Values: Compassion, Respect, Honesty and Sustainability.
This painted, contemporary fable is currently on The UKLA's Age 3-6 Longlist for 2021 and was also on the Kate Greenaway Longlist for 2021. It is no surprise! The way Oliver Jeffers has used traditional lithography really brings the story to life and, to me, this form of painting seems to work particularly well to depict the sea.
This is the story of Fausto.
Fausto believes he owns everything - from the flowers to the sea to the sheep. He marches around the landscape declaring that all of these forms of nature are owned by him - and when they protest, he stamps his feet and screams until he gets his way. One day, he tells the sea that he owns it. The sea, wise and all-encompassing, questions how the man can own him when he doesn't even love him. Lying, Fausto declares his love... and once again, the sea questions him. This time, he asks Fausto, "How can you love me when you do not understand me?"
Fausto becomes impatient at the sea's refusal to comply, and threatens, "Now, admit you are mine or I will show you who is boss."
In a dark ending, the sea invites Fausto to come and stamp his foot if he wishes. Fausto, with stunning naivety, steps overboard, stamps his foot... and drowns. The end of the book shows nature continuing without him because, "The fate of Fausto did not matter to them."
This book gives plenty of opportunity to discuss Values, or rather, a lack of them! The text is simple yet incredibly powerful and poignant. Some of the Values you could focus on may include compassion, respect, honesty or sustainability.
Firstly, if you wanted to focus on compassion or respect, there are plenty of times when Fausto shows a total lack of compassion and respect for the environment. He strives for ownership over the whole world - and the way Jeffers has painted him wearing a suit and tie visually shows his total lack of cohesion with the landscape. Fausto, with his sharp lines and sharper tongue, is in contrast with the soft colours and textures of nature. His lack of compassion and respect is shown through the way he stamps his feet, shouts, threatens and lies to get his way. You could discuss how the opposite of compassion could be heartlessness or indifference with older children. You could talk about people actively or passively showing a lack of compassion (or respect) and if one is worse than the other.
Another Value that you could explore is honesty. Fausto openly lies to get his way, but the sea can see straight through him. You could ask children why people lie and how this might make others view them (linking to trust). Lots of schools have chosen honesty as one of their values, and this book makes it a good starting point to discuss this value. Interestingly, it is not one that we come across in as many children's books as you may expect! This book also provides an interesting perspective on 'tricking' someone and how this is linked to, but different from, lying. In the story, the sea tricks Fausto into stepping overboard knowing that he cannot swim. He doesn't explicitly lie, but he knows that this will not end well for Fausto. I can imagine this would make an interesting circle-time discussion!
Thirdly, I would explore the Value of sustainability. Children are usually well-aware of ways they can look after the world around them and are often very invested in this. Fausto feels he is superior to nature and literally stamps all over it. It would be really interesting to ask children whether humans do this in real life and what their opinion is of how we treat the earth. Fausto ultimately meets his end because he doesn't understand the environment and live in harmony with it. What message do children think Oliver Jeffers may have been portraying through this story for us?
This is a really interesting and deep book to explore with children, and this is definitely a book that would generate critical thinking and plenty of discussion. It's stunning illustrations could inspire many art lessons and the way Jeffers depicts Fausto's body language and facial expressions conveys so much and is almost humourous. Great opportunities for inference here! A wonderful book for Year 2 or KS2 for so many reasons.
If you would like to get hold of a copy, you can get it from many independent book sellers. I really enjoyed reading this blog too, in which Jeffers explains the process of making the book - really interesting to explore with the children too.
You can find other books with similar Values by clicking on the hashtags too: