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Playing Beatie Bow Essay Examples

The approach to novel reading in this unit

Teachers are encouraged to support as many students as possible to read and enjoy Playing Beatie Bow in its entirety. However, the reality is that some students may find this a challenge, while others may not feel sufficiently engaged. This is always a matter of judgement for teachers, especially in the middle years of schooling when there is one compulsory text shared amongst a diversity of students. In this unit, it is acknowledged that students may choose to not read the set novel and may resort to online plot summaries or the goodwill of fellow students.

In this spirit of openness, the unit makes no assumption or requirement for all students to read the entire book (or pretend to) though teachers may well encourage or even plead with students to do so! The value of this novel study lies in the opportunities presented by Playing Beatie Bow to open up learning and discussion in relation to three key points, which can be developed across this unit and within the assessment task:

  • the evolution of the English language, including the impact of new technologies on language
  • the genre of time travel
  • broadening vocabularies in relation to the novel and the two points above.

Consequently, it should be enough for students to listen to the opening chapters read aloud in class (see Activity 3) and engage in the discussions arising and the activities inspired by the novel to successfully complete the unit.

At this early stage in the unit, teachers are advised to make this clear to students and alert them to the fact that there is one compulsory Receptive Assessment Task for all students. However, those students who do read the novel in its entirety will be at some advantage because they will have the opportunity to select one of two available Productive Assessment Tasks: either the Twitter Poem Task or the Time Travel DVD task. Those who choose not to read the novel should be advised to avoid the Twitter Poem task because of its reliance on a knowledge of narrative development across all thirteen chapters.


Outline of key elements of the text


Abigail Kirk finds herself transported back to the late nineteenth century and becomes embroiled in the family life of the Bows. The Bows will not let her return home believing that she is ‘the stranger’ who will preserve the family gift. (See the Goodreads website.)

Characters in Playing Beatie Bow

From the twentieth century: Abigail Kirk (formerly Lynette); Katherine Kirk (Abigail’s mother); Weyland Kirk (Abigail’s father); Justine, Vincent and Natalie Crown (neighbours).
From 1873: Abigail Kirk (time traveller), Beatrice May Bow (Beatie Bow), Gilbert Samuel Bow, Judah Bow, Samuel Bow, Robert Bow, Dorcas Tallisker (Dovey), Alice Tallisker (Granny).

  • themes
  • colonial and contemporary Sydney
  • family love and values
  • coming of age
  • resilience and overcoming adversity
  • identity
  • hardship and poverty.

This unit will also explore the concepts of time travel and the evolution of the English Language.

Pre-reading activity

In order to accommodate all students, there will be a focus on close language study and the evolution of English to reflect a changing world, and particularly in relation to new technologies. Teachers should ensure that students complete the pre-reading activities before engaging with Playing Beatie Bow.

Activity 1: Puzzles of changing English

While Activity 1 may appear to be very complex, it is designed as a group puzzle with teacher hints along the way to support student success. Please see the teacher cheat sheet below:

The original texts Translation
(to support teachers and provide hints for students as needed)
Text 1:
From Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue
Middle English poetry from the 14th century  

(Lines 3–8)

To speke of wo that is in mariage; For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age, Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve, Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve, — If I so ofte myghte have ywedded bee, — And alle were worthy men in hir degree.

(and further in the Prologue, Lines 587–592)

Whan that my fourthe housbonde was on beere,
I weep algate, and made sory cheere,
As wyves mooten, for it is usage
And with my coverchief covered my visage . . .

(from website)

Text 1:
From Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue
Middle English poetry from the 14th century 

(Lines 3–8)

I am going speak about the trouble with marriage; So, friends, since I was twelve, Thanks be to God (who is alive), I have married five men in a church; and if I’ve married so many men, Then all were worthy men to some degree.

(and further in the Prologue, Lines 587–592)

When my fourth husband was being cremated,
I cried and looked really sad,
as wives must do at their husband’s funeral,
And with my hankie covered up my face . . .

You may wish to refer to this online Chaucer dictionary.

Text 2:
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3, scene 1, 114–121

Shakespearean/Elizabethan English 16th – 17th century

Hamlet: I did love you once.

Ophelia: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

Hamlet: You should not have believ’d me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I lov’d you not.

Ophelia: I was the more deceiv’d.

Hamlet: Get thee to a nunn’ry, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners?

Text 2:
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3, scene 1, 114–121

Shakespearean/Elizabethan English 16th – 17th century

Hamlet: I told you that I loved you once.

Ophelia: Yes, Hamlet, you did.

Hamlet: Well, you shouldn’t have believed me because all of us are rotten at the core, no matter how hard we try to be good. I didn’t love you.

Ophelia: Well, I was tricked.

