Connecting to prior knowledge

NOTE: Check the pronunciation of ‘Xiao Xin’ before commencing the unit.

All families are different

Before you introduce Be Careful, Xiao Xin!, share some books that represent families and how they are all different and unique. For example:

Explain that there may be people in our families who have come from different countries as migrants or refugees. Ask students what they understand about the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’. Use excerpts from this Behind the News video to clarify meaning and gauge students’ understanding through discussion.

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You might like to share other books about being a migrant or refugee throughout the unit. Examples include:

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Introducing the book

Explain to the class that they will be exploring Be Careful, Xiao Xin!, a story about a boy from an overprotective Chinese-Australian family.

Introduce the author, Alice Pung. She was born in Melbourne to Australian Chinese-Cambodian parents. They came to Australia from Cambodia as refugees before Pung was born.

Also introduce the illustrator, Sher Rill Ng. She was born in Malaysia shortly before her family migrated to Australia. Like Pung, she is based in Melbourne.

Revisit the prior discussion about refugees and migrants. You can also listen to Pung talk about the inspiration for Be Careful, Xiao Xin!.

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First look

Show students the cover of the book and read the English title. Note the Simplified Chinese title (a way of writing Mandarin) reflected in the water underneath; you can tell students that this book is bilingual, meaning that it has been written in two languages. Point to the names of the author and the illustrator. Also show students the spine of the book.

As a class, discuss what students notice about the cover. Record any responses, comments or questions. You can use the following supporting questions to prompt discussion:

  • What do you think this book might be about?
  • Look at the two characters on the cover. What can you tell me about them?
    • What do you notice about the way they are standing?
    • What about the way they are dressed?
  • Tell me about the colours on the cover.
  • What else do you notice?

Read the blurb on the back cover. What more do we learn about the story? Once again, note that the blurb is written in both English and Chinese.

Look at the endpapers and the title page; these often give us more clues about the story. Invite students to share anything they notice. You could ask:

  • What do you think that blue blob might be?
  • What do you notice hanging on the coat rack?

First reading

Read the story for pleasure, bringing it to life for the class. If any of your students read Simplified Chinese, you could ask them to help read that text.

Afterwards, invite students to:

  • share their initial responses
  • reflect on any experiences that were similar or different to their own
  • share their feelings and thoughts about the characters
  • share their feelings and thoughts about the events

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Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’

Special visitors

Throughout this unit of work, invite families or other members of the school community into your classroom. They could share stories from their lives, discuss foods that they enjoy, or – if they speak a language other than English – read a book OR teach the class some new words in that language. Invite students to interact with the visitors and ask relevant questions based on the presentations. Also invite them to reflect on any experiences that are similar or different to their own.

If there is a Mandarin speaker at your school, invite them to read Be Careful, Xiao Xin! and to comment on/translate the Simplified Chinese. The English and Chinese are not direct translations of each other; the stories are different in subtle ways. Again, if any of your students read Chinese, you could ask them to help point out some of these differences.

NOTE: The book’s English title is Be Careful, Xiao Xin!, so English readers will presume that ‘Xiao Xin’ is the boy’s name. In Mandarin, however, this simply means ‘be careful’, which makes the Chinese title Be Careful, Be Careful!. This is a story about a boy whose parents tell him to ‘be careful’ so often that he believes it’s his Chinese name!

As you explore the text together, look at how the English and Simplified Chinese are positioned in relation to one another. Ask students to consider why this might be.

You could also share a video of a story being read in another language. ABC Education Story Time has several good examples:

Be Careful, Xiao Xin! Read in Chinese
Open Your Heart to Country by Jasmine Seymour Read in English and Dharug
Come Over to My House by Eliza Hull and Sally Rippin, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett Signed in Auslan

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Rich assessment task

Create a class book exploring the diversity of families/households.

Ask students to draw their family on a piece of A3 paper (including pets and friends, if desired), and help them to label each person. Under the picture, help students to write or scribe a sentence about their household using some supporting questions. For example:

  • Who is in my family?
  • What language(s) do we speak?
  • What food do we love to eat?
  • What do we love to do together?
  • What does my parent/grandparent say a lot?
  • What are our favourite celebrations or festivals?
  • What do my parents often warn me about?
    • NOTE: Some of these will be general parental warnings, while others will be cultural. Examples include: crossing the road at the lights, not wearing shoes indoors, not wearing white in my hair.

