story by Simon Cooke , illustrated by Peter Sheehan

Learning Intention:

I am learning to recognise the way elements of genres are blended in a text so that I can understand how characteristics of different genres have influenced a composer.

Success Criteria:

  • I can identify the obvious features of a primary genre in a text.
  • I can analyse the subtle features of a secondary genre in a text.
  • I can explain how characteristics of genres have influenced the composer.

Essential knowledge:

More information about how audiences can expect certain patterns in a text, and how authors can subvert these patterns can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Genre.

More information about how the concept of genre should be addressed in Stage 3 can be found on the English Teachers Association’s page on Genre.

Guiding Question:

How do authors and audiences experience genres?

Prior to reading the text, provide students with the Australian Curriculum’s definition of genre:

How texts are grouped depending on their social purpose (for example, to recount, to describe, to persuade, to narrate). In literary theory, the term is often used to distinguish texts based on their subject matter (for example, detective fiction, romance fiction, science fiction, fantasy fiction), or their form and structure (for example poetry, novels, short stories).

Explain that in this activity you will be focusing on how genre works in literary theory.

Then, reveal and discuss Peter Sheehan’s illustrations and ask students the following questions:

  • Based on these pictures, what genre do you think this story best fits? (The answer is fantasy)
  • What is happening in the pictures? (A man is staring at a warship, next he is fighting a large sea monster in a small boat, next a large purple sea monster is dragging the warship, next the man is unlocking the chains of the sea monster, finally the man, with another man appear to be stranded on a deserted island.)
  • How do these images link to this (the fantasy) genre? (The inclusion of large sea monsters, the behaviour of the sea monsters such as being the boat’s engine, the appearance of the warship which looks part old fashioned and part modern.)
  • Do these pictures include features from any other genre? (Students may notice the historical details in the images such as the characters’ dress, hairstyles and the wood used to build the warship).

Explain that an audience has expectations when they know that a text belongs to a certain genre. Provide students with a checklist of the most common patterns found in both the fantasy and the historical fiction genre (below). Alternatively, the class can construct their own checklists of what they would expect to read in texts from these genres. Then, ask them to read the text and identify which patterns of the fantasy genre appear:


Pattern Does it appear? Example
Magic Yes A dragon appears that breathes fire. Students may debate whether magic is used to control the whales, sharks and leviathans.
Unique setting Yes In this world, ships are hauled by sea monsters rather than using sails.
A heroic adventure Yes Jacob must set both himself and the sea monster free from his evil captain.
Mythical or supernatural creatures Yes It contains dragons and leviathans which are not real, as well as sharks and whales which have been tamed.
Unique language No All words in the story are real words.
Relatable themes Yes Jacob demonstrates both how to show compassion to another being and the importance of bravery.

Explain to students that the author has used many features of the fantasy genre and therefore has fulfilled the audiences’ expectations. However, the author has also taken aspects of a second genre (historical fiction) and blended these into the story. Ask the class why the author has made this decision. (Answers may include: so that the story is less predictable, the narrative is more unique, it creates a richer and more detailed setting, it suits the context of the story as belief in sea monsters was more common 200 years ago).

Display the features of the historical fiction genre and explain to the class the deliberate choices made by the author:

Historical Fiction Genre:

Pattern Does it appear? Example
Characters act appropriate for the time Yes Naval recruiters really did prowl and kidnap people (the press gangs).
Specific vocabulary from the time period is included Yes Leviathan, pleasure ships, trading vessels, cannons
Set in a specific place during a specific time in history Yes The style of the ship’s wooden base and naval uniforms suggests 1700s-1800s.
Includes details, traditions and societal norms of the time period Yes Hierarchy of the navy, fancy clothing worn by first mate Scupper compared to Jacob.
Combines real details with fictional characters and events Yes Men were regularly kidnapped to help with the war effort during the Napoleonic Wars. These ships used cannon fire.

As a class, re-read and annotate the story. Highlight the details both in the illustrations and text that reveal aspects of the historical fiction genre. Finally, discuss how the patterns used in the historical fiction genre have impacted the choices made by the author.