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The Elephant

Exploring the 2018 CBCA Short List: Younger Readers

Girl resting by an elephant's foot on cover

Author: Peter Carnavas


Themes: Family, emotions, friendship, caring

Years: Australian Curriculum: English; Years 3 and 4; Health and Physical Education; Years 3 and 4. NSW Stage 2

From the publisher’s synopsis: ‘Your dad won’t fix your bike — until you fix your dad.’  Olive’s father has a sadness so big that she imagines it as an enormous elephant following him around. Every day Olive sees the elephant, and every day she wishes it would go. With the help of Grandad and her best friend, Arthur, Olive sets out to chase the elephant away. But how can Olive move something so big?

Unit writer: Helen Cozmescu

Building field knowledge

  • Participate in a whole class floor storming activity, where many images related to well-being are presented to students. Include images that relate to physical, social and emotional well-being. Students take turns in picking up two images and discussing how these are related. Ask students to determine how all of the images are connected. ACPPS036 IRS2.11
  • Brainstorm words to do with different feelings, then use an online thesaurus to add to the list. ACPPS038
  • Students work in small groups and are allocated a feeling, expressed as an adjective. For example, proud, anxious, calm, distraught, excited. Students use a digital device to create photos and images of the feeling. They then present to the class, giving examples of when someone might experience this feeling. ACPPS038 
  • Discuss the people in our lives that can help us talk about our feelings. Students name the people in their lives and then investigate the role of community organisations, such as Kids Helpline. Find out about how this resource can be accessed. ACPPS036 SLS2.13

Exploring the context of the text

  • Discuss the emotion of sadness and describe the ways people may look when they feel sad and the way they may act when they feel sad. ACPPS038
  • Model the use of feeling words. Provide a few minutes every day for students to write in a personal feelings journal, which can be kept private or shared. ACELA1484 EN2-9B
  • Discuss the reasons someone might want to hide their true feelings. ACELY1687 EN2-1A
  • Students discuss the ways they could respond to someone who is feeling sad. Focus on words and actions. Create a class plan for cheering someone up. ACPPS040

Responding to the text

  • Discuss why the elephant, the tortoise and Freddie were animals that Olive chose to imagine. In small groups, choose animals to represent different feelings. Share your ideas with others. ACELY1688 EN2-1A
  • There are many examples in the text where people looks at things from different physical viewpoints. When Olive is high up in the tree (page 8), on the trampoline looking up (page 13), looking up at the pigeon (page 58), hanging upside down (page 71), on the roof of the second-hand shop (page 122), spun around by dad (page 145) and when mum looks down on her (page 63). Conduct observations from different physical perspectives and write about these. Discuss the effect of looking at things from different perspectives. ACELT1603 EN2-11D

Exploring plot character and setting

  • Olive and Grandad can both be described as having positive attitudes. Find examples in the text of their positivity. ACELY1691 EN2-4A
  • Grandad created ‘purple backpack days’. Plan ‘purple backpack’ sessions, inspired by the text for the class to do. For example: flying paper planes, bird watching, having lunch under a tree. ACELY1676 EN2-6B
  • Arthur says “Your dad won’t fix your bike until you fix your dad”. What are the things Olive did to help ‘fix’ her dad and who helped her along the way? ACELY1680 EN2-4A
  • Olive says “Grandad rubs out the grey parts of my day and fills them with colour”. Find events in the story that could be classified as grey, and those that could be classified as colour. Think of events in your own life and attribute a colour to them. Explain your thinking to others. ACELY1792 EN2-1A

Creating texts

  • Write messages of hope on paper planes and 'fly' them others. ACELY1684 EN2-3A
  • Write an inventory of the old and wonderful things that appeared in the story. Conduct your own old and wonderful thing presentation. ACELY1682 EN2-2A

Examining text structure and organisation

  • The many short chapters present the story in chronological order. Examine the first sentence in each chapter and find the language features that help develop the chronology. ACELA1495 EN2-9B
  • The titles of the chapters, except for the final few, are accompanied by a different silhouette of an elephant. Examine each silhouette and the part of the story where the elephant silhouette no longer appears. ACELA1496 EN2-8B

Examining grammar

Find examples of how the author adds description to his writing by examining the use of:

  • An adjective before a noun — Raincloud eyes ACELA1493 EN2-9B
  • Prepositional phrases and adjectival clauses — The elephant’s shadow filled the room with darkness. The gnarly roots that wormed and buckled ... ACELA1495 EN2-9B
  • Vivid verbs — Melodies floated and swam around Olive. ACELA1482 EN2-9B
  • Verbs used as adjectives — Slow dancing shadows. ACELA1482 EN2-9B
  • Similes — like a giant, billowing bed sheet. ACELT1599 EN2-8B
  • The chapter titled Black is the shortest chapter and consists of only five short sentences. Discuss why the author made these choices for this chapter. ACELA1481 EN2-9B

Examining visual and multimodal features

  • The colour grey was contrasted against bright colours throughout the text. Identify all the wonderful grey things in the story. Make a colour display showing the things that are often associated with that colour. ACELT1599 EN2-8B
  • Listen to an old recording of Side by Side and discuss how the lyrics relate to Olive and Grandad. ACELY1687 EN2-1A
  • Olive took multiple photos of the old tree, and created a photo montage. Use a digital device to take multiple photos of an object from different viewpoints and from different ranges. Present these to others and discuss the effect each photo has on the viewer. ACELY1685 EN2-3A

Additional and related resources and links to other texts: Compare this text with other stories that hold themes of sadness and hope. Mr Huff by Anna Walker, Blue Whale Blues — by the same author, Small Things by Mel Tregonning, Coming Home (pdf 754 KB) by Sharon McGuines.


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