The Antlered Ship
Written by Dashka Slater and Illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan
Published in 2017 by Beach Lane Books
When a mysterious antlered ship arrives at Emerald Lagoon, a philosophical fox named Marco is suddenly filled with quixotic questions: Why do some songs make you happy and others make you sad? Why don’t trees ever talk? How deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? Hoping to find another fox that has the answers to his questions, Marco and a flock of adventurous pigeons join a trio of deer sailing the whimsical antlered ship. After a series of adventures and challenges including a storm and band of treasure-seeking pirates, the antlered ship finds its destination. Although Marco fails at finding a fox to answer his questions, he finds comfort in the responses his shipmates give to his most important question: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to? The pen-and-pencil illustrations, digitally colored, will mesmerize readers and fully complement the philosophical ponderings of Marco and his stalwart shipmates. Slater’s use of vivid language helps readers further visualize the journey and the heartfelt sincerity of this crew of unlikely friends. The endpapers invite readers to closely study the ship’s path from the Land of Foxes to Sweet Tree Island evoking a world of imaginative storytelling possibilities along the way. The Antlered Ship is a rare gem of a book sure to ignite the imaginations of young readers and storytellers.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classrooms
Close Reading: Illustrations. Each page of The Antlered Ship can be poured over to reveal more about how the characters feel and where they are across their journey. Invite your students to do a close reading of the illustrations describing what they see, what it makes them think, and what it makes them wonder. How do Eric and Terry Fan reveal the concerns of each of the characters through the illustrations? How do the illustrations help us empathize with Marco and his shipmates? What is the relationship between the words and the illustrations across the pages? Many of the illustrations are double-page spreads which invite readers to linger across a whole scene. Encourage students to incorporate double-page spreads in their own bookmaking. Go to an interview with the Fan brothers at Omnivoracious to learn more about the ways the illustrations changed over time as the brothers were working on the book.
Duet Model Reading. Pair a reading of The Antlered Ship with the The Night Gardener written and illustrated by the Fan Brothers. Compare the text and illustrations across the two books. Students may particularly notice the use of color to create a whimsical effect across both books and the ways in which the Fan Brothers use a palette reflective of nature. Gather a variety of colored pencils, graphite pencils, and pens to have students incorporate the colors of nature into their illustrations of fictional stories to create whimsical effects by blurring parts of the landscape.
Characters’ Motivations. Marco, the deer, and the pigeons are all motivated to seek adventure. Have students discuss what seems to motivate each of these characters. In what ways does Marco rise as a leader by encouraging all of the others to do their best even in the face of new obstacles? When a storm sends the animals below deck they begin to doubt their decision making. Have students share times when they were motivated to try something new but also doubted themselves. What gave them the courage to keep going? After rehearsing their ideas orally, have students write and illustrate about these life experiences.
The Ship: The Importance of Setting. While the ship is part of the setting, the imaginative use of the expansive and detailed deer antlers at the prow of the ship make the ship feel as though it’s another character. In what ways does the setting of a story sometimes take on a life of its own? Explore with students the question of whether the story has to be set there. What if the story was set on a train or in a car? How do the intricate details of the ship help us as readers wonder more about the adventures the characters are experiencing and where they are going next? Have students explore the classroom library noticing other books where the setting seems central to the characters’ experiences. Create a class anchor chart to record student observations that can serve as a resource for them as they write their own stories throughout the year.
Adventure Stories Text Set. What is different about an adventure story when compared to other types of fiction? Use shared writing to come up with a class definition using The Antlered Ship as a guide. Adventure stories are usually plot-driven tales where an event or series of events happen outside of the protagonist’s everyday life. A typical conflict in adventure stories is man against nature. Discuss with students the elements that make The Antlered Ship an adventure story. Gather other adventure-driven tales such as Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy: Journey, Quest, and Return; Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island; and more contemporary selections like Eric Hoffman’s A Dark, Dark, Cave and Cale Atkinson’s Explorers of the Wild. Have students graphically represent the key plot points across selected adventure stories. In what ways do adventure stories follow similar, predictable plot lines? What are the kinds of conflict the characters experience? What kinds of life lessons do they learn about themselves, others, and the world along the way? Consider having students work in small groups to co-write a tale with sequential episodes using the structure they’ve noticed in other adventure stories. Students can also use their favorite adventure story as a mentor text for writing their own adventure tale where the characters experience both internal and external conflict and must brave the elements along their journey.
Friendship Text Set. A fox, a trio of deer, and a flock of pigeons are rather unlikely friends. Yet, from the onset of the story the animals become steadfast friends that help each other through feelings of doubt and even feelings of failure. Gather other books that explore the nuances of friendship such as Arnold Lobel’s classic Frog and Toad stories, Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat, A Home for Bird by Philip Stead, and The Friendship by Kat Yeh. Use this text set throughout the year to discuss the ways our friendships make us strong and brave.
The Power of Asking Questions. Marco sets off on this journey in search of another fox that can answer his big questions about life. After reading aloud The Antlered Ship go back and engage in a repeated reading keeping a running list of each of Marco’s questions. Have students discuss his questions in small groups. How would they respond to Marco? Near the end, Marco tells Victor, the pigeon, and Sylvia, the deer, that he failed because he didn’t find any foxes; therefore, there was no one to answer his questions. Victor, Sylvia, and Marco consider together Marco’s last question: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to? Each of the animals has a different idea. Have students discuss whether they agree with any of the animals or whether they have their own idea about the best way to find a friend you can talk to. Marco then realizes that there are so many questions left to answer and so many more questions to ask. Use this as a springboard to launch an emphasis on the power of asking questions. Read about the power of questions in Dashka Slater’s life and in the origin of this book. Create a Wonder Wall in your classroom that serves as a year-long place for students to pose questions they are thinking about, especially those where there is no clear answer.
Maps in Children’s Literature: Gateways to Imagination. Maps at the beginning of stories help readers place the characters in imaginative worlds. Digitally project or provide copies to students of the map of the ship’s journey that can be found in the end papers of The Antlered Ship. Then gather other books that also have maps at the beginning of their books such as A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories which have maps of the fictional Hundred Acre Woods; J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings trilogy which have maps of Middle Earth; the My Father’s Dragon trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannett which has maps of Wild Island and Tangerina; and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster which has maps of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. Have students study the maps in partnerships to develop a collaborative story that takes place at select locations across the map they’ve selected. They can use the characters from the story or create their own. Students can also use mapping of their own neighborhoods as a technique for writing or telling stories from their own lives. What are places they see on their route to school? What are landmarks that are important to them in their everyday lives? What stories can they tell about these important places in their own neighborhoods?
Author Study. Gather other books by Dashka Slater such as Dangerously Ever After, Escargot, Firefighters in the Dark, and Sea Serpent and Me. Have students study her books to think about what her books have in common. Slater is known for her inventive language and vivid imagery. Have students find sentences that grab their attention as readers to discuss Slater’s use of words to paint pictures in our minds. Then, have students discuss with text evidence the ways her books celebrate friendship, courage, imagination, and childhood.
Maps in Children’s Literature
Interview with the Fan Brothers: Illustration Making
Becker, A. (2013). Journey. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Becker, A. (2014). Quest. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Becker, A. (2016). Return. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Fan, T. & E. (2016). The night gardener. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Slater, D. (2006). Firefighters in the dark. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Slater, D. (2008). The sea serpent and me. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Slater, D. (2012). Dangerously ever after. New York, NY: Dial Books.
Slater, D. (2017). Escargot. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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