Teacher’s notes for Leaving no Footprints

Here is the transcript of an interview that Elaine Forrestal did on radio in the week that Leaving no Footprints was first released.

Question: What is this book about? 

Essentially it’s an adventure story for upper primary/lower secondary age kids, involving modern-day smugglers and a storm at sea. For a lot of young readers it will be an exciting and entertaining read. But, like all my books, it is multi-layered. For readers who are ready for something a bit more challenging, there are several other stories to be explored.

One of those is a sort of role-reversal story in which a boy from a dysfunctional family takes responsibility for the welfare and long term survival of his drug-addicted mother.

Question: That sounds a bit bleak. 

It could have been, except that I deliberately focused on the very warm, affectionate and supportive relationship between the boy and his mother. There seemed to me to be a closeness there that is often missing in more conventional families with children of that age.

Question: And the other stories you mentioned. Can you tell us about those? 

Yes. One tells how an unlikely friendship develops between two kids. One is from a traditional, two parent family and the other lives in circumstances that are almost unimaginable to his friend. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the dog, they would probably never have spoken to each other.

Then there is the story of concealment. Most people actually strive, at some point during their lifetime, to make their mark on the world. In a different sort of role-reversal, the boy in this story tries to live his life and achieve goals of his own, without drawing attention to himself in any way. He tries to move through the world leaving no footprints – leaving nothing to show that he was ever there.

Question: What prompted you to write this story? 

Before I became a full-time writer, I was a teacher for many years. And in my work I encountered children whose lives were affected by the drug addiction of one or other (and occasionally both) parents. What fascinated me about one case in particular was the extremely close bond that had developed, not only between the children involved, but between the children and the parent. Their obvious affection and total support of one another was something that often seemed to be lacking in other, more traditional, families. This story is not about drug addiction as such. It is about caring for each other and accepting each other’s differences.

I created the adventure in order to explore these ideas. I find that my stories often come about in this way. They begin with an incident, a character, an emotion that I want to explore. I find I can best do this by inventing situations and placing my characters in them. Then I watch (with my mind’s eye) to see how they behave, what problems they encounter and how they go about solving them.

Read the book and write your own answers to the first three questions. 

If you were interviewing Elaine Forrestal ; 

  • What other questions would you ask?
  • Which of the characters in the book would you like to interview?  
  • Prepare three or four questions to ask a classmate who is pretending to be that character. 
  1. Originally the words of this song were to be used as an epigraph in the front of the book:
Nature Boy by E. Abbez

There was a boy  
A very strange, enchanted boy  
They say he wandered very far, very far, over land and sea.  
A little shy, and sad of eye  
But very wise was he.

And then one day  
One magic day he came my way  
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, this he said to me:  
‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn  
Is just to love and be loved in return.
  • Do you think these words would have made any difference to the way you read the book?
  • Do they make any difference to your understanding of the story now?
  1. On page 12 the type font suddenly changes.  
  • Why do you think the publisher has asked the printer to do this?  
  • Are there any other pages on which this happens?  
  • Don’t forget to look at the pages that contain information that is not part of the actual story. 
  1. In this book there are several unexplained mysteries:  
  • What happened to Kip’s and Stranger’s footprints?  
  • Who sent the message in the bottle?  
  • How do the two men eventually get off the island?  
  • Write your own story to solve one of these mysteries. 


Choose three things that you read about in Leaving no Footprints that you would like to know more about.

Make invisible ink using lemon juice. Heat the paper to read the message.

Use the diagram below to build a model surf-cat. Try out your model in different sailing conditions.