The Fat Man
This is a set of lessons by Alan Papprill based on Maurice Gee's
The Fat Man
The unit is designed for Year 10
Telling a Story
Design a Board Game
Photos of Loomis
This unit deals with the themes of bullying, of small town life
and the value of family in times of trouble.
It uses the novel The Fat Man as the text for study.
Opportunities for the use of, and reference to other novels
dealing with the same or similar themes are possible.
SKILLS: The skills taught and assessed in this unit relate to
those strands and achievement objectives itemised in the
National Curriculum statement.
Before you read the novel here are two "Letters to the Editor"
about the novel soon after the announcement that it had been
awarded the AIM Children's Book Award for 1995. They have been
abridged. There are two differing views of the novel presented
in the letters.
1. Children's Fiction - What message?
Maurice Gee's The Fat Man, left me staring into the dark,
long after I'd turned out the light. It left me dismayed. The
current passion of depriving children of their childhood seems
to have invaded an area I once relied upon to provide the young
with entertainment and interest and, now and again, emotional
and intellectual nourishment, and the assurance that the game
was worth a candle.
Gee's eleven year old hero knows that the Fat Man is
evil.. unlike the gullible adults present.
This evil reaches the depths of depravity that embraces
the cruel and repeated humiliation of the man's stepdaughter,
the physical abuse of his wife and ultimately the murder of his
deranged, pathetic mother. Much is made of the fat man's obesity
and near baldness… the equation of evil with physical
imperfection is neatly made.
I suggest the experience of unrelieved hopelessness it
provides is more likely to disturb or even damage the 9 -12 year
olds for whom it has been, astonishingly, written.
2. In reply: Children's Fiction - What message?
Dark tales cannot be equated with depriving children of
their childhood. Children have a natural awareness of cruelty
and evil in the world - they will invent bogey men under the bed
or witcvhes in the dark with or without literature to represent
these things. It is, in fact , a large part of childhood, and
there is nothing current or fashionable about it.
One could argue that frightening characters in books
acknowledge and validate the fears children already have, and
bring them out into the open where they are more controllable.
The more subtle challenge levelled at books such as The
Fat Man is that of "open endings" which children find
distressing. Yet in Gee's novel the fat man is destroyed at the
end, restoring safety and security to the child's world. This
does not seem to me an open ending…. Isn't some understanding of
the nature of evil our best defence against it? Isn't the
understanding the consequences of our actions one of the
greatest themes of all good children's literature?
ACTIVITY A: CLOSE READING - TRANSACTIONAL WRITING
Read the letters carefully and then divide your page into two
columns. Head one column FOR THE BOOK, the other AGAINST THE
BOOK. List the points made for and against the book in each
Using the list of points for reference write two paragraphs that
summarise the views presented.
Use the format shown to list the points each writer makes about
FOR THE BOOK AGAINST THE BOOK
The message of the book, that evil does not win It has an
aggressive title: THE FAT MAN.
Begin your summary of the arguments with:
The letter writer argues that Maurice Gee's book The Fat Man is
unsuitable for children to read because.......
The letter writer argues that Maurice Gee's book The Fat Man is
suitable for children to read because...........
ACTIVITY B: INTERPERSONAL SPEAKING
Using the information you have summarised from the letters and
your own experience with books and other people's opinion of
their suitability hold a class discussion about either:
(a) Should readers be told what sort of book is good or bad for
(b) Stories for children should always be bright, happy and
positive ones in order to protect their childhood.
Make sure that you consider all the different arguments about
books and what should or should not be read during your
discussion. It might be a good idea to have someone in the class
act as a recorder and keep a record of the points your class
makes during the discussion.
LOOKING AT THE NOVEL
VISUAL LANGUAGE - Viewing
In earlier units you will have looked at the way book covers are
constructed and the messages the designers have tried to give
the readers before they begin to read the story.
