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3 — How has trash been used as a setting in fiction?

This sequence is the first in a series of three where students will use English skills to analyse text and sort through information presented in written, visual and multimodal textual modes. Students will learn about the lives of children and adults in other countries who live among trash, or where impoverished situations bring them closer to it. Students will closely examine the cover and a text extract from the novel Trash, and a scene from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Students will recognise and explain differing viewpoints about the world by examining how an author presents an idea in a text and how the author represents a particular group or context, in this case the ‘dumpsite boys’ and the ‘slumdogs’. ACELT1626,   ACELT1629,   ACELT1807 

This sequence addresses the Cross-Curriculum Priorities: Sustainability and Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia. Students will draw on the following General Capabilities: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking and Intercultural Understanding.

Activity 1: Introducing setting — critically reading a novel cover

Cover of the Australian editio of the novel Trash, showing a little boy looking into the sunset over a ghetto and trash in a wind flurry forming the title

Above: Cover of Trash by Andy Mulligan, published by David Fickling, reprint by permission of The Random House Group Limited. Cover from Trash may not be used by users in the USA and its dependencies, The Philippines or Canada.

A book’s cover is one of the ways a publisher sells a book. Show the students the cover of Andy Mulligan’s novel Trash then give them the Reading a book cover worksheet. The worksheet poses questions that will help students closely examine novel covers and aid discussion on the ways that images and text combine to layer meaning. ACELA1548

Students complete the worksheet and share their responses with their peers. Now a wider discussion can be opened in which students are asked to share their thoughts on the title, text, images, use of colour and lighting. Ask the students what all of these elements bring to the cover; what and who they think the book will be about and what background knowledge they bring to an activity like this.

Note: The cover presented here is the one on the Australian edition of Trash. Two further covers are in circulation (US and UK versions). A Google images search will easily bring these up and the three different designs can be shared with the students.

Based on student completion of the Reading a book cover worksheet and the class discussion, assign the students the task of writing a cover analysis or alternatively a comparative analysis of the different covers. 

Watch the official Trash book trailer. The book trailer emphasises the opening line of the novel and introduces one of the main characters of the book through the narrator’s voice: ‘My name is Raphael Fernandez and I am a dumpsite boy’.

Ask the students to write down their thoughts as to what a ‘dumpsite boy’ is, then to read the opening chapter of the novel, or the text extract. Lead the students into a series of discussion questions that draw on how the author has introduced and represented Raphael and the dumpsite boys:

Tyres in a landfill

Above: Dumpsite economy, image by Erika Boas

The novel Trash is written from a number of different perspectives and each character’s recollection is told in the first person. In this passage we learn about the character Raphael and about the ‘dumpsite economy’ and the setting of this story. 

This activity leads on to the focus of where Andy Mulligan gained his inspiration for the setting of his story.

Activity 2: Author interview

Watch the short author interview Behind Trash, located on the Reviews page of Andy Mulligan’s website (click on the Behind Trash button that links to this video, on the right of this page), then students can work in groups to discuss the following questions:

Andy Mulligan’s novel is a fast-paced and thrilling tale of three friends: Raphael, Gardo and Rat. The novel takes the boys from the setting of the city’s dumpsite to its more wealthy avenues as they embark on a series of adventures. Students can be encouraged to read the novel for their own interest or it would make for a great classroom study with a unit designed around and devoted to it.

Activity 3: Viewing the film clip opening sequence of Slumdog Millionaire

Share with students one of the opening sequences in the film Slumdog Millionaire. This sequence introduces the child actors at the heart of this story and the social and physical setting of the story. Psychological setting features quite heavily in this film and further exploration of this type of setting can be made.

Note: For a comprehensive treatment of setting in stories, read Wilhelm, J and Smith, M (2011) Fresh Takes on Teaching the Literary Elements: How to teach what really matters about character, setting, point of view and theme, Scholastic, New York.

Like Trash, the story of Slumdog Millionaire is a work of fiction. Explain to the students that whereas we have looked briefly at a book cover and an opening passage to a novel, we will now look closely at how a director’s chosen film techniques can enhance the setting in a story.

Discussion questions or questions for a journal response:

Note: The movie Slumdog Millionaire carries an M15+ rating and certain content may not be suitable for the age group. This selected sequence is appropriate, but teachers should use discretion if more of the film were to be shown.

Students can be encouraged to search for other settings where authors have represented trash, or commented on trash as setting.