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The Explorer



The Explorer
Katherine Rundell, Hannah Horn (illus.)
Age 8-11

Fred, Con, Lila and Max find themselves alone in the rainforest after their plane crashes. Facing incredible danger they gradually learn to trust each other and find ways to survive including eating grubs and even tarantulas. After finding a map they set off for the city of Manaus on a homemade raft and find a mysterious man living in a hidden city. Is this one of the lost explorers Fred is fascinated with? Will he help them find their way back to civilisation? In time the children discover a little about this enigmatic man, his sad past and the reason he wants to keep the hidden city secret.

The Explorer is an exciting and beautifully written adventure story which describes the wonder, beauty and danger of the rainforest. This is a story about being brave despite your fears, paying attention to the world just as explorers do and why it might sometimes be ok to keep a secret.

The book itself is really beautiful with many wonderful pen and ink line drawings of the setting and wild life framing the text.


Share the story

Talk about the story

  • Which character do children find most interesting and why?

  • Did the children do the right thing in keeping the explorer’s secret? Is it sometimes ok to keep secrets?

  • Which is your favourite scene in the story?

  • Could you survive in the rainforest – what would be the hardest part?

Sharing books with older children, reading them aloud or discussing what children are reading really helps them become thoughtful and enthusiastic readers. Frances told us about the experience of sharing books with her ten year old daughter Zoe, including our book of the month, The Explorer.

 My mum has always shared her favourite books with me and similarly Zoe and I enjoy sharing books; this now includes discussing books we’ve both read rather than me reading whole books aloud to her. Sometimes the sharing is as simple as me ‘clocking’ where she’s got to in the book and making some sort of evaluative or predictive comment about that part; at other times she asks me to read the first few chapters of a book aloud which seems to help her become quickly immersed in it. At other times she’ll share puzzles with me:- in The Explorer she asked why Con lived with her aunt which led us to look back through the book together because it was clear that she missed the part where Con confided to the other children that she was an orphan. Because we’ve built up quite a ‘bank’ of shared reads over the years, Zoe will also volunteer connections between books or characters. For example, she drew parallels between ‘The Explorer’ and ‘The Wolf -Wilder’ (by the same author) because in both books children had to set out on expeditions without adults.
I tend to let her lead book discussions because I want her to view them as enjoyable and interesting rather than ‘chore-like’. Generally she initiates conversations about why characters are behaving in particular ways and makes connections to our own life experiences.
Zoe’s favourite part of The Explorer was where ‘the children made their own food out of natural sources’ because she loves cooking and liked imagining how to cook in the jungle. She made her own version of the ‘chocolate pancakes’. She also said that the loved the part about the children swimming with dolphins because, like the children, she had a  pleasant surprise to discover the dolphins were not sharks after all.
Lila is her favourite character because she likes animals and is funny. Zoe said she dislikes Con but then immediately corrected herself by saying that she’d liked all the characters but hadn’t liked Con when she was grumpy or Max when he was annoying. She reflected that Con became nicer over the course of the book; she’d made friends with the other children and Max sometimes wanted Con to look after him. It did seem that talking about the book encouraged a more nuanced response.’

Things to make and do

  • Make a setting from the story in a shoe box opened down two sides using paint, collage twigs and foliage to decorate it.

  • Make a zig zag book about the characters in the story with drawings and labels

  • Write a letter Fred, Con, Lila or Max would have liked to write to the Explorer after returning home

  • Using a scrap book make an information book about the Amazon. Research information using library books or the links below on the Amazon River, the rainforest, its wildlife, stories of lost cities or explorers who have disappeared.

    See our print-off activity book with some of these ideas and other activities

Find out more

Read more books by Katherine Rundell. Titles include Rooftoppers and The Wolf Wilder

Find out more about the inspiration for The Explorer here

And here

For another adventure story set in the Amazon see The Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.

Find out more about the rainforest

For information on surviving in the rainforest see here

Find out more about Percy Fawcett and other explorers who disappeared in the Amazonian rainforest.


Buy here