The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent

Inside the CBCA Shortlist

The Peacock Detectives (Text Publishing) is shortlisted in the CBCA Younger Readers category. It is best for readers in upper primary.

It is a deceptive story, unveiling depths in themes and characters. It is ostensibly about Cassie who is looking for the missing peacocks, William Shakespeare and Virginia, usually with her friend Jonas, an atheist who loves science. The interesting facts that he tells Cassie are becoming disturbing, reflecting his state of mind.  Cassie is an unreliable narrator who misremembers how good the last Family Holiday was and, in her mind, distorts what her father is really doing. People accuse her of lying. Rhea Grimm at school seems to be a minor character but becomes more important.

Cassie’s father is an English teacher so she knows a lot about writing stories: begin with an Inciting Incident, p4; notice and include details, but not superfluous details, p10; write dialogue, p7; listen to your feelings, p9; use the Five Senses to describe settings, p18; and about “Themes, which are ideas that books have in them” p53.

Cassie keeps reminding us that she is “eleven-turning-twelve”, in Grade Six and reads at Year Seven level. Her relationship with her sister Diana is deteriorating now that Diana is fourteen-turning-fifteen. The family attend church regularly but Diana is becoming Buddhist and moves into a tent in the backyard.

Cassie loves her kind Grandpa but, when he goes to hospital, she has to wait outside because her family thinks she is too young to see her grandfather dying. She may seem to be younger than eleven but perhaps the author needs her to be that age so that she has the freedom to search for the peacocks.

Both Cassie and her father suffer from “Those Days” when they are depressed. Her father is hoarding and secretly attending The Clinic. Her mother leaves the family. All the characters have issues to face. Cassie matures, partly through reflecting on how she seems to be learning and developing, but feels that she still seems to know nothing at all; wonders if she will grow up as half a person who is pretending; and understands that people can have two sides.

Using the book with students:

Books Cassie reads serious books such as Lord of the Flies but likes reading mysteries – Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew – when she doesn’t want to think. She thinks “sometimes it is good to read mysteries because it gives your brain a rest from thinking about things like freedom and society and meaning”. Students brainstorm serious books with “Themes” and easier books. Select one from either category to read.

‘WH’ Questions Cassie used to ask ‘WH’ questions such as “Where is Machu Picchu?” p72. Students write several WHy, WHat, When, WHo and HoW questions. Exchange their best questions with another student and answer each other’s.

Writing Use the techniques of writing a story that Cassie uses (see above) to write a short story about a young character maturing (in one or more ways) while they are searching for something or acting like a detective.

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