Connecting to prior knowledge

The Duck and the Darklings is an allegorical tale in the form of a postmodern picture book, featuring:

  • varied typography
  • dystopian themes
  • abstract illustrations
  • narrative text with poetic and lyrical phrasing

Glenda Millard’s text helps the reader explore themes of dystopia, the environment, family, kindness, memories, hope, light and restoration. Light in particular becomes a symbol of hope and recovery, creating a pathway out of darkness. The symbols and imagery in the text are supported by Stephen Michael King’s artwork.

Teacher read-aloud and ‘tell me’ activity

  1. Read the book aloud, showing the illustrations to the class as you do so. Read to the end at least once without interruption before inviting students to discuss.
  2. After reading, conduct the ‘tell me’ activity by inviting students to share:
    1. enthusiams (what they liked/disliked)
    2. puzzles (what they didn’t understand)
    3. connections (what patterns they discovered) – preliminary text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world

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Talking points about the themes

Discuss books with similar themes to The Duck and the Darklings. Ideally these will be familiar to your students, but if not, read each one aloud. Develop some true/false statements to use as talking points and start a discussion about the themes. Students do not need to decide whether a statement is absolutely true or false – what matters most is the discussion. The following table contains some suggested books, themes and talking points.

Book Theme Talking point
The Feather by Margaret Wild, illus. Freya Blackwood Dystopia and memories of time past The people think the feather is a treasure because there was a mass exodus of birds, and they no longer fly in the sky.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illus. Julie Vivas Memories from life All elderly people remember their past with fondness.
Remembering Lionsville by Bronwyn Bancroft Memories and history of place and family over time All elderly people remember their past with fondness.
One Tree by Christopher Cheng, illus. Bruce Whatley Environment and memories The environment can affect people’s mood in positive ways.

Creating a writer’s notebook

Students can now begin taking notes in a personal writer’s notebook. This will assist them with the final Rich Assessment Task for The Duck and the Darklings (see Creating). Together list some of the ways students can use a writer’s notebook to collate ideas for story writing; you can refer to this throughout the unit.

As you progress, give students regular opportunities to record their thoughts and new understandings about the book. They can decide how to organise their own notebooks, but may wish to include sections for:

  • Memories
  • Connections that trigger new ideas
  • Interesting words and phrases
  • Things I wonder about

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

NOTE: For the purpose of tracking page numbers, the first page of the story is considered p. 2.

Exploring word meaning during re-reading

Ask students to use their bodies to ‘act out’ their feelings, or replicate the characters’ emotions and actions, using the freeze frame technique. Explain any vocabulary that might be unfamiliar (e.g. ‘wistful’ on p. 20 or ‘velvet’ on p. 24), but try not to explain an invented word if its meaning can be easily inferred (e.g. ‘remembery’ on p. 20, ‘yellowly’ on p. 21, or ‘sorrydrops’ on p. 24). Discuss students’ freeze frame responses to the following prompts, exploring how and why the author has used certain words and phrases.

Page Freeze frame
p. 4 personal feelings when hearing about the ruined world of Dark
p. 5 the action of clambering
p. 8–9 Peterboy’s longing for something wonderful
p. 13 personal feelings when hearing about the hope in Idaduck’s heart
p. 14 personal understanding (or otherwise) of Grandpapa’s reference to Idaduck as another person’s child
p. 20 Idaduck’s wistfulness and feelings of wanderlust
p. 22 the emotions conjured by Peterboy’s imaginings
p. 24 the action of ‘sorrydrops’ falling from eyes
p. 29 the Darklings’ realisation that the darkness has gone
p. 30 the action and emotion of Idaduck flying away

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Rich assessment task

The sketch-to-stretch strategy involves students drawing quick sketches to extend and demonstrate their comprehension.

Working individually or in small groups, students are to choose one of the 3D freeze frames they created with their body and turn it into a 2D drawing. They should also provide a written or oral explanation of what their drawing depicts using language from the text.

Students can then share their drawings with the rest of the class.

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Responding to the text

Oral discussion about the author’s use of literary devices

Glenda Millard’s use of literary devices adds emphasis to important words in a phrase or sentence, in addition to giving the text a poetic, lyrical or rhythmic quality. Place students in small groups to share their ideas about the author’s use of literary devices, using talk tokens so that each person has a chance to contribute to the discussion.

