My Friend Fred

Exploring the 2020 CBCA Short List: Early Childhood

Dog with undies off the clothesline on book cover

Author: Frances Watts  Illustrator: A. Yi

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Themes: Pets, animals, similarities and differences, friendship

Years: Australian Curriculum: English, Years Foundation to Year 1. NSW Early Stage 1 and Stage 1

From the publisher’s synopsis: My friend Fred eats dog food for breakfast. I think dog food is disgusting. My friend Fred howls at the moon. I don't know why. He does a lot of funny things. But even though we are different, Fred is my best friend.

Unit writer: Sophie Honeybourne  

Building field knowledge

  • Explore students' understandings of friendships. Think-Pair-Share: What does a good friend do? What qualities do you expect in a good friend? What would you expect a good friend to do if you were feeling sad, or you were hurt? After discussion, students could draw a picture and write a sentence starting with ‘A good friend ...’. ACELY1646 ENe-1A
  • Discuss whether best friends need to be the same as you. Do they need to like the same things as you do? Can you be very different people, but still best friends? Ask students to complete a Venn diagram to map what is the same and different about themselves and a friend. ACELT1575 ENe-11D
  • Young students are often passionate about whether dogs or cats make better pets, which can be used as a great starting point to introduce the concept of persuasion. Set up a simple debate where students are lined up opposite each other in two long lines. One side will be arguing that dogs make better pets, the other, cats. Moving along the line, each side takes a turn to make a statement supported by a reason (for example, ‘dogs are better than cats because they can protect you’). Record students' answers to use later in a persuasive writing activity (see ‘Creating Texts’ section below). ACELY1657 EN1-6B

Exploring the context of the text

  • There are many picture books about unlikely friendships that could be studied alongside My Friend Fred (refer to the list in additional resources). Read a selection of these to students, then use the online T Chart (.pdf 73 kB) to compare the friends in one story. ACELY1655 EN1-11D
  • The author Frances Watts has written a number of picture books with animals as the central characters. Read a selection of her stories, then identify the main characters in each (name, type of animal). Who do students think she writes these books for? Why do you think she has written lots of picture books about animals? How does writing about animals help her to connect with her audience? ACELT1575 ENe-11D
  • The behaviour of a family pet is something that many students can relate to, even if they don't have a pet of their own. Set up an inside/outside circle, then ask students to share their experiences of family pets, meeting dogs in the park or seeing pets in TV shows and movies. After a few rotations, ask students to share one story they have been told. ACELY1656 EN1-1A

Responding to the text

  • Before reading, engage in a text prediction using the front cover. Is this text fiction or non-fiction? How do we know? Who and what can students see in the picture? Where is the story is set? Who is Fred? ACELY1659 EN1-4A
  • During the first reading of the story, ask students to identify the phrase that each double page spread starts with (‘My friend Fred’). Who do they think the ‘my’ refers to? What clues did they use to come to this conclusion? ACELY1650 ENe-4A
  • Make text-to-self connections by asking students: Have you ever had a naughty or annoying pet? What did it do? Why did you love it anyway? ACELY1650 ACELT1575 ENe-4A ENe-11D
  • Introduce the concept of 'point of view' by asking students to identify who is telling the story (the cat). What does the cat think about Fred? Ask students to provide direct quotes from the text to support their opinions. Now challenge students to imagine there is another pet in the house; a dog who has a more positive opinion of Fred. Model some verbal responses to replace the cat’s opinions, for example, instead of ‘Stairs are easy for me’, replace with ‘Stairs can be really scary!’, then prompt students to do the same. ACELT1581 EN1-11D

Exploring plot character and setting

  • The dog and cat are very cleverly characterised through language. First, read all the statements about Fred and view the accompanying images. Elicit that the statements are neutral and the images are quite attractive and positive. Next, view the cat’s comments, many of which are ‘put downs’. What does this make us think about the character of the cat? ACELT1584 EN1-7B
  • The story is set in a suburban family home. Although this context may be familiar for many students, for some their 'home' would look very different! Show students the ‘Kitchens around the world’ images then the ‘Homes around the world’ images. Support students to understand that settings in texts can either be similar or different to the way the reader lives and this affects what we understand about the story. ACELY1655 EN1-11D
  • Fred is a loveable daschund who shares many similarities with Trevor in Aaron Blabey's Pig the Pug. Compare and contrast the characters of Fred and Trevor, then identify the similarities and differences in plot (both are picked on by another character in the book, but in quite different ways). ACELT1578 ENe-8B

