The following are some resources I used with New Zealand high school English students some years ago during a novel study of Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden. Posted here in case anyone still finds this useful.
How many wars has New Zealand been involved in during the last 50 years?
- The Cold War (1950 to 1953)
- Korean War (1949)
- Malayan Emergency (1960)
- Vietnam War (1965 and 1971)
- September 11 Attacks (2001)
Was there any warning before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre Towers in New York? (September 2001)
Are there any civil defence guidelines for what to do if New Zealand was attacked by another country?
Where is East Timor, who invaded it in 1975, and what was New Zealand’s response to this invasion?
TIME LINE FOR TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN
(CUT THE PIECES UP THEN STICK THEM ONTO A PIECE OF PAPER IN THE CORRECT ORDER.)
|The narrator says that Robyn told her to write everything down.||Ellie decides to go camping up in Hell.|
|The narrator introduces us to the members of the group.||The group drives to Tailor’s Stitch in the Landrover.|
|The group set up camp in Hell.||They find a snake in a sleeping-bag.|
|Ellie sees waves of jets flying overhead.||The group heads back to Ellie’s house in Wirrawee|
|The group goes to Homer’s and Corrie’s houses||They decide to go into town later that night to see what is happening|
|Ellie, Corrie and Kevin see people being held in tents at the showgrounds.||They get trapped in Mrs Alexander’s back yard.|
|Ellie blows up three soldiers with a ride-on lawn mower.||Robyn and Lee don’t return from town.|
|The group makes plans to load up the vehicles and head to the shearer’s quarters.||A helicopter circles the house, sees Flip and signals a jet to blow up Corrie’s house.|
|They find Robyn in her own house, although she was meant to wait on the hill.||They return to rescue Lee from the restaurant and destroy several vehicles on the way out.|
|They find Chris (in his pyjamas) after rolling the car into the dam.||They carry Lee back to Hell.|
|Ellie finds the Hermit’s hut.||The group reads some documents they found in the Hermit’s hut.|
|The group decides to do something to slow the enemy down.||Fi and Ellie steal a petrol tanker and Ellie drives it to a secure location.|
|Homer drives the cattle over the bridge using a camera flash to scare the cattle.||The tanker blows up the bridge.|
|We learn that Corrie has been shot.||Kevin and Corrie leave the group for good.|
|Author’s note: John Marsden tells us that the story is based, in part, on real events|
AN EXTREMELY SCAFFOLDED ESSAY WRITING EXERCISE
Describe an important idea dealt with in the text.
Explain why this idea is important.
An important idea in the novel by John Marsden, Tomorrow When the War Began, concerns growing up despite adversity. All the main characters in the novel change over the course of events in the story, especially Ellie, who starts off as an ordinary rural Australian teenager and ends up a more mature, introspective adult. Ellie’s growth as a character is important because Marsden hopes she will be an important role model for the novel’s teenage audience.
- Describe Ellie at the start of the novel
- Find evidence from the text to show she is an ordinary teenager (a mimetic hero if you want to use Northrop Frye’s terminology)
- Make reference also to the teenagers’ comments about the Hermit, and how they think he must be terrible because he killed his own family.
- Finally in this paragraph, explain how this is related to the fact that at this stage of the novel the teenagers see things in black in white. They don’t see shades of grey, for example how it might be considered right to kill others in some circumstances. Explain that this part of the book is important because the teenagers seem familiar to the audience, and can identify with them.
- Compare this to an incident part way through the novel when they are way out of their comfort zones, doing things they never thought they could do. (You choose the incident, perhaps the lawnmower one.)
- Explain that the setting is important here because if it weren’t an isolated, rural area, help would be readily available and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to show what they are capable of.
- Explain that one of the reasons Marsden wrote the series was to show that under difficult circumstances, teenagers can shine. And that this incident demonstrated the teenagers doing exactly that. This idea is important because it helps the teenage audience feel strong and capable. Teenagers in this book are capable and valued.
- Now pick an incident near the end of the book (eg. the bridge incident)
- Include a quote to show that Ellie is now a much more introspective character.
- Explain that through the narrator of Ellie comes Marsden’s voice, and he is inviting us to think about things that we may not have thought of before (eg equality between Australia and the invaders), whether it is right to kill in some circumstances and not in others. By having Ellie as a reflective character, and seeing her change, Marsden is triggering change in the readers, too.
The idea of personal development through adversity is linked to other, thought-provoking ideas in Tomorrow When the War Began. Marsden’s point is that it is not until teenagers go through tough times that we fully understand the shades of gray surrounding some issues. He hopes that his narrator Ellie will be a model for teenagers reading the book, who reflect on issues carefully, and perhaps become more open-minded for doing so.
ANALYSIS OF AN ‘EXCELLENCE’ ESSAY (NCEA level one)
(This was an example of excellence when NCEA had just started. Standards may have changed in the past 15 years.)
TASK: Describe an important character in the text. Explain why he/she is important.
