Not Cute

Exploring the 2021 CBCA Short List: Picture Books

The content description links on this page have been updated in line with Version 9.0 of the Australian Curriculum. Use this guide to compare codes across versions.

Author: Philip Bunting

Publisher: Scholastic

Synopsis: ‘Once there was a quokka. Quokka was very cute. But Quokka did not like being cute. Not one bit … This is the romping, stomping, chomping tale of one stubbornly adorable marsupial. But beneath its many costumes, Not Cute is a simple story about self-acceptance, listening to others, and not succumbing to your own delusions. It’s also a little bit about not being a #@*%.’ (Sourced from the author’s website.)

Themes: Self-acceptance, consequence, Australian animals

Year levels: Australian Curriculum: English, Years 3 and 4; Arts (Visual Arts and Drama), Years 3 and 4

Why use this book? The text provides a delightful read aloud experience with engaging dialogue and repetition that younger readers will enjoy. As a teaching text it allows you to explore aspects of dialogue and language and visual features with older students.

Focus passages: Orientation and complication pages 2 and 3, use of modal verbs pages 2–15, visual language elements pages 2–31, dialogue and quotation marks pages 12–31.

Unit writer: Amanda Worlley

Reading, listening to and appreciating the book

Book introduction (big picture)

  • To enable students to engage with the text on a deeper level, help build their field knowledge: Quokkas are vulnerable marsupials found on the mainland and also on Rottnest Island, Western Australia. The latter population is probably more well-known because of the '#quokkaselfie'. The traditional owners of Rottnest Island are the Whadjuk Noongar people. The name for Rottnest Island in Noongar language is Wadjemup, which means ‘place across the water where the spirits are’. A Dutch explorer called it Rottnest (meaning Rat Nest) because he thought the quokka was similar to a rat. Visit The Australian Museum website for information about these animals. A search of the internet for iimages of quokkas will produce a range of undeniably cute pictures. Tourism Australia promote the quokka selfie. Viewing these sites with students will provide a more meaningful connection to the character’s problem with being cute.  AC9E3LY05  AC9E4LY05 
  • The text, at first, appears suitable for very young readers, however its wit and the irony of the unexpected ending would be appreciated by readers in middle primary. At the end of the book view the significance of the head of the costume that the quokka was wearing discarded above the Aesop’s life lesson, that, ‘The stubborn listen to nobody’s advice and become a victim of their own delusions’. The text has the characteristics of a fable; for example, it is a short piece of fiction, featuring animal characters with human attributes, a generic setting and a lesson taught at the end of the story. Gather other fables for children and lead students in a discussion to compare and contrast this text to an Aesop fable.  AC9E4LE01  AC9E3LE01 
  • Before reading, share the end papers with the students which are, uncommonly, on three pages. Have them identify the animal, drawing their attention to the main character’s gaze and expression on the title page, and the small text next to the snake’s head at the end. Use a thinking routine such as Think-Pair-Share to discuss their opinions about the significance of the end papers. What do they think this could mean and how could this be part of the story?  AC9E4LE02  AC9E3LY02 
  • Highlight aspects of the book's structure with students, including third person narration and the orientation on pages 2 and 3, which establishes the complication where the character ‘did not like being cute. Not one bit ...’. During reading, help students identify the rising tension of the story and the unexpected resolution. Ask questions such as: What is the author doing here? What does the beginning of this text tell us? What is the name we give this sort of beginning? What about a term such as ‘orientation’ to remind us that it is setting the scene? How has the complication been introduced? How was the complication resolved? Was this a ‘happy’ ending? Did things work out for the best? Could you have foreseen this resolution? (Derewianka, 2020 — See Resources below). AC9E4LA03  AC9E3LA03 

Close reading

Study of pages 2–15 

  • Create a classroom wall list of the verb groups/phrases that are used instead of ‘said’, for example: yapped, howled, barked, hissed, rattled, rasped, cawed, shrieked, whispered, giggled, grizzled, yelled, snarled, gabbed, snorted, hissed and rattled. Lead a discussion around the vocabulary choices (modal verbs) that the author has made. AC9E4LA11  AC9E3LA10 
  • Use a two column chart and list the modal verbs used by the Quokka character in one column, and the other characters in the second column. Compare and contrast the ‘saying’ verbs in each column, focusing on how the meaning is enriched and how this influences the readers’ evaluation of the characters. For example, Quokka’s responses show a rising tension — yapped, barked, rasped, shrieked, whispered, grizzled, and in contrast the animal characters howled, rattled, cawed and giggled.  AC9E3LA02  AC9E3LA07 AC9E3LA08
  • Identify in the activities above that the author has used the language device of onomatopoeia where the word evokes the actual sound. AC9E3LE04 

Study of pages 12–31

  • The text provides an opportunity for a close study of the use of quotation marks for indicating direct speech. Provide students with punctuation activities by choosing passages from the text, stripping punctuation, and challenge students to re-write the text and include the quotation marks, exclamation marks or commas and full stops. These pages also provide opportunity to look at multiple lines of dialogue from a single character without the need to tag each line, and explore how the reader keeps track of who is speaking. AC9E4LA12  

