The fourth magnificent adventure for Martha Grimstone. Martha moves to the city to board with Lady Stirling and attend the Queen's Music Academy, but will music school hold the answers she seeks?
Asphyxia is an artist, circus performer, puppeteer and writer. She is also Deaf. Her name is unusual, but she is an unusual person! Asphyxia grew up in Melbourne surrounded by an unruly mob of brothers, sisters and cousins. As one of the eldest, she took it upon herself to direct everyone in elaborate games about witches, faeries, pixies, goblins and evil characters. She wrote her first book at twelve and entered it in the St Kilda Writers' Festival competition where it won first prize. Since then, she has been a ballerina, a circus performer, a puppeteer, and a creator of her own theatrical productions, where she tells stories physically and with sign language. The Grimstones - Hatched and Mortimer Revealed have toured around Australia and overseas to great acclaim. The Grimstones books are based on these shows. For more information about the Grimstones, visit thegrimstones.com
A delightful well-written story which has magic and mystery with a touch of the extraordinary. The illustrations are wonderfully done and should appeal to Tim Burton fans. They complement the diary entries and as such would suit years 3-4 but also older readers. The main protagonist is a girl who has an unusual instrument and who comes to the music school to learn how to play what her father has written. She can summon the four seasons but wants to control a whirlwind.
As for year 4 activities, they could discuss point of view as could all years. They could look for the techniques which make the story interesting. Students could share their own imaginings and make a diary and develop their own story lines. As with all years, they could create their own comprehension questions. Finally, all could write with joined letters like in the book with the younger ones copying the words. Year 5 could discuss the chronology of the diary – are some days repeated? What could be added to avoid confusion? Point of view again and comprehension questions. Year 6 could examine the language features and whether there were humorous purposes and to what effect. Students could compare their own experiences and those of the characters from cultural contexts. If the school has other books in the series, compare the author's style. Note the limericks and write them out. Act out the characters on stage. Practise handwriting with joined letters. All in all, plenty for the imagination.
Michael Mardel, Broome WA 6725
Prior to Reading: Read, review and discuss other books in The Grimstones series. Look at the structure of other diaries as a literary text. Visit The Grimstones website and try the new app available to download.
Synopsis: This is the interesting diary of Martha the young daughter of Mr and Mrs Grimstone. Not unlike Anne in Anne of Green Gables, Martha is sent away to school to continue her music education. However she deeply wishes to learn to “orchestrate the weather and the terrible valley storms” her family experiences. In her diary she writes that “she secretly hopes to be transformed while attending the Queen’s Music Academy”. Her governess is Lady Sterling whom she admires greatly.
Her diary explains some of the trials and tribulations of boarding school and problem solving when a family of bats make their home in the chimney. Her success at school ends in an outstanding way, as Martha truly deserves. She speaks with commitment and resolve throughout her diary about school, friends and life at Lady Sterling’s manor. It is a story about a dream opportunity given to one unsuspecting talented young lady. With illustrations of a classic ‘Gothic’ theme, old English antiquities and porcelain dolls combined with the magic nature of Martha’s family this story has engaging qualities.
Conclusion: Amidst the story the author reveals how the characters are created. The diary tells how Lady Sterling creates clay sculptures and Martha shares this with us the readers through her diary. Upper primary school students will enjoy reading the series as part of their PRC 5-6 reading log as will those who have this read to them. This is a lovely story with a classic style.
Notes for Teachers: English Literature- study of narrative and narrative voice and point of view. Discuss personal experiences and personal preferences and how Martha expresses this in her narrative. Is her voice a connection to her audience? Who is her audience? Following the reading of this story construct a Glossary for invented/technical words used. What effect does choice of words/language have in fiction?
Further References: The anime story of Arriety and similarly the novel the Borrowers could both be extended reading and viewing for comparing other literary modes to illustrate a diary.
Helen Latimer, Lakemba Public School NSW 2195
As Narrative is one of the writing genres for Naplan in 2014, what better way to spark creativity than to read a new book from The Grimstones series? There are plenty of excuses to enjoy creative word-making. Sounds and mesmerizing illustrations with the marionette family of creator, Asphyxia. When the four seasons are created by school girl Martha playing her harp-like “epitihium”, we know that we will never think of Verdi’s Four Seasons in quite the same way.
The title Music School will not only attract budding musicians in the target age group of 8 to 12, but most music students and their teachers will relate to this brief and satisfying tale of learning and performing music. It’s a young fantasy world with just the right amount of reality and growing up. The author, (hearing-impaired) Asphyxia, is an Australian poster girl for creativity. Asphyxia’s background was in dance and marionettes, and this book makes music visual. No need to be Beethoven to see there is something sonorously satisfying about the derivation of Music School. This is a book to slip into the music case of any child starting to learn their first instrument.
