Girl on Wire

Exploring the 2019 CBCA Short List: Picture Books

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Authors: Elise Hurst and Lucy Estela

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Themes: Resilience, overcoming fears 

Years: Australian Curriculum: English, Years 3 and 4.

From the publisher’s synopsis: Girl on Wire is a simple yet brilliantly uplifting allegory of a young girl struggling to build her self-esteem and overcome the anxiety that many children feel as they grow — she walks the tightrope, afraid she will fall, but with the support of those she loves, her toes grip the wire and she walks forward, on her own, with a new confidence.

Unit writer: Jennifer Asha

Field and context

Building field knowledge

  • Watch a video clip of famous tight rope walkers such as Australian ‘Wizard of the wire’ Con Colleano or view photographs of Frenchman Philippe Petit who was known for his walks above Paris and New York City in the 1970s. Read picture book The man who walked between the towers by Mordicai Gerstein. Take notes and then discuss what tightrope walking represents in terms of facing and overcoming fears, long hours of training, skill and perseverance. AC9E3LY02  

Exploring the context of the text

  • Look at photographs of cityscapes from different capital cities around the world. Match some of the iconic buildings from those cities to the buildings represented in the illustrations. Create collages using the photos, other artworks or maps that give the viewer a ‘bird’s eye view’ of your own city or town. AC9E3LE05 AC9E4LE05  
  • Discuss the various visual and verbal references to common expressions and other texts on the front cover of the book. Include discussion of the rhyme of ‘wire’ with ‘fire’ and the idiomatic meaning of the term ‘on fire’ that refers to someone showing themselves to be capable or accomplished at something. Continue the discussion to include the visual reference to a phoenix in the front cover image and the girl’s skirts that encourage the viewer to think of fire and ‘rising from the ashes’ and encourage students to think about how these features lead the reader to make certain predictions about the storyline and textual themes.  AC9E3LY05  AC9E4LY05 

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Responding and exploring

Responding to the text

  • Look closely at the pronoun use through the text and compare the difference between the third person narration and the dialogue. Who is speaking to the girl in the first instance of dialogue compared to the second? You might like to read and compare Parachute by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley to Girl on Wire, noticing the 'self-talk' of the main character that is an important part of the resolution in this narrative.  AC9E4LA07

Exploring plot character and setting

  • Search the book for references to the weather or nature and note the examples of personification. Discuss the effect of this literary technique in helping the author to express the message of the book. For example, the saying 'weather the storms of life', means that there are adversities in life that can be overcome with perseverance and help from others. Ask students to list the people in their life who support them and retell specific times that those people have assisted them.  AC9E3LE03

Creating texts

  • Encourage students to make connections between their own experiences and that of the protagonist of the story. Ask students to draw, act out, write or share orally things that they have been afraid of or times that they had to work hard to achieve or overcome a problem. Encourage them to share their feelings and indicate who helped them. Lead the class to an understanding that this is a fundamental aspect of being human, that we all share these types of experiences no matter our age or perceived capabilities.  AC9E4LE05 AC9E3LE02 

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Examining text structure and organisation

  • Conduct a close reading of the text and draw a line graph to indicate the rises or falls of tension in the plot. Revisit the work on the personification of nature and note how the differences in description link to the changes in tension. Have students create a soundscape to match certain parts of the text to demonstrate an understanding of the story structure.  AC9E3LE05 AC9E4LE03

Examining grammar

  • Examine the use of third person narration that allows for the reader to have insight into the main character through adverbials that tap into the protagonist's feelings. Jointly construct sections of the text rewritten using first person and compare the effect on the reader. Consider whether it is as effective in conveying the same meanings. Compare Girl on Wire to books written in first person such as Sister Heart by Sally Morgan which conveys a very personal and immediate effect, aligning the reader with the main character and helping realise that book's themes.  AC9E4LE02

Examining visual and multimodal features

  • Explore the use of media and illustrative techniques to reinforce the metaphor of the weather and ‘weathering the storms of life’. Compare to other books illustrated by Elise Hirst such as Adelaide's secret world and Imagine a city that include cityscapes in different media, colour palettes and styles. Discuss how the versatile artist has chosen a style to match the meanings within each book. AC9E3LE01 

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Additional and related resources and links to other texts: Watch a video feature Australian tightwire wizard, Con Colleano. Learn about French daredevil Philippe Petit, who became famous in August 1974 for his high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Reference the PETAA CBCA unit of work featuring the book Parachute by Matt Ottley and Danny Parker.

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