A lone rider braves magical dangers to fulfil a quest

Who's it for?

Reading for Pleasure

Sharing at storytime or reading independently  6-10 years

Active Reading: where will this book take you? 

Sharing and exploring through creative cross-curricular activities  7-11 years

Adapt our activities to suit your children’s interests and abilities

About this book

"This story begins, as all stories must, with a hero appearing from out of the dust..."
Whether we’re reading about them, roleplaying them in videogames or watching their adventures on film, tales of daring heroes still captivate us, just as they did when people first told stories by prehistoric fires. From Hercules and Mulan to Zelda, Frodo and Luke Skywalker – not to mention our real-world icons and celebrities - we seem to be hard-wired to love and learn from tales of quests and courage.

In this picturebook, Jeffrey Alan Love distils ‘essence of heroic tale’ into a pacy, dramatic and hugely appealing reading experience. Engaging rhythms, rhymes and evocative language invite participation and performance, but it’s the iconic artwork that really sets The Hero’s Quest apart. Using a largely monochromatic palette, Love plays with scale and viewpoint to increase tension: dramatic forms are silhouetted against white backgrounds and there’s plenty of brooding disquiet beneath the narrative. Love also creates graphic novels for adults, and while the illustrations for this book are age-appropriate, they don’t pull their punches.

With every page turn come new settings and challenges. Many focus on familiar tropes – watchful dragons, ravening wolves – but Love’s sophisticated artwork brings novelty and impact to every spread, and there are some unusual (and genuinely unsettling) dangers to be confronted.

It's worth adding that - other than our expectations - there's very little in this story to identify the hero's gender. 

Spread from The Hero's Quest by Jeffrey Alan Love, published by Walker Studio

Sharing and talking about this book

Before you start reading, talk about quests. Are your children familiar with any books, stories or films that feature quests? For example: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Finding Nemo, Frozen; stories about Beowulf, Hercules, Mulan; videogames like The Legend of Zelda…. Pool your knowledge and discuss. 

What sort of characters, objects and events would you expect to find in a quest story? Gather ideas on a whiteboard. Who or what is a hero? Describe the characteristics, skills and attributes you would expect a hero to have. 

Show children the cover of this book. What can they see? What kind of story does this suggest?

Read the whole story together for enjoyment and impact. Then re-read, drawing attention to details and inviting responses.

What do you like about this book, and why? What does it remind you of? Did it surprise you? How and why?

Spread from The Hero's Quest by Jeffrey Alan Love, published by Walker Studio

What next? Activities...

Work in small groups. Allocate a character-type to each group:

Dragons "that gather to watch and to wait..."

Elves "with swords wreathed in flames..."

Dwarves playing "hidden games..."

Gods "in their clouds, their mountains, their trees..."

Kings and queens ruling "just as they please..."

Creatures "of magic, of wishes, of sleep..." 

Wolves "chasing at heel..."
The Hero encounters "gods in their clouds, their mountains, their trees..."      copyright Jeffrey Alan Love for Walker Studio

What do you know about these characters? Interrogate the book to discover everything you can.

Look at the pictures showing the Hero encountering each group of characters. What can you see? Are you making any assumptions? What questions does each image raise? 

How would the Elves tell the story of their encounter with the Hero? What about the dwarves, and the dragons... how did events appear to each set of characters? What did they see, hear, feel, smell? What did they want from the Hero?

Give each group time to practise telling their part in the narrative. Then (in-role as a newspaper reporter, or just as yourself...) visit each group and listen as they tell their story.

Allow time for reflection and discussion, then ask children build on their experience through creative writing. Perhaps they could tell the story of their encounter with the Hero? Or describe what they saw as the Hero rode by?

“Through places unknown, edge-of-map lands…”
Follow the Hero’s journey through the locations in the book. How many different types of landscape must be navigated? Can you identify any of the geographical features?*

Present this journey as a sketchmap, diagram or infographic, then share your work and talk about it. How many ideas have you come up with? What works best? Try writing a travel advert for each location!

