This joyous tale, written and illustrated by Quentin Blake, introduces the irrepressible Mrs Armitage and her dog Breakspear. She sets out on a bicycle ride, encountering a series of problems which she solves in increasingly inventive ways; each problem is met with her cry of “What this bike needs…” and an unexpected bike modification. The story builds until the bike, complete with mast, sail and anchor, accelerates out of control and crashes. Children will love the twist at the end.
Mrs Armitage first rolled onto the page in 1987 but this text feels timeless. Followed by Mrs Armitage and the Big Wave and Mrs Armitage: Queen of the Road, this is a great book to get children enthused by a character and wanting to read more.
There are many elements which make this a great book to share:
Mrs Armitage on Wheels is a pleasure to read aloud with a class. The prose flows smoothly off the tongue, and the refrains get children joining in. They love the onomatopoeia (crash, crunch, thud!) and the listing of bike modifications which are used with comic effect. The language, which seems simple at first, builds increasingly into adventurous words and phrases which mirror the growing complexity of Mrs Armitage’s bike: don’t be surprised if your class start to speak of ‘complete tool kits’, ‘faithful dogs’ or of things needing ‘a bit of extra oomph’ after repeat readings!
Mrs Armitage on Wheels is a particularly visual picture book, with the illustrations supporting the plot which makes it fun for all and more accessible for those who are less confident in English. The text is arranged around the bright and detailed images and each page provides stimulation and interest.
Mrs Armitage on Wheels provides a wealth of discussion and writing opportunities. Children can join in with the refrain and they can try predicting her solution to the problems she has spotted. They can retell the story, discuss the repeating patterns and draw story maps to sequence the events. They can design and label ideas for their own bike modifications (see Unit 2 for an image resource) and consider the character of Mrs Armitage and how she deals with problems. Inference can be introduced by drawing thought bubbles for Breakspear the dog with children speculating how he thinks and feels at different points. The final page provides an irresistible writing trigger as Mrs Armitage stares down at her replacement transport and says, “But what these roller-skates need…”. What will your class come up with?
For teaching plans and resources using this book, see Hamilton's Year 1 English block, ‘Repeating Patterns’. Mrs Armitage on Wheels is partnered with Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham. Children explore repeating patterns in language and plot, discuss and retell these fantastic stories and make predictions. They practise writing sentences which are punctuated with capital letters and full stops, and joining words and clauses using ‘and’. The block ends with children writing a repeating pattern story, inspired by illustrations in Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present.