Here are some sample responses:

  • ‘At my house we speak Hindi and our favourite time of the year is Diwali.’
  • ‘I live with my mum, my mama, my nan and my brother and we love pizza night.’
  • ‘My yiayia always says if I wear shoes in the house after she’s wiped the tiles I’ll be in trouble!’
  • ‘My baba says I can’t wear white hair ties because it’s the colour we wear to funerals.’

Collate all the A3 pages into a display folder, share with the class, and place it in the class library.

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Responding to the text

Picture walk

Place several copies of Be Careful, Xiao Xin! around the classroom. Open each copy to a different page to display the illustrations.

Read the book to the class again, then take them on a picture walk. Invite students to get into pairs and walk around to view the various illustrations. Encourage them to look very closely at the details and discuss anything that they notice. This might include the story, the colours, the characters, or any other aspects that interest them:

  • Students could talk about the words on the page and their relationship to the illustration; i.e. does the illustration replicate the words, enhance the words, or contradict the words?
  • Some pages have no words, so students could:
    • explain what they think is happening on the page;
    • suggest some words to add to the page; OR
    • suggest how they would draw the page instead.
  • Some pages repeat, e.g. the close up image of Xiao Xin looking at the reader.
  • Some pages depict a sequence of activities OR a sequence of time in a single illustration, while others depict a sequence across multiple illustrations; students could discuss how they know time is passing or not passing.
  • Some pages are dark, with some important highlights, while others are quite light. Is the dark dangerous? Is the light safe? Does Xiao Xin appear mostly in the dark or the light? What about his family?

Come together as a class to share these observations. Draw attention to the importance of the illustrations in telling the story.

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NOTE: For the purpose of tracking page numbers, the first page of the story (featuring a close up of Xiao Xin) is considered p. 1.

Read Be Careful, Xiao Xin! again and invite students to share their thoughts, feelings and wonderings. They may notice how much Xiao Xin’s family worry about and overprotect him; tune in to his feelings of not being loved enough (p. 10); or wonder why he runs away (pp. 23–24). Some may be puzzled by what is happening on pp. 33–34. Allow students to lead the discussion and, where appropriate, invite them to connect their own experiences to the story.

Use a ‘tell me’ grid to record students’ likes, dislikes, questions/puzzles and connections (text to self, text to world or text to text) from this discussion. The following template may be useful:

















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Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Role on the wall

Display a sketch of Xiao Xin (OR a generic human figure) on a large sheet of paper. As you explore the text and illustrations, collect information about Xiao Xin and write students’ observations, ideas and thoughts about his character on sticky notes. Attach these to the sheet of paper around the figure. Keep this displayed throughout the unit and add to it as students’ understanding deepens. Ask open-ended questions throughout the process, such as:

  • How does Xiao Xin feel in this illustration? What makes you think this?
  • Does Xiao Xin always do what his family wants him to do? How do the illustrations show this?
  • Why do you think Xiao Xin sees himself as a Red Fire Warrior? How does this help him feel braver?
  • How does Xiao Xin change? How do we know?

As the class discovers more about Xiao Xin’s character, many of the book’s themes will come to the surface.

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Hot seating

On top of being a fun activity, hot seating deepens students’ connection to the characters in a story. Return to this activity throughout the unit and model possible questions and replies along the way. Be playful and encourage students to use their imagination. Put as many characters as possible from the book in the hot seat, and encourage a wide range of questions and answers.

Questions for Xiao Xin might include:

  • How does it feel when your family tells you what to do?
  • What is it like to wear that puffy jacket?
  • Were you scared when you ran away to the park?

You might ask his grandmother:

  • Why do you worry about Xiao Xin so much?
  • Why did you come to Australia?
  • What do you like about Australia?
  • What is your favourite food?