Examples of literary devices in The Duck and the Darklings include:

Device Page Example
Alliteration p. 4 sorry, spoiled place’

broken and battered’

bright and beautiful’

p. 5 finding fields’
Assonance p. 5 ‘gathering fiddlesticks for firewood, filling billies with trickle’ (compare the /short i/ to the /long i/ in ‘firewood’)
p. 6 ‘slides down the steeps, puddles in the deeps and glimmers on the trickle’ (repetition of the /ee/ and /short i/ sounds)
Consonance p. 5 ‘seeking crumbs and crusts of comfort to take home’ (repetition of the /k/ sound)
p. 17 ‘cosied his toes and squeezed small speckled surprises into his slippers’ (repetition of the /z/ and /s/ sound)
Simile p. 7 ‘light as dazzling as a falling star’
Metaphor p. 20 ‘the rusty latchkey of his magnificent remembery’

‘a symphony of stories’

Connotation p. 4 ‘ruined’
p. 5 ‘lonely things’
Allusion p. 4 ‘bright and beautiful’ (alludes to the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’)
p. 5 ‘heavenlies’ (a Biblical term with exalted or spiritual connotations)

‘crumbs and crusts of comfort’ (conjures imagery of bread, a source of physical and spiritual sustenance)

Repetition and rhythm p. 9 ‘He wished for more than crumbs and crusts. He wished for a scrap of wonderfulness.’

The following prompts will enable students to explore the effect of literary devices in The Duck and the Darklings. You may need to support them to develop their understanding of connotation, imagery and symbolism.

  • What is the effect on your feelings or emotions when you read the words … … … ?
  • What do the words … … … make you see in your mind’s eye?
  • What do you hear when you read the words … … … ?
  • Do the words … … … activate your sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste?
  • Why does the author use the words … … … to describe … … … ?
  • Have you heard the phrase … … … before? In what context?
  • In what context do we normally use the words … … … ? What meaning does the author create by using those words to describe … … … ?

Students can add any new ideas from these discussions to their writer’s notebook.

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Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

The symbolic use of light

One example of symbolism and metaphor in The Duck and the Darklings is the use of light, which features in both text and illustrations. Light represents a pathway out of physical and emotional darkness, guiding the way for Idaduck at the end of the tale. Grandpapa’s memories are also filled with light, harking back to a time when the world was ‘bright and beautiful’; it is Peterboy’s wish to see this light (and the happiness it brings) in Grandpapa’s eyes once again.

  1. Explore some common light symbols (e.g. candles, sunlight, fire) and their meanings. You may wish to consult a list ahead of time for your own reference.
  2. Show students the animated poem Keepers of the Flame by Peter and Paul Reynolds, and invite them to engage in a ‘tell me’ activity (see Literature > Connecting to Prior Knowledge > Teacher Read-Aloud and ‘Tell Me’ Activity).
  3. Place students in small groups, each with a copy of the book, to find other examples of the author and illustrator’s use of light. Invite them to share their findings with the class.

Comparing and contrasting utopia and dystopia

Grandpapa remembers when the world was ‘bright and beautiful’; discuss whether this perspective is utopian (you can also discuss why we say ‘a utopian’ instead of ‘an utopian’, i.e. it begins with the consonant /y/ sound). By contrast, the world Peterboy has grown up in is dystopian, which the reader can imagine is a consequence of environmental damage (this is alluded to on p. 29). Using a resource like Miami Dade College’s LibGuide, discuss with students the dystopian characteristics or elements that are evident in The Duck and the Darklings.

Students can use a Venn diagram to chart the things they would sense (see, hear, smell, touch/feel and taste) in the book’s dystopian world versus Grandpapa’s utopia. They should record the similarities (comparisons) in the space where the circles overlap, and the differences (contrasts) in the outer sections.

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Allow time for students to record their thoughts and new understandings from this section in their writer’s notebook.

Rich assessment task

Writing word pictures

A Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) approach to student learning

Explore some of the descriptive phrases and uncommon/invented words that Millard uses to paint a picture of the land of Dark (e.g. Peterboy’s description on p. 6). Using these as inspiration, model how to write a word picture that describes a sunrise or sunset. For example: ‘Roundly, roundly floats the sun on gilded wisps of cotton wool, upwards through the heavenlies.’

Now support the class to write a joint word picture about something in your environment. Ask for word suggestions and encourage students to focus on capturing details (e.g. you could describe a tree outside the classroom in terms of its height, the colour of its flowers, the shape of its leaves, the texture of its bark, etc.). Finally, working individually or in small groups, students are to write their own word pictures describing a familiar experience or place.

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Examining text structure and organisation

Analysing narrative genre structure

Model how to deconstruct the narrative in The Duck and the Darklings. Begin by exploring the narrative structure, then help students identify the elements or stages of the plot by looking at the function of key words, phrases or sentences. For example:

  • The story begins on p. 2 with an expository declarative sentence that introduces the location and one of the main characters.
  • The sentence at the top of p. 9, describing Peterboy’s return to the fields and the movement of his fingers, is a declarative sentence that provides information about a progression of action over time.

Use the information from this discussion to create a plot diagram with students.

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Examining grammar and vocabulary

Examining multimodal meaning

Opportunities for developing multimodal literacy abound in The Duck and the Darklings.

Revisit and expand students’ understanding of connotation, imagery and symbolism by examining how words and images work together to create meaning. Read selected passages from the text aloud without showing students the illustrations (see below for suggestions). Ask them what meaning they can gain from the words and phrases when read without the illustrations, and then with the illustrations. Encourage students to use the metalanguage for analysing visual images (e.g. salience, gaze) and words that describe elements of design (e.g. line, shape, colour).

