Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Other Facts of Life

My year eights had to choose the novel that they are going to study for the term. We call it mini sets where they can choose from a selection of texts that look at similar themes. It allows them to have some choice and they can choose something for their reading level/interest etc but it also means that we can do class and small group activities based around the common theme. This term it's Life Journeys and Adventures.

One of the novels that are number of students have chosen is The Other Facts of Life by Morris Gleitzman. It is an 'easy' read but it really looks at some serious issues. It centres around a 12 year old boy, Ben, who becomes aware of global issues like poverty and it looks at his journey in which he has to reconcile the type of life he has with what he is reading about. He tries to create awareness and understanding of the issues amongst his friends and family, often it quite strange ways, which has his family worried.

The opening of the novel is a classic. Ben has been locking himself in the bathroom for hours reading magazines (National Geographic). His parents think that it is time that they talk to him about the facts of life, worried about his behaviour. His nervous and self conscious father sits him down to have 'the talk' which he does in an awkward and bumbling way. At the end of it all Ben's dad says" is there anything you'd like to ask?" and Ben says yes. While his father is working up the courage to respond to some awkward question about sex Ben says "How come so many people in the world are starving? ... How can we carry on living happily with all of this going on?"

The conversation that follows has so many interesting dimensions. This young boy that has the weight of the world upon his shoulders and is looking for some serious answers, a father who is relieved that he doesn't have to talk any more about the birds and the bees but at the same time has stumbled on another discussion that he doesn't want to have and does not understand why his son would be concerned.

It will be interesting to see how my students respond to the story. It is well written, accessible, funny but deals with these seriously big questions in a thoughtful way.

I'll leave with the big question-
How can we carry on living happily with all of this going on?

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