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Freeze frames

Xiao Xin is frustrated by the way his family tries to restrict him. This drama activity will help students step into the illustrations and explore Xiao Xin’s relationship with his family, as well as the feelings of the characters in the pictures. By creating a tableau with their bodies, students will gain a sense of what the illustrator is trying to communicate to the reader. Choose several illustrations from the text that depict Xiao Xin with his family. For example:

  • pp. 5–6 (touching the water)
  • p. 10 (the muddy boy)
  • pp. 11–12 (waiting to cross the street)
  • p. 15 (first steps)
  • pp. 31–32 (looking for Xiao Xin)
  • pp. 37–38 (Xiao Xin is found)

Invite students to form small groups and work together to recreate the illustrations using their bodies and facial expressions. Allow time for them to discuss and practise together. Then invite each group to share their freeze frame with the class (you could take a photo of the finished work) and discuss how they felt in their roles. Also discuss the illustrations they were trying to represent; could students relate to any of the feelings portrayed in their scene?

What about the setting?

Show students some photographs of NGV International (there are good options on their Facebook page and website), then display the double-page spread on pp. 5–6 (where Xiao Xin is warned against touching the water).

  • What is similar about these pictures?
  • What is different?
  • How has the illustrator changed the view of the gallery entrance?
  • How does it make you feel seeing this through the eyes of Xiao Xin’s family?

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Rich assessment task

I can do this!

Set up a few copies of the book to display the pages where Xiao Xin is playing and being active as both the Red Fire Warrior and himself (e.g. p. 17, 27).

As a class, brainstorm all the activities that Xiao Xin can be seen doing in the story. Record these on a whiteboard or a sheet of butcher’s paper. Examples include:

swinging climbing building
riding a scooter running helping his sister walk
jumping hiding imagining

Now invite students to share the activities that they can do and record these under the heading ‘I can …’. Similarly, invite them to share some things that they are learning to do and still need help to achieve. Record these under the heading ‘I am learning to …’.

Finally, have students write their own ‘I can’ and ‘I am learning to’ statements (one of each) onto shapes (e.g. stars, clouds) for classroom display. You can provide some sentence starters like:

  • I feel happy when …
  • I feel frustrated when …

If I was a superhero …

Ask students to imagine that they are a warrior or superhero, like Xiao Xin and the Red Fire Warrior. What would they look like? What special powers would they have? Encourage students to choose powers that reflect their own strengths, such as kindness or imagination. Record their answers on the whiteboard or another sheet of butcher’s paper.

Now invite students to respond to/finish this sentence starter:

My superpower is …

Give each student a sheet of paper (A4 or A3) and ask them to create a background for their superhero. One suggestion is to use blue, green and pink chalk pastels or watercolours to emulate the look and feel of the front cover; students can blend or smudge the colours to represent the ground, sky or water.

Take a photo of each student in a power pose to represent their superhero self. Print the photos and ask students to stick them onto their background. Add their responses from the previous task (I Can Do This!), as well as their writing about their superpower.

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Examining text structure and organisation

Sher Rill Ng created the illustrations for Be Careful, Xiao Xin! digitally, using Procreate and Clip Studio Paint. She uses experiences from her own life, and the visual language of pictures, to carefully craft images that tell a story and engage readers’ feelings and emotions. Reflect with the students on the many ways illustrators create images, and on the different media they have used in their own work throughout this unit.

Share some work from your favourite illustrators and discuss the media they use. For example:

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Collaborative artwork

Secure a large piece of paper to a table and invite students to contribute to a collaborative collage or composition representing a moment from – OR their feelings about – Be Careful, Xiao Xin!. Leave the book close by so they can refer to it. Ensure that you provide a selection of collage materials such as tissue paper, wool, cardboard, magazines, newspaper, natural materials, etc.

Visual literacy

Introduce students to some simple visual literacy terms as you take them on a journey through the illustrations. This may be conducted in small groups or as a whole class. You could assign small groups specific illustrations so they can look for some of the following visual and multimodal features:

  • How has the illustrator used colour to depict the time of day?
  • How does she use colour to affect our mood?
  • There are traffic lights on three different pages (pp. 11, 25, 32). What might the colours of the lights be showing us?
  • Why does the illustrator use mostly grey tones to show Xiao Xin’s family’s memories (pp. 33–34)?
Light Light is another way of influencing the reader’s mood. What examples can we find in the illustrations? For example:

  • The yellow light that often surrounds Xiao Xin’s family (pp. 20, 37)
  • The bright light behind Xiao Xin when he crosses the road alone (p. 25)

How do we see detail in the nighttime images?

