Fox prints

By Vita Forest

Have you read Margaret Wild’s Fox?  It is a searing tale of friendship, jealousy, temptation, grief and loss.  Did I mention it’s a children’s picture book?

My class has been examining it closely.  Noticing the similes, the use of present tense, the metaphors, the personification, the colours used by the illustrator Ron Brooks, the layout of the pages and the unusual scratchy lettering.

This week,  after a boring old handwriting lesson (“check your pencil grip, stay on the lines, sit up straight, trace slowly and carefully, form your letters in just the right way”) we changed gear to explore how Ron Brooks’ lettering contributed to the story.

He experimented and took some time to get it just right.  Brooks ended up writing the text by hand and using his left hand (he is right handed), hacking out the words, tracing some of the letters over and over, writing them down and then up the sides of pages, on diagonals, in capitals (screaming).  In short, breaking all the handwriting rules.

We looked at the book again and focused on the writing, looking not at what it said but how it said it.  The kids had a play on little whiteboards, swapping their usual writing hands, using capitals where they should have used lowercase, reversing their letters, looking away when they wrote, turning their boards upside down, writing over and over in the same space.  Then they chose a piece of coloured paper, a handful of oil pastels and went away to make their marks as one of the three characters – half-blind, trusting Dog, griefing, wary Magpie or sly, jealous, lonely Fox.  The stipulation – they could only write the name of their character, nothing more, nothing less.

Miss Sadie, rather cheeky and daring, stared me in the face and screwed up her paper into a ball.  I stared back at her and said, “Yes!  If you are Fox, that might be just what you would do.”  (They have witnessed one of their classmates do this same action on a rather regular basis when he is distressed and in the midst of a meltdown).  Suddenly, there was scrunching, there was ripping, there was smudging, there was scraping.  Some of them wrote their character’s name just once, others repeated the lines over and over and over again.

Another happy accident occurred when I handed out some black mounting paper that I had cut in half to what I thought was a good size to frame their work.  It turned out it was too small.  “Stick it on an angle,” I advised.  And the artworks looked better than they would have with a neat black border.

The next day, we sat in a circle and held up the artworks for others to see.  The students went around the circle and explained what they did, how they did it and why.  Amongst the “I did it coz that’s what I felt like” there were some gems.  Kelly left space around Magpie’s name because she was left all alone.   Sharni wrote Dog’s name without looking at the paper because Dog was blind and Lana ripped away a piece of Fox’s signature because his heart was broken in two.

Don’t tell me kids can’t understand difficult stories…

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Mobile Tales 11: a sky full of stars

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel awakens to discover changes in the night sky.

There were bumps.  There were rattlings and bangs.  There were loud voices as storm clouds disagreed with each other.  There were preparations for A Party.

Below the sea, it was tempestuous too.  The usual inhabitants of The Tabletop were swept away by the sudden maelstrom, even the whales had left, seeking refuge in Another Room.  Spiralling silver whirlwinds snaked down from the ceiling and strained toward the sea, ready to snatch up the unwary sailor.  The sun was having difficulty peering out behind the storm clouds and so the colour had been fairly removed from the world.   The Good Ship Possession swung about on its anchor in this monochromatic new realm.

Christabel, like the whales, was quite put out by the sudden disturbances in the atmosphere.  Why was there a need for all this whirling and washing, this spinning and stretching?  Why could the world not stay as it was?  For despite being an adventurer, the truth was that Christabel preferred routine and the predictable to savage disruption and hurly burly.  And so, after stowing the sails, and ensuring the anchor was still firmly lodged in the ceiling, Christabel retired to her cabin (and, in truth, to bed).  She would pass the remainder of the storm below deck (for she was fortunate to have a strong constitution and did not require fresh air to keep sea sickness at bay when the waves swelled and broiled).  Thus it was, that through the noise and the tempest, through the shrieks and the celebrations, through the games and singing of ditties, Christabel slumbered and snoozed under her cosy down quilt.

