Big! by Tim Hopgood = a perfect storytelling start to the school year

posted in: Tim Hopgood | 3

School is back in full swing now, and I’ve returned to my storytelling sessions at J’s school on a Friday afternoon, where I get to read stories and play and craft in what is termed “Golden Time”. It’s a brilliant way to round off the week (definitely much better than the Triple Latin I once had), and it means I’m always on the lookout for picture books which not only lend themselves to creative play, but which also work exceptionally well as class read-alouds.

bigBig! by Tim Hopgood struck me as one such book the moment I first read it. And given that it is all about growing up, and thinking about being bigger, it was a natural choice for the start of the school year, where all the children have moved up a class and are enjoying being that much “bigger” than they were last year.

What does it mean to be big? And when, exactly, do you become big? Such existential questions are really quite important in young kids’ lives: When will they be big enough to play on your phone? When will they be big enough to have a new bike? When will they be big enough to stay up as late as their older brother or sister? Certainly, J – being the youngest in our home – asks these sorts of questions very often indeed, and finds it very frustrating that she is not yet as big as she would like to be.

And so it was no surprise that she lapped up Hopgood’s observant and giggle-inducing take on being big. Being big partly depends on what you compare it with. Compare yourself to a piece of popcorn and you’re massive! And compare your big sister with a bear, and even she will appear to be tiny 😀

Image: Tim Hopgood. Used with permission.
Image: Tim Hopgood. Used with permission.

Hopgood effectively cobines lots of bold blocks of solid colour (there are no white pages anywhere) with visual texture, and draws his questioning boy with such apparent simplicity that it could have been drawn by a child (think Charlie and Lola, and you’ll have the right sort of idea); all this adds further appeal for young readers and listeners. Use of a variety of font sizes lends the book to very expressive reading-aloud – great for groups, but also for young children reading this to themselves.

Full of reassurance about one of life’s BIGGEST questions, Tim Hopgood has created another hit I can warmly recommend.

To go along with reading Big! all the kids in my group at school got to make their own growth chart, using paper measuring tapes stuck onto long lengths of fax paper (used for its convenient width). We talked about tall things which we might draw onto our charts (giraffes, beanstalks, blocks of flats and so on) and then the kids had free rein to decorate their charts how they saw fit. Here are my girls creating their own charts at home:



At school there were two other activities kids could choose to take part in; building the tallest tower they could out of a variety of building blocks, and measuring each other with popcorn (mirroring a suggestion in Hopgood’s book).


I taped a large sheet on the floor of the classroom and kids worked in pairs, whilst one lay down and the other lined up popcorn to see how many pieces of popcorn high they were. This was an incredibly popular activity (especially when I lay down and the kids got to measure me), and was worth every bit of the rather large amount of mess it made!

Whilst making our growth charts at home we listened to:

  • I’m Changing by Ella Jenkins (and also the Big Bigger Biggest song on the same album).
  • What’s the Big Idea? by Scribblemonster, all about being creative.
  • It’s A Big World by Renee & Jeremy – a soothing, very lovely lullaby, and good to cool down with after headbanging along to Scribblemonster.

  • Other activities which would work well alongside reading Big! include:

  • Making telescopic toys which grow bigger and bigger! Here’s a great tutorial from Mr Printables. I considered adapting this for class use (using cardboard rolls from inside loo rolls and till receipt rolls for the paper, but the project requires some careful precision which would work fine at home, but would be a challenge in a class of 30 5 year olds I decided.)
  • Growing giant flowers and plants. At home, or in school, you could have a competition to see who can grow the biggest pumpkin / marrow / sunflower (the seeds of which are all easy for little hands to manage). Or for something which isn’t so season dependent, you could just grow beans in a cup and see which grows the tallest in a set amount of time.
  • Reading The Growing Story by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and Big by Coleen Paratore, illustrated by Clare Fennell (here’s the review of the latter which alerted me to this alternative take on what it means to be “big”). Indeed, these are the books I used in school alongside Tim Hopgood’s lovely book.

  • Do you have a favourite book about growing up?

    If you’d like to make growth charts with your class at school, I do have some spare paper tapes (150cm long, marked in both inches and cm); I’d be happy to post them to you (anywhere in the world), with the proviso that they’re for group use (I don’t want to post fewer than 20 in a go, because they are very difficult to pack!). Let me know, and the first 3 people to contact me will get the tapes!

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Big! from the author.

    3 Responses

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Zoe,

      Saw this post a bit late but still love this book!
      How many kids come to Golden Time? Sounds like a great thing to do. I bet after the week is rounded off like that you are ready for the weekend, too. Keep up the good work.
      I’ve just seen a “Fruit and Story Time” in a London primary school. Makes me feel shortchanged every time I have fruit in the office without a story …

      • Zoe

        Thanks Rebecca, about 30 kids in a group each week, and yes I’m pretty ready for the weekend to start once it’s done, but it really is the most enjoyable hour and half of me week.

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