Gaze Gaze is who, what or where a character looks at, and what they are expressing in their facial expression. Follow the gaze of the characters in the illustrations:

  • What is Xiao Xin feeling when he looks directly at us on p. 1, and again on p. 26?
  • On pp. 37–38, Xiao Xin and his family appear to be looking at us, but are actually looking towards each other across the two illustrations. What feeling does this barrier create?
Viewpoint Viewpoint is the position of the character in relation to the reader. This may denote dominance, importance or lack of power.

Find viewpoints where the reader is looking up, down or directly at a character (e.g. pp. 1, 10, 20, 28, 35, 40).

Also take note of the size of Xiao Xin on the page, or in comparison with other characters.

Frames Frames are used to denote movement or passing time. They may restrict a character OR the character may jump across them.

Find examples of frames in Be Careful, Xiao Xin! (e.g. pp. 4, 7, 15, 17, 20–21, 34, 39).

Repetition Words, phrases and images may be repeated throughout the book for emphasis OR to show character development, as well as the changing nature of events. Consider repeating words and phrases in Be Careful, Xiao Xin! and how the illustrator uses the same setting at different times, OR the similar positioning of a character with a notable difference (e.g. pp 1 and 26, 21, 24 and 31, 25 and 32, 35 and 38).
Cultural references Ng has added details to her illustrations that may be recognisable to other Asian-Australian families, such as the use of slippers inside the house. Ask students if there is anything in their own household (e.g. decorations, food, special objects) that would give visitors a clue about their cultural background OR their family’s special interests.

Invite students to share their ideas at whatever level they understand the illustrations. Explain that we all see different things in picture books and have varied insights and observations to share.

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Examining grammar and vocabulary

Infinite things

‘Infinite’ (p. 14) is one word that may need to be defined and discussed in the context of the story. Read the preceding and following pages and prompt students to suggest what ‘infinite’ might mean.

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Exclamation marks

Draw attention to the use of capital letters on p. 2. Remind students that ‘Xiao Xin’ is the Chinese phrase for ‘be careful’. The boy in the story must hear this phrase a lot!

There are many exclamations, commands and warnings in Be Careful, Xiao Xin!. Invite students to identify the exclamations as you read the book aloud and exclaim them together in a choral reading. Then ask:

  • Why are there so many exclamations, commands and warnings in the story?
  • How do they make you feel as we read them?
  • Why do you think Xiao Xin feels so frustrated by these warnings and commands?
  • Why do you think his family is so worried about him?
Using exclamations to understand the pictures

Look at the last few illustrations in the book (pp. 35–42); these are double-page spreads or related single pages with little or no text. Invite students to share what they notice about this part of the story.

Place copies of the book around the classroom and open them to these pages. Arrange students in small groups and ask them to look closely at ONE spread and discuss what is happening in the story. Ask them to think about how the characters might be feeling and what they might say to each other. Then get them to generate some exclamations for these characters. These can be exclamations of wonder, encouragement, excitement, affirmation, praise, anger, frustration, worry, fear, command, or warning. For example:

What an amazing sky! The stars are infinite! There you are! We have been so worried about you!
I’m so sorry! Watch out! Be careful! I’m right here!
Come to me! You are so clever! I’m so proud of you! What a legend!

Have students write their exclamations on speech bubbles (PDF, 73KB), being sure to use an exclamation mark at the end of each statement. These can be secured to the relevant illustration with a reusable adhesive.

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Once everyone has completed their speech bubbles, share the annotated illustrations with the whole class. Here are some possible discussion points:

  • Imagine all the positive exclamations that Xiao Xin might use as Fan Xin walks towards him (pp. 41–42). How does this make us feel?
  • What would happen if we swapped some of the speech bubbles to different characters? How would it change our perception of the scene?

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Rich assessment task

Invite students to create a postcard from Xiao Xin to his family after his nighttime expedition. On one side they should draw a picture of a child doing something fun at the park OR standing like a proud warrior. This can be done using pencils, markers, watercolours, collage, pastels, or other materials.

