SPaRK - Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World. Part 1
Dr Cathy Sly shares teaching activities for Investigating perspective – English Stage 3, English Stage 4.
An intriguingly humorous and subversive picture book by Joy Sorman and Olivier Tallec (translated by Sarah Klinger), ‘Blob:The Ugliest Animal in the World’, is the tale of a rather unusual creature that wins the annual contest for the ugliest animal in the world. The visual and verbal narrative reveals Blob’s tenacity as he travels once again from his home in the depths of the ocean off the coast of Australia. His mission is to compete for the third time in the worldwide contest, hoping to be victorious this year.
Although this text lends itself to analysis using a wide range of English textual concepts, in this teaching resource the tale of Blob’s rise to fame will focus on the concept of perspective. Applying an understanding of perspective to the focus text, ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’, challenges readers to consider how their perspectives on ‘ugliness’, and conversely ‘beauty’, are cultivated, and how they can be altered given greater knowledge and understanding.
Also featuring in this issue of Scan, ‘SPaRK - Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World. Part 2’ will focus on the concept of point of view. Explicit teaching and using a familiar text will enable students to develop a deeper understanding of these two somewhat tricky concepts: perspective and point of view. As these concepts are often confused, it is important to explain and demonstrate their differences.
Apart from its value as a multimodal text for English studies, ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’ could provide an engaging springboard for studies in the biology strand of the science curriculum.
Suggestions for using this resource
Initially, the explicit teaching of selected English textual concepts will enable students to understand the aspects they are looking for in the text.
Perspective is a lens through which we learn to see the world. The lens is not clear but is modified by earlier learning and experiences. Any text that an author creates is presented from her/his perspective and a reader comprehends a text from her/his own perspective. The diagram below indicates some of the important aspects that can impact one’s perspective.
Understanding perspective at different stages of learning:
Students understand that perspectives may differ and that these differences need to be considered.
They learn that
- perspective may be expressed in different ways through the values represented in texts and the language used
- texts may construct a perspective that challenges accepted ways of thinking
- different perspectives can be adopted for particular purposes.
- Participate in and contribute to discussions, clarifying and interrogating ideas, developing and supporting arguments, sharing and evaluating information, experiences and opinions (ACELY1709)
- Understand how to move beyond making bare assertions and take account of differing perspectives and points of view (ACELA1502).
Students understand that perspectives convey values.
They learn that
- language reveals and shapes our attitudes towards people, events, groups and ideas
- shared perspectives are markers of groups
- perspectives in texts may test the responder’s own moral and ethical positions.
- Share, reflect on, clarify and evaluate opinions and arguments about aspects of literary texts (ACELT1627)
- Create imaginative, informative and persuasive texts that raise issues, report events and advance opinions, using deliberate language and textual choices, and including digital elements as appropriate (ACELY1736).
Artworks that create optical illusions are one way of showing students that perspective can differ from one person to another. The website ‘Optics 4 Kids’ has some interesting examples if teachers wish to pursue this avenue.
Another way to explain perspective is to ask students how they would respond to any of the following. Various ideas can be compile d as a whiteboard diagram. This can be followed by a discussion on how people in other cultures or circumstances may have quite different perspectives.
- Eating any of the following: frogs’ legs; snake; dogs; witchetty grubs.
- Boys or men wearing skirts.
- A house without separate rooms.
- A house without running water.
- Giving a bunch of flowers to a male.
- Football teams reciting a poem at the beginning of a match.
In summary, perspective relates to ‘how’ a story is being conveyed and received. That is, what personality traits or socially conditioned attitudes does the composer(s) bring to a text and what personality traits or socially conditioned attitudes does a responder bring to a text? In addition, there should be an understanding that ‘lenses’ and thereby interpretations may differ from person to person.
Prior to reading ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’, it is worth asking students to consider the notions of ugliness and beauty in relation to creatures in the animal kingdom. Questions for discussion could include:
- Do you think there are some animals that are ugly and others that are beautiful? If so, give examples of each.
- What makes you perceive the creatures in this way? Is it their looks? Their behaviour? What you have read or heard about the creature? Do you tend to prefer animals that are popular with people you know?
- Have you read any books in which a particular animal is represented favourably in one book and unfavourably in another? For example, rabbits in Beatrix Potter books and rabbits in Shaun Tan’s ‘The rabbits’.
- Do you think storytellers have an influence on how we perceive creatures of the animal world? Give examples.
Questions such as those above can help to build a profile of students’ perspectives on creatures in the animal kingdom.
Teachers who wish to evoke deeper thinking might ask students where their perceptions have come from (such as various texts, experiences, other peoples’ ideas, images, etc.), which provides appropriate links to the ‘making connections’ aspects of the ‘Super Six’ comprehension strategies.
Depending on the number of books available, this text can be read aloud to the class or read in small groups. As the images form an important part of the narrative, they need to be studied closely. (Many of the images are available digitally in an article on the book by Maria Popova and could be used for whole class analysis.)
The composers of ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’ employ irony and satire to create humour. They present less known and less favoured members of the animal kingdom as contestants in an annual event to find the ugliest animal in the world. By subverting the notion of beauty pageants, the composers influence readers to alter their perspective about these so called ‘ugly’ animals and to question notions of ugliness. Although the animals are anthropomorphised and the narrative is fictional, all of the intriguing animals mentioned in the story actually exist and are worthy of further research from a scientific perspective.
Focusing on perspective
When reading ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’it is important to note that two modes of communication are being used to tell the story. In this narrative one mode is verbal and relies on written text and the other is visual and employs images. Both these modes operate together to convey the story. When considering perspective students should reflect on both these tracks and see if the values conveyed by the verbal narrator are similar to or different from those of the visual narrator. Generally, the perspective offered both by the writer and illustrator is one that evokes curiosity and empathy towards unusual and less known creatures of the animal kingdom. Therefore, the perspectives of the writer and illustrator are favourable towards the animals.
Discussion questions to help students to focus on perspective could include the following.
What perspective do the verbal and visual narrators offer on:
- unusual creatures?
- the effect of fame on personality?
Go beyond the book. All the animals mentioned in ‘Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World’ actually exist and there is an Ugly Animal Preservation Society which is concerned that many of these curious creatures are endangered species.
Imagine you are a member of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. Create a story, scientific report, or journal article that persuades readers to view your creature from a favourable perspective. This could be an oral, written, or multimodal presentation.
These links provide some useful information:
References and further reading
Baker, S. (2001). Picturing the beast. New York: Manchester University Press.
Curriculum K-12. (2010). Super Six comprehension strategies. Teaching comprehension strategies, pp.5-6. Taken from the Focus on Reading 3–6program. © State of New South Wales through the NSW Department of Education and Training.
Herman, D. (2012). Toward a zoonarratology. In M. Lehtimäki, L. Karttunen & M. Mäkelä (Eds.), Narrative, interrupted: The plotless, the disturbing and the trivial in literature. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Optics 4 kids. (2019). The Optical Society.
Sorman, J. & Tallec, O. (2017). Blob: The ugliest animal in the world, New York: Enchanted Lion Books.
Watt, S. (2013). Uglies are the spice of life. National Science and Engineering Competition and the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, UK.
Watt, S. (2013). The ugly animals are coming! National Science and Engineering Competition and the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, UK.
How to cite this article – Sly, C. (2019). SPaRK - Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the World. Part 1. Scan, 38(4).