This unit of work was created in partnership with The Garret and accompanies Nic Brasch’s interview with Graeme Base.
The following activities and tasks have been designed to be studied and used in full or in part, depending on the teaching context. The activities have been formulated for use with a whole class or small groups or can be adapted to suit smaller groups or individual students and can be spread out over class time. Each activity is linked to a specific ‘digestible’ section of the Graeme Base interview and the relevant portion of the interview is noted at the beginning of the activity. It would be useful for teachers to borrow a set of Graeme Base picture books from the library, at least those ones with longer narrative elements. Alternatively, Base’s home page has samples of each book which can be deployed for most of the activities deriving from the interview.
Getting to know the author including:
Activity one: Influences and genre
This activity relates from the start–6.00 mins of the interview.
Having listened to the start of the interview, direct students to discuss the following in small groups:
- Are you familiar with the fictional works that formed Graeme Base’s main influences which he discusses in the interview?
- If you are not familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, do some web research and investigate. You might be more familiar with Peter Jackson’s films based on Tolkien’s novels. What genre of fiction do these works represent?
- Which other writers or speculative fiction works does the author mention in the same genre later in the interview?
- Have you seen any stories that cross media platforms? When you see a film or TV program based on a book, how do you compare the two, even though they are different media?
- Do you think different media ought to be compared or treated as different stories altogether because of the different constraints each has in its production? This question is important to consider if you are using one form of text to respond to in a different mode or form, such as a digital story in response to a picture book (one of the later assessment options).
Activity two: Aspects of genre
What fantasy works have you read or viewed? List the conventional or typical narrative elements you are familiar with in fantasy or other speculative fiction genres such as Sci-Fi, using the table below.
Table 1. Conventional genre elements
|Fantasy stories: conventional genre elements
|Other speculative fiction genres e.g. Sci-Fi|
|Plot or storyline: problems to be solved
|Complications (which cause tension)||
|Images or other graphics
The writers’ journey including:
- personal experience
- cultural influences
- themes and issues
- style and individual writing characteristics.
Activity three: Group discussion around personal experience and cultural influences
This activity relates to 23.54 mins–25.30 mins of the interview.
This segment of the interview deals with the influence of travel on the author’s ideas for his picture books:
- How did Graeme Base turn an environmentally important issue into a global one in a counting book, The Waterhole?
Have you travelled somewhere where you have seen a problem occurring with the environment? You may have done some armchair travelling by watching a David Attenborough documentary or one you have watched at school (check ABC splash for resources to choose a possible issue and a setting). Similarly, you may have read authors such as Isobelle Carmody who have strong environmental themes running through their work.
Activity four: Discussion around themes, issues and motivations
This activity relates to 33.52 mins–36.07 mins of the interview.
How can picture books explore important themes and issues, such as in Uno’s Garden, The Waterhole and The Sign of the Seahorse? What central issues run through these books? If you do not have the picture books check some sample pages from these books on Base’s home page.
Discuss how successfully these books operate in terms of messages and layers of meaning in the graphics. Can you think-pair-share your experience of these and other children’s books that dealt with important topics and which taught you something when you were younger?
Other picture book authors who may be of help here are: Alison Lester, Leigh Hobbs, Anh Do, Shaun Tan, Margaret Wild, Pat Grant. A search of the Reading Australia catalogue will yield many more authors and titles.
(ACELA1548) (ACELT1628) (ACELT1807) (ACELY1735)
Activity 5: Discussion on the development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
This activity relates to 36.08 mins–46.00 mins of the interview.
- Where does Base start with writing a picture book?
- Which does he suggest is more important as a starting point: the art work or the text or other factors?
In this section of the interview, Graeme Base says:
If you’ve got a monster that lives under your bed, figure out what it looks like and draw a picture of it. And then mess about with it. Draw a funny face on it or add some extra big ears or something like that and you begin to own it, control it. You’re nailing your demons to paper. And you do that as an adult, if you worry about things, if you’re stressing about things, write a list. Write exactly what is worrying you and you begin to take hold of it and deal with it.
Experiment with some of Base’s approaches, strategies and styles by adapting these approaches to suit your own ideas and themes.
Make a list of things you worry about or feel strongly about and design a poster which raises awareness of one of those issues. Try drawing it first – it doesn’t have to be a brilliant drawing – you can make it funny. If it is something personal, you can hide it by concealing it under a paper cover, just as Graeme Base’s books often contain some paper ‘engineering’ (e.g. the disappearing waterhole in the book of that name).
The writers’ craft including:
- Point of view
- Other genre features.
This activity could be undertaken in small groups by assigning a different book to different groups.
