July 18, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Moon Landing 50: Moony goes on holiday

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. In a previous post we have collected resources for you to learn more about the Moon landing and lots of stories to inspire CLIL and cultural projects in the classroom. Today we look at Moony Goes on Holiday, a space-themed Young Reader written by Dilys Ross and illustrated by Mario Onnis about the day the man on the moon came to visit Earth.

The plot

Every day is the same in Moony’s life: he cleans his home, he waters his garden, then he goes for a walk. However, he feels bored and wants to hear noise and see people. When Alex, the astronaut arrives on the Moon, he agrees to take Moony back to the Earth with him. On Earth, Moony is initially excited about the people and the noises of the busy streets on London. But soon all the noise and confusion gets too much and he misses the peace of life on the Moon.

The themes

The story of Moony touches upon several important themes that interest young and older readers. Moony is seen as an outsider, who watches life on Earth, but knows hardly anything about it. This unknown, colourful planet makes Moony curious and adventurous. When Alex, the astronaut leaves him on the streets of London, he makes sure they meet up the next day so that Moony can decide if he wants to stay or go back home. It seems that Alex had sensed Moony’s possible reaction to life on Earth. Indeed, Moony feels lonely and realises he is happy at home. In some way, this journey made him realise what he thought he wanted was not the same as he needed.

Implicitly, the story creates a feeling of curiosity, the desire to travel, followed by the sense of alienation and realisation of the security of a home and a place where we belong. Although young readers may not be able to reflect on these abstract notions, the feelings the words and the images together create in them will be familiar and will go towards developing a greater sense of empathy and self-awareness in them.

The author, Dilys Ross on the story

“The idea of Moony came to me a few years ago, when I was writing a play to be performed at the children’s Christmas party in the office where I worked (the British Council).  We couldn’t afford an entertainer or professional storyteller and the children were getting fed up of seeing a film every year, so my colleagues and I started putting on little plays, written by me, and they were usually a success. I tried to find themes they would recognize but which weren’t just based on every-day life (family, school, etc). Pirates, cowboys and Indians, witches and fairies, and mermaids were some of the themes. I thought the children might like something about the Man in the moon, whom they would probably have heard about in stories or nursery rhymes, but they knew didn’t really exist.

I don’t know if children today can understand a person NOT wanting noise, crowds and music everywhere! I hope however that they can understand that Moony needed to see something different and to experience the wonderful life on Earth he had heard about – but really in the end everyone should be content with the life they are familiar with and the things they know and understand. Moony is happier at the end because at least he knows a little about Earth and what it is like, and can appreciate his own peaceful home and surroundings all the more. Children today might prefer a story written the other way round – about a person living in a noisy, crowded environment trying out a taste of life in a quiet, peaceful place and then preferring to return to the chaos and crowds!  However I think that they will still understand that the message is basically that home and what you really know are the things you can live with best.”

The illustrations

The illustrations by Mario Onnis create a melancholic, dream-like world for Moony. 

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The illustrator, Mario Onnis on the images

“I remember when I was studying the character I had recently arrived in a new city. I didn’t know many people, and surely this state of mind is reflected in Moony’s melancholic face. I wanted him to look a little sad, a little dazed and out of time. The first spread (ed. double-page illustration) I started was that of the house, in which he is sitting on the steps, a little bored. So I put together some things that I liked, for example Moony’s house is that of Bosch’s painting “The Wanderer” (16th century).

I really enjoyed creating his wardrobe and the things he uses in his daily life on the moon. The spaceship, his kitchen, his room. A lot of the things are related to time measurement, like the hourglass and various clocks, an astrolabe. On the wall of his room, in the scene, I put a frame with a very realistic drawing of the first man on the moon. I imagined that Moony had kept the photo as a memory of the first visit of an earthling. If you look closely, it is a portrait of Buzz Aldrin, the first man to arrive on the moon on  Apollo 11 in 1969.”

Picture of the first Moon landing in 1969 on Moony’s wall. Illustration by Mario Onnis. © Helbling Languages

The activities

The Before Reading and After Reading activities will help you develop several language areas:

  • Structures: adverbs, comparative, present simple and continuous, present simple vs. present continuous, ‘want to’
  • Vocabulary: space, town, transport and daily actions
  • Functions: describing space, comparing things, saying what you want to do, talking about how you feel

We recommend the exercises on the CD-ROM that comes with the reader: you will find a jazz chant and games to play.

Check out all the extra worksheets under Teacher’s Resources on the Helbling Young Readers website.

Play Station project

Apart from developing all these language structures and vocabulary areas, the story is a great resource to talk about Science and Geography. The Play Station project is a fun introduction to learn more about the planets, the Sun and the Moon.

