Teaching with Mick Inkpen’s The Blue Balloon via @moses_brian

THE BLUE BALLOON by Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children’s Books, ISBN – 9780340918197, £6.99) is the story of a boy and his dog (Kipper) who find a soggy blue balloon in the garden. The boy blows up the balloon to find that it has strange powers. It can’t be punctured or destroyed in any way, but it can lift up the boy and his dog and carry them off for a fantastic flight.

The story is charming by itself, and the illustrations uncluttered, but what really endears children to the book are the flaps that can be opened up to make the balloon larger or longer. It is an ideal book to base work around, to explore the dreams and the magic, and the notion that something so ordinary can become something so exciting.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Brian Moses and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Talking Points:

* The dog is given a name but the boy has no name. Would you have preferred to know the boy’s name? Would it have added to the story?

* Have you ever dreamed or wished that you could fly? What would it be like to fly? Does anyone have experiences of flying in an aeroplane or a hot air balloon? Are there fairground rides that make you think that you’re flying?

* Have you got something ordinary that seems like it’s a bit special. Do you keep a lucky pebble in your pocket, or something else perhaps?
Have you got a treasure box in which you store special things?


1. If you had a blue balloon where would you go?

Explain that you are looking for that little bit of magic in the ideas that children have for this and in the words they write. Suggest that they try to think beyond the aliens idea that Mick Inkpen used so effectively in the book, and to come up with fresh angles. How would it feel to be floating? Where would the balloon take you? What would happen when you got there?

I could spin on the stars with the angels (Samantha)

I could taste the colours of the rainbow (Connor)

I would fly to the Milky and very Chocolatey Way (Gabriel)

However, if aliens do creep in, as they probably will, it is what children choose to do with them that can make them interesting:

I could fly to Pluto and play hide and seek with aliens (Joshua)

Come back down to earth and think of other locations. Which country would you most like to visit if the balloon made it possible? What would you see when you got there?

I’d float to New York and look down on the Statue of Liberty.

Link with art work here where children create the scene with paint or collage. They can picture themselves floating across a foreign country with a landmark or creature below. These can then be displayed in the form of a quiz where other children guess the country from the picture clue.

Afterwards, consider different ways of travelling – walking on stilts, hang-gliding, riding on a roller-coaster to the stars!

2. Different Colours.

Mick Inkpen bases his story on a blue balloon. Does the balloon have to be blue? What would happen if the colour changed? Suggest that children take the idea one step further and try to link what happens in any new story they might write, to the colour of the balloon.

With a red balloon I could pick roses from the Queen’s garden without her knowing. (Jay)

With my red balloon I would fly past the sign that said – Caution, there may be dragons. (Gabriel)

With my black balloon I would turn the sun to an evil sun that never gives sunshine. (Emily)

Children can turn these ideas into their own picture book scripts. What happens when you pick forbidden roses, or fly past the warning sign for dragons, or turn the sun evil?

Could children devise their own flaps that open up and reveal surprises?

A page could open up and then unfold to reveal a huge dragon, an ugly black sun or the Queen’s gardener about to jump out on the rose thief!

Then consider the rainbow balloon. Would that take you to a very special place? Think about where you see rainbows – in the sky, in oily puddles, in a waterfall. Maybe each colour of the rainbow would take you to somewhere connected with that colour.

3. Making the ordinary seem special:

There are many stories based on the idea that something ordinary turns into something special – a snowman comes to life, a wardrobe becomes the entrance to a snowy world. Children may be able to think of other examples from their reading.

What kind of objects might possess magic properties? A pebble, a bag, a ring, a lucky charm, a key. What would happen? Where might it take you?

My ring can shine so bright, it’s like the sun . It can fit around a house. It can stretch bigger than the Universe . It can fly further than the clouds. And it can put a shield around me when I put it on. (Joshua)

One boy thought that his special object might change with the seasons:

I have a magical tissue in my pocket. Every season, a different thing. In winter it’s a warming snugly blanket, in autumn there is the biggest leaf in the world, in summer a golden ball of light and in spring there is some caramel fudge, my favourite chocolate. (Gabriel)

4. Special Day:

The boy in ‘The Blue Balloon’ had a really special day, a day to remember. What makes a day special? How could you take an ordinary day and brighten it up? Some ideas might be real – take a trip to Disneyland. Others might stretch the imagination:

If I could brighten up a grey day I’d get a match and set the sky on fire. (Joshua)

5. Advertise the Balloon:

Write an advertisement for an ad mag or to go on e-bay in which you offer the balloon for sale. What would you include in the advertisement to induce someone to buy it? What are its special qualities?

Finally, once children have completed any work on the book, read it through once more so that they experience the whole story again and are not just left with fragmented images.

Work used in this piece comes from Year 2 children in Croydon schools.

Brian’s new picture book, ‘The Frog Olympics’ is available in paperback on April 28th. Advanced orders now available:

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1 Comment

  1. One of my favourite books of all time! Have also used it to start ‘forces’ investigations in science 🙂

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