Look carefully at the front cover of The Fat Man and then answer
the following questions:
1. List the parts of the picture that indicate that the story
is a scary one.
2. The cover uses two main colours- dark blue and green. Why
do you think has the designer used these colours? What do they
suggest to the viewer?
3. The designer has chosen the typeface used for the title
for a reason. Why do you think the typeface was chosen?
4. What, in the picture, ties the three main elements of the
cover (the house, the fat man and the boy) together?
5. Colin Potter has a passion for chocolate. How does the
designer show that on the cover?
6. Why do you think the house is half complete? What might
that suggest about the story?
7. How effective is the cover in telling you what the story
might be about? Write a paragraph that explains your conclusion.
Telling a Story
BEFORE YOU READ THE FAT MAN:
The blurb on the back cover says:
"When people like Herbert Muskie take up residence in your mind,
there's nothing you can do to get them out."
At some point in your life there has probably been someone who
has fascinated or horrified you in some way and who may have
betrayed or hurt you once you met him or her.
ACTIVITY: Interpersonal Speaking & Listening - Transactional
1. Tell the person sitting next to you about a person who has
fascinated or horrified you and what happened to you when you
met them. Each person should spend about five minutes telling
To help you tell the story your partner will prompt you by
asking questions like: "And then what happened?" "What did the
person look like?" "Why did the person (or you) do that?"
Once you have finished your story repeat the process with
your partner telling his/her story.
2. When both stories have been told retell your partner's
story by writing it out as a news report for a school newspaper.
Keep the retold story for later use in this unit.
Use the following check-list to make sure that you are
writing a proper news story
WRITING A NEWS STORY
Does the introduction tell what the story is about and state the
most important aspect?
Is the first sentence brief and complete?
Does the story flow in a logical order?
Are all the interesting and important facts retold?
Does the complete story make sense?
Have you used direct speech correctly?
Have you used indirect speech correctly?
Is your story written in the past tense?
Have you checked the spelling of names and places mentioned in
Have you used the correct punctuation throughout the story?
Is the story organised so that the most important points are
stated first and the least important stated last?
Remember that when you use indirect speech you are reporting
what your partner actually said, without putting it into direct
speech (using speech marks). You cannot change the meaning of
what was said.
When you write indirect speech you will use the past tense so
all other verbs and pronouns will have to be changed as well,
ie. the verbs will become:
Has = had
Have had = had had
will = would
shall = should
can = could
is = was
The pronouns will become:
I = he / she
My = his / her
We = they
Our = their
Mine = his / hers
Us = Them
ACTIVITY: Personal & Close reading - Visual presentation
A novel, like a short story, a film or a play, has four main
elements: PLOT, CHARACTERS, SETTING and THEME, which combine to
form the events in the story as the chart shows.
TASK: Use a double-page to copy the chart below with the
headings only in each box. As you read the story write answers
to the questions on the chart. This will give you a summary of
the way the novel is written.
Where & when the action takes place.
The atmosphere of the setting.
Spooky? Loving? Cold? Warm?
Why is the story being told?
DRIVES THE PLOT
Who are they?
How do they Act/speak?
MAKE THE PLOT HAPPEN
The characters in action.
How does it happen?
How does it introduce the problem?
How are the problems worked out?
What is your reaction to the story?
POINT OF VIEW
How is the story told?
What is the writer's style?
The plot of THE FAT MAN has a relatively straightforward cause -
effect structure which can be plotted as a flow chart. Chapter
one can be plotted as shown on the diagram. It can be summarised
It is 1933 in Loomis, a town in West Auckland. The Potters are
poor. They depend on what ever work Mr Potter can pick up as
well as the occasional meal with his parents. Colin Potter
decides to go to his grandparents for a snack but elects to go
the long way up the creek to Loomis. He meets Herbert Muskie, a
fat man who has returned to Loomis after 20 years away, who
forces him to burgle old Mrs Muskie's house...
