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By Wes Mageeauthor, poet and former headteacher

Floss is a Border collie who is more interested in playing football than rounding up sheep. A delightful story, says Wes Magee

Floss book cover

Floss by Kim Lewis explores themes of duty and belonging

I love the picture book Floss by Kim Lewis (Walker Books, ISBN 9780744520712). It is not only a delightful story but is also accompanied by charming and wonderfully evocative full-colour illustrations. The book is popular with Key Stage 1 children because of the enduring appeal of the central character – Floss, a Border collie – and how her life intertwines with adults and children in both town and country. The story has realistic settings – a town and the moor land – and manages to communicate deep feelings of belonging and a sense of duty.

Synopsis

Floss is a young Border collie, who lives with an old man in town. She loves playing ball with the children in the park. However, after being transferred to a farm, she must be trained and earn her keep as a working sheepdog. One day, while learning how to round up sheep, she sees the farmer’s children playing in the field with a football. Floss joins in. The sheep escape and Floss is in serious trouble. Eventually Floss learns to be a dutiful sheepdog and – at the children’s request – is allowed to play ball again.

Talking points

  • Ask the children to talk about their pets. Do any of their pets like to play? What do they play with?
  • Think about animals that work (such as racehorses, huskies, elephants, farm dogs). Do these animals, like children, need time to play and just enjoy themselves? Why do animals – and people – need ‘time off’ for recreation and relaxation?
  • What happened in the story that made the children feel sad? What happened that made them feel happy?
  • Was the farmer kind to Floss? Why did she need to be trained properly? Can the children think of other dogs that are trained to do work? (Suggest guide dogs and police dogs.) In years past, some animals were trained to do unpleasant (or even horrible!) work; animals like pit ponies, lions in a circus, and donkeys having to carry heavy loads. What do the children think about the lives led by such animals?
  • What are the differences between the town (where Floss lived with the old man) and the countryside (where she worked on the hills)?
  • Floss liked to play ball. What ball games do the children like to play? Where do they play ball games?

The story’s setting

Using Kim Lewis’s pictures as a starting point, invite the children to talk about the differences between the town and the country. Draw up two lists, ‘Town’ and ‘Country’, to indicate the differences. Using the lists for reference, ask the children to write a passage about things they would find in a town and another about things they would find in the countryside.

Animal antics

Collect pictures of animals, and hold a class look-and-talk session about animals and their habitats. The children should also discuss what Floss did in the story (at play, at work, where she slept, and so on). What about the sheep in the story? Where do they live and sleep, and what do they eat? What about other pets, for instance cats, rabbits and hamsters? What do they do? Where do they live and sleep? Widen the discussion to include other farm animals (such as pigs, cows, hens and ducks), and even animals in the wild (for example tigers, polar bears, giraffes and camels). Make a display of books with pictures of animals and their habitats.

The town and the hills

After studying Kim Lewis’s illustrations, give the children an opportunity to draw their own town or countryside scenes in paint or crayon. In the book’s town, the ‘shapes’ of the houses are box-like and angular; browns and reds are the predominant colours. The countryside ‘shapes’ of the hills, valleys and fields are, by contrast, rounded and flowing. Greens and yellows are dominant here. The children’s artwork can be displayed to indicate the contrasting environments in which we live: town and country.

Feelings about Floss

The story about Floss creates feelings of sadness and happiness. We feel sad when Floss is taken away to the farm – and even sadder when she’s shouted at in a voice ‘like thunder’ by the cross farmer. But we are happy for her when she learns how to work properly and so is allowed to play her beloved ball game with the farmer’s children.

After the children have had the chance to verbally express their feelings about Floss, let them have a go at writing their own poems with ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ feelings in mind. Provide a structure to help get them started by organising the poems into two verses. The first verse can begin: Floss the collie dog was sad when… The second verse can begin: Floss the collie dog was happy when…

Persuading the farmer

In groups of three, encourage the children to act out the parts of the humans in the story. One child can dress up as the farmer; the other two are his children. The three characters must develop a conversation about Floss. The two children want Floss to play ball with them, but the farmer is reluctant. He wants Floss to round up the sheep, and to do that alone. Can the children persuade the farmer? In the story they do, but can the ‘actors’ convince him now

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