A magical, misty adventure about finding new friends
Who's it for?Sharing at storytime: 3-7 years
About this book and why we've chosen it
The Mist Monster is an optimistic, gently humorous and affecting story about dealing with life changes and finding new friends
Penny has just moved to a new house and isn't at all sure she likes it. Dad suggests investigating the garden, but the dog has stolen Mum’s old hat and Penny can’t explore without it. Penny chases Peanut outside, only to find herself marooned in a strange, white world. Then she hears a rumbly voice and spots two yellow eyes peering at her through the mist. It’s a ‘sort-of monster’ who doesn’t have a name - so Penny calls him Morris, and the two of them set off in hot pursuit of dog and hat.
“It was my mum’s… she was a brilliant explorer,” explains Penny, and Morris gives her the kind of look that says he’s heard something significant. But as the day progresses, having fun together becomes more important than finding Mum’s hat. “See you tomorrow!” says Penny when it’s time to go. Observant readers will notice Morris’s expression and imagine they can spot a tear or two - but it doesn’t occur to Penny that mist doesn’t last, and when she wakes to find the sun shining and no trace of Morris, she’s devastated. Outside, she allows the tears to fall. “Who am I going to explore with now?” she asks. And in a page-turn that changes everything, Penny finds herself face to face with Archie, the boy next door. It just so happens that he’s also looking for a friend…
Gently constructed around themes of loss and change, this optimistic story weaves links between imaginative worlds and the here-and-now of daily reality. With their sophisticated palette and low-key charm, Beautyman’s illustrations are a delight and will please younger and older audiences alike.
Morris the Mist Monster’s expressions add emotional impact as well as humour, allowing the pictures to take the story somewhere deeper and more affecting, and Beautyman’s treatment of the shifting insubstantiality of mist and dreams is particularly effective. It takes time for feelings of sadness and loss to pass, but opening ourselves to new experiences and enabling new connections will help friendships blossom when we least expect. There’s a hint of The Snowman about this magical, misty book, and like Briggs’s classic, it will find a place in many hearts.
Sharing and talking about this bookBefore sharing this book with children, talk about moving house.
What next? Activities...
“It must be a very special hat,” said Morris.
Penny’s mother has a strong presence in this book but she is never shown. We’re not told why she is absent, but we know that Penny misses her.
Find all the visual and textual references to Penny’s mum and discuss them. What do they tell us about her? Why do you think Mum’s hat is important to Penny? How do you think Penny feels when Peanut steals it?
Think about the people you love most. What object would you choose to represent them? Draw pictures, write about your choices and make a display.
Collect lots of different shapes, sizes and types of hat and put them in a box. Invite children to explore them by looking at them, touching them and wearing them. Who could these hats have belonged to? Discuss possibilities, then invent previous owners and create character profiles for them. Take photos of children wearing the hats, and ask them to draw self portraits and pictures of each other.
Where could their particular hat take them? Talk about exploring new places, both close to home and further afield. Look at maps of the world, atlases and maps of your local area. Tell and write stories about what happened when you wore your hat and explored somewhere new.
Plan an expedition close to home and wear your hats to explore it. Collect information about your visit and record your observations to make a display.
Re-read the book, talking about how Penny is feeling at different points in the story. Work together to create a ‘bare bones’ picture-diagram of the plot and mark Penny’s changing emotions on it.
On a large sheet of paper, draw an outline of a girl. Work together to collect as many words and phrases as you can to describe Penny’s emotions on the first two double spreads of this story and write them inside the outline. Repeat the exercise on a second sheet of paper, this time focusing on the spread showing Penny and Morris rolling down the hill. Finally, create a third ‘role on the wall’ outline focusing on the final two spreads. Pin all three outlines on a noticeboard or wall where you can see them clearly.
Look at your diagrams and talk about them. What can you say about Penny’s feelings at the beginning and end of this story? How and why have things changed?
Try using your faces and bodies to express some of the emotions you’ve been discussing. How would you show that you’re worried, or excited, or sad? Look back at Kirsti Beautyman’s artwork to see how she has depicted these and other emotions. Copy the characters’ postures and expressions. Are there any points in the story when we, as readers, know something one of the characters doesn’t?
Hint: look at the page where Penny says “Look! The mist is clearing…” and the page where she hugs Morris and says “Bye bye, Morris, thanks for playing”
Are we given this ‘extra’ information in the text, the pictures or both? Working in role in pairs or small groups, recreate one of these illustrations as a freezeframe, trying to capture the characters’ body postures and facial expressions. Play Tap and Tell to hear each character’s thoughts. Extend by asking groups to bring their freezeframe to life, acting out what happens next.