On the other side they should write a message from Xiao Xin about his interesting and exciting evening. The message should be written in the first person from Xiao Xin’s perspective. You could model this for the class through a shared writing exercise using sentence starters like ‘I went …’, ‘I saw …’, ‘I did …’, ‘I felt …’ and ‘I hope …’. For example:

Dear Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa,

I went to the park after dark. I saw hundreds of bright stars in the night sky. I came down the slide at top speed. I felt so happy and proud. I’m sorry that you were so worried.

Love from Xiao Xin

Students can share their finished postcards with their peers.

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The following activities will provide students with different experiences of retelling all or parts of the story. You can introduce some or all of them at various points throughout the unit.

Playing with the story

Create a story tray, table or basket to encourage students to ‘play’ with the story. Provide a range of natural materials (e.g. sticks, stones, banksia cones) OR small toys/dollhouse figures to represent the characters and elements of the setting.

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You can also bring a full length mirror and a basket of props (e.g. shawls, scarves, cloaks, hats, glasses) to class so students can explore their own reflections. Encourage them to investigate how to change their appearance and alter what they see in the mirror, like Xiao Xin seeing the Red Fire Warrior in his reflection on the front cover.

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Story map

As a class, create a visual story map that retells the story of Be Careful, Xiao Xin! using simple pictures. You could use a beginning-middle-end template (available from Reading Rockets) to help organise the pictures. Keep the story map handy or display it in class so you can refer to it throughout the unit.

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Make simple puppets using bamboo spoons and other materials (e.g. markers, fabric scraps, wool, chenille sticks, glue), then choose scenes from the story to practise and perform. What would the characters say to each other?

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Make a scene

Place students in small groups and assign each group a different illustration from the story. They will create a short (one minute) scene with some dialogue based on the illustration. Perform the scenes as a class, in chronological order, to see if they tell the story of Be Careful, Xiao Xin!.

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Worry monsters

Read Mr Huff by Anna Walker and/or When Sadness Comes to Call by Eva Eland. Discuss how a character can represent a feeling. Look at the ‘worry monsters’ in Be Careful, Xiao Xin! and discuss their colour, size, position and function in the story. Compare the ‘worry’ characters in each of these texts.

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Make a monster

Provide lumps of playdough (PDF, 75KB) or air dry clay along with chenille sticks, dried pasta, buttons, beads, etc. Encourage students to make their own ‘worry monsters’ in different shapes and sizes. They can then introduce them to the class and explain what their features represent.

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Once everyone has presented their monsters, you might discuss the following questions:

  • What makes us feel scared, worry, frustrated or sad?
  • What helps us to feel better?

Oral retelling

Model retelling the story orally using FIVE sentence starters, then invite students to do the same. It may be useful to revisit the Story Map in preparation for this activity. Encourage students to think about the characters and setting; how the story starts; what the main problem is; and how the problem is resolved. You could also display some sentence starters to assist students with their retelling, such as:

Once, … First, … Next, …
After that, … Then, … Finally, …

If appropriate, this activity may be filmed for sharing and/or assessment.

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Return to the role on the wall

At the end of the unit, revisit the Role on the Wall (Responding > Exploring Plot, Character, Setting and Theme) and ask students if they can see how Xiao Xin and has family have changed. Find examples from the book that demonstrate this change.

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Rich assessment task

Return to the last illustration in the book (p. 43), which shows Xiao Xin (meaning ‘be careful’) and his sister Fan Xin (meaning ‘be at ease’) facing their family with the shadow of the Red Fire Warrior forming a bridge between them. This image heralds change for their future as the two children continue to grow up.

Wonder what the next illustration might be if the book were to continue. Ask students to imagine what might happen next in Xiao Xin and Fan Xin’s story. Brainstorm some ideas as a class and model, through drawing and shared writing, how the new illustration might look.

Working individually, students will create their own illustration AND a written sentence to represent what might happen next. For example, the family could go to the park together and play with Xiao Xin and Fan Xin, smiling happily. The text might read, ‘You’re amazing!’

Allow time for students to share their finished pictures with the class.

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