Hamlet: Get to a convent, become a nun so that you cannot breed sinners like me.

You may wish to refer to this online Shakespearean dictionary.

Text 3:
From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

An English novel from the early 19th century

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. (p.1)

Text 3:
From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

An English novel from the early 19th century

Everyone knows that a single, rich man wants to marry. Even if little else is known about him it is assumed that he is available as a potential husband for their daughter.

Text 4:

Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow
Late 19th and 20th century English/Scottish dialect

‘I dunna ken where your ain place is’, protested Beatie. I didna mean to go there myself. It were the bairnies calling my name. I dunna ken how I did it, honest. I never did it afore I had the fever’ As though to herself in a puzzled worried voice she said, ‘One minute I was in the lane, and the next there was a wall there, and the bairnies skittering about, and all those places like towers and castles and that…that great road that goes over the water, and strange carriages on it with never a horse amongst them, and I was afeared out of my wits, thinking the fever had turned my brain.’(Chapter 3, p. 46 in Penguin Classics edition)

Text 4:

Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow
Late 19th and 20th century English/Scottish dialect

‘I don’t know where your place is. I didn’t mean to go there myself. It was the children calling my name. I honestly don’t know how I did it. I never did it before I got sick.’ As though to herself in a worried voice she said, ‘One minute I was in the lane and the next there was a great wall there and the children were playing around. There were towers and castles and a bridge that went over the water with cars going across it. I was afraid and thought I’d gone crazy.’If students need help with Scottish dialect, you might want to refer them to the online Collins dictionary.

Then download the Evolution of Language worksheet (PDF, 167KB) for this activity and print out copies for your students.

The activity requires students to examine the language used in a range of original texts from the fourteenth century (Chaucer) through to the twenty-first century (emoticons). Changes in the English language over time should become evident as the texts are explored. In the initial stages of the activity, groups of students should be given the original texts without the translations.

In small groups students work through the following steps:

  1. Try to decipher the language of each of the five texts included in Activity 1: Puzzles of changing English.
  2. Highlight in colour 1 all the words that are still familiar and spelt according to current spelling.
  3. Highlight in colour 2 all words that are similar but spelt differently.
  4. Highlight in colour 3 any words that mean nothing to you.
  5. Go back over the puzzle and see how much of it you can translate.
  6. You may wish to use the suggested online dictionaries to explore the meaning and origin of unknown words and to assist with the translation. For example, the root word of bairns in the passage from Playing Beatie Bow means child and has its origins in Scottish and Northern English language, barn child.

Students share with the class what they discovered about the evolution of the English language

  • What evidence is there that English has changed over the centuries?
  • Which words from the earlier texts are no longer used and which have evolved with new spelling?
  • What is significant of these changes?


Activity 2: An introduction to time travel and Playing Beatie Bow 

The concept of time travel is central to the text Playing Beatie Bow. In the following activities students’ previous experiences and knowledge of the time travel genre are initially explored. Students will then watch a series of film clips and film trailers that explore the notion of time travel from 1936 to now. The intention here is for students to experience the different styles of film-making where the central dramatic device used is time travel. Students might also notice how film-making has changed with advances in technology, and with changing styles of acting and direction. After viewing each clip students might like to discuss their observations and initial reactions to the films. This discussion will support their success in the first rich assessment task.

Step 1:

In small groups, students make a list of time travel texts. These may include novels, films, TV series, comics and/or digital games.

Step 2:

Share with the whole class and create one large class list, which can be further developed and categorised (such as film, novel, TV series) during the unit. Teachers may like to consult lists such as Best Time Travel Movies and Goodreads for inspiration.

Step 3:

As a whole class, discuss which texts they have enjoyed/not enjoyed and why and how authors/filmmakers have used time travel as a device in these stories.

Step 4:

View a selection of the following time travel clips:

  • Clip 1, The Time Machine (PG) was made in 1936 and is considered one of the earliest and best example of time travel in movies (2 minutes, 30 seconds).
  • Clip 2, Back to the Future (PG) was made in 1986 and formed part of the Back to the Future trilogy (1 minute, 20 seconds).
  • Clip 3,Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (PG) is the third in the Harry Potter series made in 2004 (2 minutes, 50 seconds).
  • Clip 4, Meet the Robinsons (PG) was made in 2007 and is an example of an animated time travel film (2 minutes, 30 seconds).
  • Clip 5, Time (PG). Made in 2013 this short film was a Tropfest Finalist.
  • Clip 6, Playing Beatie Bow (PG). The film was made in 1987 (6 minutes, 23 seconds).

Step 5:

Focus on Clip 5, and the question ‘if time travel were possible, what message would you leave in the future for someone in the past to find?’ Discuss with the class, or provide writing time for students to make a personal response by deciding what message they would want to leave for someone to find.

