In our occasional series of Quick Guides, we present some ideas for discussing children’s books that can be read and discussed at home or school. This guide for Jennie Baker’s Mirror was originally posted to our old website in January 2011. We’ve made some tweaks to make the notes more friendly to anyone using them at home.
About the author
Jeannie Baker is a multi-award-winning author and illustrator of a number of children’s picture books, including Window, Belonging and Where the Forest meets the Sea. Her unique and distinctive style is instantly recognisable and she is well known for her use of mixed media to create detailed and elaborate collages. The Australian environment has had an enormous impact on her work, and since Where the Forest Meets the Sea all her projects have had an environmental focus. She says herself that she works very slowly with projects often taking three or four years to complete but they are also designed as travelling exhibitions of artwork, and several projects have also been short animated films which she has directed.
About the book
This innovative picture book comprises two stories designed to be read simultaneously – one from the left, the other from the right. Page by page, we experience the lives of two little boys – one from an urban family in Sydney, Australia, the other from Morocco. From busy motorways to desert landscapes, these worlds couldn’t be further apart. Yet with the journey of a home-made Moroccan carpet into the Australian boy’s home, we can see how these separate lives become intertwined. At the book’s conclusion, the family in Sydney can be seen enjoying their new purchase together while the Moroccan family are surfing the internet. A powerful book, Mirror illustrates how our lives reflect each other and that we are all, even in some small way, connected.
In a highly visual world where so much is communicated through image, it is essential that children learn to critically read pictures as well as text. Furthermore, reading pictures forces a different pace, which can help to encourage fast readers to slow down and attend to the details, which they may be inclined to skip past.
Define the word mirror?
Before sharing the front cover of the book ask the children to write down a definition for the word ‘mirror’. Share definitions and discuss differences and similarities. Now compare with the definitions below and consider how different or similar they were.
1 polished or smooth surface (e.g. of polished metal or silvered glass) that forms images by reflection.
2 something that gives a true representationLongman Dictionary of the English Language
The contexts in which the word ‘mirror’ might be used are very rich and diverse. Definitions may have referred to imitating or mimicking. They may have defined as a synchronized routine in dance or gymnastics.
Now ask if the children can think of any stories with mirrors? The most famous is perhaps the mirror which never lies belonging to the evil queen in Snow White. Others include The Snow Queen, The Lady of Shalott, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Anthony Browne’s Through the Magic Mirror. Mirrors play different roles in different stories. In Snow White, the mirror is a window to the soul of the wicked queen. The Lady in The Lady of Shalott can only view shadows of the real world in her mirror. Here the mirror symbolises isolation.
This blog post has further ideas about the way mirrors are used in literature.
The next activity gives the children to opportunity to speculate about the use of the word ‘mirror’ as the title.
Share the cover of the book and allow time to explore the images on the front and back. Open out the book so that both covers can be viewed simultaneously. Allow time for children to explore the images at their own pace.
Revisit the book together and encourage children to share their observations and questions. These can be recorded on sticky notes to be referred back to later.
Some questions to prompt discussion could be as follows:
- What is happening in these two pictures? What time of day is it?
- Where might the two characters be?
- Which setting looks most familiar to you?
- Why did the author use the word ‘Mirror’ as the title?
The book is designed to be read side by side. Look at the first spread together modelling reading the Australian story from left to right and the Moroccan from right to left.
- Which images are you drawn to?
- Where do you find yourself going back to?
- What time of day is being depicted here?
- Are there similarities to your morning routine?
These are questions that could be asked or you may want to think aloud at this point. Experienced readers can find reading wordless texts challenging so make your thoughts audible by thinking aloud. This slows the pace of reading by drawing attention to details if the pages are turned too quickly.
One way to think aloud
The Think Aloud strategy is used to encourage students to voice their internal thoughts as they read. Reading short units of text cumulatively readers consider what individual words mean and how meanings shift and are firmed up as more information is provided. Students connect reading with their prior knowledge and complex thought processes are made visible. Good teachers model thinking aloud, speculation and problem solving as part of their everyday teaching. The next step is to explicitly show students how they can use this strategy to monitor their own comprehension. A script is useful to prepare to ensure you focus on particular strategies. A think aloud using a wordless picture book will encourage readers to slow down and focus on details. Here is an example below for the second spread:
| What I will say|
(Write exactly what you will say in first-person)
|Strategies you are modelling|
|I wonder why the family on the right seem closer as they are eating.|
This makes me wonder about whether it is a good idea to have electronic devices at the table.
I would like to ask the author which journey she would prefer to take in the morning and why.
Now invite the children to read on in pairs and to think aloud themselves. Encourage them to speculate and ask questions as they read the spreads. Sentence starters such as those below will support this type of thinking:
- I wonder . . .
- I would like to ask the author . . .
- Who . . . ?
- What . . . ?
- When . . . ?
- Where . . . ?
- Why . . . ?
- How . . . ?
- This makes me wonder about . . .
Take the double-page spread where the boy and his father are travelling to the DIY shop. What sounds would you be able to hear if you were there? You may want to list the sounds using sticky notes or have a go at recreating them. Contrast this spread with the Moroccan spread. What would this soundtrack be like? Perhaps you could have a go at composing some music to accompany each spread.
Thinking about colour
Draw attention to the way colour is used throughout the book by discussing some of the following questions:
- What range of colours is used?
- How do the colours make you feel?
- Are colours used to draw your attention to important parts of the picture?
- Are any of the characters or objects connected with each other through colour choice? Are different characters associated with different colours?
- Is the colour flat (one tone) or a blend of tones?
- Is the colour high saturation or low saturation?
- Is monochrome used?
- Are the colours realistic or fanciful (e.g coloured animals)?
- Are contrasting colours used?
Jeannie Baker says of Mirror:
These worlds, as depicted in my project, couldn’t be further apart, yet with the showing of the parallel lives of the two families in my story, we see a simple truth.
Give time to discuss what this simple truth is. A Venn Diagram is a useful tool to make thinking explicit about similarities as well as differences. Write Australian boy and Moroccan boy in the centre bubbles. In pairs, discuss similarities and write in the joining bubbles. Discuss what is unique to each of the characters and write in the bubbles. In the end, do you feel they have more in common or more differences?
Now share what Jeannie Baker said next:
We see that in the context of strikingly different lifestyles, remotely different countries, landscapes, differences of clothing and all, the families are essentially the same. They care for each other, they need to belong, to be loved by their loved ones and be a part of their community. The simple truth is that even with all these differences, in the ways that really matter, we are all the same. We are the mirror of each other.
Refer to the discussion about the definition for ‘mirror’ you had before reading the book. Now that you have read the book, does the title help you understand what the author wanted to say about the book?
Art and Design – materials
How do the pictures appear to have been made? It isn’t always easy to tell with the different digital applications and printing processes that can be applied but encourage the children to look closely. Do the pictures look as though they are painted, drawn, collaged or created digitally? Refer to the section at the end where Jeannie Baker describes the process by which the images have been created. Use the medium of collage to create a spread depicting part of the children’s daily routine. Share these and notice the similarities as well as differences. As part of work in geography, you may want to choose a child from a different country and create a spread which depicts the same part of their day.
Allow plenty of opportunities for browsing, looking carefully and talking before you introduce the idea of writing. Children need time to explore, absorb and inhabit a wordless picturebook before constraining meaning by writing the story. Mirror provides a good opportunity to use the images to write diary entries for each boy considering their different voices.
If you liked this book, you might enjoy…
- Jeannie Baker Circle
- Jeannie Baker Belonging
- Sean Tan The Arrival
- Alavrao F Villa Flood