As was often the way in times of discord, Christabel slept when it was tumultuous, but woke when calm returned.  She opened her eyes and listened.  Through the thick paper-mache walls of The Possession, all she could hear was muffled voices, the clink of glassware in The Kitchen and gentle music.  The Party was Over.

She crawled from her bed, wrapped her gold silk kimono about her and climbed the ladder.  When she reached the deck, her eyes widened in wonder.  The Ceiling had been transformed.  Where once she had looked out on wide expanses of clear white skies, she now found The Possession floating beneath a sky full of stars!  Christabel clutched the side of the ship and gazed in delight at the new constellations.  How they sparkled!  How they twinkled merrily about her!  She leaned on her elbows and smiled up at the sky.

Perhaps there were good things that came of storms after all.

A sky full of stars

 

Mobile Tales 9: in which Christabel learns a disturbing fact about whales

By Vita Forest

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The whales!  Those alluring, majestic glamourous creatures which Christabel La Mouse spent far too much time watching and admiring from the deck of her galleon…  It was all very well to be high above them safe in the good ship Possession as it sailed on the ceiling, but Christabel had just read something very disturbing.

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Whales slumbering amongst the coral

Her whales spent much of their time slumbering amongst the brightly-coloured corals of the Booth Seat.  Or curled lazily atop a rocky outcrop called The Couch.  Or occasionally sitting on The Tabletop and blinking peaceably as they quietly meditated.

What all these places had in common were that they were below the surface of the sea.  Deep down in the water.  So far down that they required her to use her spy glass to see more than a black or white smudge in the depths of the ocean.  Which could otherwise have been mistaken for a boulder, or the shadow of a cloud, or an underwater cave.

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A boulder?

But her book, this book she had chosen to read in order to learn more about these magnificent creatures, insisted that they were not fish at all.  That they did, in fact, breathe air as she did.  That they needed to come to the surface of the sea to take great gulps of it and to expel stale air out of their bodies in a violent, shooting spout through a hole located along their backs!

It was a lot for a small mouse to take in.

Imagine such a sight!  Imagine the whales at the surface of the sea, where the good ship Possession floated…  It made Christabel fairly quake in her boots just to think about it.  Was it really possible?  Could the authors be mistaken?

Her whales never rose to the upper edge of the sea where it met the air.  And for this, Christabel was grateful.  They instilled equal parts fascination and terror in her small mouse heart.  What would she do if they came close enough to touch?  Was it really possible they were known to capsize ships?  It was a disturbing thought.

Christabel peered through her spyglass and trained it onto the top of their sleek sinuous bodies.  Perhaps it was beyond the limit of her spyglass, perhaps it was her own weak eyes, but she could not make out a breathing hole along their spines.

This pair seemed to be a special case.  Were they yet unknown to the scientists who spoke so authoritatively about spouts and breaching and plankton?  She would need to read further.  (And be alert for any mysterious jolts to the hull of the galleon.)  Possibly (she hoped) these whales were different.

The world was indeed a mysterious place.  And perhaps it was a good thing that there were still things to learn.

Especially about the sea.

Especially about whales.

 

Everyday more geckos

By Vita Forest

For the last two weeks

A strange phenomena

A gang of geckos in my classroom.

They march up the walls

Keeping watch over the rubbish bin.

They peer at the whiteboard

Their sticky toes hugging the frame.

Some particularly curious ones watch me work at my computer

They must tell their friends –

Everyday more geckos.

And on the back wall by a Boy table and under the Indigenous language map

An army has appeared

Everyday more geckos

One clings to the clock and listens to its tock

They crawl up the windows

Every size, every colour, every pattern

When will it end?

Everyday more geckos.

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING Crow

READING my old novel in preparation to rework it.

LISTENING to an inspiring interview with Tim Smit on Radio National (he instigated The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall).

