Blind Date

“Blind Date” is the first story in the recent short story collection from Australian author Janette Turner Hospital, Forecast: Turbulence  (Fourth Estate, 2011).

Lachlan’s father left eight years ago but is apparently coming to his daughter’s wedding. Lachlan has heard nothing about his Dad in all those years and is excited by the idea of his return. He knows his mother and sister don’t share these feelings and Lachlan is careful what he says. But as the wedding grows closer all sorts of information comes out. Is Lachlan the only one kept in the dark about his father? But he was just a little kid then and, although he is blind, his memories are infused with smells, sounds and the memory of his father’s last words.

This is a wonderful telling of a child’s perspective on an emotional family situation.  How far can memories carry a relationship of absence?  Will the strong bond Lachlan feels for his father be mirrored when they meet again? Or are his mother and sister the wise ones, remembering disappointment and expecting nothing? What pulls this father back to his children after years of neglect?

You can read this story online at The Monthly, or get the book from the library and explore more of these engrossing stories.

Analysing a Picture Book

If you are using a picture book as a related text some of the following resources may be of use.

An Introduction to the Grammar of Visual Design (PDF)

Here you can read about specific concepts to help read (and write about) visual images, including mood, perspective, colour, lighting, and more. Based on the work of Kress and van Leeuwen.

Making Picture Books by Libby Gleeson 741.64 GLE

The author is highly qualified to advise on this subject as an award winning author of many picture books. In this book Gleeson takes us through the process of writing and illustrating a picture book using many examples, and illuminating comments from a range of experienced writers and illustrators.

Picturing Books

Picturing Books

This site is very valuable for developing a vocabulary to use when discussing picture books. Go to the sidebar on the left and down to THE PALETTE for a quick visual guide to many elements of the picture book.  “Picture Book Meme“ brings these all together in a hierarchical word cloud, and there is also a glossary (under resources) which lists them all again with definitions.

Julie Bain’s Webquest Viewing The Viewer: Postmodern Picture Books has a wealth of resources for studying any picture book as well as specifically for the postmodern.

From the sidebar choose Key Terms, Visual literacy Scaffold and PoMo I.D. Scaffold, amongst others. You will find some excellent tools for writing about picture books. Although this webquest is written for a postmodern book, The Viewer by Gary Crew, it introduces technical information which you can relate to any picture book.

If you think you might be working with a postmodern picture book take a look at this video: Playing with the Postmodern: Picture Books for Multiliteracies

Definition of a postmodern picture book:

Author and illustrator consciously employ a range of devices that are designed to interrupt reader expectation and produce multiple meanings and readings of the book. These books also challenge the traditional audience of picture books. Traditionally the picture book has been seen as the province of the young, inexperienced reader. However, the postmodern picture book appeals to a much wider age span, level of sophistication, and range of reading abilities.

(From: Anstey, Michele. “‘It’s Not All Black and White’: Postmodern Picture Books and New Literacies.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 45.6 (2002): 444-58. Literary Reference Center. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.)

Girl Next Door

Girl Next DoorGirl Next Door by Alyssa Brugman

This is a book about a family on the way down. They have a ‘monster’ house, as teen narrator Jenna-Belle tells us, ‘a house with wings.’ She and her brother go to the best schools. Mum has a killer job and Dad has left work to start his dream business.

That was then. Now their father is ‘in the country’ (the kids know no more), their mum is pregnant, they have a boarder in the spare room and an increasing amount of empty space where their possessions used to be. Oh, and the house is worth less than they owe on it.

Brugman plunges the reader into the world view of a rather shallow teen narrator before the plot switches to strikingly more serious matters. The family decline, which has been happening for months before the events of the novel, continues to a tipping point. When their father reappears, nearly half way through the book, the children’s relief gives way to greater anxiety as the penny drops. There is no rescue package. At this stage their boarder, Bryce, turns out to be a better bet. He understands their predicament and offers material help to a point, but is himself a professional punter, and apparently not a hugely successful one.

