the Styrofoam and glued pieces together with a hot glue gun. We then painted with acrylics. We made stained glass windows from colored tissue paper applied to pre-cut oak tag windows. The main gate is made of popsicle sticks.
Book of Chapter Summaries — We select the best illustrated summaries and put them into a three-ring binder. When we finish reading Redwall, we have a summary of the entire story. Students enjoy reading the summaries during independent reading.
Redwall Day — We plan ahead for this culminating activity, which takes place during the last week of school. I give parents advance notice that Redwall Day is coming. I tell them the name and species of the character their child has selected and suggest simple costume ideas.
For mammals, animal ears can be cut from felt and glued or sewn to stretchy headbands. For birds and snakes, eyes can be cut from felt and glued to an old baseball cap. Capes are large fabric scraps fastened with safety pins.
On Redwall Day, students:
- Come to school wearing costumes and makeup and stay in character all day.
- Play as their characters on the playground.
- Have their photos taken outdoors with poses and background that make it appear they are in Mossflower Wood.
- Read one paragraph from the book as their character would using that character's voice and dialect.
- Share their character study of a Redwall character.
- Discuss their favorite parts of the book.
- Talk about other Redwall books.
To learn more about the book and the author for your study, start with the official Redwall Web site, the Redwall Wiki, and a biography of author Brian Jacques. The Redwall Encyclopedia covers books written between 1986 and 2003. Though it's no longer updated, it's still a valuable source of information about Redwall characters and history. The New York Times obituary for Brian Jacques, who died on February 5, 2011, in Liverpool, England, is also informative. You might also want to read about the source of Jacques' ideas.
There's so much more I could say about Redwall. Many of my students developed a love of reading through this book. I hope you'll write in with your questions and ideas.