Table the themes in the novel, such as 'bullying' and 'stories', and write examples of each.
Read some of Felix's dialogue and thoughts aloud. How does the author make him sound young? How does this affect the story that unfolds?
The word 'once' is often used in fairytales, especially in the phrase 'once upon a time…'. How does this book begin and end? How is it like a perverse fairytale?
Prepare and perform a radio script from when Barney starts looking after the children until they are about to board the train.
Felix refers to his favourite books and author, the William books by Richmal Crompton. Find some of these and read part or all of them. What similarities do they have with the novel Once? Research the author, Morris Gleitzman's, favourite books. What do you notice?
Why might there be a pile of books drawn on the cover?
What atmosphere do the colours on the cover create? Why do the colours on the back cover change?
Why might the font change at the beginning of each chapter for the repeated word, 'Once'?
What is a motif? A motif in Once is the 'burning of books'. Read parts of the novel that show this motif. What does this symbolise? Design your own icon or symbol of burning books.
Vote for the best motif or symbol of burning books. Then make a three-dimensional representation of this motif (without literally burning anything). Fire could be represented by a light source or coloured paper or cardboard.
The author tells this Jewish holocaust story in a reasonably positive way. After reading the novel, read the start again to see how he achieves this. After further research, retell the highlights of the story in a negative form.
Research real characters from this event in history, such as Janusz Korczak. Design a bravery award for someone you believe to be most deserving of this award. Write and deliver an acceptance speech that could accompany the presentation of this award.
'Sometimes … parents can't protect their kids even though they love them more than anything in the world. Sometimes, even when they try their very hardest, they can't save them' (p 118). Find examples from this period in history when parents couldn't protect their children. Discuss this among your own family and community members. Other works of literature could be also helpful, such as The Diary of Anne Frank.
Extension: find examples from other periods in history as well, including more recent wars and the experiences of refugees.
The author's grandfather was a Jew from Krakow in Poland. Read the Author Note at the end of the book. We learn that this story is from Morris Gleitzman's imagination but it is inspired by real events. Is Once a primary source or a secondary source? Which facts, incidents, places and characters are most historically accurate? You will need to do some research to answer this. Complete an Evidence Chart to rate your findings in terms of reliability.
Find words in the novel that refer to history, war and racism, such as 'curfew' and 'ghetto' (p 95). Make a personal dictionary of these and others from the book. Highlight those that are used today.
Compile a class dictionary, using an example from each student.
Make anti-war chants using some of these terms.
Complete this activity after 'Fiction from Fact' (see 'Research Skills').
Is the author relying on historical accuracy or emotive writing to elicit a response in the reader? Discuss this as a class, using examples of both historical and emotive writing. Use the Historical or Emotive Writing Proforma to guide and record the discussion.
After the class discussion, decide on your opinion or view. Choose whether the author's writing is most powerful because of its historical base or because of its appeal to the emotions. Write an exposition.