Draw your own map of an invented story-quest world, then write a story set there.

Share a collection of story-maps from quest-themed books (Lord of the Rings, How to Train Your Dragon, Beyond the Deepwoods…. ) What do they have in common? How do they differ? Which of these storyworlds would you most like to explore? Why?

*Most of the Better Natural Things in the World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang (a picturebook published by Chronicle Books) is great for extending vocabulary and introducing geographical features

Look at the spread showing the kings and queens. What do you notice? What could these kings and queens be thinking?

Generate ideas, then add thought-bubbles to the picture using post-its.

If kings and queens can rule “just as they please”, will their decisions be right? How do rulers and leaders make good decisions? If you were a powerful ruler and could do anything, what would you do? Why?

Write stories about leaders who make selfish or disastrous decisions.

Share stories about Achilles, Heracles, the Norse sagas, King Arthur, Mulan, Odysseus, Beowulf and other heroes from far away and long ago....

What do these stories tell us about their worlds?  What can you discover about the cultures that produced them? 

Can you find similar hero-stories in the films and books you enjoy now?

If you want to extend this work, you could look at what these stories have in common. Stories involving heroes* often share recurring themes and structures, and it can be fun spotting them and using them to help you tell or write your own stories.

Joseph Campbell popularised the idea of the 'monomyth' or Hero's Journey in 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' (1949) but it's a subject that lots of people have researched and discussed. The hero's journey trope involves a hero who goes on an adventure (often into a magical or otherworldly place), and in a decisive crisis or ordeal wins a victory or gains a treasure, then comes home changed or transformed.

*Many heroes in older stories of this type are male, but girls and women sometimes take this role. Talk about gender in heroic stories, and balance them by sharing plenty of stories featuring strong, active and resourceful female characters 

Roll black ink onto thick card shapes and use to print onto a plain white background. What effects can you produce? What happens if you use thick black paint instead of ink, or add white? What happens if you change the background?

Can you use aa roller to apply paint directly to your artwork? You may want to mask areas with a piece of card. Watch Jeffrey Alan Love demonstrating this here

Sponge black and/or grey paint onto white card, then cut silhouettes and arrange to create a collage. 

Which do you prefer, printing or collage? Why? 

Use printing and/or collage to create action scenes inspired by this book. Write about what you’ve done and display your written work alongside your art. 

Could you retell this story using shadow puppets cut from printed card?

Silhouettes of dwarves in their caverns     Copyright Jeffrey Alan Love for Walker Studio

A picturebook like The Hero’s Quest is very carefully crafted. Text and images work well independently  - the poem can be enjoyed without the pictures, and vice versa - but together they have more to say and greater impact. 

Observing, questioning, sharing insights and debating interpretations will develop children’s oracy and critical thinking skills, as well as preparing the ground for follow-up activities.


What do you notice about the text? Choose your favourite words and images. What kind of rhyme scheme does this poem have? 

Read the text aloud, marking the rhythm. What happens if you change pace? 

What do the pictures show that isn’t mentioned in the text? What do the words tell us that isn’t communicated in the artwork?


For each topic, choose a picture, describe what you can see and share how it makes you feel. Then have a go at explaining the effect this creates, or its impact on the book. For example: the rider is galloping across the page from left to right. It makes me want to turn the page. This book is exciting and readers don’t get bored….

Size and scale
Is the Hero bigger or smaller than other characters and objects? Why? 

If these images were photographs, where would the photographer be standing to get each shot? 

What shapes do you notice? How would you describe them? 

Can you spot any straight or curved lines? Lines can be drawn, but they might also be suggested by a series of objects (or a gesture). They may be continuous, or there may be gaps. 
Do the lines point at something - a person, an object, the next page? Do they frame an object, character or scene? 

Backgrounds and spaces
Are the backgrounds white or coloured? Where are the empty spaces? How big are they?

