This unit of work was created in partnership with The Garret and accompanies their interview with Ursula Dubosarsky. Please click here to access the Interview, Bibliography, Show notes and Transcript, and Author profile.
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, and a suggested grouping is individually noted in each activity. All activities can be adapted to suit smaller groups or individual students and can be spread out over class time. Each core activity is linked to a specific section of the Ursula Dubosarsky interview and the relevant portion of the interview is noted at the beginning of the activity.
This particular teaching resource includes a range of extension activities that involve in-depth study of some of Dubosarsky’s work, particularly The Blue Cat. As such the interview is an excellent base from which to begin such study.
Getting to know the author including:
- family, family history and relationships
- personal experiences and influences
- cultural background.
Activity one: Childhood experience
This activity relates to 2.15 mins–3.09 mins of the interview.
This exploration relates to family history at the beginning of the interview where Ursula Dubosarsky describes her parents as avid readers and writers (of non-fiction).
Think-pair-share: Ask students to record the following, first individually as notes, and then to share in pairs or small groups via discussion.
- How did Ursula Dubosarsky’s childhood experience of reading and her family’s reading and writing culture impact on her as a writer? What genre of writing does she mostly create?
Activity two: Individual, group work and homework
This activity relates to 3.17 mins–5.00 mins of the interview.
After listening to and listing Ursula Dubosarsky’s reading influences, ask students to write down and then share their own personal ‘book print’ with another student, or with the group, and to list their favourite authors or reading activities with one another and their reasons for selecting these particular works. (A ‘book print’ is like a reading footprint – it is a list of your personal favourite books or ‘reading material’ and how these have influenced you.)
At home: Direct students to interview their parents or one or more other family members about their own ‘book prints’. Record this as a ‘one-minute wonder’ interview on a mobile phone, and either transcribe as notes using the table below and upload as a voice thread (free educational web-based recording app) or share with other members of the class via the teacher as administrator.
Figure 1: Book prints
|Title(s) of favourite ‘reads’
|Reasons for preferring these works/authors?
|Title(s) of favourite ‘reads’
|Reasons for preferring these works/authors?
The writers’ journey including:
- cultural influences
- development of approaches
From 27.00 mins–30.31 mins of the interview.
In the middle of the interview, Ursula Dubosarsky explains why she became interested in the story of Jews in Australia, which in turn influenced her writing of her novel, The Blue Cat. What specific life experiences did the author draw upon in her writing about this group of people?
As a class or in small groups or individually, ask students:
- To visit the website of ‘Signs of Life’ at the Jewish Museum in Sydney to assist them in understanding more about Jews in Australia. The website has a blog featuring Australian survivors of the holocaust. Students are invited to read one or two of these blog entries to enhance understanding about this period of history as it informs the subject matter, plot and characters of The Blue Cat. Other resources here are Garret interviews that deal with the holocaust and a similar event, the Cambodian genocide. These are with Morris Gleitzman and Alice Pung.
- Why do you think Ursula Dubosarsky creates realistic fiction set in the past? What can you discover from the interview about her motivation to tell the story about these characters in this Second World War period?
- To record in writing which of Dubosarsky’s other novels relate to The Blue Cat in the interview and discuss how these connections are made. Synopses of these other novels can be researched online or provided as intertextual connections. Students can read the earlier novels to discover what happens to the character of Ellery.
The writers’ craft including:
- Structure and meaning in context
- Genres and text types
- Setting and plot
- Narrative voice and point of view
- the stylistic devices of images and symbols.
These activities regarding the craft of writing as discussed in the interview relate especially to The Blue Cat (2017). They can be undertaken as extension tasks and lead progressively to the Year 10 Reading Australia unit, The Red Shoe.
Many of the activities below build on the Garret interview with Dubosarsky and provide links to in-depth study of a number of texts, both hers and other writers.
Jigsaw: These activities can be conducted as a jigsaw lesson with small groups or pairs focusing on one aspect of the writer’s craft each and then reporting back to other groups or the whole class. Alternatively, they can be spread out over a few separate lessons, depending on time allotted to the unit and class ability. The downloadable notes for teachers on the publisher’s site also suggest other WebQuest activities that may be useful for this jigsaw exercise.
Teachers can direct groups of students to examine the following aspects of the craft of writing as discussed by Ursula Dubosarsky and Nic Brasch in the interview and apply these to text analysis activities.
- Read Chapter 3 of The Blue Cat, where the central character Columba first encounters Ellery in the playground on his first day at school. How does the author, Ursula Dubosarsky, successfully get into the mind of the child? Discuss how effectively the author has represented the child’s narrative viewpoint of Ellery as ‘different’. How much depends on physical description and how much on other factors?
- Consider the friendships that are central to the narrative, especially those between Columba and Hilda, and Columba and Ellery. How do the friendships develop in the course of the novel?
Structure and meaning in context, including non-fiction genres and text types
Questions for students:
- How does the ‘Commonwealth of Australia, National Security (Aliens Control)’ text on the page before Chapter 3 of The Blue Cat help to construct the character Ellery’s life situation? Discover other examples of different text types and genres in this novel and check the sources of these in the back of the book.
- How does the inclusion of different print-based texts affect your reading and understanding of the novel and the time period in which it is set? Visit and view the audio-visual resources on Ursula Dubosarsky’s home page dedicated to The Blue Cat, which include YouTube clips and graphics to further contextualise the time period in which the story is set.
