This unit of work was created in partnership with The Garret and accompanies their interview with Alison Lester. 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. Each activity is linked to a specific section of Alison Lester’s interview and the relevant portion of the interview is noted at the beginning of the activity.
Getting to know the author including:
- cultural background
- family, family history and relationships
- personal experiences
Activity one: Australian upbringing
This activity relates to 10:10 mins–11:20 mins of the interview.
Lester explains that she grew up in South Gippsland, surrounded by the Australian bush, animals and landscape, and discusses how this influenced her writing and illustrating.
Take out a selection of Lester’s books from your school library. In pairs or small groups, have students identify and document the Australian elements in the stories. They should observe for flora, fauna, clothing, characters, and landscapes. If your students are struggling, you could brainstorm a list of things for them to look for prior to completing this task.
Give your students time to write about their own Australian upbringing. You could challenge them further to write a certain length or in a certain style or perspective. In addition to their account of their Australian upbringing, have students create a one-page spread of illustration/s depicting a scene from their upbringing.
(ACELR038) (ACELR040) (ACELR049) (ACELR050) (ACELR052)
Activity two: The Great Australian Road Trip
This activity relates to 11:42 mins–12:42 mins of the interview.
In her interview, Lester discusses the road trip she went on with her family that provided the inspiration for her picture book, Are We There Yet? which is also a Reading Australia teaching resource for Year 3 students.
- Read Are We There Yet? with your students.
- Discuss the elements of the book that work together to tell the story of the journey around Australia.
- Use the physical journey undertaken by the family in the book to explore the motif of journey/quest in literature:
- How can a picture book convey the significance of a journey/quest?
- How do the pictures work to enhance the symbolism of the journey?
- How might the physical journey undertaken be a metaphor in Are We There Yet?
- Select a contemporary text in any genre or medium (such as one from the suggested list below which are all films or which have film adaptations), to explore the journey/quest motif:
After analysing a secondary contemporary text for the appearance of the journey/quest motif, students compare and contrast the elements of the journey across the two texts. Students could look for and identify archetypal characters of a quest (the hero, the helper, the wise old man) or traits of the journey across the two texts.
(ACELR038) (ACELR040) (ACELR042) (ACELR044) (ACELR045) (ACELR046) (ACELR047)
The writers’ journey including:
- early work
- development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
- themes, issues and motivations.
Activity three: Writing from photographs
This activity relates to 9:28 mins–10:10 mins of the interview.
Lester explains that when illustrating her novel, The Quicksand Pony, she used photographs as reference points to help with the illustration.
If possible, visit an old bric-a-brac store, second-hand shop or flea market and collect old photographs to use with your students. If you are unable to do this, a web search could reveal old images/photographs that you could print and laminate. (Make sure that these are Creative Commons’ licensed before doing so.)
Students are to create a character (through illustration) by selecting a photo and representing it in their own style. Students could accompany their illustrations with a character profile and background sketch of that person or animal.
(ACELR038) (ACELR042) (ACELR044) (ACELR048) (ACELR050) (ACELR051)
The writers’ craft including:
- Editing and redrafting/rewriting.
Activity four: Girls vs boys
This activity relates to 19:56 mins–20:39 mins of the interview.
Lester discusses her familiarity with having the main characters in her stories as girls or women. She speaks of her unconscious shaping of characters based around people she knows or herself.
Ask students to brainstorm a list of the types of stories that boys or girls might like to read. The aim is to draw out stereotypical responses and to come up with two very distinct lists.
In pairs or small groups, students are to discuss the following:
- What genre might girls/boys like to read most?
- What is the importance of exposing girls/boys to different types of stories?
- Do girls or boys make more convincing heroes/heroines?
- Are there certain stories that only girls/boys can tell?
- Can you give an example of a text where a girl is the protagonist in a ‘boy story’? What about a boy as a hero of a ‘girl story’?
Using the lists and discussion of what kind of stories boys/girls enjoy reading, encourage students to transplant a girl character into a typical ‘boy story’ or vice versa.
(ACELR038) (ACELR039) (ACELR049) (ACELR050) (ACELR051)
Activity five: Excruciating Mr Men
This activity relates to 15:55 mins–16:36 mins of the interview.
Lester references the two audiences that she addresses in her books, the children and the adults. She cites the Mr Men series as ‘just excruciating’ to read to her own children.
Bring in a collection of the Mr Men and Little Miss books for your students. In pairs, students should read through the books noting the following:
- any literary devices used
- names of the characters and how they are drawn to reflect their traits
- plot development, or lack there of
- any suggestions for how the plot or characters could be improved.
As a class, discuss what characteristics are essential to making an engaging children’s story book.
Using the information generated from the analysis of the Mr Men or Little Miss books, students, still in their pairs, should rewrite their individual titles to make each more logical and more engaging.
For an additional challenge, students could try to rewrite the plot to appeal to an audience of both children and an adult audience.
(ACELR042) (ACELR044) (ACELR038) (ACELR049) (ACELR050) (ACELR051) (ACELR052)
Comparison with other writers and texts
- versions of style and key themes in other modes, media and contexts
- aspects of genre
- evaluation of the body of work within Australian culture and literature.
Lester sites several Australian writers and illustrators in her interview whom she admires. These writers/illustrators/artists have profiles and links to their work on the Reading Australia website. You could arrange for your students to compare and contrast the themes explored across the children’s picture books, the style of illustration, representation of ideas and characterisation.
Lester lists several popular children’s picture books at the end of her interview that she would have loved to have written.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
- The Snail and the Whale and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
Your students could undertake comparative studies of the themes and issues in these texts with Lester’s texts, and analyse the illustrative styles. Students could comment on the value of picture books, the relevance of them and their appeal to students of all ages.
(ACELR037) (ACELR038) (ACELR040) (ACELR044)
Culminating rich assessment task
This assessment task is borne out of Lester’s description of her editing and refinement process.