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Dragonfly Song

Exploring the 2017 CBCA Short List: Younger Readers

A red figure with a bull and serpent on Dragonfly Song cover

Author: Wendy Orr

 Allen and Unwin

Themes: Journey, quest, loneliness, ancient Greek mythology

Years: Australian Curriculum: English, Years 7 and 8; HASS (History and Geography), Year 7; The Arts (Visual Arts), Year 7 and 8 (NSW Stage 4)

From the publisher’s synopsis: Abandoned by the priestess of the island at birth, Aissa is an outcast, surviving by her wits — until she joins the acrobatic bull dancers who are sent away to compete on the island of the Bull King.

Unit writer: Helen Cozmescu

Building field knowledge

  • The story is set in the time of the Bronze Age. Find out about life in these times, and the tools people developed to help them survive. ACHASSK166 HT4-6
  • Play an interactive game about the Bronze Age to see how farmers, sheepherders and fisherman needed to defend their village, while growing its prosperity. ACOKFH003 HT4-6
  • Email or video call an archaeologist from a local university, and present prepared questions about the Bronze age. ACDSEH001 NSW Stage 4: Depth Study 1
  • Investigate Homer and read stories from classic Greek mythology, that involve King Minos. For example: Daedalus and Icarus, Theseus and the MInotaur. ACELT1629
  • Investigate the role of the deity in the ancient Greek civilisation. ACOKFH003 HT4-6
  • Investigate the games that were played in ancient Greece. How do these compare to the games that are played today? ACOKFH003 HT4-6

Exploring the context of the text

  • Create a map of the island and plot where the different groups lived. ACHGS050  GE4-8
  • Snakes played a prominent role on the island, as creatures to be feared and revered. Compare the significance of the snake across cultures, including Australia's Indigenous cultures. What similarities can be found? ACELT1806
  • Like many ancient civilisations the hierarchical island society used slaves. Use the Here, now/There, then thinking routine to explore the social hierarchy. ACELT1626
  • The bull was significant for the entertainment of the King. Consider current debates about the use of animals in sport. What sports today use animals?  What are the debates for and against this practice? ACELY1804
  • Discuss symbolism used in the text, including that of the dragonfly. ACELT1767

Responding to the text

  • Examine the animals in the text and the feelings they represented — Milli-cat, Gold cat, Spot Goat, the wolf, the bull, the snakes. ACELT1621
  • Make a list of the rituals and practices, presented in the text. ACELT1619
  • Discuss the strategies that Aissa used to keep safe — becoming mute, hiding, spying. How did these behaviours change and what caused these changes? ACELT1807

Exploring plot character and setting

  • Students work in groups and agree upon a character trait that describes Aissa. Groups select elements of the plot to justify their choice of trait. ACELT1620
  • Aissa was hated by the servants, bullied by some and ignored by others. Consider Aissa through the eyes of other characters — Half One and Half Two, Squint-Eye, Nasta and Nasta’s mother. What motivated them to act? ACELT1626
  • Despite Aissa’s loneliness, there were people who showed her kindness — Kelya, the goat herders, Luki and the wise women. Discuss the difference these characters made in Aissa's life. ACELT1626
  • What did Aissa’s name mean to her? How was Aissa affected by the names people called her? ACELT1619
  • Compare the setting on the island to the setting at the Bull King's palace. ACELT1622
  • Describe Aissa's involvement with the Lady, her birth mother. How did the decisions the Lady made affect Aissa throughout the story? ACELT1620

Creating texts

  • Brainstorm memorable scenes from the story. Students explore the use of free verse to create a writing piece, as  a response to one of the scenes. ACELT1805
  • Re-write the Bull Dance from the point of view of a spectator. ACELT1625
  • The author used repetition of words and phrases, in the free verse. Explore repetition in writing and consider its effect. ACELT1805

Examining text structure and organisation

  • Examine the way the story has been divided into sections. As well as chapters, the story is sectioned into Book 1 and Book 2. Discuss the effect on the reader, to have the story sectioned in this way. ACELY1733
  • Discuss the prologue called The Firstborn Daughter. Why does the information received from this section of the text, sit outside of the chapters and books? ACELA1763
  • Critique the use of free verse.  What is common between the free verse sections? Why might the author have used free verse?  How does the use of free verse affect the reader? ACELT1627

Examining grammar

  • The story is written in present tense. Why might this authorial choice have been made? ACELA1763
  • The hyphen is used between a number of words that together act as an adjective. For example: first-sight-of-the-day; little-path-around-the-side-of-the-goat-meadow; Explore using this feature in your own writing. ACELA1547
  • Take a section of the free verse writing and complete a grammatical analysis. Use this as a mentor text to create your own writing, by substituting the nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions. ACELT1625

Examining visual and multimodal features

  • Vases and pottery (.pdf 134 kB) from the ancient Greek times told stories. Look at the silhouetted images on the front cover and compare these to illustrations found on ancient Greek pottery. ACELA1548
  • Use modelling clay to make a mama stone.  Students investigate an ancient Greek script and carve their name, in the stone, using the script. ACAVAM118
  • Draw a symbol that could have been included in the visual design of the front cover. ACELY1735

Additional resources and links to other texts:  Wendy Orr has written several books. Compare Dragonfly Song with the Nim series, which is also set on an island. 

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