If you were at school or were a teacher between 1979 and 1992 you would know Grug.
This hairy, brown and yellow striped character inhabited a series of books written by Australian author, Ted Prior. (Soon to be re-published by Simon & Schuster, Australia from June, 2009).
So, why a miracle worker?
Let me tell you first about Grug. Set in the Australian bush (and city), this small fictional character was formed when the top fell off a burrawang tree (altho it’s looks more of a Native Grasstree to me). Grug is like a strange haystack with large eyes and fat legs.
Doesn’t sound like something that’d appeal to kids, does he? But, oh boy, the kids in my Family Group class of 5 to 9-year-olds at Woodridge North State School in the 1980s adored him.
Was it his funny sense of humour? Or the colourful illustrations? Or those tricky situations Grug continually got himself into? It was all of these, and more.
Some of the 25 titles included:
- Grug and the big red apple
- Grug and the green paint
- Grug learns to swim
- Grug goes to school
It’s hardly worth telling you what these stories are about – the story lines are simple. But the different expressions on Grug’s face are sublime, and the words perfectly chosen.
I bought my own Grug books to use with the kids in Family Red at Woodridge North State School because we never seemed to have enough resources. There were 4 rooms of Years 1,2,3 in the Junior School and I was a novice teacher. The books were very small so we made Big Books of our own to use with groups – oh yes, we were well and truly into the Whole Language approach to teaching reading. The kids drew and painted their own interpretations of the story and I printed the words.
Then students began to make up their own booklets with Grug as the hero. The older children in the group wrote the words for the younger ones – a true mentorship program. We explored phonics, comprehension, science, art, geography and language through the genius of Ted Prior and the magic of Grug.
Rodney was seven, under-developed, and failing to learn to read. He told me trying to read was ‘sticky, like syrup’. I knew Rodney could think well, but he was overcome with the abstract world of the alphabet. He gave up.
So, one day I made a Grug puppet out of brown wool with large, plastic eyes that wobbled. I bribed Rodney – he could look after Grug if he had a go at reading Grug’s stories. Every day, that child headed straight for the row of Grug books, and the larger Grug’s Word Book.
He drew pictures – something he was very good at – and slowly, surely, Rodney also tried to copy Ted Prior’s words and sentences. He began to read in halting sentences, becoming more fluent. He probably knew the stories off by heart, but that didn’t matter.
Within a couple of months, Rodney ‘got it’. It was like the light had switched on over those abstract letters and he knew he could read.
I put this little miracle down to this small, brown, stripey book creature, Grug.
Here’s a Youtube animation made in 2005 of the first story, Grug.