TO PLAY TAP AND TELL: Move around the room as groups hold their freezeframe positions. Tap a child’s shoulders as a signal for them to say what their character is thinking. Encourage speakers to be clear and audible, and make sure everyone is following ground rules that you’ve already discussed. For example – listen carefully, respect everyone’s contributions
Drama investigations make great starting points for verbal storymaking, creative writing and art activities. Or you can ask children to write a factual account of what they’ve just done and what they’ve learned about these characters as a result.
Look at the way mist is depicted in this book. How has Kirsti Beautyman drawn it?
Have you experienced misty weather? Talk about what you remember, or what you imagine it might be like.
Have you ever seen or experienced something similar indoors? What was it and where did it happen? (Think condensation on windows, a boiling kettle, a steamy bathroom…)
Take advantage of any misty mornings you might have to go outside and experience mist (or borrow a mist machine...!) You could also keep a diary to record how often it’s misty compared with other types of weather.
Find images of mist in the natural world at National Geographic here
To show children what cloud and mist look like in a jar, collect the following materials: black paper, a large glass jar (gallon size), coloured warm water, matches and a large plastic bag of icecubes.
Tape the black paper on the back of the jar so you can’ see through it. Add warm coloured water to the jar until it’s one-third full. Light a match and hold it over the opening of the jar. After a few seconds, drop the match into the jar and cover it with the bag of icecubes. Watch carefully and record your observations.
You should see a misty cloud forming inside the jar - if this doesn’t happen, repeat the experiment.
Watch carefully and talk about what you see.
Make a list of words to describe mist that you have observed, or that you can see in photographs or depicted in the artwork in this book. How does it makes you feel? What does it remind you of? Working together, compose a group poem about mist using your words and ideas.
Mist is water vapour, so it’s wet! Explore wet-paper painting to create your own misty scenes or backgrounds. For step-by-step instructions try creativefamilyfun.net - click here - or picklebums.com - click here
But remember to use shades of grey paint plus white if you want a really misty scene!
The cloud forms inside the jar because the warm water heats the layer of air above it. Some of the water evaporates into the air forming water vapour. The warm air containing the water vapour rise and then cools as if comes into contact with the colder air next to the ice. When the water molecules cool, they slow down and stick together more easily. The particles of smoke in the jar attract the water molecules which collect on them, forming the cloud. This process is called condensation, and it’s how clouds are formed in the natural world.
Find this activity and others here
What is mist? Is it the same as fog?
According to diffen.com, fog is a cloud that reaches ground level, whereas mist forms wherever water droplets are suspended in the air. This could be for many reasons, including temperature inversion, changes in humidity or volcanic activity. Fog is denser than mist and tends to last longer. For information at diffen.com, click here
When this story begins, Penny isn’t sure that she’s going to like her new house. Why do you think she feels that way? Talk about moving house. What happens? Who in your group has moved house?
Find out where children in your class or group used to live, and mark the locations on a map. You will need to be sensitive, as there are lots of reasons for moving house and some may be upsetting.
Look at the first double spread. What can you see in the boxes and on the floor? Does this picture tell you anything about Penny’s new house?
What else do we discover about the house and its garden from other pictures in the book?
Draw a labelled diagram of Penny’s new house and garden, marking all the features you have noticed. Then draw a labelled diagram of your own house or flat (and garden, if it has one), marking everything you want people to know about it.
When Penny’s dad bought or rented their new house, he probably saw an advert or looked at an agency brochure. Design the advert or brochure he might have looked at, then illustrate it. What will you say about the house to persuade Penny’s dad to move in?
Revisit the text and pictures and try to spot every reference to Peanut.
Why do you think Peanut steals the hat? How do Penny and Morris know where he is? What do they have to do to follow him?
In a large, clear space, imagine you are Penny. Use mime to show her
What is Peanut doing while all this is going on? Mime Peanut stealing the hat, racing away with it, swimming across the pond, tiptoeing across the sand, sitting next to Dad and lying on his back dreaming.
What is Peanut thinking, and how does he feel? Tell the story from his point of view, then write it down and illustrate it!
Extend by creating an indoor or outdoor pawprint trail for children to follow, or play ‘Peanut Hide and Seek’ by giving the hider a brown furry hat to wear. Or you could hide a toy dog and ask children to find it (bark loudly or quietly to give them clues!)
