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The Wind in the Willows

August 05, 2019 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

If you have read this children's classic by Kenneth Grahame, we do not need to convince you to read it with your students. If you have not yet experienced this charming story, you will only need to take a look at its characters to fall in love with them immediately. Kenneth Grahame was born on March 1st in 1859, so let's celebrate his birthday by reading this classic tale together.

Let's explore this story and take a look at its origins, characters and variety of adaptations, including Andrea Alemanno's enchanting illustrations for the Helbling Reader adaptation of the story.

We recommend this reader for elementary level students from age 10 up (or younger if their language level is high enough). The reading level of this adaptation is CEF A1 (Cambridge KET, Trinity 1-2).

The Wind in the Willows new logo

1 The origin of the story

The story goes that in the spring of 1907, Kenneth Grahame and his wife travelled to Cornwall on holiday. When they left, their son, Alastair, whose nickname was ‘Mouse’, asked his father to send bedtime stories by post to him. So Grahame sent fifteen letters to his son telling him about the adventures of Mr. Toad and his friends, Mole, Rat and Badger. These adventures are set along the River Thames and they were inspired by Grahame’s own childhood memories. These letters were collected by Alastair’s nanny, and in time Grahame’s wife convinced her husband to work on the story so that it could be published. It was finally published in 1908. You can read more about the origin of the story and also see the original letters on the website of the Bodlein Library where the original letters are kept today.

(Source: Bodlein Library)

2 The characters

Page 8 from the Helbling Reader The Wind in the Willows
Page 8 from the Helbling Reader The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by Andrea Alemanno. © Helbling Languages

What’s more engaging then tales with animals? The four friends in this children’s book have very strong human characteristics. Some critics claim that originally Grahame could and might have intended them for adult readers as they represent various aspects of the male human psyche. This undoubtedly has contributed to the story’s continued success. Truly original and successful children’s stories do not stop fascinating us after we have finished reading them. We return to them several times in our lifetime, even as adults, noticing new details about them and connecting to them in different ways.

When you read this story in class for the first time, take time to introduce the animals and talk about their characteristics.

Start by showing images of these animals and asking the students if they know or have seen these animals in real life. Ask them to describe them and them talk about their behaviour.

With younger students ask which animal they are most like and then to think of people who remind them of the characters in the story. Always ask them to give reasons for their answers. If the student's age and language level permits develop the theme by asking them to ascribe human characteristics to the animals.

3 Themes in the story


Discover the English countryside through this story. Start by showing images and a map of the Thames and describing life by the river and talk about the dangers of being alone on the river or in the wild woods.

  • What’s boating?
  • Do you like boating?
  • How can rivers be dangerous?
  • Do you like walking alone in the woods?
  • What do you have to be careful about when you go for a walk alone?


  • The story spans the four seasons. Describe the four seasons in England, and then compare them with the seasons in your own country.
  • Do you have the same weather?
  • Do you have the same natural environment?
  • What is your winter like? What is it like in the story?

City and countryside

  • Compare life in the city and the countryside.
  • Describe why it is better to live in the countryside if you are a toad!


  • These friends help each other and support each other even if they are in trouble. Who is your best friend?
  • What qualities should a good friend have?

4 Adaptations of the story

There have been so many adaptations of this story that sometimes we forget about the original story. Have you seen any of them? Here is a list of films, theatre plays and audio books you enjoy.

Remember to listen to the narrated story in the Helbling Readers edition as well.

  • Toad of Toad Hall: a play written by A. A. Milne, its first production was in 1929.
  • BBC School Radio: The Wind in the Willows retold in ten episodes.
  • The Wind in the Willows musical has been a great success. Check out this website to find out about it.

5 Extra projects and activities to do after reading

1 Role play

Select your favourite scenes and set them up with your students. Role play is an excellent way to activate your learners and they will have fun speaking practice.

Read about role plays in the classroom here:

2 Helbling e-zone activities

Visit the Helbling e-zone website for some interactive practice and games.
Here is an example of the activities you can find online.

An interactive activity on the Helbling e-zone educational platform
An interactive activity on the Helbling e-zone educational platform. © Helbling Languages


Who is your favourite character? Ask your students to draw pictures of them.

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