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The White Giraffe

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By Lauren St John

Martine is eleven when she goes to live on a game reserve in Africa. One lonely night, she looks out and sees a white giraffe in the moonlight. Local legend says that a child who can ride a white giraffe will have power over all the animals – and as soon as Martine sees the giraffe, she knows she will risk everything for it.

This poster is also available as on cream background to assist dyslexic readers.

In this extract from Chapter 5 of The White Giraffe, Lauren St John’s debut novel, Martine is just getting used to her new surroundings and compares her new African home with the ‘grey, gloomy England’ she has left behind.


Shared learning and teaching

Reading and responding

  • Read the introductory paragraph, modelling intonation and pace. Invite children to read a paragraph each.
  • After reading, summarise what is happening. (Martine has just come to live in Africa with her grandmother and is describing what she has seen.)
  • Are Martine’s parents with her? How do we know? What suggests that Martine has come to live permanently in Africa? How is she reacting to her new home? Distinguish between explicit information (‘She was already falling in love with it’ or ‘Her bedroom, too, was a bit special’) and implicit suggestions – eg, the sun warms her skin, she takes in the ‘heady’ smells; she remembers England as grey, cold and gloomy.
  • Explore how the author uses powerful adjectives and interesting verbs to paint a vivid picture. Try replacing these words with less interesting ones. Eg: ‘The young springboks were bouncing around…’ reflects both Martine’s happy mood and how agile and light springboks are. ‘The young springboks were jumping around…’ tells us far less. Spot/discuss similes (‘like plump, speckled kings’).
  • Reread the opening paragraph. What is the difference between a legend and a myth?
  • Explore Martine’s emotions through drama. How does performing Martine’s actions make them feel?

Previous learning

Children should have experience of: creating roles to interpret behaviour from different viewpoints; developing scripts; developing strategies for learning new words; using evidence to support a hypothesis; deducing characters’ reasons for their behaviour; exploring how writers use figurative and expressive language; using settings/language imaginatively in story writing.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To use evidence to explain ideas;
  • To explore how writers use language for effects;
  • To use visualisation, prediction and empathy;
  • To write stories/factual texts;
  • To use drama to explore themes.

Group and independent activities

  • Research other mythological or legendary animals – eg, the unicorn, the Beast of Bodmin, the Loch Ness Monster – and write a page for a class Mythological Creatures book.
  • What might have happened before the extract? In pairs or individually, write the story up until now.
  • Discuss what might happen next. Will Martine find the white giraffe? What might happen if she does? Work in pairs or individually to extend the story, using as much descriptive language as possible.
  • Apart from the opening paragraph, the extract contains no direct speech. Why? What is the author doing in this part of the story? (Moving the action on; setting the scene; describing surroundings, feelings and mood.) Rewrite the extract, adding as much direct speech as you can.

Other ideas for writing

  • Write Martine’s diary entry for that night.
  • Using the activity sheet below, write a postcard to a friend in England, describing impressions of Africa.
  • What can the children see, smell and hear out of their bedroom window? As homework, ask them to sketch or take a photo of their view, then use these images and memories to write detailed descriptions.

About the Author

  • Lauren St John grew up in Zimbabwe where she had a pet giraffe, numerous dogs, horses and warthogs. Find out more, and listen to another excerpt from The White Giraffe, at
  • The White Giraffe, Dolphin Song and The Last Leopard by Lauren St John are published by Orion Books, Look out for Lauren’s next book The Elephant’s Tale coming out in August 2009.
  • Animals Are NOT Rubbish – Orion Books, in association with The Born Free Foundation, is running a nationwide ‘Animals Are NOT Rubbish’ (AANR) competition for eight- to 12-year-old children, challenging them to make an endangered animal from rubbish or items for recycling. The winner will receive a selection of books worth £500 for their school, plus animal conservation goodies. The competition, which is open to individuals or class groups, has a closing date of 15 June 2009 but, to receive badges and posters, register by 11 May 2009. For more information visit


  • Share the stories about what happened before the extract. In the real story, Martine’s parents died when their house burned down. Her grandmother is her only surviving relative. How close were the children’s predictions? Does this knowledge change their reactions?
  • Share the stories about what happened next. Which ideas do they like best? Why?
  • Make a wall display of the descriptions of bedroom window views, on a window background.