Play Station Project in Moony Goes on holiday. © Helbling Languages

July 16, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Make an origami monster bookmark

Arts and crafts are a fun idea during the holidays or afternoon sessions for little and big ones alike. In each picture book in The Thinking Train series, you will find a Make and do project. In Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs, illustrated by Viola Niccolai, you make an origami monster bookmark. Follow these steps and make the bookmark yourself!

Make an origami monster bookmark

  1. Cut out a 15cm x 15cm square of coloured paper.
  2. Fold the bottom to the top along the diagonal making a triangle.
  3. Fold the left corner to the top of the triangle.
  4. Fold the right corner to the top of the triangle.
  5. Open out your triangle.
  6. Take the top piece of paper. Fold the top of the triangle to the bottom.
  7. Fold the left corner inside the ‘pocket’,
  8. Fold the right corner inside the pocket.
  9. Now decorate your monster!

If you already have a copy of the reader, then go to www.helbling.com/code and enter the 16-digit code you can find in the book. You will find a downloadable PDF of the origami bookmark, online games and the audio recording of the story.

Origami monster bookmark in Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

Origami monster bookmark in Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

Origami monster bookmark in Deborah’s dreams written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

July 11, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Moon Landing 50: “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind”

The moon has sparked our imagination since the beginning of time, inspiring poets, philosophers, scientists, explorers and engineers to meditate on and study it in detail. This month, Helbling Readers Blog goes on a trip to the Moon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing on 20th July 1969. Although the actual mission was carried out by three American astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, we often refer to the first Moon landing as an achievement for humankind. This idea is reinforced by Neil Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Armstrong and Aldrin actually walked on the moon while Michael Collins waited for them in the spacecraft orbiting the Moon.)

We believe that the Moon and this landmark anniversary can inspire adventurous lessons in the language classroom, and motivate students to carry out small research projects and start reading stories. In this first part of four blog articles, we have collected some resources, books and films to that you can use in class throughout the next year.

Illustration by Vanessa Lovegrove from Paul learns to plan, written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs for The Thinking Train series. © Helbling Languages

Basic Moon vocabulary

Let’s begin with the origin of the word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word comes from the Old English mōna, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch maan and German Mond, also to month, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin mensis and Greek mēn ‘month’, and also Latin metiri ‘to measure’ (the moon being used to measure time).

Here are some other important words and phrases related to the moon.

  • lunar
  • eclipse
  • lunar landscape
  • orbit
  • satellite / natural satellite
  • solar system
  • galaxy
  • moonwalker
  • new moon
  • full moon
  • blue moon
  • tide

For more advanced learners, you can introduce words such as:

  • celestial object
  • heavenly body
  • to wax/to wane

Interestingly the term lunatic meaning mad person, orginally meant someone who suffered from temporary insanity depending on the changes of the moon (from the Latin, luna) ,and is now used to describe someone of unsound mind. Lunatic can also be used as an adjective.

Fun phrases

Understanding the origin of the world can lead students to the understanding of phrases related to the moon, such as ‘many moons ago’ and ‘once in a blue moon’.

Other fun expressions with the ‘moon’ are ‘over the moon’ and ‘wish for the moon’.

Learning about the Moon

The Moon provides great research project materials for CLIL lessons. Students interested in Physics, Biology and Chemistry can focus on a scientific aspect, others who are interested in engineering can find information about spacecrafts. Students who are more interested in History, Art, Film, Music and Literature can focus on the historical aspects of Moon exploration and its artistic representations. It is also a good idea to discuss with students the difference between our Moon and the many other (over 190!) moons in our solar system.

Study the NASA website

Invite students to study the rich materials on the NASA Moon webpage. If you scroll down on this page, you will find a short text written in child-friendly language for young learners, which you can use for elementary level learners.

As a general introduction, ask students to study the webpage and find answers to the following questions.

  1. How big is the Moon?
  2. What is its sized compared to the Earth?
  3. How far is it from the Earth right now? Remember, it keeps changing!
  4. Why do we see only one side of the Moon?
  5. Can we breathe on the Moon?
  6. If we travel to the Moon, will we see the footprints of the moonwalkers?
  7. How many human visitors have been to the Moon?
  8. How many people have walked on the Moon?
  9. How many robots have been sent to the Moon?
  10. How was the Moon formed?
  11. How does the Moon help Earth to become more liveable?
  12. How does the Moon create a rhythm on Earth?

Then, ask the students to find more information on the webpage and present their own findings.

The Moon in literature

Three classics

The Moon is a constant source of inspiration for scientists and engineers but also for dreamers, poets, writers and explorers. One of the first stories about the Moon was written in the 2nd century by Lucian, and we can read about it also in Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem L’Orlando Furioso (1516) by Dante. Somnium, or ‘The Dream’ (1634) written by Kepler is often referred to as one of the first works of science-fiction.

