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April Discussion – Junior Fiction – Paruku by Jesse Blackadder

Jesse Blackadder’s books have been very well-received by the teaching community. We talked about the success of her earlier novel, Stay: The Last Dog in Antarctica and noted many schools were reading this for Readers’ Cup. The feeling from the group was that Jesse’s books are particularly well-researched and comprehensive, comprising stories of “faction” – stories dramatized around factual incidents. We discussed the original newspaper article that prompted Jesse to write this story and felt that the setting and construction of the story was very believable. As part of Jesse’s research, she travelled to Lake Gregory and also to Dubai to see the brumbies in the Sheik’s stables. The Emirates Equestrian Federation state,

Endurance Riding is a competition to test the competitor’s ability to safely manage the stamina and fitness of the horse over an endurance course in a competition against the track , the distance, the climate, the terrain and the clock.

(http://eef.ae/index.php?loading=enduracerules&default=1)

Although most of us had some knowledge of the history of the Australian Brumbies, most of us had not heard of endurance racing before and were quite fascinated by this sport.

Whilst most of the group were quite impressed with this novel, some felt that there was something little that just held this back from becoming an “Australian classic”. Some of you suggested that tighter editing in sections would have helped. As a group we were divided on the issue of accessing the horses’ internal monologue. Whilst many loved that the audience was exposed to the horse’s voice and felt it added another dimension to the story, for others it took away from the narrative drive.

We could see that this novel would be very popular with upper primary girls, particularly those who are horse-mad at this stage. We also felt though that this novel, if read as a class novel, had enough to sustain the interest of boys. Some of the group felt that the story was let down by the cover. We then debated the merits of reading whole novels in years 5 and up and/or or reading excerpts as suggested, especially when classes are time poor. Some felt that excerpts would work really well with this novel whilst others thought that as this is a story of a journey – both Rachel’s and Paruku’s – that we needed to read the entire story for the full impact. According to ACARA

Literature includes a broad range of forms such as novels, poetry, short stories and plays; fiction for young adults and children, multimodal texts such as film, and a variety of non-fiction. Literary texts also include excerpts from longer texts. This enables a range of literary texts to be included within any one year level for close study or comparative purposes.

(http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/english/content-structure)

An interesting article about one point of view of teaching literature can be found at: http://www.middleweb.com/10172/let-them-read-stories/

We thought the family relationships were well developed and the character of Rachel and her struggles to find her place in the family and the world, particularly convincing. Rachel learns some powerful lessons about the love that her father has for her and also develops an awareness that sometimes adults make decisions that children do not agree with nor understand. There was some conflict of opinion over the character of her sister Cassie who is a champion rider injured in a fall. Whilst some felt that Mike had indicated with his comments that Cassie lacked some social and emotional skills, “Cassie’s different, Rachel … She’s not like most kids. She’s a brilliant rider and a brilliant student, but she’s not good at relating to people.” (p176), others felt that Cassie’s behaviour was indicative of normal self-centred teen behaviour, particularly apparent in children who are driven by their sport.

We thought that the novel was a great way to open up the conversation about indigenous culture, “It’s rude to stare in traditional culture,” Mike said. “Especially at someone older than you.” (p63), animal welfare and rights, environmental issues and land management. The descriptions between the Australian desert and the desert in Dubai also provided some interesting geographical comparisons and it was felt that this is a very worthwhile novel to add to the curriculum.

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