- Read excerpts from any other multi-generic (a combination of different text-types) novels where other types of text such as letters are included in the story, such as Trash by Andy Mulligan or So Much to Tell You by John Marsden? Both these novels intersperse the narrative with letters. Can students list any other novels that do this kind of multi-generic work? How does this stylistic technique develop setting and era?
Setting and plot
Like many of Ursula Dubosarsky’s books, The Blue Cat is set in the past. Students can discuss how understanding the historical context of these novels helps readers to fully appreciate the characters’ dilemmas.
- Were there events or complications in this story that you found puzzling on initial reading?
- What (if any) related topics of World War Two and Australia’s experience have been covered in your history classes?
- Have any other texts been seen, read or viewed that helped your understanding of the plot’s events?
- Understanding the World War Two era in Australia. Students can access the graphics and video clips from The Blue Cat section of the Ursula Dubosarsky home page to build understanding of the era, plot events and historical context.
Narrative voice and point of view
The narrative voice in The Blue Cat shifts between first and third person narrator which dips into the children’s point of view. This can be referred to as ‘floating first person’ or shifting ‘focalisation’ (i.e. the point of view we see the story through at any given point). Teachers may need to model this practice first.
Questions for students:
- How effective do you think this shifting voice writing technique is and how does the author do it? Find examples of where the voice shifts between chapters.
- After checking sections of the text that show examples of the floating first person, revisit the transcript of the interview – what does Ursula Dubosarsky say about featuring children’s voices and points of view in her writing?
Images and symbols
View the publisher’s trailer of The Blue Cat and discuss the meaning of the poem which begins the novel and list and discuss the images and symbols chosen to represent the story. How effective is this trailer in drawing readers into the world of the novel?
Having discussed the meaning of the novel’s opening poem, follow the references to the ‘character’ of the blue cat throughout the text. Is the blue cat a symbol? If so what does it symbolise to you as a reader or a group?
Following examination of Dubosarsky’s writing craft as detailed above, all groups report their findings back to other groups and then to the whole class. This can be done:
- by displaying discussion notes on display boards in class;
- electronically by adding them to an interactive whiteboard or a PowerPoint display with progressive additions: students adding their notes via a slide or two for each group, including hyperlinks to resources that may be helpful to the whole class, such as the graphics and clips from The Blue Cat section of the Ursula Dubosarsky home page.
Comparison with other writers and texts
This section of the resource examines some of Dubosarsky’s key themes as expressed in other modes, media and contexts.
This activity involves a small group or whole class WebQuest activity where students can research Australia’s attitudes to enemy aliens during World War Two.
- What can you discern about the lives these people led during that time?
- What are the effects of politicians and the media using the loaded terms ‘enemy aliens’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ in the public imagination?
WebQuest activity: In pairs or small groups, students can visit one or more of the following websites:
- Google Pictures Australia depicting more recent images of refugees in Australia. Select Creative Commons’ licensed pictures from this site and add to a class Instagram account – adjust privacy settings so that content is only accessible to class members and the teacher – and add captions or comments to your selected pictures or others’ chosen images. If social media sites are unavailable, add these to a slide show or word documents.
- Red Cross website ‘Refugees in Australia’. This site includes information in the form of podcasts and vodcasts of personal stories of refugees.
- There are many other useful sites suggested in the downloadable PDF teacher notes on publisher Allen and Unwin’s website for The Blue Cat.
As a result of this web information can you find any parallels between the internment of refugees depicted in The Blue Cat and the contemporary internment or detention of refugees in Australia or elsewhere around the world? Discuss and write down your ideas.
Trying it out for yourself including:
- Reflecting on your own experiences of writing and understanding the immediate and broader contexts of your own and others’ work, e.g.
- What kinds of texts are written in your household?
- How have mainstream media and/or social media influenced the content and the way that you and/or your family read?
- How do these media affect the way you write and construct texts in and out of school?
- Experimenting with approaches, themes, strategies and styles used by the author.
- Identifying and justifying language/stylistic techniques or devices for specific narrative or dramatic purposes.
In her interview, Ursula Dubosarsky says, ‘You can write a story about anything’.
- Try a storytelling exercise which leads to individual development of fuller stories. You can start with three sets of story strips in three separate jars with various news headlines, characters and settings. One of each story starter strip can be chosen randomly from a jar and combined with others to form the basis of a new story. Choose another strip from the character jar and have these two interact with dialogue.
- Share your work with at least one other reader and exchange constructive written feedback reflecting upon each other’s work. What changes could you make as a result of peer feedback?
Sharing your work more broadly
What potential places could you and your class members use to publish your work, ‘in house’ (at school) or online? Possible online publication contexts include blogging using Edmodo, a class ‘story centre’ on the school intranet, Instagram or a closed ‘Fakebook‘ site. Consider the publication contexts discussed here and decide as a class on your publication context(s).
In or out of class, suggest wider reading (or extension reading) of other writers using similar approaches or dealing with similar themes and ideas. The following selection will be helpful:
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (2008) dealing with the Jewish holocaust.
- The Arrival (a largely wordless picture book) by Shaun Tan (2006)
- The Diary of Anne Frank an autobiography by Anne Frank (1952)
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
- Maus by Art Spiegelman (1991)
- Fireshadow by Anthony Eaton (2004), deals with the internment of ‘enemy aliens’ during World War 11 in Western Australia.
- The First Book of Samuel (1995) and Theodora’s Gift (2005) both by Ursula Dubosarsky. Both stories were written before The Blue Cat was published, and explore the character of Ellery as an older man.
Extension texts or works with intertextual connections covering refugee experiences in Australia:
Culminating rich assessment task
Download the Assessment Task (PDF, 115KB)