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The Skull


Jon Klassen
Walker Books

Age 7+

This story opens with a young girl called Otilla running away, we are not told who from or why. She spends a scary night alone in the forest until she finds a big old house. In the house she meets a surprisingly friendly skull who gives her a tour of the house and invites her to stay. The skull warns her a headless skeleton may visit during the night; it has been trying to catch him. Otilla bravely protects her new friend from the threat and the skull invites her to move in with him.

This is an unusual and mysterious story inspired by a traditional Tyrolean folk tale. There are lots of ‘gaps’ in the story, for example the reason Otilla has run away in the first place is not explained; these gaps mean there is plenty for you and your child to speculate about and imagine.

The Skull is a strikingly designed and illustrated short novel in four parts with a clear and accessible font which is supportive for young readers developing the confidence to read longer texts independently.

Watch an introduction to the book


Share the story

Read the story aloud
Read the story aloud to your child, the illustrations tell the story as well as the text so allow time to look closely at talk about what is happening.

Re read the story
After you have read the story read aloud your child may like to re-read it themselves independently, or look back at a section which particularly interested them.

Talk about the book
Speculate together about
◼︎Why Otilla has run away.
◼︎What the skull’s back story might be
◼︎Why the skeleton and the skull are separated.
◼︎Why the skull keeps trying to eat or drink
◼︎What other puzzles do you have after reading this story

Things to make and do

Make skull masks
Draw a skull shape on a piece of white card and cut it out. Try it on your child’s face. Make a mark to position the eye sockets and then cut those out too.

The mask could be tied onto your child’s face with cord or stuck onto a stick to be held like a Greek mask. You could make a second mask, perhaps like one of those on the wall in the skull’s house and then you could both wear a mask and have an imaginary conversation.

Tell the story
Take turns in telling the story. As you each relate what happens add extra details to make it your own version. If you take the lead with this your child is more likely to have a go themselves. You could tell the story from Otilla’s point of view or the skull’s point of view, perhaps wearing the skull mask if you have made one.

Write a prequel to this story
Talk with your child about what might have happened to make Otilla decide to run away from home and encourage your child to write their own prequel to the story. Your child might like to have a mini folded book to write their story in. They could illustrate their story too, using Jon Klassen’s illustrations as inspiration.

Find out more

Find out more about the background to the book:

Read the author’s note at the back of the book then listen to an interview with its creator, Jon Klassen

Read more books by Jon Klassen
Titles include:
I want my Hat Back
This is not my Hat
The Rock from the Sky

Books Jon Klassen has illustrated (written by Mac Barnett) include :
Sam and Dave dig a Hole
The Wolf the Duck and the Mouse

Read a version of the Tyrolean tale on which this story is based.

Find out about the human skeleton here