An unexpected visitor brings colour back into Elise's life
Who's it for?
Reading for Pleasure
Sharing at storytime or reading independently 5-8 years
Active Reading: where will this book take you?
Sharing and exploring through creative cross-curricular activities 5-10 years
About this book
Elise is scared of everything and never leaves her house. One day a paper plane flies in through an open window. "That'll have to go!" says Elise, and throws it on the fire.
Then comes a knock at the door. It’s a boy called Emil, and he wants his plane back. He’d also like to use the bathroom, read a story, play a game and eat a snack. As Elise and Emil interact, colour seeps into the cold, grey room. And by the time we leave Elise's house, everything feels different.
Readers are quickly drawn into Elise and Emil’s world and care about the characters, but there’s more to this warm-hearted book than story-fun. “I think we can, and ought, to confront children with the big questions of the world,” Antje Damm told blogger Mel Schuit, and The Visitor does a great job of making profound and complex themes like loneliness and anxiety accessible and meaningful to young audiences. There is real depth to this picturebook that will stay with children long after reading and give them much to think about – not least a way to reflect on their experiences of Lockdown.
Damm’s artwork has a special luminosity and depth that makes it hugely inviting, and the gradual addition of colour says so much about Elise’s changing emotions. To illustrate The Visitor, Damm created a mini theatre-set from white card decorated with black line details. Cut-out characters were positioned for each scene and carefully lit before being photographed. Colour was applied directly to the model - it wasn’t generated digitally - and the story evolved as Damm worked on it, giving the book a fresh immediacy that really comes across.
“I only knew there had to be something in this grey, almost menacing room, and that something had to happen with colour,” she said, talking to reviewer Susanna Wengeler. “The room changes through the course of the book, it absorbs colour…. If the photos of one scene hadn’t worked, the entire book would have been ruined!”
Damm has published 25+ titles in Germany, many of which have been translated for readers worldwide. The Visitor is one of the few available in English, thanks to New Zealand-based Gecko Press which offers “a different way of seeing the world” by publishing international books for children in translation.
Sharing this book and talking about it
Lockdown confined many of us to our homes and stopped us visiting family and friends, so this story may have special resonance for many children and their families as a result.
Show children the cover and explain that this story is about someone who never leaves her house.
How does this character feel? How can you tell? Who - or what – will come through the door when she opens it?
Ask children about their memories of being at home, unable to go out.
Did you miss having visitors? Who used to visit before Lockdown? What did you do? Talk about loneliness. What is it? How does it make you feel and behave? Is the same as being alone? Did you feel lonely during Lockdown? What made you feel better?
Without reading the text, examine the first spread.
Invite comments and ask open-ended questions. What can you see? How do you think this character is feeling? How can you tell? What could have happened to make her feel this way?
Talk about fear. What are you afraid of? What could be making this character feel anxious? Explain that Elise is scared of many things. She doesn’t go out and she’s very lonely. But one day, something surprising happens….
Read the whole story for enjoyment, then go back and look more closely at the pictures, commenting on your observations and discussing responses. What did you like about this book? Does it remind you of anything? Which is your favourite moment, and why?
Discuss the ideas that interest you. Where and why does colour appear? How do you think Antje Damm created this artwork? How does sharing a story make you feel? Why do people need friends? Why do you think Elise dreams about paper aeroplanes?
Talk about safeguarding. When is it OK to knock on someone’s door and go into their house, and when is it not?
What next? Activities...
Examine the characters’ expressions, gestures and postures. Copy them. What do you notice? What do these things tell us?
Look at the picture of Emil waiting to be invited in. Recreate the scene in pairs, like actors on a stage.
Can you bring the picture to life by showing what happens next? Try freeze-framing another picture, then bring that to life, too. How many pictures can you explore? Could you join them to make a performance?
What happens after this book ends? Talk about your ideas for a ‘next episode’ and develop through roleplay, drawing, storytelling and writing.
Roleplay Emil telling his Mum or Dad about visiting Elise. How will they respond?
