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Nanberry: Black Brother White

Exploring the 2012 CBCA Shortlist: Younger Readers

Author: Jackie French

ISBN: 9780732290221 | HarperCollins

Themes: British colonisation, Aboriginal history and culture, family, racism, environment and sustainability

Years: Australian Curriculum: English   Year 5Year 6,   Year 7. Suitable for ages 11+ (general recommendation). This unit targets Middle to Upper Primary.

From the publisher's synopsis: In 1789, in Sydney Cove, Surgeon John White adopts Nanberry, an Aboriginal boy. Nanberry uses his gifts as an interpreter to bridge the worlds he lives in. With his white brother, Andrew, he witnesses the struggles of the colonists. And yet he is haunted by the memories of Cadigal warriors who will one day come to claim him as one of their own. This true story follows the brothers as they make their way in the world — one as a sailor in the Royal Navy, the other as a hero of the Battle of Waterloo.

Exploring the context of literature

  • Find out more about Indigenous Australia and various Aboriginal cultures using the Australian Museum website. ACELT1608
  • Use information on Terra Nullius to build students’ understandings of Aboriginal history and the Sydney Cove area before and during white settlement. Research first contact in your own area, using local indigenous elders and libraries as starting points. ACELT1608
  • If you are able to carry out an excursion in Sydney, follow the Museum of Sydney’s Barani Barrabugu Yesterday Tomorrow walking tour. Alternatively download the walking guide (.pdf 3 MB), use Google Earth to locate (and zoom to ground level) some of the tour sites, and then carry out further research online. ACELT1806
  • Research more about the First Fleet using the websites Australian History and First Fleet. Create a classroom display wall with images, information and student-created diary entries in role as seamen, soldiers and convicts from the ships. ACELT1608

Examining literature

  • Each chapter of Nanberry focuses on one particular character and their experiences and is written in the third person. Try re-writing a short section of two different ‘voiced’ chapters in the first person and discuss how this changes both your perception of the character and the text as a whole. ACELT1610.
  • Find examples of setting descriptions of Sydney Cove and then draw an image of the land and settlement as described by each person. Compare and contrast students’ images and discuss how these different descriptions enable us to better understand the complexities of colonisation. ACELT1622

Examining literature (continued)

  • Read information texts from the school library or online about the British colonisation of Australia. Compare and contrast this text type with Nanberry by using a PMI chart to analyse how each enables you to explore the following ideas: facts about colonisation, learning about the first settlers, and the history of Sydney and Aboriginal people at the time of settlement. ACELT1616

Responding to literature

  • Why do you think the author wrote Nanberry when so many information books about colonial Australia already exist? ACELT1803
  • As a reader we learn about the internal conflicts of each character through their thoughts, actions and words. Choose one character and use hot seating at various points in the text to explore their conflicts. How does understanding a character’s internal conflicts help us to understand the external conflicts addressed in the wider themes of the text? ACELT1621

Creating literature

  • Read examples of early Sydney newspapers in Trove (for example 16th August 1828). Imagine you are a reporter in the early days of the colony and write an article describing Mr White’s adoption of Nanberry and the locals’ reactions to it. ACELT1625
  • Write a letter from Andrew back to Nanberry about his first year in England or at boarding school. Include references to his environment and his feelings about this new country. ACELT1798
  • Create a website or webpage (using a free design tool such as Weebly for Education) about one of the characters in the book by combining information in the text with your own research. ACELY1725
  • Research and then dress up as a character from the text and be interviewed about your life. ACELT1618

Examining text structure and cohesion (including punctuation)

  • Why do you think the author chose to write the book from so many different perspectives? How does this structure innovate on the traditional narrative structure and why is it successful? ACELA1518
  • The o’possum works as an extended metaphor throughout the book for Nanberry’s situation as a ‘pet’ straddling two cultures. Discuss how this metaphor works and provide examples from the text. ACELA1531

Examining grammar and vocabulary

  • The author uses noun, verb groups and personification, which relate to each character’s world to build descriptions of the settings (for example, Nanberry: ‘The harbour was emu-berry blue, the ripples playing with the sun’). Find further examples for each character and analyse the language and devices the author uses to build descriptions. ACELA1523
  • Examine the sentence structure of Surgeon Whites passages compared to Nanberry’s. How does the author use sentence structure to build the ‘voice’ of each character. Hint: examine embedded and subordinate clauses and use of dashes and commas. ACELA1522

Additional resources: Relate this unit to the cross-curriculum priority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. Find activities to address Indigenous issues for Upper Primary in Global Words.

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