Study of pages 2-31

  • The author/illustrator has provided a range of interesting visual features to explore, and elements to uncover, in what at first ‘appear’ to be simplistic images. A visual cohesive element of the text is the use of the same framing/shot of images throughout. A long shot on each page provides dramatic irony as the reader has an insight to the whole scene and the author/illustrator has created suspense and tension with the snake, unseen by the characters from page 2 through to 15, where he slithers off until he appears behind Quokka. Snake’s head makes an appearance on page 10, but why don’t the animals see him? Draw students’ attention to this during subsequent readings and draw attention to the other visual features, such as the characters’ body language, facial expressions, gestures, and positioning.
  • Other features to encourage students to discover include text as part of the images on pages 14–15, 20–21, 26–27 to indicate action, ‘steaming’ angry lines on pages 26–27, and the character Spider ‘playing dead’ each time he is frightened on page 17, 21, 27 and 29. Teachers may find it useful to create a table to study the multimodal elements and how they work together, as in example below. (Callow — see Resources)  AC9E4LA10  AC9E3LA09
Pages Dialogue (left hand)  Dialogue (right hand)  Visual features 
Pages 12–13  “I’m going to chomp the lot of you!” snarled Quokka, from within his most ferocious costume yet.  “Look out! Croc!” yelled Dingo, Lizard, Eagle and Redback 

Quokka in crocodile costume. Animals on alert — eyes, pointing, Dingo tail down

(Snake in background, unseen by characters).

Pages 22–23

“Oooooowwwwww!” cried Croc.

“Not cute!”

“You see!” said Quokka.

“Not cute!”

Quokka and animals facing each other — animals apprehensive facial expressions (what was Croc going to do?) and Croc sad/disappointed facial expressions. 

Quokka body language — challenging with hands on hips.

Word recognition, phonic knowledge and spelling

  • Use the text to explore the use of common suffixes to change the base word to past tense.
  • Draw from the classroom wall verb list from the language study above to create spelling activities to identify the base word and the generalisation of adding the suffix ‘ed’ or ‘d’ to a word. For example, howl/ed, bark/ed, rattle/d, rasp/ed, caw/ed, shriek/ed, giggle/d, grizzle/d.
  • Extend students further by having them add the suffix ‘ing’ and rewrite the clause, for example, yelled Dingo/ the Dingo was yelling.  AC9E3LY10  AC9E4LY10 


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Using the book for speaking, writing and creating

  • The text as written provides an opportunity for students to participate in an engaging reader’s theatre activity without the need to write a script. Arrange students into small groups and provide them with copies of the text to allow them time to engage in multiple readings and rehearsal of the text, encouraging them to pay attention to phrasing, fluency, intonation and voice tone, volume, pitch and pace. Students could create face masks or small puppets on sticks to perform. AC9E4LY07   AC9E3LY07  AC9ADR4C01 
  • Write the expression from page 24 ‘Too big for his boots’ on the board. Show the page and draw attention to the image of Quokka poking his tongue out and kicking out at the Croc but with no boots. Use a thinking routine such as Think-Pair-Share and ask students what they think that the saying means. If appropriate in your context, introduce the words and examples of ‘idiom’ (such as 'over the moon', 'piece of cake') and ‘colloquial’ (such as, brolly, telly, maccas). In small groups have them discuss other expressions and words that they know and list these to discuss their meanings within particular contexts and cultures. AC9E3LY02  AC9E4LY02 
  • Brainstorm and list other Australian animals that Quokka may have come into contact with. What would be appropriate verbs to use for these animals when writing dialogue? For example, Kangaroo/twitched; Owl/hooted (innovation on animal noises — See Resources below).
  • Revisit pages 2 - 15 to view the pattern of the text, and display the classroom verb word wall to support students. Tell students that we are creating additional pages for the text and including different animals. Have students experiment with the pattern of text, choosing an animal from the brainstorming list and write the dialogue for that page. Students could use materials to publish and illustrate the text attempting to imitate the style, visual conventions and colour palette of Not CuteAC9E3LE05 AC9E4LE05  AC9AVA4P01  AC9AVA4C01

Relevant resources and links

Find and explore other texts by Philip Bunting including Who Am I? (featured in the PETAA whole school unit Who are we?) and Mopoke, also a PETAA CBCA unit. The author’s website also has activities for students including Mopoke shoebox theatre, language and composting activites. The site Noises at Night has short sound tracks of Australian nocturnal animals. Wild Ambience has a range of Australian bird, mammal and frog sounds. Watch In conversation with Philip Bunting with as he discusses Give Me Some Space! from ALIA National Simultaneous Storytime 2021. Sunshine Coast Council Libraries’ Author Spotlight provides further information about Philip Bunting. Valuable PETAA resources to support teachers include Exploring How Texts Work (2nd Ed) by Beverly Derewianka and The shape of text to come: How image and text work by Jon Callow.

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