NOTE: Paperboy explores sensitive themes of divorce and family breakdown, which may be unsettling for some students. Before you begin this unit of work, consider your class context and any students who may need additional support. Some children may have faced adversity or experienced loss, or otherwise feel saddened by the themes in this book. Adjust, add or eliminate activities as required and encourage students to talk privately to a trusted adult if they show concern.
Connecting to prior knowledge
You might like to encourage students to keep individual writer’s notebooks throughout this unit. They can use the notebooks to record their thoughts, understandings and revelations as they explore Paperboy.
Unpacking the cover
Begin by analysing the front cover. Show it to students and read them the title and subtitle (Paperboy: A patchwork of memories).
Use teacher think-alouds to ponder such questions as:
- What do you think the author and illustrator have used to create this book cover?
- What do you think the child is doing?
- What is the child holding?
- What do you think a ‘paperboy’ is (e.g. someone who delivers newspapers)?
- What might a ‘patchwork of memories’ mean?
Engage in a see-think-wonder routine (this could be done verbally or as a written activity). Students can communicate their ideas by producing statements like:
- I see red and brown paper.
- I think there is a child who likes to make things.
- I wonder what the child is making with the paper?
Review the word ‘patchwork’ on the cover of the book. What is it? What do students think it means?
Review compound words and look at the two elements of this word: ‘patch’ and ‘work’. What does each word mean? Discuss some possibilities as a class.
|To mend or put together
|An activity involving effort
Finish by telling students that a patchwork is usually something made up of various or different parts. It is also a type of needlework in which pieces of fabric are sewn together to make something new. You might like to look at some patchwork images together to illustrate this point.
NOTE: You will need to prepare a box filled with symbolic objects from your past (e.g. photos, ornaments) and bring it to school. Make sure you do this ahead of time.
Read the first line of the blurb on the back of the book. What questions does it raise? How does this connect to our understanding of patchwork?
You can get a better sense of students’ knowledge and experiences by engaging them in discussion. Get them to think-pair-share in response to the following questions, or invite them to share their thoughts as a class:
- What are memories (e.g. remembering something from the past)?
- Why do we need memories?
- What do we already know about memories?
- What is a special memory that you have? Is it a happy or sad one? Why?
- Have you ever moved house? What did you pack? What are your memories of moving?
Get students to sit in a circle and show them your memory box. Hold up each item one-by-one, recalling the memory that it evokes and why it is special to you. Carefully pass the items around so that students can engage with them. Do the objects remind them of any of their own memories?
In small groups of three or four, students are to identify one special object from their own lives and share the memory that it triggers. The group will then choose one memory and act it out through mime, with one student in the role of the storyteller. Share these mimes with the rest of the class.
Looking into the book
NOTE: For the purpose of tracking page numbers, the first page of the story is considered p. 2.
Show students four images from the book in random order (e.g. pp. 4–5, 11, 16–17 and 37). Give them some time to view the illustrations, then ask them to guess the order in which they appear.
Invite students to predict what the story might be about based on what they have seen. Encourage them to consider the illustrations as well as the words and images on the front and back cover. They can share their ideas all together.
Finally, explain that the class will be reading and exploring a text about memories, change and embracing adversity. You could ask students to make some more predictions about what they think might happen; a prediction matrix (labelled ‘making predictions’ under Teacher Toolkit’s graphic organisers) may be useful here.
Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’
Read Paperboy to the class for enjoyment. You might like to ask some rhetorical questions or engage in personal think-alouds along the way to keep students thinking about the story.
At the end of the reading, discuss why Danny Parker (author) and Bethany Macdonald (illustrator) might have created this story. Ask questions such as:
- What is the purpose of the book (to describe, persuade, entertain, enquire, socialise, explain, instruct, recount)?
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is your opinion of this story?
- What do you think the story was about?
These questions should give you an insight into how students have understood the story, and could elicit some observations that may be worth exploring further. Students can then complete their prediction matrices and compare their initial predictions to what actually happened in the story.
Explore the idea of families within the community:
- What is a family?
- What does your family look like?
- What do other families you know look like?