Step 6:

Watch Clip 6, Playing Beatie Bow. In this clip, students are introduced to the main characters, Abigail and Beatie Bow. They will see the pivotal moment where Abigail is transported from the twentieth century back in time to the nineteenth century. Watching this clip will visually provide students with contextual information about the setting: The Rocks in 1970s Sydney and 1873 Sydney Town. As well as this, the students will become familiar with the Scottish dialects and accents featured in the film. This is particularly important for those students who might find reading dialects and accents more challenging.

Step 7:

Using Google Maps show students the area in Sydney, New South Wales, where the story, Playing Beatie Bow is set and the clip is filmed: in and around The Rocks area.

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
Puffin Books 1982 (1980)
Mass Market Paperback
196 pages
Children’s Speculative Fiction; Historical Fiction; Time Travel

Fourteen year old Abigail Kirk lives with her divorced mother in a high-rise apartment in one of Sydney’s oldest suburbs, The Rocks, right below the giant Harbour Bridge and near the Opera House. Over the summer holidays, she helps at her mother’s antiques shop and relieves her neighbour Justine of the burden of her two small children, Vincent (“the high-rise monster”), and four-year-old Natalie, prone to fevers and fears and forever being bullied by her unpleasant brother. Abigail takes them to a nearby park, and there she watches a group of children playing a game called Beatie Bow. Vincent joins in, but Natalie hangs back to watch, and draws Abigail’s attention to a waifish, poorly dressed little girl with very short hair, standing nearby and avidly watching.

The children’s game is rather spooky, though there isn’t much to it: they form a circle but for two of them, one to stand in the middle as “Mudda” (mother) who answers her “children’s” cries of “what’s that noise?” when they hear moans and other creepy sounds, and the other to hide under a white sheet and creep towards them to give them a fright. The children scatter, the ghost of Beatie Bow catches one to take her or his place, and the game begins again.

When Abigail’s mother Kathy tells her daughter that her ex-husband wants to get back together with them, to make the family whole again – and take them all to Norway with him – Abigail is furious. She never got over the feeling of betrayal when he left them – left her, is how she sees it – for another woman when she was ten. In a miff and angry with her mother for wanting her ex-husband back, she goes to the park and when she sees Natalie’s “little furry girl”, she tries to talk to her. The little girl flees, and startled, Abigail follows, up through the narrow old alleys and stairwells, and suddenly, at the stroke of the town clock, finds herself in a world both familiar and utterly alien.

It’s 1873 in Sydney Town, a muddy colonial town, and the little girl’s family takes Abigail in after she sprains her ankle running through the streets after the girl – who says her name is Beatie Bow. The family of Scottish immigrants consists of Granny Tallisker, who has “the Gift”, and Mr Bow, an Englishman suffering from a head injury after fighting in the Crimean War who married Granny’s daughter, now dead of typhoid fever that took her newborn baby and another child as well. Mr Bow runs a confectionary shop on the ground floor, making all the sweets with his extended family’s help. As well as Beatie, Samuel Bow has a son, a teenager called Judah who works as a sailor, and a younger son, Gibbie, who hasn’t yet recovered from the typhoid fever that took his mother and who relishes planning out his own funeral and being sickly. Also living with them is their cousin, Dorcas Tallisker, known as Dovey, who has a limp leg from a childhood accident that was never set properly.

Granny and Dovey think that Abigail is “the stranger”, whose coming has an important purpose to do with the Gift living on in the family – Granny is the last one, and there aren’t many family members left. They won’t help Abigail return to her own time until she’s fulfilled her purpose in being here, whatever that is – even though, as Abigail learns, it means that one of Granny’s four grandchildren will remain childless, one will have the Gift, and one will die young.

Anyone who grew up in Australia in the 80s will be familiar with this story. It was first published in 1980 but had a second life when the movie adaptation came out in 1986. You can watch the entire film adaptation on YouTube, which I’ve been doing while I write this review, mostly because I wanted to see if it was really like my memories. See, I remember watching the movie at school, with my class – grade five I’d say, when I was ten? That would have been 1989 I think. Well I’m not sure exactly when we watched it in class, and I think there was more than one time, but I remembered it as being really rather scary. I couldn’t remember much except the Beatie Bow game, the “little furry girl” who seemed very mysterious to me, and the modern-day older girl (in the movie she’s seventeen) being almost lured into the past. I remember the palms touching – that’s one of the strongest things to have stayed with me throughout my life; I remembered it as being the key to the time travel. Of course, this doesn’t even happen in the book! Anyway, I always had a very lively imagination that lived on darker images, so this certainly made an impression on me, even though I didn’t really understand it all.