Creating texts

  • Explain to students that they are going to collaboratively rewrite the story from Fred’s point of view. Using butcher’s paper and a marker, employ the interactive writing pedagogy to jointly construct some double pages that mimic the text’s structure of statement then comment (for example, ‘My friend Cat is afraid of water. I love baths.’). ACELY1651 ACELY1652 ENe-2A
  • Refer back to the ‘dogs versus cats’ debate activity. Model how to take one of the verbal arguments and write it up into a written persuasive argument. Use the Tell Me matrix worksheet (.pdf 75 KB) to model then jointly construct a simple persuasive paragraph (Note: the Tell Me model is a modified version of the PEEL structure used in middle and upper primary). Students may be able to jointly or independently construct their own paragraph using this scaffold. ACELY1661 EN1-2A
  • Use the Roll a story sheet (.pdf 105 kB) to provide students with the characters, setting and problem for a story about unlikely friends. Model how to complete the activity and compose a short story, then support students to complete the activity independently or in pairs. ACELT1586 EN1-10C

Examining text structure and organisation

  • The text uses the repetitive verbal structure of a ‘My Friend Fred ...’ statement, followed by a comment. Challenge students to imagine they are the author and they have to write two additional lines of text. Can they can pick up the written structure and mimic it? ACELA1448 EN1-4A
  • The visual layout of the text supports the written structure by using a double page spread with separate images on each page to support the statement/comment. Explore this structure by asking students to draw their own drawings that match the two new sentences they created in the earlier activity. ACELA1433 ENe-4A
  • Teach the difference between statements and questions (including the appropriate punctuation), by turning the comment on each second page into a question. For example, ‘Stairs are easy for me ...’ would become ‘Are stairs easy for you?’ or ‘Do you find stairs easy?’. ACELA1449 EN1-9B

Examining grammar

  • On some of the double page spreads there are examples of a noun followed by a pronoun (for example, ‘... Fred ... He’). Explain that pronouns help a text make sense only if we use the noun before we then use the pronoun. Illustrate this point by only using pronouns when reading the text, replacing all the ‘My Friend Fred’ references with ‘he’. Support students to practice the concept by jointly creating sentences about students in the class using the noun/pronoun structure, for example, David likes to play soccer. He is a very good player. ACELA1452 EN1-9B
  • The short simple sentences in the text are a great opportunity for learning about basic sentence structure. Using example sentences, first identify who is involved (noun- subject), what is happening (verb) and who or what it is happening to (noun - object). Practice by creating simple sentences. ACELA1467 EN1-9B
  • Explain that nouns can be people, places or things. Identify the nouns that are 'things' in the story by using both the words and the images (for example, basket, food, balls, trees). Create a noun word wall to accompany the story. ACELA1452 EN1-9B

Examining visual and multimodal features

  • The illustrator has provided a clue on every page that the narrator of the story is the cat. Find the hidden references to the cat on each page and discuss why this might make the book more engaging for younger children. ACELA1786 ENe-8B
  • Introduce the concept of fonts by asking students to point out each time the writing looks like it is written by a different person. Draw their attention to the different colours the illustrator has used for the word ‘Fred’ (which is also in a different font to the main body of the text) and the words that Fred says, for example, ‘Woof’, ‘Awooo ...’. Explore the concept further using a word processing program to copy sentences from the text and apply a different font to each sentence. ACELY1664 EN1-3A
  • Ask students to identify when we are looking straight at Fred or looking down on him. Can they see a pattern? Each time we view the second page in the double page spread, we look down on Fred. Introduce the idea of power in visual literacy by asking pairs of students to take turns to stand over one another whilst the other is on the floor. Explain that illustrators use this angle to make the image we are looking at seem smaller, powerless or less important. ACELA1453 EN1-7B

Additional and related resources and links to other texts:  The King Cat by Marta Alte, Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Molly and Mae by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood.


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