Astrid Spark, Fixologist

Teachers Notes (Primary)
by Janet Anderson
Astrid Spark, Fixologist
Justin D’Ath
ISBN 9781865087184
Recommended for ages 10 up
These notes may be reproduced free of charge for use and study within schools but they may not be
reproduced (either in whole or in part) and offered for commercial sale.
Introduction .......................................... 2
English ............................................... 2
This is Your Life.......................... 3
Storyboards............................... 4
Explanation ............................... 5
Cartoon Strip ............................. 5
Poetry Dramatisation .................. 5
Poetry Writing............................ 5
Advertising Brochure................... 5
Hot Seat ................................... 6
Story Map ................................. 6
News Report .............................. 6
A Galah’s Point of View................ 6
Daily Inter-Planet News Article ..... 6
Character Profile ........................ 7
Letter Home from Marie Curie ...... 7
Procedure.................................. 8
Design a Dream Home ................ 8
Literary Sociogram ..................... 8
Science ............................................... 8
Molecules .................................10
Balloons ...................................10
Australia Telescope National Facility............
CSIRO .................................................
Meet the People ....................................11
Elizabeth Honey ........................11
Janet Anderson .........................11
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Astrid Spark was last seen as a young child in Justin D’Ath’s Echidna Mania. She is now 12 and she and her family
are quite used to her special gift. Astrid is a fixologist: she has the power in her fingers to join together anything
that is broken. However, she is not allowed to fix humans or animals because of the unintended consequences that
can sometimes follow. Her parents, astrophysicist Jacqui Spark and lawyer Richard Spark, also insist that she
mustn’t fix things for money and she is not allowed to appear in the press or on TV or to take part in any scientific
experiments. But what if it was a matter of benefiting the whole world? Would they relax their rules then?
When Doctor Hu asks Astrid to join him in his ginger-beer powered balloon (a baggoon) and ascend to the hole in
the ozone layer in order to fix it, her parents agree. However, things get out of hand and Astrid, with her smart,
wise-cracking friend, Kia-Ora McKlintock, and Dr Hu’s son, Lukas, (not to mention the galah) find themselves
shooting unaccompanied into the stratosphere.
This comic adventure is a delight to read with upper primary children. Justin D’Ath’s innocent yet savvy humour
chimes with kids and the novel is full of side adventures, comic conceits and delightful minor characters, such as
astronaut Colonel Randy and cosmonaut Major Vladimir (not to mention the galah). Though obviously fantasy,
there is also a strong connection to real science and environmentalism: scientists and scientific thinking are taken
seriously and the description of the bagggoon (new improved version with extra fizz and an extra ‘g’), though
humorous, also models scientific and engineering thinking. In the end Astrid fails to magically fix the hole in the
ozone layer. As Dr Hu says, ‘It’s up to all of us now. If we stop polluting the air, the ozone layer might well repair
itself over the next 50 years or so.” People all around the world are so inspired by the story of Astrid’s attempt that
there’s a good chance his prediction will come true. And they all live happily ever after . . . even the galah.
Oh, and Astrid’s gift moves from her fingers to her lips, which is especially good luck for Lukas.
This Is Your Life - Chapters 2 - 4
In these chapters, Astrid’s history as a fixologist is canvassed and the possibility of her being involved in an
experiment with Dr Hu introduced. Have students work in groups to write a ‘This is Your Life’ television program for
1. Focus on the events in her past and the question mark over her involvement with Dr Hu in the present.
Have the groups perform the program with group members taking more than one role. Include the following
characters: Presenter; Astrid; Kia-Jane; Felix; Mr Mantelli, Astrid’s Grade 2 teacher; Mum; Dad; People who
have brought broken things to Astrid; Dr Hu; Lukas.
Storyboards - Chapters 8 – 11
A storyboard is a cartoon version of a story. The action is shown in a frame and the dialogue written beneath. Each
frame is like a camera shot: long shots include a great deal of setting, while close-ups focus on facial expressions.
Drawing a storyboard requires students to sequence and link important aspects of the story and make decisions
about which aspects need emphasis with a close-up.