Page Text
p. 3 the description of home (focus on ‘hole’)
p. 4 second last paragraph about the old ones’ reluctance to relive the past (focus on ‘gloomy burrows’)
p. 5 last paragraph describing how the children gather supplies (focus on ‘lost and lonely things’)
p. 6 Peterboy’s description of the outside world (focus on ‘steeps’ and ‘deeps’)
p. 17 the way Idaduck leaves gifts for Grandpapa (focus on ‘surprises’)

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Word inquiry: known and invented words

English words (and their spelling) have been influenced by different languages and changes in usage over time. Some writers such as Lewis Carroll (‘Jabberwocky’), William Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) have invented new words or neologisms.

Engage in a whole class discussion about how new words are created. When readers come across invented words, they must look for clues to the author’s intended meaning. Students can learn to analyse meaning by applying their knowledge of grammar (clause- or word-level analysis) and inquiring into the etymology, morphology and phonology of word spellings.

The activities for this section can be found in the word inquiry worksheet (PDF, 103KB).

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Allow time for students to record their thoughts and new understandings from this section in their writer’s notebook.

Rich assessment task

Pre-assessment: whole class tuning-in discussion

Past tense verbs ending in <_ed> or <_d> and words that have different patterns

Remind students of the four questions of structured word inquiry, which help describe:

  1. the meaning of the word;
  2. how the word is built;
  3. any related words; and
  4. how the graphemes are functioning (explain that some words represent the grapheme-phoneme connections and some are non-phonemic letters or etymological markers, and are not representing sounds but meaning connections)

Use the following words as examples:

p. 4 spoiled spoil + ed
dared dare + d
p. 7 talked talk + ed
p. 8 crept creep > crept

See also:

sweep > swept

leap > lept or leaped?

p. 13


carried carry/i + ed

See also:

lay > laid or layed?

NOTE: In colloquial English, the word ‘laid’ can have mature connotations that may be accessible through online dictionaries; teacher supervision is strongly advised.

Assessment inquiry: what is the base? Analyse the affix that marks past tense

As a class, create a list of all the words in The Duck and the Darklings with an <_ed> at the end (e.g. ‘spoiled’, ‘dared’). An application like Padlet or Jamboard may be useful here.

Next, students will break into small groups to identify the base and the suffix of each word. They should split the original list into lists of words that have:

  • an <_ed> suffix;
  • a <_d> suffix; or
  • a base that has changed before the <_ed> or <_d> has been added.

Students will then work as individuals (or in small, differentiated groups) to write ‘word sums’ for at least five words in each of the new lists. They need to spell out the structure of their word sums and explain the base + suffix, as well as any changes to the base before the suffix is added.

As an extended investigation, students could work in small groups to answer the following question:

Are there past tense verbs/words that do NOT have <_d> or <_ed> suffixes? Could they have these suffixes?

Ensure that students use age-appropriate sources (e.g. a children’s dictionary) to complete this investigation.

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Exploring The Duck and the Darklings

The Duck and the Darklings has a simple plot. Ask students to work in small groups to write a short and simple plot summary – the shorter the better. The goal is to understand the basic underlying story. For example:

It’s about a little boy who lives with his grandfather. The little boy finds an injured duck. The little boy cares for the duck, but the grandfather cautions that one day the duck will want to return to nature. The little boy, the grandfather and the duck develop a caring relationship and one day the duck wants to return to nature.

Ask students to list the special ways Millard describes setting and emotion, including her wide range of figurative language and neologisms.

Creating a storyboard

Show students the ‘Understanding story plots’ video presented by ABC Education and Sydney Story Factory.

Then have them form small groups to brainstorm their own plot ideas. Each group will create a storyboard for an illustrated story, animation or movie. The plot should be simple and students should make notes under their illustrated storyboard panels. They should also use some descriptive and figurative language to describe the illustrated action, setting and characters.

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Throughout this unit of study, students have been adding information to their writer’s notebook. Give them one more opportunity to add notes about their new understandings and interesting words/phrases from the book, as well as any new words and phrases they may have invented themselves.

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Rich assessment task

Innovate on The Duck and the Darklings to create a new illustrated story. This may be done on paper or using a digital storytelling tool.

The student authors must:

  • Work as individuals or in small groups with appropriate differentiated support
  • Create a simple plot with three characters, one of whom needs to be rescued and – after a period of recuperation – goes back to their own home
  • Locate the story in a dystopian landscape
  • Include the symbolic use of light
  • Ensure the story is written in the past tense
  • Work with language to emulate Millard’s literary flair
    • Use invented words (e.g. by changing the function of adjectives to make nouns)
  • Work with images to emulate King’s artistic style
    • Use simple illustrations that support meaning making, particularly for invented or uncommon words that may have different connotative or allusive meaning
  • Use notes and ideas from their writer’s notebook

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