Andrea Deborde, Brisbane QLD 4001
I don’t generally read middle grade fiction but my ten-year-old daughter’s enthusiasm for this title had me intrigued enough to dedicate an afternoon to this little book. Initially I was skeptical. Is this another book capitalising on the gothic/steampunk trend in children’s and adolescent fiction at the moment? I doubted it would reach the high standard set by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). It didn’t, but then again not many authors do. However, what Asphyxia’s story lacks in literary merit she makes up for in other ways. Her world is undeniably spellbinding and her central protagonist Martha is appealingly eccentric. However, what impressed me most was the unique approach to storytelling that utilised a variety of text types including letters, diary entries, lists, notes, invitations and a selection of mesmerizing illustrations and photographs.
I loved the quirky and organic nature of this book. Students will undoubtedly enjoy exploring the story behind the book through the companion website and online clips. Having done this myself I did question whether this journey would have been more faithfully reflected through an even larger book with greater emphasis on the images and less on text. In short, I wondered if the project may have functioned better as a picture book.
Although this story is clearly marketed towards middle grade students I feel strongly that it may draw a much broader audience than this. There is great scope for using this with students across a range of curriculum areas, including the Language Arts, Visual Arts, Music, Drama and Technology. It should hold strong appeal as a shared text for classes in the lower end of the middle years and it provides substantial opportunities for students of all grade bands to investigate multi-literacies thus supporting their own text production.
Tanya Grech Welden, Greenwith SA 5125
In this tale, book 4 of the series, Martha leaves her family to go to Queen's Music Academy. Martha is hoping to find out how to use her music to stop storms from threatening her valley. She stays at Lady Stirling's manor. The school is not what she expects because they won't let her play her own music and more importantly they don't teach her what she needs to know to stop the storms.
You don't have to have read the other three books to enjoy this book. Any reader who picks up this book will know from the cover that it is a tale with a difference. The illustration on the front cover sets the scene with the style of the images in the book. It is fascinating to look at the pictures and try and work out how they were made- real life, puppets or computer composition or all three. They support the story. The notice board at the beginning of the story gives the setting more detail and prepares the reader with information. It is like a taster of what is to come. The letters throughout the book give the reader an intimate view of the writer and help develop the reader's understanding of the character.
While the vocabulary is dense making it suitable for capable readers each chapter being a diary entry may open it up to keen readers who don't have a diverse vocabulary. The author keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. The reader keeps asking themselves, how will it end? While it is a different kind of read aloud book for the classroom, the intimacy of the drawings and the letters makes it a book students will want to engage with by themselves and for some time.
Roxanne Steenbergen, Windermere Primary School, TAS 7011
This is a glorious book, full of sly and unexpected delights and interesting and unusual words. This is the fourth book in The Grimstones series, and is lavishly illustrated with a combination of puppets, and collage. My 11-year-old daughter loved this book, especially the narrator, Martha, and particularly enjoyed the device of the book being Martha’s secret diary. She was so enchanted that we had to chase down the previous books in the series!
In addition to the books, The Grimstones website provides additional resources, including YouTube clips and photos. I’m not sure how useful having a Facebook page is, considering the target age group, who would be too young to have Facebook or Twitter accounts. There are enormous opportunities for upper primary teachers to use this book as the launch pad for class creations of dioramas, costume design, puppetry and encouragement to keep personal or class journals. In addition, the unusual vocabulary offers students the opportunity to investigate words and their meaning and usage.
The overarching themes of the book, about using a talent and finding pathway can be used to trigger discussion and, because the story is set in a music school, classes could investigate different types of music, including the sounds of the instruments mentioned in the book. A lovely book for upper primary children, with many opportunities to engage children in investigative activities, and to link to art, music, and ITC activities. I would thoroughly recommend this book for the 9-12 age group.
Ceri Davies, Latrobe TAS 7307
I thoroughly enjoyed Music School even though I had not read Asphyxia’s earlier books in the series. I shared the text with my upper primary class during a unit on narratives and visual literacy and the students were captivated by the illustrations and the story. The book provides many beautiful and captivating examples of how authors and illustrators use visual literacy to enhance and add meaning to texts. We compared Music School with other published home diaries and the students were highly engaged in learning how they could use different aspects of visual literacy and integrating different text types when creating narratives.
In Music School, Asphyxia employs quirky photos of her handmade puppets and other props, hand written text and illustrations, silhouettes, photos of typed and aged paper scraps, and a variety of different text types to create a scrapbooked diary that is very appealing to capable young readers. The unusual story is also highly appealing for students who will love the eccentricity and magic. The text is full of rich vocabulary and my students enjoyed analysing the different text types employed by the author to create the narrative.
Music School could be used with middle and upper primary students in English, Visual Arts, Drama and Music. Many of my students related to Martha; learning a musical instrument and not always fitting in with what is considered normal. The book was also a useful tool for discussions and learning about self-efficacy and resilience. I am hoping to use the illustrations in Music School later this term to inspire the students to create their own characters using a variety of visual media and techniques when we revisit narratives. The students are also very keen to explore Asphyxia’s artist journal further in Drama.
Kristina Delbridge, Teacher, Garran Primary ACT 2905