Inside the CBCA Shortlist
The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars (Allen & Unwin) is the stand-alone companion to The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. It is set in the same fantasy world and Bronte and her friend Alejandro reappear at strategic times to help the protagonists, Findlay of the Orphanage School and Honey Bee from prestigious Brathelthwaite School, solve the mystery of the missing children.
Findlay and Honey Bee are both good athletes who meet at the Spindrift Tournament. They share the narration, often with different and quarrelsome perspectives on the same event. The structure is sophisticated, with parts told retrospectively.
The writing is whimsical, imaginative and humorous with taunting acts of rivalry between the schools and magical inclusions such as Radish Gnomes, Faeries and dragons. It is voiced by real-sounding children who address the reader and annoy and care for each other.
In the story, Whisperers are stealing children from the town of Spindrift and across the Kingdoms and Empires and taking them to the impenetrable Whispering Kingdom. Findlay, Honey Bee and some of their friends allow themselves to be kidnapped so that they can rescue the children. Once there, they are as powerless as the other captives and have to work in the mines plucking strands of thread from rock.
Weighty themes and issues of child slavery, distrust of those who are different, war, expedient alliances, vilification and internment behind barbed wire, and unjust treatment of the poor and refugees are told lightly yet with momentous impact.
Ultimately though, this exceptional novel leaves us with a sense of the power and compassion of young people, and their agency to change the world when they recognise their own strengths and draw on the love of their family and friends.
This novel is over 500 pages long. There is a brief plot summary from The History of the Whispering Wars on pages 504-5.
Jaclyn Moriarty’s website is http://jaclynmoriarty.com/
Using the book with students:
Arguing Characters A number of the characters are renowned for fighting and arguing with each other. Students make up dialogue between major and minor child characters where they are arguing. Optional: also make up dialogue where they are not fighting. Characters include Honey Bee, Victor and Hamish from the Boarding School; and orphans Finlay, Glim and twins Eli and Taya.
Different perspectives of the same event Humour in the writing partly derives from the children having different perspectives and interpretations about the same event, pages 136-140, 177-194. The genie requests that the children write the story from both perspectives, page 209. In pairs, students could work together using a Word doc on a tablet, or fold paper in half lengthways, to write some of the story from the boarders’ and the orphans’ viewpoints.
Themes & Issues The themes and issues are a very powerful part of the story. Select one to explore further by sharing another book about a similar issue; presenting a factual report; showing a news item; creating a piece of art or music.
Themes and issues include child slavery, distrust of those who are different, war, expedient alliances, vilification and internment behind barbed wire, and unjust treatment of the poor and refugees.
Morse Code Honey Bee sends a Morse Code warning, page 378. Students learn how to send a message about an important issue in the novel using Morse Code.
Mages We don’t find out very much about the fantasy characters in the novel. Select one of the mages to develop as a character: Shadow Mages (Witches, Radish Gnomes, Sterling Silver Foxes, Ghouls, Sirens), True Mages (Elves, water sprites, Faeries) or Spellbinders, pages 23-4.
Another Story Bronte explains on page 498 that her mother is the Princess of the Whispering Kingdom. Students write about this princess as a short story. The fantasy character developed in Mages above could possibly play a role in this story.
Letters from the Future Bronte and Alejandro pop in to the story from the future. Their letter to the children of Spindrift has blank bits, pages 200-206, because the Detection Magic doesn’t let them give hints to the other children. Students could include blank bits in their writing about Mages or Another Story about the princess above.