Teaching Notes The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van



Teaching Notes The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van
Teaching Notes
The Day My Father Became a Bush
by Joke van Leeuwen
Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack
of dawn every day to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of
cakes. Then one day everything changes. War breaks out and Toda’s father must
go away to fight.
Luckily, he has been given a manual called ‘What Every Soldier Needs to Know’.
This tells him how to hide from the enemy by disguising himself as a bush.
While her father fights, Toda remains in the city with her gran until it is decided
this is no longer safe. Then she sent is to stay with her mother who lives across
the border. Her journey is full of danger and adventure, but Toda, all the while
thinking of her father camouflaged as a bush, never gives up. She must find her
The Author/ Illustrator
Joke van Leeuwen (1952) studied history at the University of Brussels, performs
in cabaret and theatre shows, writes stories and poems for children which she
illustrates herself, and writes prose and poetry for adults. She has received
innumerable awards, including the prestigious Theo Thijssen Prize, the triennial
Dutch State Prize for youth literature.
This clear-eyed, funny and off-beat novel about a girl making sense of a baffling
world has several themes.
The first of these includes the chaos of war. As war breaks out Toda must make a
dangerous journey through a war-damaged country to reach, and illegally cross,
the border. On the way she sees the damage war has inflicted, not only on the
countryside and buildings, but also on the people. Children and the elderly are
forced from their homes into Welfare Centres, and soldiers are faced with
fighting and personal challenges.
Other themes relating to war also include patriotism, sacrifice and loyalty. These
are evident with Toda’s father going to fight for his country, Gran sacrificing Toda
to get her to a safer place, and loyalty to the cause as is seen with the struggling
captain who Toda meets in the forest.
The theme of the complexities of family relationships is also explored. Toda has
not lived with her mother since she was very little. Despite this, when war breaks
out, Toda’s Gran makes the decision that Toda would be best living with her
estranged parent. Despite not knowing her mother, the need and desire to get to
her helps Toda continue her perilous journey. Toda ultimately reaches her
destination and starts to tentatively re-establish a relationship with her mother.
Courage and determination in the face of adversity are further themes. These
attributes help Toda overcome all the hurdles she encounters on her journey.
A final theme is that of humanity. The characters Toda meets on her journey
show how humans will help or hinder each other in times of crises. Toda
experiences many aspects of human behaviour, such as, her Gran forcing her to
start her journey, the captain helping her in the forest, the strange retired general
intimidating her, and the kindly translator encouraging her in the Child Welfare
1. Before reading the book, look at the cover image and title. Discuss what you think
this story might be about?
2. Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef who bakes ‘twenty
different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cakes’ every morning (p. 6). Find a
recipe for one type of pastry and one type of cake. Create illustrated recipe book
entries for your choices.
3. Toda’s Gran had ‘lived through one war already’ (p. 14). Research a past or
present war, for example, find out how it started, who was involved, what the
major events or battles were, if and how it was resolved, etc. Imagine you are a
war correspondent. Choose one of the major events from the war you have
researched and write an article about it for your local newspaper.
4. Toda packs a small bag to take with her, the contents of which include a notebook
(pp. 16-17). Imagine you are forced to leave your home suddenly and have to pack
one small bag. List what you would pack. Then, based on Toda’s notebook and
list, create your own version.
5. The book is full of descriptions of different interiors and exteriors, such as the
Public Welfare Centre (pp. 20-21) and the retired general’s home (p. 45). Choose
another description from the book and draw your interpretation of it. Then, write
a description of an interior or exterior that you are familiar with, for example,
your classroom, school grounds, bedroom, a local park, etc. In pairs, draw a
picture based on each other’s descriptions.
6. Imagine you are one of the children or the stand-in grandmothers Toda
encounters in the Public Welfare Centre (pp. 21-30). Write a personal diary entry
about an incident that takes place from your point of view, such as having to
accept a toy you did not want, or hoping Toda would choose you as her adoptive
grandmother. Think about how you would describe the physical scene and the
other characters, as well as your feelings about the incident.
7. Toda has a vivid dream while in the Public Welfare Centre (p. 31). Using another
medium, for example, drawing, painting, sculpture or photography, create your
own artistic interpretation of Toda’s dream.
8. Toda has to pay a man to cross the border illegally (p. 38). Find out about other
refugees from recent conflicts or wars. How are they being helped? In groups,
find a charity that has been set up to help. Design a marketing campaign to help
draw attention to their work. The campaign could include elements such as
pamphlets, scripts for school talks, radio jingles, posters, slogans, etc.
9. There is some vocabulary relating to war in the book, such as ‘no-man’s land’ (p.
39). Find some more examples from the book. Write a poem about one of the
characters from the book and include the war vocabulary you have found.
10. There is some vocabulary relating to war in the book, such as ‘no-man’s land’ (p.
39). Find some more examples from the book. Write a poem about one of the
characters from the book and include the war vocabulary you have found.
11. The retired general shows Toda his decorations which were awarded for
deceiving the enemy, courage, leadership and loyalty, as well as for inventing
different types of camouflage and bravery (pp. 46- 49). Think of three good
qualities that you feel are important in everyday life that are worthy of
recognition. Design and draw or make three decorative badges that represent
your chosen qualities.
12. The book is full of dramatic, suspense-filled action sequences, such as, Toda’s
crossing of the border (pp. 58-62) and the capture of the captain (pp. 68-69).
Look at the language the author uses in these sequences. Write a dramatic action
scene about something that has happened to you.
13. The captain tells Toda they must follow the bright pole star in order to get to the
border (p. 67). Write a poem or descriptive short story using the pole star as
14. At the Child Welfare Centre Toda is given a book explaining points of etiquette in
her new country (pp. 93-94). Imagine you have been asked to write an etiquette
guide for your country. Create and illustrate your guide including at least five
15. Together Toda and her mother write a letter to the captain’s wife and daughter
about how he helped Toda and what happened to him in the forest (p. 104). Write
this letter.
16. There are many language features in book, for example, similes, metaphors,
imperatives, personification, tongue-twisters and onomatopoeia . Find the
definition of each and then match each with an example from the book, listed
- Rustle, rustle (p. 8)
- I was frozen with fear (p. 13)
- She sells seashells by the seafloor (p. 28)
- The sagging door groaned as I opened it (p. 62)
- As stiff as a plank (p. 63)
17. Examine the illustrations in the book. What attracts your attention to a particular
picture? What colours are used? What kinds of lines and textures are used? Do
the pictures mirror the text or go beyond what the story tells you? Which is your
favourite illustration and why? Choose a section from the book that doesn’t have
an accompanying illustration and draw your own.
18. Which is your favourite chapter in the book? Why? Write a plot summary of it.
19. Review the book for your favourite magazine or website. What did you like about
the book? Why? What did you dislike about the book? Why? Give it a rating, such
as stars or a number out of ten.
20. In groups, choose an event from the book, such as when Toda and her mother are
reunited. Devise a script, costumes, and scenery. Act it out for you class. If you
have access to a video camera, tape it.
21. Joke van Leeuwen is the author of Eep! Find and read this book and write a book

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