Inside the CBCA Shortlist
The Art of Taxidermy (Text Publishing) is a verse novel. This form is here used in an original way to express the grief caused by death. Sensitivity may be needed for grieving students.
Lottie/ Charlotte’s mother has died and she is now becoming very interested in dead creatures. I keep them because I love them. I keep them because they are beautiful… I keep them because they remind me of Mother, pages 70-1. Her Aunt Hilda cares for Lottie and her father but believes that her interest in death is morbid. Her father believes She has a scientist’s heart. It is in the genes. She is curious and she is bright, page 8. Lottie’s first dead specimens become ant-infested, page 74, so she experiments with taxidermy, but the rainbow lorikeet that she works on is not beautifully remade, page 85.
Many characters in the story have died, pages 19,183-5, including her father’s twin, page 60. His head is dancing with ghosts, page 133. They visit Opa’s grave, pages 124,6. He was an interned German, page 131. They are the colour of grief, page 129. Annie says in the cemetery, It is only death. It is not the end! We all die. We all die. It’s a part of life, page 159. Her father counsels Lottie on page 76.
Aunt Hilda thinks she Lottie killing animals but she would never harm them. She is holding on, resurrecting, re-imagining, re-creating. It is a way of honouring beauty. It is a way to hold onto life, page 200. Aunt Hilda believes she needs life, not death, page 212.
Using the book with students:
Writing Style Find examples of sensory descriptions [pages 14-5,19,96]; straight-forward prose [page 30] and where italics are used to represent the words of others [page 76].
Poems Each student selects a poem from the verse novel to read aloud in small groups. Most poems lend themselves to being read or orated as a monologue.
Then in pairs, students select poem threads to follow. These include Annie, pages 5,162,199; Mother’s Room, pages 13,50; Winter, pages 14,24; School 21,30,164; Taxidermy 47,80; Fox 52,64; Mother Memory 58,71,95,115,147,180; Father’s Remedy 79,220; Midnight 84,93; Blood 88-; Fire 100-; Silence 148, 209; The Art of Dying 152,4; Cartwheels 163,196; War 169,174; Photographic Evidence 179,191; Golden Bands 182-; Hunting 187-. How do the poems within the strands develop?
Characters before and after the story A good writer can often imagine what their characters are like before and after their stories. Students select a character to write about before and after the story in this book. Sample page numbers below give further detail into some characters:
Annie, pages 5,16,25,26,27,32,115,122,168,171
Aunt Hilda 7,109
Jack and Jill Nursery Rhyme This nursey rhyme is used on pages 113, 186. How does it describe Lottie’s family? Which other nursery rhymes describe Lottie’s family?
Black Cockatoos are funeral birds, pages 32-9,53,226. Quickly read the novella shortlisted in the Younger Readers category, Black Cockatoo and contrast the symbol of the cockatoo.
Cubism Lottie remembers her mother sitting like a “cubist rendition” of shapes, page 147. Sketch this image. Why would this painting style have been chosen by the author?