Patterns and palette
What patterns and colours have been used?

Direction and reaction
Which way is the rider going? How quickly is he/she making progress? Which way are the other characters facing? What can they see? A character facing the rider may slow the action, or stop it. A character chasing the rider may speed it up. A character that hasn't noticed the rider - yet! - may do either. What do you notice? What do you think?

Follow up by asking children to write about one or more of the spreads, including some of the ideas you’ve discussed

Who do you admire? Why? List your heroes and display pictures of them. 

What makes a hero? Write about your choice and add to your display. 

What are your life goals? What could stop you achieving them? Can you prepare for those challenges? How?

What skills do you posses that could help you? What skills must you acquire?

What could you learn from your heroes?

Share at a class or school assembly.

What happens after this book ends? Tell or write the story.

Or... invent your own monster, write a verse about it and illustrate another spread for The Hero's Quest...

A spread from The Hero's Quest by Jeffrey Alan Love, published by Walker Studio

Zines are graphic-novel-inspired booklets where words and pictures work together to tell stories, communicate facts or share an autobiography or other content. They’re often self-published using photocopiers and distributed on a small scaleInviting children to design, make and distribute a quest-themed zine will give them a taste of the skills and techniques involved in creating graphic novels  - and possibly a micro-enterprise, too, if you allocate a budget for materials and ask children to charge a small amount to cover costs.   

From the oral storytelling and dice-roll decision-making of Dungeons and Dragons through card and board games to online videogaming, magical quest-themed games are great for developing literacy, oracy and numeracy.

Dungeons and Dragons relies on a leader to prepare and map the story in advance, who then narrates and manages the action by asking players to make decisions at key points. Outcomes are determined via polyhedral dice* which offer lots of possibilities for 3D shape and probability work, as well as storybuilding.

Find out more in a free Dungeons and Dragons Basic Rulebook pdf download from Media Wizards at media.wizards.com here

Alternatively, children could design, test and produce quest-themed board games based on Snakes and Ladders, explore the Story World cards by John and Caitlin Matthews, or make a set of storytelling cubes inspired by The Hero’s Quest. 

* A typical set of roleplaying dice includes the five Platonic solids - a 4-sided tetrahedron, 6-sided cube, 8-sided octahedron, 12-sided dodecahedron and 20-sided icosahedron - along with a 10-sided die that is also used for generating percentages.

A set of roleplaying dice

Working together, create a ‘bare bones’ summary of the plot. What’s been added to bring this story to life? Rhyme, rhythm, exciting vocabulary, gestures, dramatic viewpoints, close-ups, colour and contrast, blank spaces, variations in scale …Recreate the spreads in this book as freezeframes, paying special attention to the characters' body postures and gestures. What do they tell us about each character? 

Read the text aloud (independently and as a group), exploring changes of pace, dynamics and expression. Record your best version, then playback as you present your freezeframes.

If this book were a film, what soundtrack would it have? Investigate sound effects using your voices and/or found objects and musical instruments, then choose the best effects to produce a soundscape for one of the pictures. 

What are the characters thinking and saying in each spread? In groups, write thoughts and dialogue on post-its and add to pictures. Use to help you write a script. 

Dramatic postures and gestures        copyright Jeffrey Alan Love for Walker Studio


If you liked this, try...

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki  by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jeffrey Alan Love, published by Walker Studio

The Atlas of Heroes  by Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill, published by Big Picture Books

Beowulf  by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Charles Keeping, published by OUP

MULAN: The Legend of the Woman Warrior  by Faye-Lynn Wu and Joy Ang, published by HarperCollins

Beyond the Deepwoods  by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, published by Corgi

Quest  by Aaron Becker, published by Walker

Watch Jeffrey Alan Love painting here

Visit Jeffrey Alan Love's website here (includes illustrations for adult books and graphic novels)

Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2024 All rights reserved.
This article/information may be printed freely for use in schools and other learning settings but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of Cast of Thousands


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