Build on the work on Aspects of genre in Activity two (above) and then compare and discuss how his early reading experiences show up in Graeme Base’s picture books. In particular read a few books that develop narrative, such as: Enigma, The Legend of the Golden Snail, The Eleventh Hour, The Last King of Angkor Wat, or The Amazing Monster Detectorscope.
Using the table below think about these questions:
- Do any of these conform to the fantasy genres (Activity two) or are there elements of other genres in the narrative elements?
- How do the visuals in picture books add other dimensions to these elements?
- How important are the visuals in determining the storylines in these picture books according to the author in the interview?
Table 2. Conventional (genre-specific) or unconventional elements in Base’s picture books.
|Track through at least two of Base’s narrative picture books from the list above.
|What are the specifics of the visuals?
Images, symbols, motifs, special features (from the interview)
|Plot or storyline synopsis|
|Complications (which cause tension)||
|Language and style||
It may be helpful in this discussion section to direct students to Base’s home page, where samples of the texts can be viewed if you do not have access to the complete picture books.
(ACELA1548) (ACELT1628) (ACELT1807) (ACELY1735)
Following this small group retrieval work, share your thoughts and observations – firstly within your group and then with the whole class – through the following questions:
- Plot: How do you think the early influences of reading fantasy help to drive the narrative in Base’s picture books?
- Character and voice: Almost all his stories are written in the third person with Base as the omniscient author, but often featuring an animal as the central character. Why does Graeme Base say he uses animal characters?
- Setting: How important are settings in picture books? Is there anything special about the settings in Base’s picture books?
- Language and style: In the longer picture books, the narrative is almost always in rhymed verse. What did Base say about music in the interview and how do you think the music of language influences the way he delivers the narrative in the text?
- Point of view: In picture books point of view is almost always visual. We see the world created in the book through ‘viewing’ the central character. In picture books, the visuals always extend the narrative – where is your eye drawn to in any given page in Base’s picture books? For instance, the snail inside the crossbones motif is repeatedly hidden in The Legend of the Golden Snail.
Activity eight: Structure and meaning in context: more detailed ways of reading visuals
Reading images (Visual Literacy) has its own technical language, known as visual grammar. The key elements of this system are:
- Subject Matter
- Shots (this can also refer to pictures)
Have students conduct a visual text analysis by applying these to the cover image of The Legend of the Golden Snail (or any other Graeme Base picture). For internal class use only (respecting the author’s intellectual property rights and copyright rules), photographs of the images can be imported into a slide show and the analysis applied in text boxes.
Activity nine: Reading the visuals further
In the interview Base says of The Eleventh Hour:
Maybe I could do a mystery story and rather than hide the clues in the text, hide the clues in the artwork… I’ve always been writing and drawing to the inner child in me, so unless I’ve changed imperceptibly without realising it. I love detail, I love puzzles, I knew Morse code when I was a kid and would send messages like that and other things, the ink pen codes and other codes and hidden things in pictures.
Find examples of where framing through use of visual symbols extends the meaning of the main narrative. These occur around the edges or borders or even hidden within the pictures themselves. Trace these through the sample pages of:
- Enigma, where codes are embedded in the text to help solve the mystery of the disappearing magic show items.
- Uno’s Garden which has statistics and ‘facts’ embedded in the top third of the right pages. What is the effect of these verbal/ visual devices on your reading?
Both of the picture books above have a theme of sustainability. Compose or choose a brief poem (a Haiku will do well) and choose a set of ‘free to use’ or Creative Commons licensed downloaded images to illustrate it using available software (for example PowerPoint or Photo Story 3) to assemble it digitally. Make sure at least one of the images is symbolic of the main message of the poem. This provides practice for the culminating rich assessment task which follows.
Activity for students: Trying it out for yourself
Now choose some images, either hand-drawn or downloaded (make sure they are copyright free or Creative Commons licensed) or shoot some original images from your phone’s camera that go with the poem (between five and ten). Import these into a digital storytelling software program such as Photo Story 3.
Add a soundtrack of music or narration (or both if the program allows more than one layer of audio), again ensuring its copyright-free status or restricting its use to within your school environment.
You could share your work with others (teachers and peers) in an electronic gallery, by uploading your digitised poems to the school intranet or a closed Instagram site, where you can view each other’s works and add constructive comments, likes or questions.
(ACELA1548) (ACELT1628) (ACELT1630) (ACELT1768) (ACELY1735) (ACELY1738)
- Scootle resources on creating picture books are more for primary school Year 4, but teachers may find these useful (for Haiku or other poetry writing resources) and for digital storytelling.
- Behind the news
- ‘The War on Waste’ education page
- Tutorials on digital storytelling
Culminating rich assessment tasks
Based on The Garret interview with Graeme Base, use his ideas and approaches to create one of five optional texts, spanning digital, graphic or written genres.
Download Rich Assessment Task (PDF)