• Teachers’ Notes - "Love is a UFO" by Ken Spillman (Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2007)
  • Synopsis:
  • Oscar Updike has no idea why he did it. He doesn’t understand how it happened. He knows he shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help it…
  • When Oscar Updike laughs during his father’s funeral, his world begins to spiral out of control. His Mum keeps telling him to “let it out” via notes on his bedroom door; his sister calls him a “dirtbag”; the girl he fantasises about at school doesn’t even know he exists; his email address is being held for ransom, his Mum makes him go to a counsellor who cracks lame jokes; and to top it all off, he gets a coldsore… And it’s strange; the only thing that makes Oscar feel better is spending time with the one person he shouldn’t - his Dad’s girlfriend, Sue.
  • As Oscar begins to talk to Sue and the counsellor, he finds that his luck begins to change. He meets Taz who is not only beautiful but also a mean cricketer, and he begins to spend time with her and her Dad at the cricket nets.
  • He begins to paint; he beings to cry; his Mum buys him a mobile phone; he changes his email address; and funnily enough, soon, even he and his sister begin to talk.
    Oscar realizes that he just might be okay...
  • This set of teachers’ notes provides a thematic framework for study of “Love is a UFO”.
  • Teachers should be encouraged to springboard from the suggestions into further work that the class will identify with and enjoy. Teachers should feel comfortable to simplify, modify and extend any activities to suit the needs and interests of their students.
  • The themes these notes will focus on are:
    • Grief and Loss
    • In Chapters 3 and 4 Oscar tells us about his father’s funeral. Complete a W Chart of Victor Updike’s funeral from Oscar’s perspective.
    • Write Sharni’s diary after the funeral. What might she say about Oscar?
      • Discuss as a class:
        • - What are Oscar’s preconceived ideas about grief?
        • - How does our society ‘say’ we should react when someone dies?
      • Using the World Wide Web, research grieving rituals in other cultures. A good starting point may be: Indigenous Australia, Maori Culture, Italian culture, Greek culture and religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
    • Using the World Wide Web or your library research, what do psychologists believe to be the ‘seven stages of grief’?
      • - Can you find evidence of any characters being in a particular stage of grief? Why?
    • Using the table below, describe how each of the following characters deals with loss. Students should suggest how this affects Oscar.
    • “And I think: Sorry, Dad. I’ve stuffed up again.” (pg9) Why does Oscar feel guilty?
    • “He tears the top page from his notepad and closes his file on it. Then he reaches over to put the pad and the file on the desk” (pg 114)
      • Imagine you are Neil (the counsellor). Write his report after each meeting with Oscar.
    • In Chapter 18, Oscar complains that his teachers are treating him differently. Why do you think this annoys him?
    • In the book, Oscar recollects his childhood with his Dad. Allocate a page in your English book to listing the memories Oscar recollects.
    • Why do you think Oscar paints a picture for Taz?
      • How does art help Oscar overcome his grief?
      • How does art help Sue overcome her grief?
      • Using the description of the artwork in chapter 54, try to recreate your own version of Oscar’s painting.
    • On page 91 Neil and Oscar discuss some ‘sporting’ lessons on life.
      • “In cricket, I guess, you’d call it “facing a new ball”. What does Neil mean by this?
      • “Dad reckoned that the cricket nets were like a cage” (pg 92) What does Sue suggest this means?
    • Why do you think Neil wanted Oscar to create a shrine? What does Oscar learn from this exercise?
    • In Chapter 62, Oscar spends time with Sue and experiences the: “The Wet Face Incident”.
      • What makes Oscar “...let it all out”?
      • How does he feel afterwards?
      • Discuss the irony of this happening with Sue and not his Mum.
    • Family
    • Mum and Oscar
      • Keep a list of Mum’s attempts to ‘reach’ Oscar throughout the novel. Make some notes about how successful you think these attempts are. Why do you think they work or don’t work?
      • In chapter 59, Mum has just received a phone call from Sue.
          - Describe why you think Mum is so hurt by this.
      • “He said you are resilient…I hope he’s right.” (pg 158) What do you think resilience means?
      • Write an extended essay which analyses how the character of Sue assists in the reconciliation between Mum and Oscar? How is this ironic?
    • Sharni and Oscar
      • Keep a list the things that Sharni does and says that Oscar dislikes.
      • Write an extended essay which analyses the relationship between Oscar and Sharni?
          - How does the relationship change throughout the novel and what events fuel this change?
    • Sue and Oscar
      • Oscar likes Sue. Why does he say: “I liked her straight away- I was never supposed to, but I did.” (pg 19)?
      • Why do you think that Oscar talks more to Sue about his Dad than Sharni and his mum?
      • What is significant about Sue’s name - Sue Naarmi?
        • - Consider the effect this character has on Oscar in the novel.
        • - Write an extended essay discussing this.
    • Self Acceptance
      • Consider the character of Oscar. He changes significantly by the end of the novel.
        • Working with a partner or small group lie down on a large piece of butcher’s paper. Using a marker pen, have someone outline your body onto the paper.
        • Inside the body, you and your group should list quotes from the novel that Oscar says about himself. Remember to include the page number.
        • Around the outside of the body, try to list quotes and make predictions what his friends and family say/think about him.
        • Discuss how different the two pieces of information (inside/outside) are.
        • Maintain this work throughout your reading.
      • Keep a list (either as a table or a plot line) of the significant things that happen to Oscar throughout the novel.
          Analyse how these events contribute to Oscar’s self acceptance. What does he learn from each?
      • What is the relevance of Oscar changing his email address? What might this symbolize?
      • Ch 44 seems to be a turning point for Oscar as he talks to Neil: “I reckon I can work things out- if Mum and Sharni give me a chance”
        • This seems to lead to a string of good luck for Oscar.
        • Think, Pair, Share: To what extent does a positive attitude alter good and bad luck?
      • On page 125, Oscar says: “This is my world. The way things are”. What does Oscar mean? What has Oscar realized?
      • “I’m zapped, but I am okay- free from embarrassment…” . (pg 178).
          Discuss this significance of Oscar saying this.
    • Love
      • On page 54, we are given some insight into why the novel is called “Love is a UFO”.
          Imagine you are Ken Spillman. You are writing an email to your publisher justifying the title of your book. What reasons would you give for the title: “Love is a UFO”? Write the email.
      • How does Oscar feel about Daniela at the start of the novel, and how is this different at the end?
          Write a compare and contrast paragraph detailing how Oscar’s feelings for Daniela change throughout the novel and why.
      • In Chapter 27, Oscar fantasises about Daniela and school. Using the following table compare this with what really happens in Chapter 43.
      • “I suddenly realize that I am taller than Daniela?” Why do you think Oscar has only noticed this now? (pg 129)
      • Draw a picture of what you think Taz looks like. Annotate your picture from Oscar’s point of view including information that he would add to the picture.