Review: There Was An Old Sailor by Claire Saxby and Cassandra Allen

‘There was an old sailor

Who swallowed a krill

I don’t know why he swallowed the krill’

It’ll make him ill…?

So begins one of my favourite picture books of the past few years.  ‘There Was An Old Sailor,’ written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Cassandra Allen is a fun new look at an old children’s classic. Modelled on the rythms and patterns of ‘there was an old woman who swallowed a fly,’ it looks at an old sailor, who successively swallows larger and larger ocean creatures until…well I won’t spoil the punch-line. You’ll have to read it yourself but it certainly appeals to kids. This is a great read-aloud book and the repetition that young children will love joining in. Getting rhymes to work in stories is something that seems easy but is in fact quite difficult and Saxby has done a great job.

Allen’s illustrations are also really appealling, with a great range of exprssions on the sailor’s face as he contemplates eating a seal, a shark and a whale… of course, a sailor couldn’t really swallow a whale but these illustrating make it all seem quite feasible.

The last pages of the book contain some fishy facts about ocean creatures.

Saxby’s book won the SCBWI 2011 Crystal Kite award. This award is voted on by other authors and illustrators, so it’s a great verification of her work by her peers. The book was also short-listed for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards 2010, Young Children Category.

Walker books have provided a set of classroom ideas which you can access here. There are some great ideas to use in the classroom, as well as a quiz which you can print out which students can answer from  the fishy facts at the back of the book. Making puppets, making rhymes, looking at the art-work…lots of links between literacy, science and art. Walker have also provided a colouring sheet for younger children…or perhaps older ones too!

The obvious science links here are food chains/webs and this little story would be a great way to introduce it as a concept for younger children and even for older children. I’ve used picture books in secondary classes as a way to get kids engaged. You could make a food web, linking students with string or model one in 3D with artwork. It also relates to habitat and the types of creatures which inhabit an ocean environment, their adaptations and they way in which their needs are met. On a simpler level, it can be used to look at children’s needs, what they need to eat and their own requirements.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the story behind the story, you can read some of the posts on it’s blog tour at great review sites such as kid’s book review.

National Curriculum applications:

Biological sciences (Foundation)

Living things have basic needs, including food and water

  • recognising the needs of living things in a range of situations such as pets at home, plants in the garden or plants and animals in bushland
  • identifying the needs of humans such as warmth, food and water, using students’ own experiences

Biological sciences (Year 1)

Living things have a variety of external features

  • recognising common features of animals such as head, legs and wings
  • describing the use of animal body parts for particular purposes such as moving and feeding

Living things live in different places where their needs are met

  • exploring different habitats in the local environment such as the beach, bush and backyard
  • recognising that different living things live in different places such as land and water

Biological sciences (Year 4)

Living things, including plants and animals, depend on each other and the environment to survive.

  • investigating the roles of living things in a habitat, for instance producers, consumers or decomposers
  • observing and describing predator-prey relationships
  • predicting the effects when living things in feeding relationships are removed or die out in an area
  • recognising that interactions between living things may be competitive or mutually beneficial.

Author: Claire Saxby

Illustrator: Cassandra Allen

Walker Books, 2010

ISBN 978192150515



Filed under Biological Sciences Sub-strand, Foundation, Level 1, Level 4

4 responses to “Review: There Was An Old Sailor by Claire Saxby and Cassandra Allen

  1. They are icebergs, picture books, aren’t they? Often I can’t even tell what I’ve done until afterwards! Thanks for this Catriona.

  2. Love the Science links especially the food chains- actually love science too- this was a sub major in my teaching course but Literature won out- well done Cat. Will pass on your blog address to my teacher group…

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