The Sparks have the unique and hilarious experience of travelling in a baggoon upon their arrival in Sydilly. Have
the students draw storyboards to depict the family’s experience with Dr Hu and the baggoon:
1. Have students decide which parts of the experience will be long shots and which parts will be shown in
2. Decide on the number of frames – an odd number works best.
3. Write the captions for each of the frames.
4. Draw the action in each of the frames.
Explanation – Chapter 11
An explanation is a factual text type that tells how and why things occur. Explanations are organised in the
following way:
• General Statement - identify the thing to be explained
• Explanation Sequence – a series of statements explaining causal relationships in a process
• Concluding Statement
In Chapter 11 Dr Hu explains how the ozone layer is deteriorating. Use the factual information here as a starting
point for a written explanation about the hole in the ozone layer.
Cartoon Strip - Chapters 13 – 16, 20 – 24
The story of Marie Curie’s disappearance from Earth, arrival at the International Space Station and discovery
through the telescope by Astrid’s mother is a tale of epic proportions. Draw a cartoon strip of Marie Curie’s
1. Organise students into pairs.
2. Have them plot the events of Marie Curie’s adventure on a time line.
3. Use this as a basis for a cartoon strip telling the story.
4. Include the reactions of the astronaut/cosmonaut and the Spark and Hu families.
Poetry Dramatisation – Chapter 18
Choral dramatisation is a presentation form in which a group of students speak and move as a chorus while
reciting a poem. Chapter 18 is a catchy poem in rhyming verse about hats which lends itself to choral
dramatisation. Have students rehearse and perform the poem in this style:
1. Organise students into groups of five or six and have them choose a stanza of the poem.
2. Have each group prepare to perform their stanza, adding movement to a unison vocal recital.
3. Allow the groups to use props in the form of different types of hats to provide links between movement and
the poem.
4. Perform the stanzas in the order they appear in the poem.
Poetry Writing – Chapter 18
In acrostic poems, the letters in a word are used as the initial letters of all the lines in the poem:
At times are
One stanza of the poem about hats in this chapter is a list of ‘hats that didn’t rhyme’. Use the names of these hats
as the basis for acrostic poems:
1. Choose the name of a hat from the list of ones that didn’t rhyme.
2. Find out about the hat: where it is from, what it looks like; and who wears it.
3. Use the letters from the word as the basis for an acrostic poem about the hat.
4. Repeat with another type of hat from the list.
Advertising Brochure - Chapters 28 – 30
These chapters vividly describe how the bagggoon is constructed and the details of its test flight. Have students
design and produce a brochure to market bagggoon rides as a commercial venture:
1. Decide on an angle to promote: seeking thrills or getting close to nature.
2. Refer to examples of related advertising material: ballooning, skydiving, canyoning, bungee jumping; or
whale watching, bushwalking, scuba diving off the Barrier Reef.
3. Examine the different types of language and the different tone created in the advertising material.
4. Create the brochure to advertise bagggoon rides.
Hot Seat - Chapter 34 Onwards
Hot Seat is a role-play activity which allows students to explore characters and events as they develop.
1. A student takes on the role of one of the main characters in the story (Astrid, Lukas, Kia-Jane, the galah)
and sits in the Hot Seat.
2. The class take on the role of journalists and ask the character questions in an interview format.
3. The teacher mediates between the character and the class. The interview questions focus on why the
character has carried out certain actions.
4. Repeat the activity as the main characters find themselves in new situations and as relationships develop.
5. Put other characters in the Hot Seat as they are involved in the action:
Chapter 48
Dr Hu
Chapter 53
Chapter 57
Chapter 63
Radio Operator aboard Air Force Orion
Chapter 68
Elephant Seal
Chapter 75
Country Fire Authority Crew
Story Map - Chapter 38 onwards
A story map is a visual representation of the main features of a story. It includes labels to indicate events that have
occurred at particular locations. This draws attention to the sequence of events in the story, the relationship
between these events and the structure of the text.
The events of the unexpected flight in the bagggoon make an excellent basis for a story map.
1. Read each chapter.
2. Brainstorm the main events of the story that are introduced.
3. Discuss suitable labels or explanations to identify and link the main events.
4. Record these events visually by drawing them in on the story map.
Add the labels to comment upon events or to show links between them.
News Report - Chapter 63
In this chapter the radio operator aboard the Air Force Orion reports a bushfire. As an afterthought, he also reports
that the missing kids have been found.