TASK: Design a plot flow chart in your workbook and complete it
chapter by chapter as you read the novel.
A useful idea is to use a different coloured arrow for each
chapter so that you can follow the events as they happen.
Chapter 1: THE DEPRESSION 1933; Loomis - In West Auckland. Colin
Potter meets the Fat Man. He is captured and forced to tell his
name. The Fat Man forces him to burgle Mrs Muskie's house. Colin
is afraid to tell his parents.
Chapter 2: Colin is horrified to discover the Fat Man is staying
at his grandparents' boarding house...
Design A Board Game
ACTIVITY: Transactional writing, Thinking critically, Processing
Information, Presenting using static images.
ASSESSMENT CRITERIA: Media. Processing information. Production
ideas & style.
Design a board game based on the plot of THE FAT MAN which takes
the players through the events in the story and tests their
knowledge of the novel.
You will be assessed on:
1. the visual presentation of the board game and its
appropriateness to the novel.
2. the clarity of explanation of the rules of the game. This
will include the appropriateness of the language used to explain
the game and its rules.
3. the knowledge of the novel that the game shows and tests.
4. evidence that you have made extensive use of the novel and
your plot summary to develop the game.
NOTE: If you are able to use a computer why not design your game
using the design and draw programs available?
WRITING THE RULES:
Before you begin work on the board game you need to consider the
language and process of writing rules. This exercise will help
you with the steps involved in writing rules so that others can
follow them and relate their actions to them.
ACTIVITY: Exploring Language.
1. Choose a simple game that you have played either at home
or at school. It could be a card game like FISH or a game like
HOPSCOTCH. Your class should identify no more than five
different games for you to choose from. Without talking to
anyone in the class choose ONE of the games and then write an
account of how you play the game. Your account may be as long or
as short as you want as long as you are satisfied that all the
information necessary to play the game is there.
2. Once everyone has written their accounts about playing the
game divide into groups based on the game you have described.
ie: All the people who wrote about playing FISH should be in one
group while those who wrote about playing HOPSCOTCH should be in
another group. In the group read through the different accounts
about playing the game. Then use the accounts to develop and
write up a set of rules for the game.
3. a) Once each group has completed writing the rules for
their game swap the rules with another group. Now use the rules
given to you to play the game. Remember you MUST follow the
rules given to you. You MUST NOT attempt to play the game as you
know it or as you think the rules should be.
Once you have played the game discuss the rules and their
effectiveness. Make notes on the points made by the members of
your group about the rules. You should consider the following
1. What did the writers take for granted as they wrote
2. What was not stated in the rules that needed to be
said if the game was to be easily played and understood?
3. What was unclear in the rules and caused you
problems in understanding the game?
b) Swap the set of rules you have discussed with another
group and attempt to play the game described in the new rules.
If the game is the same as you played before you must still
attempt to play the game by the new rules.
Discuss the new set of rules using the same questions as
you used before. If it was the same game as your first rules you
should discuss the similarities and differences between the two
sets of rules.
4. Compare the rules written by the groups with the rules for
"Euchre" and "Trivial Pursuit". List the similarities and
differences in the organisation and explanations between the
rules written by the class and those from the commercial games.
5. Each group is to report back to the class on what they
discovered about writing rules and instructions. Use the points
made to answer the following questions by filling in the blanks:
1. Rules assume that the reader does not ..............
how to play the game.
2. A set of rules should use ................. (easily
understood) words so that a reader can follow them easily.
3. It helps to follow the rules if they are organised
in a .................... order. This can be as a ........ or as
a series of steps. The series of steps can be further organised
into ........... that apply to specific actions or processes in
4. a) Ideally each sentence should be a ...........
sentence and contain ......... idea so that there is no
confusion of meaning.
b) Where the rules need a paragraph to explain
something the paragraph should be ........ with a limited number
5. Where terms that are unique to the game are used the
rules should .............. them by explaining their meaning.