- What are some similarities and differences between your family and other families?
As an optional activity, you could get students to draw their families on A4 pieces of paper.
Rich assessment task
In these initial activities, students have had the opportunity to connect to prior knowledge, unpack some vocabulary, and explore concepts of memory, family and change.
Students will now engage in a think-puzzle-explore activity. They will divide their page into three sections and fill them out according to the following prompts:
|Think about the book. What did you notice and find out?
|What puzzled you about the book? What are you still left wondering about?
|What things would you like to explore now after reading?
Once they have filled out each section, students are to write their wonderings (found in the ‘puzzle’ and ‘explore’ sections) on a separate piece of paper or sticky note. You can then add these to a class wonder wall.
Responding to the text
Now that students have begun to explore the text, visit the class wonder wall and read through the questions all together.
- Are there any connections between the questions?
- Is there something that seems to be missing from most people’s understanding?
- Is there anything that seems to be well understood that won’t require as much attention?
This is a great assessment for learning that will help guide your discussions and direct your teaching to be more personal and tailored to your students’ needs.
Have students think-pair-share to discuss their initial thoughts and opinions on Paperboy. They might focus on certain words or phrases, or express comments or questions. Encourage students to talk openly and honestly. For a digital alternative, they could try using Mentimeter.
Follow this with a chalk talk activity where students engage in a written ‘discussion’ (no talking). You could write the following prompting questions on large pieces of paper, leaving space for students to respond, and place them around the room:
- What do you think the is meaning behind the book?
- What themes come to the surface for you?
- What connections can you make to the story?
Add any other questions that emerge to the class wonder wall.
Finish by bringing everyone’s thoughts together in a whole class hands down discussion. Encourage open discussion as well as constructive feedback and friendly debate, where appropriate.
Exploring plot, character, setting and theme
Plot and inferences
Unpack the main events in Paperboy. What is the plot of this story?
Open up a discussion about crying. Paperboy asks if boys should cry on p. 10, and Dad has red eyes on p. 17. Come up with a list of synonyms for crying (e.g. sobbing, weeping, wailing, whimpering, bawling, blubbering) and talk about how they represent different physical and emotional responses. Our breathing changes depending on how we cry, and we cry in different ways for different reasons. Crying also releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals) that help ease physical and emotional pain.
Ask students to draw something integral to the story on a square piece of paper. Join these squares together to create a class patchwork that reviews some of the important elements in Paperboy.
Then, working in small groups, students are to create six tableaux (frozen theatrical images in which the action is paused) that visually represent the story and its main plot points. The tableaux should be short and sharp, especially if students are adding sound and/or movement. They should also think about creating seamless transitions between each scene.
Now direct students to develop a six-part storyboard outlining the important elements of the story. Alternatively, they could retell the story using a six-sentence structure.
Inferencing in focus
Explore the subtle background images of the figures on pp. 18–19, where Paperboy talks about tissues. You could also examine the pages immediately prior to this that talk about Paperboy’s mum and dad (pp. 16–17).
What clues are in the imagery and language on these pages? What can the reader infer from these clues about what is happening in the story?
As a class, discuss the character of Paperboy. He doesn’t have a name – why? Do students agree (or disagree) that, because he is nameless, the reader can more easily identify with him?
Draw students’ attention to Paperboy’s parents. They are faceless, represented only using paper printed with text from the rest of the story. Why might the illustrator have made this choice?
Ask students to invent some personal details for Paperboy’s family, such as their names and ages, where they live, where they are moving to, and how they are feeling. Using the hot seat technique, choose a student to step into the role of Paperboy or one of his parents. The rest of the class will ask that character some questions, and the student in the hot seat will provide their imagined answers. Make sure you rotate the hot seat frequently to allow for a range of characters and perspectives.
Students could then complete a character map (under Teacher Toolkit’s graphic organisers) exploring what Paperboy or his parents say and do, how they look and feel, what they think about each other, and how the reader feels about them. This could be done on paper or using a visual organisation tool like Popplet.
The setting for this book is quite important. We find out on p. 2 that Paperboy is moving house, but as the text progresses, we see that this brings up more than just a new location. Explore the emotions and sensations that might arise from moving house.
