About the author
Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a screenwriter and children’s author from Liverpool. He has won the Carnegie Award (for his debut children’s book, Millions) and several of his other books have been shortlisted on both the Carnegie and Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Frank wrote the narrative for the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games. He likes to base his stories on “the little gaps in history and reality”. He is passionate about Reading Aloud. You can listen to Nikki Gamble’s interview with Frank at ‘In the Reading Corner’. This is useful background information for teachers but it also includes an except of Frank reading from the book which you might want to play to the group.
About the illustrator
Steve Lenton is an author/illustrator and animation director. He has illustrated stories for many writers including Tracey Corderoy, Dodie Smith, Eli Woolard and David Baddiel. He has a YouTube channel: Draw-Along-A-Lenton, where he demonstrates and teaches his artistic skills.
About the book
When Alfie goes to Airport Lost Property, he finds a 100 year old robot called Eric. Eric has lost his leg and Alfie has lost his artificial hand. They form a strong friendship and help put each other back together. Along the way we meet lots of robots and other children trying to adapt to losing a limb. The story is full of both heart and humour. Nominated for the 2020 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Award this book is about friendship, acceptance, difference and bravery.
Week 1: Prologue
Week 2: pre read to end of Step 8
Week 3: pre read to end Step 15
Week 4: pre read to end Step 25
Week 5: pre read to end of Arrivals
Week 6: pre read Author’s note. Challenge children to find another robot story and introduce it to the group (online resource).
A Look at the subject: Robots
- What is a robot?
It would be useful to define the difference between a machine, a robot, a cyborg and a humanoid. Share the definitions (online resource) looking at the etymology and subtle differences between the words.
Now think of some examples to reinforce understanding.
- Which robots are your group currently aware of?
Some suggestions: Mars Curiosity Rover, Alexa, Siri, Roomba (vacuum cleaner)
Which fictional humanoid ‘robots’ can you identify as a group? R2–D2, BB8, C-3PO, WALL-E, Transformers (Optimus Prime etc..) etc.., Buzz Lightyear, The Iron Giant, E from the House of Robots series, Boot.
- What kind of activities do these robots do? Store information, help humans, eat metal! translate languages, deliver messages, use their strength for physical tasks.
- Can you think of any potential problems with humanoid robots?
- Why do you think they might be banned?
- What can we infer from the title of this story?
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes was changed to The Iron Giant in American versions so as not to be confused with the Marvel character Iron Man. That one word changes the meaning from ‘man’ to ‘giant’.
The Runaway Robot
- What does the title say about the robot in this story?
- Do you think it might be vulnerable?
- Is it out of control (like a runaway train)?
- What is it running away from?
- What is its motivation for running away?
- Is it afraid of something or guilty of something?
- Running away is a human response, isn’t it?
Read the Prologue with your Gladiators. Use this opportunity to bond as a group. When you get to the list of Eric’s attributes, take it in turns to read them, so everyone contributes.
Discuss your first impressions. Ensure references such as Wolverine and vocabulary such as ‘limb’, ‘controversial’ and ‘literal’ are understood. You could record definitions in a reading journal with an example from the text. We will return to some of these words later.
Role on the Wall
On a large sheet of paper draw around one of the children in your group to represent Alfie. Using the instructions in the resources section (online resource) begin annotating your outline including words inside the body to represent his feelings, e.g. worried, words inside the head to represent what they are thinking, e.g. I can’t do this and words near to their hands and feet to represent actions e.g.taking off his hand to run away. You can add to the diagram as you progress through the story.
Start this week’s session by listening to Frank Cottrell-Boyce read an extract from Step 3 ‘There was a hand on the shelf…’https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnd889-dJDo
TEACHERS NOTE: Ensure you have YouTube in ‘restricted mode’ before sharing clips with your children.
Eric sings “God save our gracious king.”
- What does this tell us about the historical time the robot is from? (1920s – Eric)
- Can you find out what a ‘valve’ is?
- Can you be rude to a chunk of metal (a robot)? Consider feelings.
- What is Alfie’s first impression of Eric?
Listening to a book read aloud helps bring the story and characters to life.
- Did you find Frank’s reading funny?
Now that you have had a discussion. Reread the section as a group (ask for volunteers).
Alfie and Eric have both lost a part of themselves.
Alfie asks Eric ‘Are you in Lost Property because you’ve lost something? Or are you in Lost Property because you’re lost?
Using the Word Study graphic (see resources) explore the word ‘Lost’. What words do you associate with ‘lost’? You may need to prompt to widen the net of association – consider being lost, getting lost, losing something, losing someone, feeling lost.
Ask the children to share their existing knowledge of robots, including anything from the story so far. You can use the KWL grid (online resource) to plot What I Think I Already Know, What I Want To Know. You can return to this in the final session to complete the section: What I Have Learnt.
Building knowledge: Share the History of Robots slides (see resources).
