Friday, 27 January 2012

Original Lesson 7: Possum Magic for Australia Day

Possum Magic is a picture book written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas. It centres on a young possum who is invisible and travels around Australia's major cities, eating our iconic foods, to gradually regain his visibility.

The following lesson was created as part of a group presentation in which I was a member so I would like to thank my fellow pre-service teachers and friends - Bec, Bridgette, Tara and Katie - for their significant inputs and permission to public it on this blog. The lesson would be a very timely one to run in the first few days of the Australian school year following so closely from Australia Day which, for international readers, is on the 26th of January.

After reading the book aloud to the class, you start by handing out the states of Australia and asking the children to fit them together as a kind of puzzle to make Australia as a whole. This is a great spatial activity. Then, you can have students individually (or as a whole class using the whiteboard and a large map of Australia), draw images of the food the possum ate at all the different capital cities. The book makes use of alliteration and this can be drawn upon in helping the students remember the locations at which food was consumed, eg pavlova in Perth and minties in Melbourne. The book also makes great use of Australian animals and students could research their favourite native creatures and present a role-play to the class.

The activity I am most excited about is the potential for students to research other countries, including cultural foods, native animals and major cities, and make their own version of the picture book. For instance, an Italian Wolf could be invisible and try to regain his image by eating spaghetti in Sicily or risotto in Rome. Students could conduct this research using non-fiction books from the school library or basic Google searches such as "native animal Italy". The presentations of the books to the class, where students could expressively read their own, would provide a snapshot of countries across the world and, at the commencement of each presentation, the location of the country could be pinpointed on a world map at the front of the class.

The one weakness that I think the book has it is, probably owing to the time in which it was written, very Anglo-centric. By contrast, I consciously included a multicultural mix in my worked example of Original Lesson 3: Create a Place. As a result, I would encourage students to create a version on the Aboriginal culture or, if no students wanted to focus on this, I would create my own Aboriginal version to present to the class or at least mention Aboriginal cultural foods and key landmarks to pay homage to the significance of Indigenous practices in Australian culture.

What do you think of this idea? How else could Possum Magic be used in an Australian classroom? What other picture books do you use to teach students about Australia?

For international readers, do you know of any picture books that are iconic to your country and how would you use them in the classroom?


Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
Wombat Stew is another fun picture book for exploring Australian animals. I’ve seen some cute re-enactments of that by younger students.
Some clever people here in NZ have developed which has over 20 NZ picture books with suggested curriculum links. Our national day (Waitangi Day) is on Feb 6th and a few of the books listed could be used to look at NZ development, cultural icons, multiculturalism and Maori mythology. It might have some ideas that you could potentially Aussi-fy using suitable Australian picture books too.

Anna Kapnoullas said...

Hi Carolyn,
I had a look at and that's a fantastic resource. I'll search for an Australian version and share it if I find one. I especially like the curriculum links and activity sections. I'm going to revisit it in more detail when I have my folder in hand and I'm sure it will fill well over a page worth of great ideas that, as you say, can be applied to many picture books.