6. Rules should use more verbs than ............ and
................ because they involve actions rather than
7. The layout and presentation of a set of is helped if
.................., ................... and ................
with .................... is used to identify important parts of
8. If an action cannot easily be described then the
rules should use a .................. which clearly shows the
Keep these rules in mind as you design your board game
based on . Once the board games have been developed and
completed they should be tested by being played by other members
of your class. You can even assess them using the criteria your
teacher uses to assess your work.
The Setting for THE FAT MAN is the fictional town of
Loomis which is in the Waitakere hills in West Auckland. In
reality Loomis is Henderson in the 1930s. The places where Colin
Potter played and had his adventure with The Fat Man can be
traced on map of Henderson.
Look carefully at the map of historic Henderson and from
your reading of the novel draw a map of Loomis showing Colin's
favourite places and the location of the houses and places he
Photographs of "Loomis"
Corbans Winery 1928 - Colin Potter's Dally Vineyard
Corbans Winery 1999
Falls Hotel 1999
Falls Hotel 1928 When Colin Potter's Grandparents owned it
and as Colin Potter would have seen it.
Railway outside Henderson Town Hall
As you read THE FAT MAN you will discover how Maurice Gee
builds up the characters and setting so that the readers can
create pictures of the people and places in their minds. The
first chapter of the novel introduces you to Colin Potter, the
Fat Man and to Loomis. The following questions are designed to
test how well you read.
Read CHAPTER ONE carefully and attempt to answer ALL the
questions. Make sure you follow the instructions and that your
answers are as thoughtful as possible.
For Level 2 write full sentences. For Levels 3-5 your
answers must be between 1-5 paragraphs long. The more thoughtful
the answer the more likely you will be to achieve the higher
level of understanding required for these questions. ONE WORD
ANSWERS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE.
1. The Potters have four drinking glasses. What are
they made from?
2. List the items Colin finds in the Fat Man's
3. What does the Fat Man have curling up his face?
4. List the birds and animals the characters are
5. What animal's head formed the buckle of the Fat
6. What is the Fat Man's real name?
To achieve a Level 3 you must answer at least three
questions correctly. Each answer should be at least five
1. Describe, in your own words, the things and places
Colin sees on his journey from his home to his Grandparents'
2. Describe, in your own words, the scene when Colin
first meets the Fat man.
3. How does the Fat Man punish Colin?
4. "It made a popping sound" (p37) What language
feature is this an example of? (eg: metaphor, alliteration,
simile, etc.) What is being described and why has this language
feature been used?
5. "He saw the man's behind gleaming like an eel's
belly in the water." (p11) What language feature is this an
example of? What is the effect of this language feature. How
does it make you feel? What image does it give you in your mind?
Why was it used?
To achieve a Level 4 you must answer both questions
correctly. Each answer should be at least five sentences long.
1. Why does Colin get exasperated (annoyed) with his
mother and decide to go to his Grandmother's home?
2. Why does Colin search the Fat Man's rucksack (bag)?
To achieve a Level 5 you must answer both questions
correctly. Each answer should be at least five sentences long.
1. How effective is Maurice Gee in showing the reader
that the Fat Man is an unpleasant person who is not to be
trusted? Support your answer with evidence (qiuotations and
references) from the chapter.
2. Identify another text you have "read" (eg novel,
short story, TV programme, film etc) that has an unpleasant
character in it. How effective was the author in showing that
the character was a disagreeable person? Support your answer
with evidence from the text.
1. What age group is The Fat Man written for? Explain
how you reached this conclusion.
2. The Fat Man is a bully. What do you think might have
made him this way?
3. Colin does not tell his parents straight away about
the Fat Man because he is afraid of him. Describe a time when
you have been too afraid to do something you know you should do.
How is your experience simiiar to that of Colin's?
Chapter One introduces the characters of Colin Potter and
Herbert Muskie (the Fat Man) in some detail. The information can
be listed like this:
COLIN POTTER HERBERT MUSKIE
A hungry boy who is often greedy. A burglar who learnt
crime in the USA.