Tomorrow When the War Began – John Marsden
An important character in this novel is Ellie. She is important because she shows how human beings can adapt to their circumstances. She was drawn into a war situation and faced adversity. This required her to adapt and mature.
Ellie began life as a rural teenager. She lived on a farm and her life consisted of school, friends and family. She was sheltered: “Our lives had always been so unaffected by the outside world.” She loved “being a rural” and had little pressure other than to milk cows. Despite this gentle lifestyle I gained an impression early on in the novel that Ellie is an intelligent leader, confident in herself and showing strength of character. This is further shown when Ellie and her friends are thrust into a volatile war. Ellie was forced to kill three soldiers in order to save herself and her two friends: “This is war now and normal rules don’t apply.”
We see Ellie being reflective and realising that she has special qualities. “It was hard for me to believe that I, plain old Ellie; nothing about me, middle of the road in every way; had probably just killed three people.” She questions her own motives and eventually accepts her situation. The reader sees her able to make adult decisions. “I stopped being a normal teenager and began to become someone else.”
Ellie is important because she shows that within us all are qualities that emerge only when circumstances change. Human beings can adapt to almost all situations, showing a courage and an ability to cope with adverse circumstances. Ellie is important because she shows the complexity of human nature and our ability to reflect on our lives.
- What exact words did the student use to answer the question in the first paragraph?
- What is the reason given for the character’s importance?
- What is said about Ellie’s character early in the novel?
- What example from the novel backs it up?
- What change has the student noticed in Ellie over the course of the novel?
- What evidence is given for this change?
- How is the essay concluded?
TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN QUIZ
(The following are simple know-it-or-not type questions and can be used competitively between groups and with a time limit attached.)
- What is the narrator’s name?
- Who lived in Hell before the group did?
- What game did Homer invent in Year 8?
- How did the group get to hell?
- Who had to stay at home and work on the farm?
- What is the name of the town they live in?
- What public holiday was the country celebrating?
- Who has Thai and Vietnamese parents?
- Who does Homer develop a liking for?
- What was in the sleeping bag?
- What happened when Ellie went to the toilet at night?
- What was the first indication that something was wrong at the farm?
- What is Homer’s surname?
- Whose parents write a note to the kids?
- Where was everyone being held?
- What is Ellie’s ex-boyfriend’s name?
- What had been happening at the show grounds before the kids left?
- How does Corrie hurt her leg when they are chased from the showgrounds?
- Where did they get trapped?
- How did they get away?
- Who gets separated from Ellie and the others?
- Where do they meet after going into the showgrounds?
- What is Homer’s ethnicity?
- After coming back from town the first time, where do they initially plan to hide?
- Where do they keep a lookout?
- Where did Homer and Fi hide?
- What do Ellie Corrie and Homer see while on look-out?
- What happens to the family photos?
- What makes the soldiers in the helicopter suspicious?
- What happened to Corrie’s house?
- Where do they find Lee and Robyn?
- Who did Robyn and Lee meet in the town?
- What had happened to Lee?
- Where was Lee hidden?
- How do they get Lee out?
- Where do they get it from?
- What kind of car does Homer pick them up in?
- What do they eventually do to it?
- What happens immediately after this?
- How did Lee get back to Hell?
- What ritual did Corrie have in Hell?
- When listening to the radio, which country do the children hear refusing to help?
- Who can butcher the feral animals they catch?
- Where do the pairs plan to have their base when they go back into Wirrawee?
- What was the title of the half a book they found in the Hermit’s hut?
- What was the Hermit’s name?
- How did his wife and child die?
- What had Chris “souvenired” from town?
- How did Homer scare the cattle?
- Who drove the petrol tanker?
JOHN MARSDEN: WRITING THE WAR
Part of a Creative Writing series of videos. Possibly hard to get now, except floating around in high school English department resource rooms.
Watch the video and answer the following questions.
What gets Marsden angry about teenagers?
What did Marsden want to show in “Tomorrow”?
Why was it important for the book to be set in a rural area?
Who is the target audience?
How does Marsden write?
What had Marsden decided about the plot before he started writing?
What person does Marsden like to write in?
When does Marsden know that he has ‘grasped’ the essence of a character?
What does every character have to have?
What does Ellie reflect on?
How does Marsden bring other characters to life?
What do characters in any novel have to do?
What is a typical way in which they do this?
What examples are given?
What has to happen for change?
What does the writer need to do to make characters suffer?
Why did Marsden use the setting of Hell to launch the story?
Why did he call it Hell?
THE HERMIT SUBPLOT
What is the main similarity between the main plot and the hermit subplot?
How does Marsden show the similarity symbolically?
What do the rotting wood and rose symbolise?
What three things does a writer need to be conscious of all the time they are writing?
What is the foreground for?
How does a writer create a good main story?
What does a book need apart from action?
What does reflection mean?
WHO ARE THE INVADERS?
Why is Marsden careful not to identify the invaders?
Why does Marsden like to take more responsibility for the marketing than many authors?
What is Ellie’s comment about story telling?