Sum up the session by recapping what you have found out so far.
TEACHERS NOTE: If you have Frank’s The Unforgotten Coat in school you may wish to use the Mongolia reference in this chapter as a stepping stone to that title (a previous Reading Gladiators book).
Explore the relationship between Alfie and Eric.
Start this session by asking children to recall what they know about Alfie and Eric.
Introduce the Readers Theatre extract from Step 9 using the script and guidance supplied (see resources).
Can you identify the range of feelings experienced by Alfie and Eric in the extract?
Find quotations to demonstrate the following feelings:
fear, anger, frustration, sadness, relaxation, satisfaction, happiness. Can you find any more?
Add to your Role on the Wall of Alfie. Are there any new words or phrases that tell us something about Alfie’s character?
Step 21 to Step 25 robots v humans
Look back at the definitions from week 1 and see how many of the machines and robots in the story can be identified: e.g. Bus, dust urchin, delivery drone, Pizza bot.
Rene Descartes said that ‘people are nothing like machines’ and most famously stated:
‘I think therefore I am’.
Eric introduced himself to audiences in the 1920s as “Eric the robot, the man without a soul”.
Use the statement cards to prompt debate about the ‘controversy’ around robots and the differences between humans and robots.
Remember the robots from films. What makes us connect to them and care about what happens to them in their stories? Can you think of any other non-human characters that are portrayed in an anthropomorphous or humanlike way? Animals are often anthropomorphised.
Revisit your word study of the word ‘lost’. Can you add another thread? (Arty is ‘lost’ inside himself).
Drama with a Difference
Step 19 Everyone has a different walk p.199 If you have space take turns to walk from one side of the room to another. It would be preferable to ask for volunteers as not everyone in the group may feel comfortable. What do you notice about the different ways people walk? Are you light or heavy-footed, do you walk quickly or slowly, do you turn your feet out or walk on tiptoe? It is important to stress that observers are just noticing and not making judgements. The purpose of the exercise is to introduce a discussion about difference. What else do we do differently? The way we talk, exercise, eat, approach a problem, learn, sleep.
Step 25 Instructions
On the title page, you will find a statement: ‘when they asked him to make friends they didn’t mean from scratch…’
Reread the instructions in Step 8 on how to make a welsh rarebit – these are literal instructions. Is English your first language? Consider the ambiguities of figurative phrases such as “retracing your steps”, “that was a great shot”. Can the children think of any more?
Watch the film clip of Eric following simple instructions.
Think about how the man was speaking? Is this a natural way to talk?
Now play the adapted version of Simon says (see resources) to demonstrate literal as opposed to metaphorical or figurative meaning.
Discuss the use of idioms in conversation and how they can be useful in writing to enhance meaning.
Illustrations can be powerful in influencing a reader’s interpretation of a story. Spend time looking at the illustrations and seeing how they affect your view of the characters. add prompt questions here
Look at the illustration of Eric and the Iron Man (see resources slide 1).
- What words describe these portrayals of a robot?
Read the descriptions of Eric and the Iron Man (see resources). Note any words that you feel describe these characters. Do they reflect the words you have used to describe the robots from the illustration?
Now, look at further illustrations of Eric and Alfie (use the book or slides).
- What does each picture tell us about their relationship?
Review and reflect
Read the Author’s note to the group. Share your thoughts.
Revisit at your Role on the Wall activity
At the end of step 2, Alfie tells us he is no stranger to fear. How is he feeling at the end of the story?
Using the Making Connections (see resources), discuss connections you can identify.
Text to text Magic Codfish fable, The Iron Man, Wolverine (Marvel comic character from X-Men titles), The Sword in the Stone. There is a reading list of other robot stories, some of which you should have in school.
Text to World: Rene Descartes, Leonardo da Vinci p.88/246, Robots and warfare (mines)
Text to self: do you ever feel like running away, do you ever feel lost? Do you have free will, how do you treat those who are different from you in some way? How do you feel about them: confused, frightening, intrigued?
Did you notice that instead of chapters the section was written in steps? Think about the author’s reason for doing this.
Can you think of different uses of the word ‘step’ (instructions/steps taken – on a journey)
Do you think Eric represents something more than a robot?
Share the mini-challenge task.
Create a Robot themed display including illustrations of robots from your work in week 5 and other Robot titles such as The Iron Man. If you have any of the titles on the Robot Reading list resource or any other robot stories in school add them to your display area. Be sure to feature illustrators names as well as authors if you are making headings and give each title a Gladiator rating – either a score out of 10 if a member of the group has read it or a ‘how much do you want to read it’ rating. Submit a photograph of your display and a description of how you went about creating it.
If you liked this book, you might enjoy…
The Astounding Broccoli Boy
The Wild Robot
The Iron Man
Reading Gladiators at home
Download or print the Runaway Robot home learning guide.