Three early 20th-century classics

Turning to the 20th century, we can find many literary works which feature the Moon, for example The First Man in the Moon (1901) by H.G. Wells, Doctor Dolittle in the Moon (1928) by Hugh Lofting, and Roverandom (1925) by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Three children’s books

We have selected three children’s books which explore the Moon in some way. There are dozens of other magical stories which take us to the Moon, and we are sure that there are many others written in different languages. Goodnight Moon (1947) is a classic written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. The Moon Jumpers (1959) was written by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Finally, The Way Back Home (2008) is a charming story by author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers.

The Moon and the Moon landing in films

We also recommend some excellent films about the Moon and the Moon landing. Just to relax, or as a source for classroom activities, we recommend them for teachers and students alike.

The Moon in songs

The Moon has been the subject of and inspiration for numerous songs. Ask your students to create a Moon-themed playlist on their favourite music streaming site. You can play the songs in class or use them as background music for other tasks throughout the year

The next article in our series will tell you more about the Helbling Reader, Moony Goes on Holiday written by Dilys Ross and illustrated by Mario Onnis.

For more ideas and resources, visit one of our previous posts about the Moon exploration:

July 9, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Looking together: word and image interplay in picture books

Picture books are rich resources for language development as well as visual literacy development, regardless of the age of your students. In a previous post we discussed some of the key elements of visual storytelling. Now we turn to the written text and its relationship with the images in the books. Please note, in this post we are focussing on the written text in contrast to the running commentary, oral storytelling or labelling that can also accompany the reading of picture books.

Three layers of text

The picture books in The Thinking Train series have three layers of text. The first one is a narrative, which tells us about what is happening and creates a context for the action: ‘It’s Friday. Charlie’s in the playground with the other children’. In this double page from The bully below, the narrative layer sets the context. The narrative layer may differ in each book, sometimes telling us more about the sequence of events or the feelings of the characters.

The second layer of text is the speech bubbles, which has a communicative function and makes the text more realistic and interactive. It also serves as a model for practising speech for the readers/pupils.

The third layer is the text present in the small orange activity box. On this page below the box says ‘Speak. Are the children happy about Lisa’s party?’ which directs pupils’ attention to specific details, here making them think about the feelings which are not described in the text. The questions in these activity boxes often highlight aspects of the story which can only be understood through a detailed understanding of the images and their relation to the text. This requires slow looking and discussion in the classroom, which leads to excellent learning opportunities plus the development of higher order thinking skills. Let’s turn to two possible ways the image and these texts can interact.

Double page from the reader The bully written by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross. Illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. © Helbling Languages

Continue Reading →

July 3, 2019
by Nora Nagy

Holiday reads for teachers

Now that the summer holidays have arrived for most teachers in the northern hemisphere, we asked some of our authors and teachers to share their holiday reading plans with us. After a year full of course books, lesson plans and our students’ writing assignments and projects, it’s time to spend some time on inspirational and relaxing reading, or simply something very different from our usual academic routine.

If you have a good book you think other teachers would be interested in reading, don’t hesitate to it with us!


Janet Borsbey and Ruth Swan

Jane and Ruth adapted Rudyard Kipling’s Kim for the Helbling Reader edition.

“A brilliant read – truly inspirational and full of amazing insights.”

  • Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller

“Completely ‘unputdownable’ until you’ve got to the end and a bit of a weepy too!”

Paul Davenport

Paul is the author the Helbling Readers Princess on the Run and Stubs Grows Up

“Her writing is witty, humorous, fast-paced and realistic, a delight to read – if you don’t mind the grisly details about corpses!”

Robert Campbell

Robert is the author of three Helbling Readers: The Time Capsule, Next Door and The Green Room. He is also co-author of our brand new course book Studio.
“For a good summer read, I’d recommend Sally Rooney’s debut novel ‘Conversations with Friends’ or her most recent novel, ‘Normal People’, which won the Costa Book Award and was named Waterstone’s Book of the Year. Sally Rooney is an Irish writer and her writing is perfect for holiday reading. Also, if you haven’t already read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, do so now before the film comes out in the autumn.”

Martyn Hobbs

Martyn is the author of the Helbling Readers Graphic Stories Fiction series ‘Westbourne Kids’, which consists of eight engaging titles. He is also co-author of the courses Sure, For Real Plus and For Real with Julia Starr Keddle.

  • Orlando (1928) by Virginia Woolf
  • Twelfth Night & The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  • Anything by Iris Murdoch – for example The Good Apprentice (1985)


Cristina Toledano

Cristina is a teacher in Brazil, who organizes fascinating literature-inspired projects for her students. Read our interview with her here.

Margit Oblak

Margit is a teacher in Austria, and she organizes reading projects to inspire her students to read more. Read our interview with her about her reading events here.

  • A Million Steps (2013) by Kurt Koontz
  • Ich wollte auch mal weg ……. auf den Jakobsweg (2016) by Bruno Schneider