The themes in Paperboy relate to the challenges and associated feelings that come up throughout our lives. These include memories, families, relationships, resilience, moving forward and embracing adversity, and making creative choices in the face of change (e.g. family breakdown).
Get students to sit in a circle and finish this sentence:
This story is about …
Together unpack the key themes from the book. Write relevant words and phrases on butcher’s paper as each student contributes ideas. This can be displayed on a wall for future reference.
Working in groups of any size, students are to develop and perform a short scene that explores ONE of these key themed. The scene does not need to relate directly to Paperboy, but it should further unpack the theme based on ideas from the previous discussion.
Now focus the class on the theme of moving forward and embracing adversity. The text is a bit of a cry for help from Paperboy. We see his raw emotions on p. 10, but the patchwork and creation of new things becomes his escape from his current situation.
Explore ideas around vulnerability, expressing emotion and helping yourself by reaching out for help when needed. This is an important topic; you might consider doing some extra learning around the growth mindset and resilient thinking.
Get students to make some creations of their own. What sort of things make them happy? Provide paper and other materials so they can make something that brings joy to their lives in a small way.
The ‘About Danny’ section on p. 38 reveals the author’s personal connection to this story. Discuss this with students.
Many authors, illustrators, storytellers, filmmakers and musicians are inspired to create based on their own life experiences. Ask students the following questions to spark some deep thinking:
- Why do people use their personal experiences to create art?
- How does this story connect with your life?
- How does the character of Paperboy connect to you?
- How do the themes of the story connect with your life?
- If Paperboy was at our school, what might you notice about him? What would you do to help and support him?
Text-to-text and text-to-world connections
Can students use the previously discussed themes to link Paperboy to another text or worldly example? Record any related texts that students come up with. Some examples can be found under More Resources > Related Texts.
Rich assessment task
Students are to film an explanation of their insights into Paperboy thus far. In doing so they should synthesise their understanding of the plot, characters, setting, themes and text connections.
As each student will bring their own background and experiences to the task, it should be completed individually. Possible prompting questions include:
- What do you think Paperboy is about? What clues do the author and illustrator share that enable you to draw this conclusion?
- What do you think the main theme of the story is and why?
- What is the meaning behind the story and between the lines?
Examining text structure and organisation
Explore the structure of Paperboy. What is it? Does it conform to the usual narrative structure, with an orientation to the setting and characters followed by a complication and resolution?
Unusually, the story starts with the complication. The orientation is very brief and the details of the resolution very general; as a reader we have to fill in the blanks and decide what understandings we bring to the book.
- How does this impact on the story itself?
- Why would an author write a book that requires the reader to draw on their own background and experiences?
- Is life cyclical, linear or unpredictable? Do you think the story emulates this?
Visual literacy and aesthetic techniques
An important element of this book is the connection between the story, language and imagery. Bethany Macdonald has created tactile illustrations with visual interest and a deeply emotional resonance with the themes of the book.
Discuss what is salient about Macdonald’s artwork. The illustrations at the start of the book feature more fragile materials like tissue paper, which crease and rip easily. As the story develops, however, Macdonald introduces sturdier paper and cardboard to reflect Paperboy’s security and stability. You could also explore her use of colour: at the beginning the images are darker, more monochromatic, but as the story moves forward and Paperboy finds joy they become more brightly coloured.
Turn to pp. 14–15, where Paperboy is lying in bed. The placement of this picture is different to most of the others. Why is there so much white space? What might the illustrator be conveying?
If you would like to delve deeper into the illustrations with your students, the following resources may be useful:
- The CBCA judges’ comments about Macdonald’s illustrations
- Joy Lawn’s interview with Macdonald
- Macdonald’s Instagram account
Examining grammar and vocabulary
Danny Parker writes with a poetic and minimalist style. He has a gentle but powerful way with words.
Ask students to write five words or phrases that capture their experience of the book on a piece of paper. Encourage them to think beyond what has been literally written. Direct students to give one, get one by walking around the room and sharing one word or phrase with a peer, explaining the thinking behind their choice. They can repeat this multiple times, sharing a different word or phrase each time they meet someone new.