VISITING

  • with my old high school gang for a lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with Saskia and friends for another lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with family – to see my cousin up from Victoria.
  • a local national park with an Indigenous guide.

DANCING in the school hall for a very fun Zumba class.

MAKING 3D whimsical flowers with my class (potted up in strange receptacles in the style of Shaun Tan’s Eric).

STARTING our senior dance group’s rehearsals.

PREPARING for Parent/Teacher interviews next week…

 

Skubiszewski on the wireless 

By Vita Forest


Car coasting, gliding, sliding

down the slick road

for the millionth time

when the chiming through the speakers

alerts me to this moment

– Here.

Skubiszewski

(apparently)

Pulls me back to my body

To my seat

To the reverberating space between my ears

Clear as two hands

Firm on my shoulders

Listen

It says,

And I thumb up the volume

Be here 

in this jaunty, curious place

And I look past the rainspeckled glass

As the car descends

And we are floating,

Drifting with the fog that is

Rising in sheets, in veils

Come up from the river

Ssshhh

The trees are grey lace layers

Looming and swaying apart

And we are swimming through a cloud in a car.

Mobile Tales 6: A rainbow of reading

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel solves a puzzle and resolves to rearrange her bookshelf.

Peering through her spyglass one day, Christabel watched the undertakings in The Lounge Room with great interest. The smallest human was seated on the ocean floor in front of The Book Shelf and was sorting those precious rectangular receptacles of Knowledge and Stories into piles.  Christabel could not quite understand the categorisation.  Whereas her own small library (residing on two precious shelves in her cabin) was arranged by subject and author, the Human seemed bent on an entirely new system.  The treasured volumes by Melina Marchetta were split asunder and placed in four different piles, however the Neopolitan novels of Elena Ferrante remained side by side.  What was the logic?  The largest human swam about too, picking up and volume here and a volume there and examining the books with a critical eye.

It was the spine of the book, not the covers the humans were taking particularly note of.  Why was that?  The author and title could be gleaned just as easily from the front cover (and generally more easily too, being in larger print).  Christabel watched as the human picked up Eleanor and Park, and uncoupling it from Carry On, moved it to the first pile of books.

Then all at once the puzzle was unlocked.  These books were Daffodil, Sunshine, Egg Yolk and Fresh Butter. Carry On was placed with Turquoise, Deep Ocean, Midnight Sky and Glacier.  The new classifier was colour!


In the distance began The Yellows (rather small but imbuing that far-away corner with a cheery glow). Then the books progressed through The Oranges and into the drama of The Reds.  From there, it was a flicker into The Blues and then a lazy dappled wave over into The Greens.  This was Christabel’s favourite section.  She even held out her own green-gloved paws against the books to see where they would slot (third from the right Fangirl).


The Greens moved from a verdant jade through to an almost golden khaki, then onto The Browns proper.  A swift muddling of Greys and then into the solidity of The Blacks (where all Elena Ferrante’s tomes firmly sat).  Some books were most difficult to decide a place for.  The J.K. Rowlings in the collection were from that early multi-coloured era where each spine was made up of four lozenges of colour.  Which one to choose?  Christabel did not envy The Human those decisions.


When it was all done, she ran her eyeglass quickly along the finished shelves and delighted in the rainbow of colours.  Who cared if the books were not arranged by author?  Or by height?  What delight to make the books themselves a work of art, a pleasing object to look at!

And the smallest Human had made finding a treasured volume somewhat easier by writing out lists of books on colour coded paper to remind the reader that The Handmaid’s Tale had, in fact, a red spine and The Tao of Pooh, a blue.


Christabel snapped her spyglass back into itself and slotted it back into its holder.  She stared down myopically at the ocean floor for a moment, deep in thought.  All at once, she banged her palms lightly on the edge of the ship.  It was decided – she would emulate the Human creature – she would make a rainbow in her own cabin!

And with that decision made, she rushed downstairs to do just that.