Chalk Boy by Margaret Wild & Mandy Ord

During the next few months leading up to Book Week in August I will be writing about the 30 CBCA shortlisted books. Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have been shortlisted.

A thought-provoking picture book is Chalk Boy by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Mandy Ord (Allen & Unwin).

Barnaby is a pavement artist who drew a boy in blue chalk. Chalk Boy has senses, a head that can think, legs that can run and a heart that feels. He narrates the story and, early on, reaches out of the pavement to hold Barnaby’s hand. Chillingly Barnaby warns him, “when the rains come you will wash away and be no more”. Chalk Boy says he understands, “But right now I don’t care.” He lives in the moment: juggling, reading, swimming, playing guitar and rowing a boat. Life is wonderful until the “cold, cold night” when he stares at the moon. Rain starts to fall and he begins to smudge. He cries for help, “I don’t want to wash away on my own.” Only Barnaby hears his cries and covers him with plastic. In the morning Barnaby tells Chalk Boy that he is not alone and draws one last picture – Barnaby is now in the picture with Chalk Boy.

Chalk Boy is a poignant story with themes of creating, imagination, being alone, fear (possibly of death) and being a friend.

This picture book is distinctive because of its use of a chalk boy to suggest or represent a human child.

Its layout includes some wordless pages.

Using the book with children:

Chalk Figures Children could draw chalk figures on the ground or on paper. They could choose only one colour, like the illustrator, Mandy Ord has done with blue. Like her, they could draw the outlines only, except for the heart, which can be coloured in.

Actions Chalk Boy does several actions e.g. swimming. Children discuss what else Chalk Boy could do and mime the actions.

Friends Barnaby is a good friend to Chalk Boy. Children decide how they could be a good friend to someone by thinking of a way they could spend time with them. Then they should act on their idea.

Watch An iconic chalk picture scene is in the movie, Mary Poppins. Children could watch this scene using the following or another link.

Read I Want to be in a Book by Narelle Oliver, another metafictive book (metafiction draws attention to the book as an artefact) or The Three Pigs by David Wiesner. Read other books by Margaret Wild such as Davey and the Duckling, Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa or Going Home.

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