Author: Wendy Orr
Published October 27th, 2017 by Pajama Press
Summary: The whispers say it’s not true that the Lady’s firstborn died at birth. They say it’s worse—the baby was born with an extra thumb dangling from each wrist. If she’s not perfect, she can never follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Nobody but the old wise-woman knows what truly happened to Aissa, the firstborn daughter of the priestess. If they saw the half-moon scars on the servant girl’s wrists they would find it out, but who would look twice at lowly, mute No-Name? Then the soldiers of Crete come to the island, demanding children as tribute for their god-king’s bull dances as they do every year. Aissa is determined to seize this chance to fight for her own worth and change her destiny once and for all.
Lyrically written and refreshingly unpredictable, Dragonfly Song is a compelling Bronze Age fantasy that suggests a fascinating origin for the legend of the Minotaur and his dark tribute.
“As mesmerizing as a mermaid’s kiss, the story dances with emotion, fire, and promise.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
More information about Dragonfly Song: http://pajamapress.ca/book/dragonfly_song/
About the Author: Wendy Orr was born in Edmonton, Canada, but grew up in various places across Canada, France, and the USA. She studied occupational therapy in the UK, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. She’s the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain, and Peeling the Onion.
More information about Wendy Orr: http://www.wendyorr.com/
Author-Created Activity Guide:
- Art: In Chapter 2, Aissa and the potter’s daughter make ‘circles of flowers
in a ring of stones.’ Later, Aissa makes patterns of flowers and shells for the fishers’ goddess (the first in Chapter 9) and patterns of rocks and her small treasures for the goddess in her sanctuary cave. Patterns are used in some religions and meditative practices; Indian or Tibetan mandalas and Navajo sandpaintings are probably the best known now.
To draw a mandala: http://www.art-is-fun.com/how-to-draw-a-mandala/
Ideas for mandala-type patterns using fresh flowers: http://twistedsifter.com/2014/07/flower-mandalas-by-kathy-klein/
Make your own patterns with sea shells, flowers, pebbles, leaves, seeds, or other natural materials. Glue them into place on card, or photograph them.
- Writing: In Chapter 24, Aissa learns to write on the clay tablets used for taxation records. The writing she used was called Linear B, and was a combination of a ‘syllabary’ – each symbol representing a syllable of a word – and ‘logograms,’ which are symbols of whole words. These tablets were supposed to be temporary, but were baked into pottery when the palaces burned down. Have students make their own clay tablets using real clay or as in these instructions: http://www.ehow.com/how_12110304_make-egyptian-hieroglyphics-tablet.html
For some of the Linear B logograms: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/linearb.htm
- Time Capsule: Without written historical records, interpreting archaeological finds can be very difficult. Put together ‘time capsules’ of small items – e.g. a birthday card, Barbie doll, shopping list, old iPod, CD… Break the class into small groups and have them use the items to ‘interpret’ questions such as this society’s religion, dress code, and social structure.
Author-Created Discussion Questions:
- Like The Hunger Games, Dragonfly Song draws on the Greek myth of Theseus, in which seven youths and seven maidens are sent as tribute from Athens to Crete, to be eaten by the monstrous half-man, half-bull Minotaur. However, Dragonfly Song looks back to the possible origins of the myth in Bronze Age Greece, and the palace of Knossos in Crete. The bull was obviously a very important symbol, probably even a god – even though the real animals would be sacrificed to their god – and there were many scenes, on paintings, vases, and gold jewellery, showing young acrobats somersaulting over the backs of bulls. What if these acrobats were part of a payment to Crete in return for protection by – or from – their powerful navy? If so, the tribute would have come from as far as the Minoan navy reached. Discuss the power of myth – why have some stories lasted for thousands of years?
- Discuss how the physical setting of Aissa’s home is a metaphor for the grimness of her life there. (e.g. The island is rocky, poor and isolated; buildings are dark, built of rock or burrowed into the side of the mountain.) What about the springtime when she develops new strengths after being cast out of the servants’ kitchen?
- In the Bull King’s palace, the buildings are awe-inspiring, filled with light and extraordinary art. The culture appears to be obsessed with beauty – but is there a darkness underpinning it?
- Dragonfly Song is set in the Bronze Age, but the ordinary people of Aissa’s island still use stone tools as well. Why do you think that would be?
- In the prologue, The Firstborn Daughter, what are the clues to tell us that this is a matriarchal society? How does it differ from a patriarchal society? The Mosuo of China are an example of a matriarchal society in the present day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoTrARDa8BU
- Chapter 8 mentions that the chief killed the last lion for his cloak when he married the Lady. Why might he have wanted a lionskin cloak rather than a deerskin? Why do you think the islanders didn’t worry about conservation and keeping all their native species alive?
- In Chapter 9, the servants are ‘screaming with joy at their game of hate.’ Why do you think the author described bullying Aissa as a game? How does bullying Aissa make the servants feel?
- Aissa is an ‘elective mute’ because there is nothing physical or intellectual preventing her from speaking. However, that doesn’t mean that she could speak if she wanted to: Mama’s command, ‘Stay quiet, still as stone till I come back,’ is buried so deep in her subconscious, and is so mixed with the trauma of the family’s death and disappearance, that Aissa can’t simply decide to start talking, even when she’s safe. Would she have been more accepted by the other servants if she could talk? How might it have changed the story if she had regained her speech after singing the snake away from Luki? Do you think she could have regained her speech if she had been treated kindly after being rescued? Do you think that meeting Mama again was the only reason she regained her speech, or might it have been partly because she’d faced death in the bull ring, and was safe now? A real-life example of a child choosing to become mute after trauma is Maya Angelou’s story (summarized in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls).
- Discuss the book’s structure with the students. What was their reaction to the combination of free verse and prose?
- Wendy Orr says that using free verse made it easier for her to access and portray Aissa’s emotions. Have the students choose an emotion, e.g. rage, grief, or joy – and write about it in free verse. Next, have them write a short story using the ideas and images that arose from the verse.
- Why do you think the author chose to write in free verse rather than rhyming, like the children’s rhyme in Chapter 10?
Here comes rabbit, hippity hop
See his ears flap and flop;
Here comes hedgehog, curled up small
Roll him over like a ball.
- Wendy Orr says that she normally writes in silence, on the computer, but found that the verse sections for this story had to be written by hand, playing the album Agaetis Byrjun by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. Experiment with playing different types of music as the students write verse.
- For useful images and links, see the Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/wendyorr1/dragonfly-song-bits-of-background-and-teaching-ideas/
Don’t Miss Out On the Rest of the Tour!
October 22: Unleashing Readers, Activity Guide and Discussion Questions https://www.unleashingreaders.com/
October 23: YA and Kids Book Central, Book Playlist http://www.yabookscentral.com/blog/
October 24: Log Cabin Library, Guest Post http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/
October 25: The Children’s Book Review, Character Interview https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
October 26: Bluestocking Thinking, Review http://bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com/
October 27: Charlotte’s Library, Interview http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/
October 28: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, Interview http://www.foodiebibliophile.com/
October 29: Writers’ Rumpus, Guest Post https://writersrumpus.com/
Thank you to Wendy Orr for her fantastic activities and questions!