If you leave your toys outdoors all night, don't be surprised when they meet an alien!
Who's it for?
Reading for Pleasure
Sharing at storytime or reading independently 4-7 years
Active Reading: where will this book take you?
Sharing and exploring through creative cross-curricular activities 5-10 years
About this book
Lying on the grass are seven toys. They've been abandoned in the garden as the sun goes down, and as night falls they see the starry sky for the very first time in all its terrifying glory. A tale or two might keep their spirits up, but Wonderdoll’s story is about a drooling alien who kidnaps toys, which doesn’t really help. Luckily the alien they do encounter isn’t as scary as he looks, and he’s only stealing toys because he can’t find his own special Cuddles. Can our intrepid explorers reunite them?
As the night progresses, everyone helps shape the story. But how will the explorers get home? And did they really meet an alien?
Award-winning illustrator Mini Grey uses inventive layouts and zany humour to add energy to every spread of this much-loved picturebook. Strong characterisation and an engaging moral dilemma bring the toys’ world sharply into focus, and there’s plenty for readers to observe and question.
Toys in Space is full of fun and will be enjoyed by younger readers, but visual sophistication and emotional depth ensure its appeal to older audiences, too. It makes a great starting point for creative learning activities right across the curriculum.
Sharing this book and talking about it
Before reading, find some ‘lost toys’ to introduce to your children. How could they have become separated from their owners, and what kind of adventures have they had? Imagine possibilities, then ask children about their own experiences with much-loved toys.
Share the whole book as a reading-for-pleasure experience, making sure everyone can see the pictures clearly. The spreads are visually exciting, but it can be tricky to see all the details from a distance, so you might want to use a visualiser to project spreads onto a wall - or you could sit children in groups around adult helpers with extra copies. It’s worth setting plenty of time aside to explore the illustrations and talk about them - there’s lots here for children to discover and discuss.
What did your children think about the book and the way it was illustrated? Did it remind them of anything else they’ve read? Did anything surprise them?
How are the toys introduced? Note the words describing them. What kind of comments does each toy make as the story progresses? Do they have distinctive characters? Which toy would you choose as a companion in a crisis? Why?
Make sure everyone understands the idea of a ‘story within a story’ and draw attention to the way the toys help shape the action. Did Wonderdoll invent everything? Or did the adventure really happen?
Pool your knowledge about Space. What’s out there? How do we know? Do flying saucers and aliens exist? Where have astronauts been, and how did they get there? Talk about space flight as a practical reality as well as an inspiration for storytelling.
What next? Activities...
Look at the spread showing the Room of a Thousand Lost Toys. What do the words mean on the Sleep-o-meter? Can you think of other words to describe the sleeping toys?
In a large, clear space, ask children to copy the postures and expressions of these toys. How do we know they’re sleeping? What do people look like when they’re asleep?
Play ‘sleepy’ music and ask children to lie on the floor and pretend they’re one of these toys. Are their dreams colourful? Noisy? Is anything strange or exciting happening? Use ‘Touch and Tell’ as you move from one sleeper to the next to capture comments and ideas. Or invite children to tiptoe around the room in silence, two at a time, to observe the peaceful sleepers while they’re still and quiet!
Ask children to wake slowly, stretching and showing surprise at finding themselves in a strange place. How do they feel, so far from home? What do they want, and what is going to happen next?
Make notes for your children as they reflect, then share what you’ve written and discuss. Use to create a wordbank that everyone can use, then ask children to write about waking from their dreams.
Create a name and character profile for some of the toys shown in this spread - or make your own collection of soft toys to sit on shelves, and write each toy's name and details on a luggage tag!
Write the story of how one of these toys was kidnapped by the Hoctopize - or tell it as an exciting first-person narrative!
While searching for his Cuddles, the Hoctopize takes toys that don’t belong to him. What is right for the Hoctopize is wrong for everyone else, but the Hoctopize finds it difficult to empathise and see the world from somebody else's perspective.
Try this group activity to help children discuss possibilities and gain insights.
Give each group a Hoctopize outline on a large sheet of paper, ensuring that your outline is big enough for every member of the group to write inside. If you’re unsure about your artistic skills, see below for some special help from Mini!
Look at the spread showing the Hoctopize meeting the toys. What is the Hoctopize thinking and feeling? Write this inside your outline.
Now consider what the toys think about meeting the Hoctopize. How are they feeling? Write this outside your outline, then feed back and discuss. In what ways are the toys and the Hoctopize similar, and how do they differ?
Why is it difficult to understand another person’s point of view? Could we do better? How? Come up with ideas and test them in real life.
To help us, Mini Grey has drawn a special Hoctopize outline for Cast of Thousands. It's great for colouring or making activities, and you can also use it to help you draw the outlines that you’ll need for this activity. Thank you, Mini!
Download your Hoctopize outline HERE
The Hoctopize has five tentacles on his head, but he only has four fingers on each hand
We count in tens because we have ten fingers. How does a Hoctopize count?
Does he use his fingers, like us? Explore Hoctopize maths using only the digits 0-8, ie Base 8.
Or does he use his tentacles? Try using just the digits 0-5, ie Base 5…
What about aliens with other quantities of fingers or tentacles? Draw them, then show how they count and do their sums.
Play an alien-themed version of the Beetle drawing game - make it more difficult by using bigger numbers generated by multiple dice. Or pretend to be an alien teaching human children how to alien-count!
