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The Snow Goose: Theme book for Clanwilliam and Red Hill

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This book was an unusual choice for workshops in Africa, but it is a book that is so much loved - even by people who criticise its sentimentality, that we decided to try it. The children in both groups liked it very much and were able to identify with the story and the characters. The original novella, by Paul Gallico, is rather difficult reading for our target age group, so we adapted the text (which is out of copyright now) for younger readers. We wanted to show them how their imaginations could fly, with books, to other countries, climates ... ideas. For those who would like to use it, here are the five parts of the story that we used in workshops. The full text can be downloaded (free) from the Internet.

The Snow Goose: Part One

This is a story about love and war … and a beautiful bird that came from a cold country. It was written over seventy years ago by Paul Gallico and has touched the hearts of many children – and adults – ever since.

Philip Rhayader lived in a wild and lonely part of England. The place where he lived was empty of people and he liked it that way. He had the wild birds for company and the sound of the sea and the wind.

He lived in an old lighthouse and there he painted the birds that he loved. He had a boat and he went out to sea sometimes, to watch and sketch the seabirds and take photographs of them for his paintings.

But he had little to do with people. They hurt him, sometimes, so he stayed away. Philip was different. His back was hunched and his hand was twisted. People were afraid of him and he hated that – so he stayed away.

Twice a month, he went to the village to buy things that he needed. People would look away from him. They thought he was ugly. They did not understand what a kind heart he had. He could see that in their eyes.

So he stayed away from other people and made his own life, with his birds.

The Snow Goose: Part Two

Snow geese live in Canada, in the north where winters are freezing and full of snow. When the very cold weather comes, they fly south to warmer places.

But they always go back to the place they know as home. Their instinct drives them back, flying thousands and thousands of kilometres until they are home where they were born – in a land of snow and ice and polar bears.

In the story a snow goose is blown off her way by a huge storm. For many, many hours, she flies under the storm travelling away from the place where she wants to be. She is brave and strong and powerful, but the storm is terrible and she is very tired.

At last she sees land below her and the winds drop so that she can come down to land.

Just as she is landing, some hunters spot her and shoot at her. She comes falling, falling down to earth and there is blood on her wing and on her leg.

She lies on the cold, wet earth. Maybe she is dead?

The Snow Goose: Part Three

Frith is a young girl who sees the snow goose fall to the earth and runs to help. She has never seen a bird like this before. Other geese come to the marshes where she lives – but never one as beautiful as this one.

The snow goose is so big that Frith can hardly carry her, but she manages to pick the bird up and hold her.

Frith is afraid of the man called Philip – the man with the hump on his back and the twisted hand. But people say that he is kind to animals – and especially to birds. She cannot see the bird die. She takes the snow goose to Philip Rhayader.

Around his house are tame geese, safe from the hunters. They are Philip’s friends. Some have their wings clipped so that they will not fly away, a sign to other birds that they will be safe if they land here

When Philip opened his door, Frith was afraid. But he speaks to her kindly

The girl placed the bird in his arms. ‘I found it, sir. It is hurt. Is it still alive?’

Rhayader took the bird inside and put it on his table. When he looked at it, he saw that it was shot in its wing and leg.

‘Child, where did you find it?’
‘In the marsh, sir.' What – what is it, sir?’

The Snow Goose: Part Four

Philip tells Frith that she has found a snow goose. While he helps the bird, he tells her the story of the storm that must have blown the snow goose out of her way.

‘She has been shot, poor thing. Her leg is broken, and the wing tip! But not badly. In the spring her feathers will grow and she will be able to fly again.’

Philip bandages the hurt bird. ‘A bitter reception for a visiting princess,’ he says. ‘We will call her The Lost Princess.’

Suddenly Frith remembers that she is afraid of Philip. She turns to go.

‘Wait, wait,’ cried Philip. What is your name?’
‘Frith.’
‘Will you come back tomorrow, or the next day, to see how the princess is getting on?’

Frith is not sure. She does not answer at first, then she starts to run away. ‘Yes!’ she calls back.

The snow goose soon got better and limped about with the other, smaller geese. Frith came often to see The Princess.

She was there one day when a crowd of pink-foot geese flew away, back to their home after the winter. The Lost Princes saw them go. She rose into the sky with them and left.

‘Look, look! The princess! Is she going away?’

The Snow Goose: Part Five

The Lost Princess came back. Every winter she flew home to Philip and Frith. Every winter they waited to see her and their hearts were glad.

War came to the world. Everywhere there were guns and battles, pain and death. There came a day when the call went out for any one with a boat to cross the sea to France to rescue England’s soldiers. Philip makes ready his boat and sails for France.

Frith waits for him, but he does not return. He saves many hundreds of lives, sailing close to the shore and taking the soldiers to the big ships waiting in deeper water. The great white snow goose flies with him.

They became a legend that was spoken of long after the war was over – the man with the humped back and the twisted hand – and the great white snow goose that flew with him.

In his last trip across the sea, Philip was killed by a machine gunner in a plane. His boat drifted, then sank. Some men on another boat saw it happen

Only the snow goose is left to fly back to Frith. She comes home to the place where she was safe and flies in a deep circle around Frith. Then she flies back to the place she calls home.

Frith knows that Philip has gone. He will not be coming back.

The Snow Goose was published by Alfred A Knopf in America in 1941 and is now out of copyright.