Girl Next Door has a surprising impact. What is lost begins with the unnecessary trappings of a pampered lifestyle, then access to a private school education, the normal home comforts and finally a place to live. Along the way the family is disintegrating, father absent, mother detached and flagging, and a stranger the best hope they have. Jenna-Belle also grows closer to her friend and neighbour, Declan, but is as confused and hurt by his naive attention as she is by the apparent neglect of her parents. Her world view has changed rapidly:

After about twenty minutes Mum lights a cigarette and ashes out the window. The ash whips back into my face. This morning I thought the least your mother could do is feed you, now I think the very least your mother can do for you is not to flick hot ashes into your face.

In the end Brugman delivers a more hopeful ending than expected, but this story needed a soft landing.

Study Guide PDF

The Monthly

An independent magazine of Australian politics, society, culture and media.

One of the many areas where The Monthly excels is in publishing new stories by some of our best writers. Under Culture: Short Stories you will find excellent recent stories by Cate Kennedy and Sonya Hartnett to name but two. There are many more. The Monthly also has videos of authors reading their own stories, telling stories and in interview. A great resource!

A Perfect Snow

by Nora Martin

This book explores what it means to belong in a number of ways – to family, to place, to significant others. It also shows how our allegiance – where we think we belong – changes our perspective on life. We also see what can become of those who feel excluded.

A novella, at just 144 pages, A Perfect Snow is the story of Ben, the older son of a family down on their luck and living in a trailer park on the outskirts of a small town in Montana. Ben, his father’s favourite, is feeling the injustice of his dad being out of work and that they are looked down upon for being “trailer trash”. He is troubled by the behaviour of younger brother, David, but ironically it is Ben who lets himself be manipulated into involvement in a racist hate group. But one night he recognises that he has gone too far. As Ben steps back from the group, forms a relationship with a new girl in town and develops a friendship with a rich kid he wanted to hate, David slips into the space Ben has vacated.

A Perfect Snow describes Ben’s developing consciousness and the effect his actions have on others. The writing is poetic and employs beautiful imagery of the natural world. There is probably too much happening in too short a time to be totally convinced by Ben’s conversion, but the symmetry of the story works somehow. The complexities of Ben’s family are only touched upon but are there strongly in the background.

Read a critical review of A Perfect Snow here.

The Dream of the Thylacine

The Dream of the Thylacine.

The Dream of the Thylacine

The Dream of the Thylacine is a lament for a lost species, and a celebration of the Australian landscape. It interposes arresting text and images of the last known thylacine in a concrete cage with sweeping colour paintings of the animal in its natural environment. Intense, poetic and beautiful, this book will haunt you. …
The economic 130-word text is an extended metaphor, an ode, a lament, yet also a lyric, reinforced by intriguing and absolutely ‘right’ illustrations. The thylacine here is representative of any hunted, caged, imprisoned creature capable of dreaming – of running wild, of claiming one’s biological and cultural birthright to be free…
Maurice Saxby, Magpies

Visit the publisher’s site to see an extract from this book along with teaching notes, or find it in the library.

The Tree (2010)

Australian / French production directed by Julie Bertuccelli from the book Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe.

The Tree is a family tale about loss, rebirth and the power of imagination. (from DVD)

An enormous and beautiful tree spreads widely in all directions beside an elegant country house. Both are well past their prime. These two take on roles of their own in this fine film about a family coping with the death of a parent. Dawn and her four kids each carry on in their own ways, and for some the tree takes on a special significance. So what to do when the inevitable happens and the tree, and other forces of nature, threaten?

Judy Pascoe’s book surprises after the film as it is told from the point of view of eight year old Simone, who also has a pivotal role in the film. At 166 pages it looks like a good candidate for a belonging text as well.

During the writing of Our Father Who Art in the Tree I drew heavily on the power of the Australia landscape to infuse the story with place. I guess the point I was trying to make was that even in the blandest Australian suburb the power of the landscape is inescapable. Judy Pascoe.

Another interesting place to go from The Tree is to the theme song, To Build a Home, performed by The Cinematic Orchestra, featuring Patrick Watson. (Lyrics)

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