Explore perspective in news reporting by writing two different news reports. Have one give emphasis to the
bushfire and the other give emphasis to the location of the missing kids:
1. Consider the different headlines suitable for each of the reports.
2. Consider the different ways the ‘facts’ would be presented in each of the reports.
Consider the different pictures that would accompany each of the reports.
A Galah’s Point of View - Chapter 69
The galah has had a pivotal role in the whole bagggoon flight and is adamant that his presence not be overlooked.
Retell the story of the bagggoon flight, crash and rescue from the galah’s point of view. Start from Chapter 38 and
use the story map to assist in structuring the retelling.
Daily Inter-Planet News Article – Chapter 76
In this chapter Major Vladimir and Colonel Randy receive the Daily Inter-Planet by spacefax and read that the
children missing in the bagggoon have been found. Write this news article for the Daily Inter-Planet.
Character Profile – Major Vladimir and Colonel Randy
These two characters appear in the following chapters: 15, 23, 24, 32, and 76. Use the information in these
chapters to complete character profiles on each of them. Use Activity Sheet 1 at the end of these notes as a
template for the character profile. Address the criteria in the template and include a picture.
Letter Home from Marie Curie – Chapter 76
Marie Curie must have had an amazing time staying alive in space in the baggoon, making the acquaintance of the
astronaut and cosmonaut, and living in the space station. Write a letter from her to her family back on Earth that
can be sent to them via the spacefax.
Procedure for a Firebreak – Chapter 75
A procedure tells how to do something. Procedures are organised in three sections:
• Goal of the activity
• Materials needed to achieve the goal
• Steps to accomplish the goal.
In this chapter the fire-chief gives his men an order to establish a firebreak at the southernmost tip of Tasmania.
This will be quite a feat!
1. As a class, brainstorm ideas about what might be involved in achieving this.
2. Have students write a procedure for establishing this firebreak using these ideas.
Design a Dream Home – Postscript
Design the ideal place for the galah and penguin to settle down.
Literary Sociogram
A literary sociogram is a diagrammatic representation of the relationships between characters in the text.
Constructing a literary sociogram gives students opportunities to establish the role and nature of each character, to
identify the relationships between characters and to construct a diagram to represent this information. This activity
would make an excellent conclusion to work with the book.
While the Science in the book is larger than life, it is rooted in scientific reality which can be explored by students.
The following experiments exploring molecules, using magnets and balloons, are suitable for either group work
(with careful supervision) or teacher demonstration.
Astrid is a ‘fixologist’ – a person who is able to join molecules back together. Explore how molecules pull together
with the following experiments using water.
What you need:
Elastic Band
What to Do:
1. Half fill the glass with water.
2. Stretch the handkerchief over the top of the glass and fix it with the elastic band.
3. Turn the glass upside down. The water molecules will pull together and stop any water from falling through the
holes in the handkerchief.
4. Weaken the molecule’s pull by touching the handkerchief. Water will now come through the holes.
The pull exerted between the water molecules in contact with the handkerchief is called surface tension. When you
turn the glass upside down, the surface tension is great enough to have the water molecules pull together across
the tiny holes in the fabric of the handkerchief. That's why no water comes through when you turn the glass upside
down. However, when you touch the handkerchief this weakens the surface tension or pull between the molecules.
It is no longer strong enough to pull them together across the fabric, so some molecules break away from the
others. That is why water comes through the handkerchief when you touch it.
Astrid is known as the girl with the incredible magnetic fingers. Explore the invisible force called magnetism with
the following experiments.
What you need:
A bar or horseshoe magnet
A needle
What to do:
1. Hold the needle by the eye and stroke it gently 30 times with the magnet in the same direction.
2. Test the needle magnet on some pins. Does it attract them? What else does it attract? What doesn’t it attract?
What you need:
A bar or horseshoe magnet
A maze drawn on a piece of cardboard
A paper clip
A glass of water
A ruler
What to do:
1. Place the paper clip on top of the cardboard and hold the magnet underneath. Try to guide the paper clip
through the maze.
2. Put the paper clip in the glass and use the magnet to try to rescue it without getting wet.
3. Make the paper clip climb the ruler.
Magnets pull on magnetic materials such as iron and steel but pull through non-magnetic things such as
cardboard, glass, plastic, wood and water.
