Monday, May 14, 2007

A sense of place...

When the Possum Magic Book Rap I'm doing with my students ran the first time, in 2004, I mentioned on the accompanying Teacher Rap that I remembered an anecdote by Australian author, Libby Gleeson. Libby once said that one of the ways a writer can make a fiction story have an air of authority and uniqueness about it is to capture "a sense of place". For example, her charming children's picture book, "Big Dog", is set in the street where she and her family lived and - even though Armin Greder drew very different illustrations for the book - the story still carries an authenticity that the action occurs, not just on any residential street, but one particular street. Even with the economy of words needed by a picture book, or the briefest of production chats between author and editor, and then editor and illustrator.

For this Rap Point, where the possums of "Possum Magic" will visit the students' own town/suburb and have a new adventure, written by the students, it seemed to me that I really wanted the students to convey their "sense of place". That previous time, in our brainstorming session to write jointly about Penrith, I had the students describing orally, and in detail: the local car park, Penrith Plaza, Lemongrove Bridge, High Street and other (to them) instantly recognisable locales. The unique Penrith food that was found became obvious; if the students described Penrith clearly enough, the available local food is always going to be mentioned in their descriptions. I hoped. And I wasn't disappointed.

I wondered if this new batch of students would coincidentally delve into the same material - but they have surprised me yet again! We did our brainstorm in two sessions, last Friday and again (quite briefly) today. This time, the students had vivid oral descriptions of how to get to Penrith from the city - most of them would go by train, of course, not bicycle like the grandmother possum in the original picture book, so suddenly they have Grandma Poss at Circular Quay station, buying train tickets: for herself and the bike! (Hush is still invisible and doesn't need a ticket, of course.)

The students also settled on one particular takeaway food shop, gave great descriptions of it (including its unique smells!) and they are now really eager to do a joint construction of our first draft tomorrow.

Thanks again, Libby, I'll be forever grateful for your insistence that every book (and even a few paragraphs?) should have its own "sense of place".

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