Look at the spread showing Penny’s dreams. What can you see? How do you think Penny is feeling? How realistic is her dream? Could it really happen?
Talk about dreams you’ve had. Create a ‘group dream’ using one event or idea from everybod and record it for your children in note or diagram form. Ask children to mime their contribution to the group dream (all at the same time, if you want the full dream experience!) then draw it and tell the story of what happens in the dream.
Kirsti Beautyman’s artwork for Penny’s dream on this spread creates a misty, monotone effect. How could you get a similar effect? Try drawing your contribution to the group dream with white chalk on grey paper, or use clear wax candles on white paper and paint over it with a thin grey wash to make your designs stand out.
Experiment with scraperboard. Which medium do you prefer? Use that medium to create final artwork for a collaborative frieze showing your group dream.
Look at the picture of Morris eating the blackberry and talk about what you notice.
We can see Morris and the berry and the plants behind him, all at the same time - so Morris isn’t invisible, and neither is he transparent. He is translucent, meaning some light passes through him, but not all of it. This allows us to glimpse things that are behind him and even inside him (be prepared to wonder why we can’t see his brain or his tummy….!) but it’s difficult to show this in a picture. How has Kirsti achieved this effect, do you think?
Using different media (try white pastels, white chalks, white tempera, white ink…) on colour photocopies of photos or magazine pages, experiment to find ways of producing an effect that is ‘almost see-through’ or translucent. Share your ideas about what works and what doesn’t, then have a go at creating a picture of a misty monster inspired by Morris.
Draw or paint a picture, then add a translucent layer over the top, such as a sheet of good-quality tracing paper. Change places with someone else and look at their artwork through the extra layer. What can you see?
Make a collection of transparent or see-through materials (eg a clear plastic bottle, glass, water, air), translucent materials (eg tracing paper, wax paper, frosted glass, a net curtain, some types of plastic bottle) and opaque materials (eg a brick, a ceramic plate, wood, many types of fabric). Find different ways of grouping the materials. How do they feel? Smell? What colour are they? How heavy are they? Are they hard or soft? Take photos as evidence of each grouping.
Suggest trying to look through the materials, and help children group them into “I can see through it”, “I can’t see through it” and “I can see through it a bit.” Find ways to record your results in picture or diagram form. As a group, write a report about what you’ve done.
Look carefully at all the pictures showing Penny’s new garden, paying special attention to the plants, trees and flowers. What do you notice about them? How would you describe these plants? Do you think they are real or imaginary? Why?
In her garden artwork, Kirsti Beautyman creates stylized versions of leaves and other vegetation (particularly houseplants!) and arranges them carefully to produce designs that create atmosphere and visual impact.
Using a graphite pencil, draw a selection of plants from life, focusing on different leaf shapes and sizes - but don’t add colour! Photocopy (or scan and print) several copies, then colour them using watercolour or ink washes, restricting your colour palette. Cut out the leaves and arrange them on a white background to create imaginary garden scenes. Draw Penny and the Mist Monster, then add them to your scene - or add pictures of yourself! Once you’re happy with your design, you can glue all the pieces in place and write about how your created your Kirsti-Beautyman-inspired masterpiece.
Is Morris real or imaginary? Why do you think so? Give reasons for your answer.
Can you think of a story featuring an imaginary friend? Read one or more of the titles suggested below and talk about it. Are there any similarities between that story and The Mist Monster?
Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Who were they? What happened when you were with them? Where did you go and what did you do?
Work in pairs to invent an imaginary friend. Draw pictures, tell stories and write about them. What adventures do you have?
Do you think Morris is a monster? Give reasons for your answer.
What do monsters usually look like and how do they behave? Compile a list of features / behaviours /attributes that you think most monsters will exhibit. Can you move like a monster? Sound like a monster?
Can you think of another story featuring a monster? Read one or more of the suggested titles and talk about it. Are there any similarities between that story and The Mist Monster? How do the monsters differ?
Work in pairs to invent a new monster. Draw pictures, tell stories and write about it. What adventures do you have?
Aldo by John Burningham
Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers
The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Dream Friends by You Byun
Emma Kate by Patricia Polacco
The Bear by Raymond Briggs
The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge
Elmer and the Monster by David McKee
Not Now Bernard by David McKee
Billy and the Beast by Nadia Shireen
Beegu by Alexis Deacon
Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Leaf by Sandra Dieckmann
Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo by Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Dave the Lonely Monster by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
If you liked this, try...The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman, published by Stripes Publishing, 2019
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