Many of us now know what it’s like to stay at home and rarely go out.
What did you do during Lockdown? What did you like about staying at home? What didn’t you like? What did you miss?
Look at the first spread (showing Elise at a grey table.) How would you describe her?
Talk about loneliness. How do you think Elise is feeling? What could she be thinking? Add post-it thought-bubbles to capture your ideas. Write descriptively about loneliness or being ‘stuck indoors.’
Emil helped Elise by visiting her. What else could she do to connect with others? Could you help someone who is feeling lonely? How?
Look at the front endpaper (Elise’s unoccupied room) and compare with the back endpaper (the same room in colour.) List words and phrases to describe each picture. How do they make you feel? What stays the same? What changes?
Use paints, pastels and other media to investigate colour combinations. Can you sort your results into mood-groups? Happy, sad, energetic, calm… Does everyone agree on choices? Are there ‘right’ answers? Look at famous paintings. What do you notice about their colour palettes?
If you wanted to cheer someone up, which colours would you use? Can you paint a cheerful picture for someone who’s feeling sad?
If you could invite anyone to visit you - friends, family, famous people, imaginary characters - who would you choose?
Collect ideas. Why would you invite these guests? What games would you play? What would you talk about? What refreshments would you offer?
Ask children to choose three visitors to join them for an imaginary tea. Who will they invite, and why? What will they eat and drink? Provide invitation, menu and place-card templates to be filled in.
Ask children to draw themselves and their guests in black marker on white card. Cut the characters out and sit them on chairs around a table - use dolls-house furniture or make from cardboard. Photograph each group, so children have individual pictures.
If you want place-settings and food, ask children to draw on a paper square the same size as the tabletop and add them to your scenes!
Write reports explaining what you did. Display with your photographs, figures, menus and place-cards.
Add collections of short stories and fairytales to your reading corner and explore them.
Record children reading their story-choice aloud ‘for Emil’ and build an audio library for everyone to enjoy.
Could you recruit some older volunteers to read ‘Emil stories’ to small groups?
What frightens Elise? What impact have these fears had on her life?
What scares your children? Are anxiety and fear useful? Share ways to manage them.
Working together, devise a questionnaire to discover what scares children and grown-ups. Examine your results. How many people answered? What is the most common fear? Is there a difference between children and grown-ups? Show your results on a table and as a graph.
Construct room sets using shoeboxes, white card and black markers.
You could recreate Elise’s living-room, model your own bedroom or use your imagination to create something completely new. Add cardboard furniture and props, and cut windows or a roof-flap for a light-source.
Once your sets are ready, position your cut-out characters and photograph your scene. Try different lighting and camera angles to get the best results!
Alternatively, you could photograph your cardboard characters in a dolls-house, or use them as puppets to retell the story.
Learn how to fold model planes, like Elise and Emil
Launch them in a large, clear indoor space and measure how far they fly.
How will you make your tests fair? By using the same paper, by making a rule about how planes are launched….
Try different paper types, or add paperclip weights to the nose or wings, then re-test. What effect do your changes have? Repeat your investigation outside. Did your planes fly further? Write about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned.
Extend by decorating sheets of paper with paint and printed patterns. Fold into planes and hang from the ceiling to create mobiles. Or make special planes with friendly messages on them, and send to someone who has to stay indoors (or might be feeling lonely….)
Build on the work you did earlier by hosting a real tea-party for family members or other guests. If you can't invite real visitors, invite your toys!
Involve children at all stages of planning and delivery, giving them responsibility for manageable tasks.
Play Hide and Seek, Grandmother’s Footsteps, Musical Statues and other traditional games that Elise would recognize and enjoy sharing.
Remember to leave plenty of time for Emil-stories!
“One day something unbelievable happened...”
Tell or write a story starting with these words.
If you liked this, try...
Ask Me by Antje Damm, Frances Lincoln
Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm, Gecko Press
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr, HarperCollins
The Snorgh and the Sailor by Will Buckingham and Thomas Docherty, Alison Green BooksA Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton, Walker Books
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