Look carefully at the pictures of the Hoctopize. In what ways does he resemble living creatures on earth? In what ways is he different? Is it easy to imagine a completely new creature? Discuss your ideas.
Look at pictures of the amazing variety of life on earth and talk about the way creatures evolve to fit the place they live. Investigate possible conditions on other planets and discuss how alien life-forms might adapt (or look at aliens in other books….)
Explore ideas through drawing, then choose your favourite and model it from clay, plasticine, or recycled materials.
Check out this link to Mini Grey's blog at Sketching Weakly for downloadable Space Dog themed activity sheets to help children design their own alien lifeforms.
In this book, the Hoctopize first appears as a silhouette, which increases the tension. Use a white screen and spotlight to explore silhouettes cast by different shapes.
Turn your favourite alien designs into silhouettes by tracing over the outlines of your drawings, then colouring the whole shape black - or cast your model’s shadow onto a white sheet of paper and draw round it. In pairs, exchange silhouettes and try to predict what each creature will look like from its silhouette alone, then compare with the original. Is it easy to guess? Are you surprised?
Why not give the silhouettes to another class and invite them to make the same response?
Extend by decorating plain cotton gloves to make Hoctopize puppets and use them to tell a story. Or make a 3-way flap book, with lots of alien heads, torsos and legs to mix and match!
Look at the spread showing the toys being beamed into the spaceship. Tractor beams don’t really exist - yet! - but people do experience feeling weightless in Space. Talk about mass and weight. What do these terms mean? How do we weigh things? Look at options – spring balances, kitchen scales – and units of measurement. Why is accuracy important?
Make a collection of toys – teddies, dolls, small world figures - and weigh them. Which is the heaviest? The lightest? Present your results in different ways and generate questions that will help you interpret them. e.g. are all the dolls heavier or lighter than all the teddies? Does the biggest toy have the greatest mass?
Can you design a gadget to weigh a toy? Use junk materials and/or construction kits. Something needs to move in response to a mass being added, but there are many ways of achieving this.
Can you make your gadget show the correct mass? Calibrate using known masses and mark on a scale….
Encourage children to observe, question, share ideas and explore alternatives. Are your gadgets accurate? Which work best, and why? How could you improve them?
Look at the spread showing the kidnapped toys being parachuted back to Earth. What does a parachute do? Using cord, fabric and other materials, ask children to investigate designs for parachutes.
If you have access to a safe, high location, drop the toys and time how long it takes for them to reach the ground. Collect data to analyse and display.
If your parachutes don’t work, try using toys with less mass (e.g. Playmobil or Lego…) or fitting something that will slow their descent.
Which parachute is most effective? Why? Can anyone find a way to make their parachute work better?
Take this cross-curricular by exploring the idea of weightlessness through movement/dance/PE and creative writing.
Where could the Hoctopize have come from?
What do you think his home planet looks like? What grows there? What’s the weather like? What kind of houses do Hoctopizes build?
Working together, generate LOTS of ideas and collect your best words to create a shared resource.
In small groups, ask children to pretend they are presenting a TV news report about a recently-discovered planet, with one child narrating while the others mime. Follow up with individual or group writing, then video children reading their ‘news reports’.
Wonderdoll invents this story to help the toys overcome their fears....
Invite your class to create all sorts of different stories and provide special storytelling areas where they can tell or read them to an audience.
Think dens - sheets draped over washing lines, enormous cardboard boxes – and decorate them with paints, cushions and bunting, Make some just large enough for a single child plus toy, and others bigger to accommodate a group.
Provide a collection of toys and invite each child to choose their audience. Try recording children so that they can listen to themselves - and each other! Could you create a CD of stories to share with another class or family?
“And then the toys saw THIS…”
Find out about stars and constellations. Why were the toys “quiet for a while”? What could they have been thinking? Write thought bubbles for each toy and attach to the page.
Make wax resist pictures of the night sky using the double spread in the book as inspiration, or layer black crayon over coloured wax and scratch away.
Extend by organising a stargazing evening!
What do toys get up to when their owners aren’t looking?
Share ideas inspired by this book and extend by reading other stories - there are lots of ideas at the bottom of this feature.
Build on what you've read by asking children to write stories inspired by toys they love.
Take inspiration from the toys in this book and plan a special party celebration.
Look at the illustrations showing the Hoctopize’s birthday, and share memories of your own celebrations. What does a good party need to be successful?
Talk about party games, refreshments, music, invitations and decorations, and assign tasks.
Ask children to invite their toys - then let the fun begin!
If you liked this, try...
Beegu by Alexis Deacon
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Dr Xargle’s Book of Earthlets by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Space Dog by Mini Grey
Traction Man is Here by Mini Grey
Biscuit Bear by Mini Grey
Lost in the Toy Museum by David Lucas
Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen and Joel Stewart
The Everywhere Bear by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
Dogger by Shirley Hughes
The Lost Property Office by Emily Rand
Nothing by Mick Inkpen
The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
Tatty Ratty by Helen Cooper
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
Elmer and the Lost Teddy by David McKee
Where’s my Teddy? by Jez Alborough
This is the Bear by Sarah Hayes and Helen Craig
One True Bear by Ted Dewan
It Was a Dark And Stormy Night by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
This one's not about toys (or Space) but the characters are involved in shaping their own story
Download your Hoctopize outline HERE
For more information about Mini Grey and her work, visit her blog, Sketching Weakly HERE
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