1—Introduce the unit with The Day of the Elephant and the context for The Killing Sea
Share-read the picture book The Day of the Elephant. In a village in southern Thailand, an elephant rescues several Thai children. The book shows everyday life, including schooling, before the disaster. It describes and pictures the tsunami wave but does not show the tragic aftermath.
Discuss what students know of the 2004 Asian tsunami, often referred to as the ‘Boxing Day Tsunami’, which would have occurred when they were small children. Return to page 19 of The Day of the Elephant. Read the vivid description of the wave then examine the use of imagery and figurative language in the book, such as in the example:
‘A dark, impossibly high curling wave was rushing towards the beach. It was like the full moon tide magnified a thousand times. Everyone heard its mighty rushing ROAR.’
A vivid image of the wave is created in the first sentence through the use of well-chosen adjectives, an adverb and action verb to exactly describe the look of the wave and its action. The second sentence more poetically uses simile, to create a very vivid image. The third sentence focuses on sound and uses personification.
Approaching The Killing Sea
The ‘Author’s Note’ from The Killing Sea provides a very vivid account of the tsunami. Explain how non-fiction texts often have an author’s note, usually in end pages, to explain why the book was written and how it was researched. Students are going to approach this book by first reading the note at the end. Share-read the author’s note and the first paragraph of the acknowledgments following. Note in particular the fact that the author worked as a volunteer relief aid worker in Western Aceh immediately after the tsunami, which gives authenticity to his novel.
Have students work in pairs or small groups to search for the two similes and a metaphor used to describe the tsunami in the author’s note.
‘… a powerful series of waves that in the deep ocean travelled as fast as a jet plane.’
the wave train
Have students then find two other comparisons that are not similes but are imagery that help the reader to vividly see the size or scope of the disaster: ‘An area of seafloor the size of California sprang up’ ...‘the steep face of one of these monster waves, already taller than a coconut tree’ and two sentences that vividly show the force of the waves.
After sharing with the class, students now move on to individual work. On a copy of the author’s note text, have them underline the many strong verbs the author uses to exactly describe the action of the waves.
Found poem activity
Have students write a ‘found’ haiku, from discussion and reading so far, to express impressions of the destructive force of nature in the 2004 Asian Tsunami. To craft a ‘found poem’ students use words and phrases they have highlighted in the author’s notes and also words and phrases from the extract from page 19 of The Day of the Elephant. The format is 17 syllables over three lines — five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables. Lines do not rhyme.