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The heroic tale of Hiltgunt and Waldere

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By Rosalind Kerven — Author

This Anglo-Saxon folk tale about two young captives, fair Hiltgunt the cunning and brave Waldere the hero, is presented as a virtual storybook, in a style reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript.

Retold for Literacy Time PLUS by the author of the Grim Gruesome: Viking Villain books, Rosalind Kerven, it tells their story as they outwit the mighty Attila of the Huns.


Before reading

  • Ask the children what they know about folk tales and traditional stories. What would they expect to be included in the story: types of character; types of setting; dilemmas, conflict and resolution?
  • Discuss how tales would have been presented in Anglo-Saxon times – not in book form but orally by storytellers. What implications would this have? They would not be static; they would change with each telling although key elements would remain the same.

Shared reading

  • Comment on the presentation of the text. There are echoes of illuminated manuscripts. Have the class seen this device used in other media (eg, cartoons, films and comic books)?
  • Scan the title screen. Predict how the rest of the text will be set out.
  • Invite individuals to read a page each and pause to discuss before ‘turning over’. Decide how each page moves the story on and what information it provides about characters, setting, passage of time, conflict and resolution.
  • Discuss how the author acts as storyteller, giving the command ‘Listen!’; creating a dialogue with the reader by addressing them as ‘Lords and Ladies’; asking direct questions and suggesting what they are thinking.
  • Highlight the use of adjectives and adverbs to describe characters, places and situations.

More from Rosalind Kerven

Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, November 2008 (Issue 62) Leaflet 1 featured an extract from Rosalind Kerven’s novel Grim Gruesome Viking Villain: The Cursed Sword (Talking Stone, 978 09537 45432).

Book 2, The Queen’s Poison, is also now available (978 09537 45449) and a third book, Troll’s Treasure, is planned for 2010. For more information visit


  • Reflect on whether the story met the criteria for a traditional tale, or reminded the reader of other similar stories.
  • Scan the text for rich vocabulary – eg, cronies, warrior – and phrasing that creates atmosphere – eg, weeping sorely, gloat over, not even death! How do these add to drama and pace?
  • Invite groups to analyse different parts, taking notes and nominating a storyteller to retell their section orally using the notes as a prompt.
  • Experiment with section and paragraph order. Could the story be retold in flashback or a different viewpoint? How would Hiltgunt’s father tell the story? How would Attila recount events?
  • Invite less able children to draw diagrams of the characters, including the sword, Mimming, using adjectives and phrases from the text to label their key features.
  • Discuss the lack of dialogue punctuation in the text. Why are there no speech marks around the direct speech? Take a section of the story and see if you can turn any of the sentences into direct speech. How should they be presented? Extend this by talking about what other conversations might have taken place, and start planning a script.

Ideas for writing

  • Rewrite the story as a script to be performed to a different class.
  • Use the activity sheet below to plot the changes in atmosphere and tension in the story or to plan, then write, a new heroic tale. Consider:

The historical period of the story.
Who the main characters are.
Consider their motives. (Greed, revenge, love?)
What the dilemma is.
What the obstacles are.
How the story will end.
Could there be a sequel? (If so, can you leave a cliffhanger?)
  • Rewrite the story from a different viewpoint or as a sequel.
  • Find other Anglo-Saxon heroic tales to read and review independently.

Literacy Framework

See the Using this issue chart here to identify the Learning Objectives covered by these activities, to track progression from Year 4 through to Year 7, and to identify links with Year 5 and 6 Planning Units.

Speaking and listening

Invite confident individuals to retell a well-known tale to the rest of the class from memory. Allow the class to comment on their performance.


  • Recap the features of traditional tales. Can the class give examples from different times/cultures?
  • Review effective storytelling techniques.