Tag Archives: Fiction

Talking about death…

6 Nov

I love the novel A Monster Calls.  It is amazing!

This year I taught it in an abridged unit, using the text as stimulus for engagement with and production of a diverse range of text types.

Next year I want to teach it again, but differently.  In particular, I want to link it to a range of other stimulus material as a means of getting students to think critically at the issues and experiences flagged in the text.

I recently read ‘Five Sketches of a Story About Death‘ by Leesa Cross-Smith, and I think it would make a good addition to my new and improved A Monster Calls unit.  In this text, Cross-Smith canvasses various responses to and experiences related to death.  These vary in intensity and connection and could be used as part of a discussion about important issues in A Monster Calls, perhaps signalling to students that diverse responses are expected and accepted.

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Subverting Fairy Tales

28 Oct

I have recently read Kissing the Witch (Emma Donoghue), a collection of interlinked short stories which subvert well known fairy tales.

I wish I had read this a little earlier as one of these stories would have been a good addition to a recent lesson sequence about subverting fairy tales.  Inspired by the three tales told by the monster in The Monster Calls, I decided to examine texts that incorporate some fairy tale elements but subvert or challenge others.

To illustrate the point, we engaged with a picture book retelling of The Three Little Pigs and a FANTASTIC short story entitled ‘There Was Once’ by Margaret Atwood.  After this discussing these and making connections to A Monster Calls, I asked students to select a fairy tale and subvert it.

Together we brainstormed some amazing ideas, framing our potential points of challenge or subversion as a series of interlinked questions.

  • What if the bears trespassed in the home owned by Goldilocks?  What if she was home?  What if she had a gun?  New bear skin rug?
  • What if Belle has taken the Beast from the wild?  What if the animal rights advocates found out?
  • What if Pinocchio was a real boy?  And a minority?  And he lied to the police?
  • What if Snow White’s experience of a poisoned apple prompted her to pursue an organic farming venture?
  • What if the witch in Hansel and Gretel was involved in human trafficking?
  • What if Cinderella was told from the perspective of one of the stepsisters?
  • What if Aladdin needed a visa to travel to a whole new world?
  • What if the Emperor was arrested after engaging in public nudity?
  • What if the Princess in The Princess and the Pea did not discover a pea beneath her many mattresses?  What if she discovered a handgun, or drugs?  What if she was undercover detective?

Monsters

21 Sep

I have recently re-read A Monster Calls and, as a result, I can’t get thoughts of monsters out my head!  In particular, I cannot stop thinking about a unit about personal, social and political monsters in which A Monster Calls keeps company with FrankensteinThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and maybe even ‘Monsters‘ by Poetri.

As suggested by the unit title, the unit would examine monsters in various manifestations, viewing them as vehicles for personal, social and political commentary.

Reading to Write

4 Sep

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the new stage 6 English syllabus.  In particular, I have found myself unable to stop thinking about the new Year 11 unit ‘Reading to Write’.   In this unit students are offered opportunities to “undertake the intensive and close reading of quality texts,” using these to “develop the skills and knowledge necessary to appreciate, understand, analyse and evaluate how and why texts convey complex ideas, relationships, endeavours and scenarios” (Stage-6 Advanced English syllabus document).

Below are a selection of texts which I think could offer some interesting opportunities for engagement.  I will add to the list as I come up with more ideas.

‘New Boy’

2 Sep

I have just finished reading Tracy Chevalier’s novel New Boy, it is an appropriation of Othello and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that also includes Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.

Like OthelloNew Boy explores jealousy, manipulation and choices that cannot be unmade.  Interestingly, New Boy sets the action in a school playground, perhaps alluding to the notion that the manipulation engineered by Ian (the Iago character) is just another childish game.  This setting also allows the easy manipulation of Oesi (the Othello character) to seem more plausible; it makes more sense to me that a child, rather than an adult soldier, may not have the resilience or savvy to withstand the tactics of a manipulator.

Another interesting choice made by the author is the title.  Unlike Shakespeare who named his text directly after his protagonist, Chevalier has chosen to title hers New Boy,  I think this raises some interesting questions:  Does using the protagonist’s name honour  the protagonist or publicly call out his conduct? Is referencing a status rather than a name a statement of universal applicability or does it buy in to the very prejudice that is described in the text?  Do these choices honour victims or name perpetrators?  Why does the manipulator not have his name or his title plastered across the front of the cover?

I think New Boy could be a really interesting text to teach alongside Othello in Year 11 Advanced, perhaps functioning as a precursor to an HSC study of The Tempest and Hag-Seed.

 

‘Becoming Kirrali Lewis’

7 Aug

I have also recently read Becoming Kirrali Lewis.  I read this text, hoping to discover a great Australian text that I could use in Year 9 instead of Deadly, Unna? which is not universally adored by students.

The text explores the experiences of Kirrali Lewis, an Aboriginal girl adopted into a white family, and her experiences during her first year of law school in the city.  The raised a number of important issues about identity, conflict and relationships which I think would interest some students.  However, the scope of experiences and short length of the book meant that these issues were, at times, left unexplored or not fully developed.

While I’m not sure my current Year 9 class would love this book, it is nonetheless something I would be interested in teaching.  With this in mind, I think it would be well placed as part of a textual pairing, perhaps with Taika Waititi’s film Boy.  Both texts explore the complexities of family relationships and the impact absent and found parents have on identity.

No Safe Place

5 Aug

As part of a mission to revitalise the English Department’s Book Room I have been reading a lot of teen fiction, hoping to be able to make recommendations as to which texts we should purchase.  As part of this process, I recently read No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis.

I think this novel would be a fantastic choice for a Year 7 or 8 class, potentially as part of units engaging with identity, refugees, migrations, survival, relationships or choice.  It follows the experiences of a group of young people fleeing danger, war and abuse, and seeking safety in England.  The text weaves between past and present, allowing for a nuanced understanding of characters and their situations.

‘Refugee Boy’

12 Mar

I have just finished reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy.

Despite some initial concerns that Refugee Boy would be simply another variation on Boy Overboard or Girl Underground, I found myself hooked from the outset.  I think my interest was stimulated by the text’s opening – a short outline of a mixed-race family’s experiences in Ethiopia, followed by an almost identical incident, this time in Eritrea.  I found this to be a very effective way of illustrating the complexities of that family’s situation and in illustrating the challenges faced during times of war.

I think this would be an interesting text to study in Years 7 or 8 in a unit with a focus on identity.  Indeed, the text deals with the tensions between self-characterisation and social identification.

It would also be worthy of inclusion in a ‘Coming of Age’ unit as it charts both the protagonist’s growing awareness of his social surrounds as well as his community’s growing awareness of the political and social landscapes in which they exist.

It would also be interesting to study this text in a unit about migration or refugee experiences, perhaps in combination with Boy OverboardGirl UndergroundThe Arrival and/or some newspaper clippings.

Pairs of text everywhere!

5 Mar

Recent updates mean that my list of paired texts now has over 100 options!

New additions include:

  • After the Storm (film)
  • A Monster Calls (novel)
  • A United Kingdom (film)
  • Boy (film)
  • Face (novel)
  • Lion (film)
  • Queen of Katwe (film)
  • Tanna (film)
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (film)
  • The Intouchables (film).

‘Boys Without Names’

4 Mar

I recently read Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names and loved it! I think it appealed as it is a narrative about resilience, strength, friendship and family.  In this text, Gopal is separated from his family and has to survive in challenging circumstances.  He also needs to be build relationships with a group of boys in the same predicament as himself.

I think this text would be particularly well suited to a Year 7 or 8 class.