Skinny. Creases of fat, pink skinned person.
Sense of ownership of hut. Black haired, balding.
Imaginative - dreams of being a hero. Not impulsive -
considers all does.
There are aspects of Colin's mother that Gee introduces in
the first chapter as well.
ACTIVITY: (close reading/processing information)
1. Using the Character attributes chart build up and
add to the "Description lists" for Colin Potter and Herbert
Muskie as well as: LAURIE & MAISIE POTTER, Mrs MUSKIE, BETTE &
CHARACTER ATTRIBUTE WEB
HOW CHARACTER ACTS HOW CHARACTER FEELS
WHERE CHARACTER LIVES HOW OTHERS ACT & FEEL
2. Use the listed information for: COLIN, HERBERT
MUSKIE and ONE other character in task (a) to write full (3-5
Hint: ensure that your paragraphs include
Appearance - body shape, face, way s/he dresses.
Behaviours - how does the character speak, think,
act towards others?
Attitudes - what does the character think about
people, the law?
3. Turn back to the description you wrote earlier of a
person who horrified you or your writing partner. Read it again
and compare it with the description of Herbert Muskie in the
novel and the description of him that you have written. Which
description is more effective? What has made the description
effective? Discuss the descriptions and the ways the writer has
made it effective with your teacher. Record the ideas in your
NEWS WRITING TASK
1. You are a reporter for THE LOOMIS GAZETTE (6
December 1933) and have been detailed to report on the death of
Herbert Muskie in the fall from the flying fox above the river
gully in the hills above Ngatea.
1. You "interview" Colin Potter and Verna as eye
witnesses, the Police involved in the chase and a local farmer-
Claude Foreman - on whose land the accident happened about the
chase and Muskie’s death.
2. You also "interview" Bette Muskie, Laurie and
Maisie Potter about Herbert Muskie’s past and what he did to
them in Loomis.
3. From the information they give you you are to
write the Front Page story for the Gazette. You must use the
Headline - "FLYING FOX FAILS FAT MAN - MUSKIE" as the Editor has
decided that that is the headline for the day’s paper.
2. The Editor decides that a graphic, in the form of a
series of cartoon style drawings showing the events leading up
to the Fat Man’s fall from the Flying Fox (similar to the
example from the Hamilton Kidnapping story), should be used to
add impact to the story.
As the illustrator - graphic artist for THE GAZETTE
you are to draw a series of comic-book cartoon style pictures
with suitable captions that show the events from the time Muskie
seizes Verna and Colin, the drive through Auckland and the
Waikato, the hillside chase and the death at the Flying Fox that
could be used with the inside paper story about Muskie.
3. The Editor also says that you are to include a map
showing the route taken by the Fat Man from Loomis to Ngatea as
he tried to escape capture. Using information provided in the
novel to plot the journey on a map of the upper North Island.
Label the towns or places mentioned and, if possible, say what
happened at each point.
TIME FOR TASK COMPLETION:
You have four class periods plus homework to complete the
1. You must follow the basic rules of writing a news
story.. Most important information first... least important
2. The story is a report of events that have happened
so it will be written in the past tense.
3. Use reported (indirect) speech where necessary.
4. All sentences must be complete.
5. Paragraphs must be correctly written.
6. All spelling must be correct.
Abel Close reading activities
S P T
I listened to the teacher read parts of the novel
I read part of the novel in a group
I kept a reading log
I completed the close reading (comprehension) exercise.
I wrote a short description of the setting
I filled out a character description sheet
I explained one idea about the text
I wrote a letter to a character in the text
I "interviewed" a character in the text.
I wrote about an important event in the text
I wrote a newspaper story about an event in the text
I created a game based on the events in The Fat Man.
I completed the close reading of the text cover.
I created a static image (poster/book cover) for the text.