What you need:
Clean glass bottle
Small Saucepan
What to do:
1. Stretch the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle.
2. Stand the bottle in a small saucepan. Add 5cm of water to the pan and place it on top of the radiator.
3. Allow the water to get hot.
4. Watch what happens to the balloon.
The hot water in the saucepan warms up the air in the bottle. Hot air takes up more space than cold air. When
there is no more room in the bottle, some of the hot air goes up into the balloon and inflates it.
What you need:
Baking soda
Bottle with narrow neck
Paper napkin
What to do:
1. Pour 1 cm of vinegar into the bottle.
2. Cut a 7.5 cm square from the napkin.
3. Put 2 tablespoons of baking soda in the centre of the square from the napkin.
4. Tie one end of the string around this square of napkin and lower it into the bottle until it is just above – but not
touching – the vinegar.
5. Tie the top end of the string around the bottleneck so the napkin hangs in place.
6. Slip the neck of the balloon over the bottle opening.
7. Shake the bottle back and forth very hard. Make sure the vinegar splashes on the baking soda in the napkin.
8. Watch what happens to the balloon.
The balloon puffs up because a gas is produced when baking soda and vinegar come together. This gas is called
carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide fills the bottle and then some rises and inflates the balloon.
References for Science Experiments
Berger, M.
Simple Science Says: Take One Balloon. Scholastic: Sydney
Bingham, J.
The Usborne Book of Science Experiments. Usborne Publishing Ltd: London
Other relevant experiments can be found on this website in the teachers’ notes for Justin D’Ath’s Echidna
Other Ideas for Research
Alternative energy sources:
• Geothermal
• Hydro-electric
• Nuclear
• Tidal
• Wind
• Solar
• Greenhouse Effect
In Chapters 22 and 69 we learn that Astrid’s mum is an astrophysicist who uses giant satellite-mounted telescopes
to search the sky.
The CSIRO undertakes research in radio astronomy with a facility called the Australia Telescope National Facility
(ATNF). This is a set of eight radio telescopes in NSW which are used to study objects in the universe ranging from
the remains of dead stars to entire galaxies. The ATNF has a very informative website at . The
Educational Resources section has a link to Teachers’ Resources as well as the following links which would make
excellent starting points for inquiry by students:
• Parkes Visitors’ Centre
• Astronomy Images
• Australian Astronomy Books
• Introduction to Radio Astronomy and Interferometry
• Compact Array Live!
Dr Augustus Hu, the inventor of the bagggoon, is a scientist who works for the CSIRO. The CSIRO website at has an Education link which has two further links of particular interest to primary students:
• CREST (CREativity in Science and Technology) offers students an opportunity to undertake science and
technology research projects which involve three elements: creativity, perseverance and application. The
projects are offered at different levels and provide challenges for all abilities. Links are made with industry
or community workers and students gain a new understanding of the role of science and engineering in the
community. Support for teachers is provided.
• Scientriffic is a science magazine for children aged 7+ and includes a magazine, activities and a teacher’s
Justin D'Ath grew up on a farm in New Zealand. Every evening, he and his brothers used to read to each other or
tell stories. 'We didn't have TV, so we learned to use our imaginations.' By the time he was eleven, Justin had
completed his first book - a ten-page cartoon about his pet turtle, Bubble - and begun a novel.
His first publication was a monthly cartoon strip in a magazine, which he used to draw in his tent while he travelled
around Australia on his motorbike. For twenty years he wrote only for adults - in addition to studying to be a priest,
picking fruit, building cars, mining for iron and working in a sugar mill. It was his daughter Fiona who first introduced
him to contemporary writing for children and young adults. 'Since then,' Justin says, 'I haven't looked back.'
Janet’s career in education grew out of her time with a repertory theatre company that worked with groups as
diverse as preschoolers in India to Marines in the United States. A love of drama and communication from the
stage has communicated to a love of literacy development in the classroom. Janet has had a career in
Independent Schooling in NSW as both a classroom teacher and member of school executive. She holds a
Masters Degree in Education specialising in teaching and learning.
Activity Sheet 1
Feelings about
where I am
Feelings about who I
am with:
Major goal in life:
- 10 -