Teachers can use A Snail and a Whale, by Julia Donaldson, to teach students the difference between the real world and the imaginary one. It does have some factual elements. In the story, a humpback whale takes a snail on a journey. The snail crawls onto the whale’s tail and remains there. The whale takes the snail all over the world. Learning activities focus on migration, saving the whale and deciphering fact from fiction.
Set up an aquarium
The best way to teach this story is to start with an aquarium. Let children learn what snails do, how they live, and about their movements. Children can see that the trails that the snail leaves as it crawls. Do snails have an itchy foot? Does the snail leave a path or leave messages in the sand?
This book can spark a whole discussion about the oceans. Children can get excited about whales. Take a field trip to see real whales. Let children see that snails do not live on the tails of whales. Whales eat snails. Tours about the whales will help children know the facts about whales and see the imaginary nature of the book.
The story shows the whale in very cold lands, in tropical lands and in stormy seas. Teachers can have children think about other animals, besides the whales, that migrate. Is migration safe? Would sharks and other sea creatures eat the snail?
Save the Whale
A section of the book tells how boats and especially jet skis can scare whales. The snail helps the whale by getting people to help the whale. How might children help the whale? What did the firemen do to help the whale? Children can draw pictures or posters showing how people contribute to the problems of the whale. What are the problems? Are jet skis the real problem or is pollution? How do people learn about the problems that wildlife encounters?
This book has many fictional elements to it. Can a snail summon a ride? Do snails go around entering classrooms and writing messages on blackboards? What about the snail? Could it really stay on the whale’s tail as it swims all around the world? Would a whale let a whole colony of snails attach themselves to its tail?
When using this book as a learning aid, teachers need to realize that children will believe and try to copy elements of the story. Use caution and explain this book is a fantasy not fact.