TANJONG KATONG SECONDARY SCHOOL

Farewell to thee, Romeo. Hello, Michael

Above, Madam Rajlal conducting a contemporary literature class where students identify with the characters. Left, a student highlighting text from Kensuke's Kingdom.
Above, Madam Rajlal conducting a contemporary literature class where students identify with the characters. ST PHOTOS: YEO KAI WEN
Above, a student highlighting text from Kensuke's Kingdom.
Above, a student highlighting text from Kensuke's Kingdom.

When 13-year-old Alisha Ganesh entered secondary school, she expected literature classes to concentrate on British literary giant William Shakespeare.

So the Secondary 1 student from Tanjong Katong Secondary School found it refreshing when her school took a different tack.

Last year, it introduced its Secondary 1 students to a more contemporary book, Kensuke's Kingdom, written by British author Michael Morpurgo.

Madam Michelle Elizabeth Rajlal, who teaches lower secondary literature at the school, said teachers wanted a story that students could relate to in terms of themes and characterisation.

RELATING MORE TO BOOK'S CHARACTER

I'd choose this book over Shakespeare because it's more interesting, and I already know stories like Romeo And Juliet. It helps that Michael is the same age as me, and I can imagine thinking in a similar way.

ALISHA GANESH, one of Tanjong Katong's 240 Sec 1 students reading Kensuke's Kingdom by British author Michael Morpurgo, on the book's main character

In the book, published in 1999, the main character, Michael, is stranded on an island after sailing in a yacht with his parents. Left alone at the wheel one night while his parents slept, Michael is washed overboard near an island.

His parents would rescue him eventually but on the island, he finds an unlikely friend in Kensuke, an elderly Japanese man who lives there and teaches him how to survive, before he is reunited with his parents.

Madam Rajlal said it was not easy to find learning materials for the book, so a team of four teachers came up with new resources such as lesson plans for students, making use of information from the author himself.

"The students identify with the characters. For instance, Michael's parents lose their jobs, and Michael later finds a father figure in Kensuke," she said. These situations prompt discussions about family relationships in class.

Alisha, one of the 240 students currently studying the book, said: "I'd choose this book over Shakespeare because it's more interesting, and I already know stories like Romeo And Juliet.

"It helps that Michael is the same age as me, and I can imagine thinking in a similar way, for example when he gets mad with Kensuke for setting rules, and when he misses his family on the island."

"His family ties stood out to me most because he kept believing that they would come back for him," she said, adding: "If I were in a difficult situation, my parents also wouldn't give up on me."


Amelia Teng


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Farewell to thee, Romeo. Hello, Michael'. Print Edition | Subscribe