Perhaps because the movie spooked me, I never read the book as a kid. It was one of those very popular novels and my school library certainly had a copy, but I never had any interest in reading it until a few years ago when I hunted down a copy via Amazon (you can still get it easily in Australia, but I don’t think it was ever in print in Canada!). I’ll add this about the adaptation: it’s very 80s but very good, it sticks pretty closely to the book and I think one of the reasons why my teachers liked us to see it, aside from it being Australian, was because it provides a good glimpse into life in colonial Sydney – how people lived, what it looked like etc. (If you’ve got a spare 127 minutes, definitely click on the link and watch the movie.)

Abigail isn’t a bad sort at the beginning of the story, but as the months go by in 1873 and she spends more time with the Tallisker-Bow family, she realises just how selfish she’s always been, especially in regards to her mother and father.

‘I’m not kind,’ said Abigail with a sickish surprise. ‘Look how I went on with Mum when she said she wanted us to get together with Dad again. Look what I did to Dad when I was little, punched him on the nose and made it bleed. Maybe I’ve never been really kind in my life.
And she remembered with a pang what Kathy had said, that awful day: that she had never, either as a child or a fourteen-year-old, offered a word of sympathy to her her mother.
‘Yet here are these people, happy and grateful to be able to read and write, just to be allowed to earn a living; and they’ve shared everything they can share with me, whom they don’t know from Adam.’
These Victorians lived in a dangerous world, where a whole family could be wiped out with typhoid fever or smallpox, where a soldier could get a hole in his head that you could put your fist in, where there were no pensions or free hospitals or penicillin or proper education for girls, or even boys, probably. Yet, in a way, it was a more human world than the one Abigail called her own. [pp.76-77]

As the movie did later, the book recreates colonial Sydney with fine detail, in all its grimy, rotten-teeth glory. It’s rich with atmosphere, some excitement and danger, and is more of a family history than a story of colonial Australia. It’s Abigail’s coming-of-age story, a time for her to learn a great many things: patience, selflessness and generosity, love and loss, to appreciate what one has, and to make the most of things. She falls in love with Judah, and on learning that he’s long been betrothed to Dovey, learns how to let go. She takes on this family’s burden of heritage as a personal one, and stops whinging and lamenting her lot in order to help them.

These are some very well-written characters. They don’t read like characters in a book but like real people, captured by the author but not conjured by her. The story is quite simple, not over-crowded with plot hurdles or too much drama. It plays out convincingly, and Abigail is a strong heroine able to carry the story and bind it all together. The other key character of strength is of course Beatie Bow herself, who is a good counter to Dovey’s gentleness and kindness. The book doesn’t suffer from the film’s “starry-eyed gaze” (there’s a bit of glossy posturing and soft lens action that’s distinctly 80s), and at fourteen, Abigail acts appropriately for her age.

The ending is great, if a bit convenient: I had forgotten how it went, but it ties everything up so well and doesn’t feel forced. This is a wonderful time travel adventure story, a great journey through old Sydney Town’s established streets, rich in layers of detail and history. At its heart, it is a story about getting perspective: on family, and love, and life in general. Abigail travels a long way in order to realise what her own family means to her, and how she can help make her mother – and father – happy again, as well as herself. I enjoyed reading this a great deal, and I’m so glad I did read it, even after all these years – it’s never too late to read a classic, right? And read again and again, and keep the book alive by reading it yet again. It’s always sad to think of how many great books flared brightly but with a short wick, to sink away, out-of-print for ever more, so I’m always happy when a book manages to survive, and be remembered and read again. Let’s keep these modern classics alive, shall we?


Other Reviews:

“A highly enjoyable, on the whole well-thought-out time-travel tale; the weakest points are the actual time travel sequences – but these are notoriously hard to write, being, of course, purely imaginative with no real-world references to guide the writer. … The quality of the writing is very high; the story itself is interesting and creatively presented. An intriguing glimpse into contemporary and historical urban Australia (set, as mentioned earlier, in Sydney, New South Wales), as well as a highly sympathetic protagonist.” Leaves & Pages

“Park creates an incredibly detailed and evocative picture of the 19th-century life of a respectable but poor working family, and the book’s worth reading for that historically pleasurable side of things alone. But it’s the dynamics between all the disparate characters, seen through Abigail’s eyes as she becomes less self-centered, and the rather tense mystery of what she needs to do to make it home, that make the book truly excellent.” Charlotte’s Library

“What hasn’t changed for me is the richly detailed 1880s Sydney setting and the nightmarish quality of Abigail’s experience there. Ruth Park has created a dangerous and vivid world, with the kind of tight plotting that sees everything come beautifully together in the last uplifting passages.” I Was a Teenage Book Geek

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