Students can then choose one word or phrase and one piece of material to write it on (e.g. tissue paper, crepe paper, cardboard, butcher’s paper). Hang a picture of Paperboy somewhere in the classroom and arrange these words and phrases around him.
Turn to pp. 12–13, where Paperboy describes feeling annoyed. Together explore the connection between the words, their meaning and the accompanying illustration, especially Paperboy’s facial expression.
Review students’ understanding of similes as a method of comparing one thing with another different thing. This language technique is used to create more vivid images and emotions without bringing an extra character or event into the story.
Students can try developing their own similes using the same structure:
Everything is annoying, like …
You could develop more similes for other parts of the book (or for the entire story) if you wish to explore this technique further.
Parker uses metaphors to convey a message about bouncing back in the face of adversity. He explores the challenges and small moments of joy in Paperboy’s life through different types of paper. This includes tissue paper that is not strong enough for repairs, or folded paper with which to create hope and happiness (e.g. boats, birds, trees). Students may also notice the metaphor of the cracks and tears in Paperboy’s home.
Phonics and spelling
Explore Parker’s use of language. Use a retrieval chart to make two lists: one made up of high frequency words, and one made up of advanced vocabulary.
|High frequency words
Examine the advanced vocabulary list. Can students identify any letter patterns? Encourage them to look for double letters (‘wobbles’, ‘puzzles’), compound words (‘everything’, ‘patchwork’), prefixes (‘repairs, unpacked’), suffixes (‘happiness’, ‘closely’) and syllables (‘precious’, ‘scrunching’). They can also look for uncommon sound or letter patterns, such as the /sh/ phoneme in ‘precious’ and ‘tissues’. As an optional activity, they could choose one word to explore its etymology.
Can students think of a strategy to spell some of these advanced words effectively in the future?
Rich assessment task
If appropriate for your class context, begin by asking students:
- Metaphorically speaking, what type of paper do you think you would connect with at this point in your life? Why?
- Can you relate your choice to Paperboy?
Students are to create a collage that reflects their personality OR conveys their reaction to a moment from their life. They should explore how different types of paper, methods of preparation (e.g. cutting, tearing) and colour choices can add further layers of meaning and emotion to their work. Make sure you provide a range of materials for this task; students could also use materials they have brought in from home.
Optional assessment task
There is no direct or indirect speech in Paperboy.
As an optional task, students can choose a page (or range of pages) from the book and develop a suitable sequence of speech that could be inserted into the story.
The story continues…
Paperboy ends on pp. 36–37. Invite students to predict what might happen after this point. They can then continue writing the story (approx. three pages) in a similar style to Danny Parker. They can also illustrate their text using the same techniques as Bethany Macdonald.
Once written, students can swap their pages with a peer and engage in a reader’s theatre activity.
An important element of Paperboy’s story is his journey towards safety, security and happiness. Provide students with a selection of shoe boxes and paper and invite them to design a safe space for Paperboy. They should explain why this is a safe space and what motivated their design choices.
Happiness and resilience
Paperboy creates many things from paper that bring him a degree of happiness (e.g. a boat, a hat, a bird). Following this example, students are to come up with their own designs for something that would bring them joy. They are to sketch and label their design, including any necessary materials and salient features. They will then present this to the class and briefly explain how it would bring joy to their lives.
Paperboy is also a wonderful jumping-off point for learning about the growth mindset and resilient thinking (see Responding > Exploring Plot, Character, Setting and Theme > Themes). You could present students with a range of activities that stimulate resilience and persistence and allow them to complete a few. The following resources may assist with this:
- 10 growth mindset for kids: activities your students will love
- 20 growth mindset activities for kids
Paperboy on stage
Students can imagine that they are staging a production of Paperboy for the rest of the school. They are to design the costumes and/or set for this production, incorporating elements of paper collage and patchwork.
Rich assessment task
Invite students to write a story from a child’s perspective that explores change and/or resilience in some way. Encourage them to focus on ‘showing’ the reader what is happening rather than simply ‘telling’ them.