The Snail, the Whale and the Waves


What did we do?

As we’ve been on holiday, a beach or sea-based tale seemed a natural selection for the Book Squirms and I. Unfortunately, I’d been so focused on not forgetting passports, tickets, currency or V’s beloved bunny, I hadn’t thought at all about what books to take so the pickings were somewhat slim.

Only one was really suitable so, armed with Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale, a whole host of beach paraphernalia, enough suncream for a small army, and the kitchen sink, we hit the beach for a sandy reading experience.

If you’re not familiar with the book, a snail who dreams of exploring new horizons is lucky enough to be given a lift by a kind whale and together they travel the world. Unfortunately, the beneficent whale is beached and it’s down to the plucky snail to overcome its feelings of helplessness, step up and save the whale.

The girls are already familiar with the story and A has always been curious about what happens to the whale when it is beached. She knows it’s a bad thing but doesn’t understand exactly why, despite my attempts to explain.

DSC_4526With the Spanish waves ebbing and flowing we had a great opportunity to help her grasp the drama of the whale’s predicament so we set about finding the biggest stones we could, our ‘whales’, dropping them in the shallow water and letting the biggest waves take them out to sea. Just hunting for stones on a beach is lovely for a little one, but add the thrill of hurling them into the sea and waiting for them to be swept away, and you’ve got a very engaging experience with almost no effort at all.

When the novelty of unbeaching whales had worn off, we drew trails in the sand like the snail’s trail, found lots of shells and pebbles resembling snails and piled ‘snails’ (pebbles) on top of ‘whales’ (rocks). Simple things, but they enhanced our reading significantly.


How did it go?

This was a nice simple activity and using what we knew about the story to play with the stones was far more of a focus than reading, although we did have a run through it together.

The concept of the whale being beached is much clearer for A now and her imagination was sparked by the use of stones, shells and pebbles: there was a whole lot of snail and whale related play going on long after I’d finished reading them the book.

I find it fascinating how long the characters and key ideas from stories linger in the girls’ minds when we play or create directly in relation to their books. As with their Cave Baby drawings and The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water games from previous posts, they were both chatting away about snails and whales for a long time after we had read and made their own fun collecting snails (pebbles) in a little blue plastic whale I’d found.


These deeper, more independent and imaginative connections the girls have with certain texts are making a big difference to their willingness to read and the pleasure they find in books.

How can you use this?

  • If there’s a concept in a book your little one is struggling with, find a visual or active way for them to explore it.
  • Get out and about with your books – I wish I’d thought a little harder about which books to take with us as I’m kicking myself now that there are loads of sea, beach or holiday books I could have been really creative with while we were away

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