The Siren's Mirror

part one of a story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Gabriel Evans

Learning Intention:

I am learning to identify ways in which authors create excitement and suspense in texts so that I can use some of these strategies in my own writing.


Success Criteria:

  • I can identify where authors have chosen to reveal snippets of information to build reader interest
  • I can annotate key details in a narrative
  • I can discuss how characterisation works to further the plot in a narrative


Essential knowledge:

More information about narrative structure can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Narrative.

Prior to reading the story draw students’ attention to the title of the story, ‘The Siren’s Mirror’. Ask students the following question:

What is a Siren?

You can read another story in which sirens feature from a past issue of Countdown: The Sirens of Sigsbee Deep (part one). In this story there is a short description of the mythological creature:

Shasta took him gently aside and said, 'In ancient Greek stories, the Sirens were women who appeared on the seas and oceans, and sang such beautiful songs that sailors who heard them became hypnotised. The Sirens kept singing to the mesmerised sailors, causing them to sail their boats onto the rocks, or into colossal whirlpools, and be destroyed. Many sailors drowned because of the wicked, haunting Sirens …'


You may like to visit Metkids to find out about sirens using a collection item from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Understanding text:

Read the story as a class, pausing in the following places for discussion:

His song and his delving were interrupted by a loud whoooooosh, and a sudden thump on the garden bench. Mr Erasmus, who was a serene and thoughtful sort of chap, jumped at the unexpected intrusion. ‘Howdy, hidy, hody!’ came the shrill, swift voice of his friend, Sylphie Quicksilver. ‘


Mr Erasmus and Sylphie Quicksilver are good examples of contrasting characters. This means that they do not have many similarities. Discuss the differences in character demonstrated in this excerpt.


Why do you think having contrasting characters like this is effective in a narrative? (suggested answer: choosing to have characters who do not have many common character traits can add interest and excitement to a story. Mr Erasmus is quiet and without the excitement and enthusiasm of Sylphie, the story would be much more slow moving.)


‘What do we have here?’ muttered Mr Erasmus, squinting at a strange-looking long, curved object. ‘It looks like a horn,’ said Sylphie. ‘It does indeed,’ Mr Erasmus agreed. He handed it to Sylphie. ‘Where do you imagine that came from?


We know from the title of the story ‘The Siren’s Mirror’ that the story will not be focused on this ‘strange-looking long, curved object.’  Why do you think that the author chose not to reveal the most interesting and significant item first? (suggested answer: This helps develop suspense and greater interest in readers as they want to know what else is in the treasure trove, just like the characters in the story)


‘What else is in there?’ she asked, putting down the horn-trumpet. ‘Hmm … let’s see.’ Mr Erasmus turned over some papers and a roll of purple velvet material and some small, strangely-shaped bottles of green glass. ‘Oh, look, here’s a book!’


In this story, dialogue between Mr Erasmus and Sylphie is used to gradually uncover interesting objects from Mr Erasmus’ Treasure Trove. In both this example and the previous example there is a pattern used. Firstly one of the characters asks a question, then there is an action described before the other character speaks to identify an item from the treasure trove.


Discuss why dialogue between characters is a good way to reveal information to readers. (Suggested answer: As the characters ask questions and talk about their discoveries, the reader feels as though they are making the discovery at the same time as the characters in the story. It gives a sense of immediacy.)



‘A mirror?’ Sylphie queried. ‘’Oh my stars!’ gasped Mr Erasmus, looking so amazed he began to wobble. ‘What’s made you so amazed you’re wobbling, Mr Erasmus?’ ‘Ooh … ooh … could this be … the siren’s mirror?’


What is the effect of the ellipses (…) in the final line of this extract? (suggested answer: The three dots indicate a pause in Mr Erasmus’ speech. He is so overcome with wonder and amazement that he is having difficulty speaking. It gives a build up to the final part of his dialogue where he identifies the object as the siren’s mirror. The ellipses essentially create drama for this key discovery. )


Creating text:

As a class, look at the illustration on page 9 of this issue of Orbit magazine. Highlight and read the following passage from page 9:

…one day at a bazaar in Morocco, my Great-Great Uncle Delineus found a mirror that was supposed to have been owned by such a creature. He purchased it and brought it home.

Discuss the following questions:

  • What is a bazaar? (This description of a bazaar in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller magazine may be useful for students to get a sense of what it is like to visit a bazaar in Morocco: Tips for visiting a bazaar in Morocco: There's more to it than shopping by Brian Johnstone, December 9, 2022).
  • Where is Morocco? (you may like to project a world map onto the board and zoom in on the northwest corner of Africa where Morocco can be found)


Students write a narrative in which they retell the story of Great-Great Uncle Delineus purchasing the mirror in the bazaar in Morocco. Include the following:

  • A description of Delineus entering the bazaar and moving through the busy marketplace
  • Delineus noticing the mirror and going to take a closer look
  • The conversation between the shop keeper and Delineus about the origins of the mirror
  • The reason why Delineus decides to buy the mirror. Think about what Sylphie notices when she looks in the mirror.


In their writing, students should think about the way that narratives can draw readers in by gradually revealing more information. As Delineus wanders the bazaar in Morocco, students can try to create excitement by gradually revealing more details about the bazaar before he notices the mirror.

Encourage students to use sensory writing, dialogue and characterisation to influence the way that they would like readers to feel about Great-Great Uncle Delineus’ purchase of the mirror.


Assessment for/as learning:


Encourage students to complete a self-assessment by annotating their story. Ask students to:

Circle or outline an extract where they have developed the character of Delineus OR the shopkeeper who is selling the Siren’s mirror.

Underline an example of where they have used dialogue to reveal information to interest readers.

Highlight an extract from their own story showing how two characters interact in an interesting way.

Put an asterisk next to a paragraph where they have developed some suspense or excitement.