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Children's book cover.

The First World War starts in 1914 and Tibby’s quiet life in an Australian city cannot escape the war’s effect. Her big brother Clarence works at a city foundry; he harbours a secret wish to travel the world and see the countries that fire his imagination.

For the moment, he can only satisfy that wish by creating elaborate stories for Tibby, based upon history such as the Vikings, the ancient Romans, and the passion and upheaval of the French Revolution. He patiently plays games with his sister in the bush behind their home. Tibby imagines that the bush is inhabited by tiny bush fairies that leave messages in fairy writing on gum leaves.

The city is feeling the effects of the war, as its young men enlist in the armed forces and start to leave for the distant fighting. Clarence sees enlisting as his chance to travel overseas and perhaps finally see the places that have captivated him and filled his mind with many exciting images.

His parents are concerned that he wants to join up; however, they know that many other local young men have gone off to fight. They struggle with the conflict of wanting their son to stay at home while not wanting to have him seen as a coward by not enlisting. This conflict causes tension at home and Clarence is angry that his plan to enlist is meeting resistance.

Eventually the situation changes and Clarence’s parents relent. Tibby is deeply upset that her one and only big brother is going off to fight in a war that she doesn’t understand.

Who will join her in the games that help to fill the afternoons and bring some escape from the reality of life? Who will be there to investigate with her the mystery of the bush fairies? It is not long after Clarence’s departure that Tibby receives a postcard that reassures her and helps to ease her worries.

Discussion questions

  • Why was Tibby’s brother Clarence so inspired by historical periods such as the Romans, Vikings and the French Revolution? Why did he keep secret his desire to travel the world?
  • Clarence had entertained Tibby with games and stories, however he was changing and becoming much less interested in entertaining his little sister. What might have caused this change in Clarence?
  • Tibby thinks she sees a bush fairy while playing hide-and-seek with Clarence. What do you think she actually saw?
  • Men stood on street corners in Tibby’s neighbourhood handing out leaflets with information on the war. What sort of information would have been on the leaflets?
  • Clarence angrily leaves the dinner table one night and goes to the room he shares with Tibby. Her mum asks Tibby to talk to Clarence and ‘get some sense into him’. Why would Tibby’s mum ask her to do that, rather than talk to Clarence herself?
  • While talking to Clarence in their room, Tibby feels the gumleaf in her pocket. Touching it makes her feel calmer. Why would it have this effect upon her?
  • After Clarence goes to war, Tibby’s father would nod slowly if people asked him if he was proud of his son. How do you think he really felt about what Clarence had done?

Classroom activities

1. Hold a class debate

  • Have your students research the referendum on enlistment versus conscription held in Australia during the First World War.
  • Once they have compiled information on the referendum, ask them to hold a class debate on the topic of ‘bring back conscription’.

2. Hold an interview

  • It is 1918, and Clarence has come home from the war. Ask one of your students to take on the role of Clarence and another to take on the role of a journalist from a local newspaper of the period.
  • Have the journalist interview Clarence about his experiences while fighting in the war.
  • Other students can assist in the preparation for the interview by helping those in the roles research the First World War.
  • Have your students videotape or record the audio of the interview if possible.
  • They may like to hold another interview with two students taking on the roles of a soldier back from the current fighting in Afghanistan and a television news journalist.
  • Ask them to compare the two mock interviews and look for the similarities and differences in regard to the soldiers’ experiences and responses.

Below are some websites that may be useful in your students’ research:

3. Create a drawing

  • Ask your students to use the Chops, sausages and mince worksheet (PDF 539kb) to create a drawing of the interior of the butcher’s shop, based upon the description in Tibby’s Leaf.
  • Have them include the butcher and William, the butcher’s boy who went to the war.
  • Encourage them to carry out some research that will help them create an interior that is suitable for 1914.
  • Ask them to consider what the main differences would be between a butcher’s shop in that year and the butcher’s shop or supermarket which they may go to for their family meat shopping.
  • Encourage them to use a range of media and techniques in their drawing, for example, pencil, pen, collage or ink.

4. Design a postcard

  • Ask your students to use the Postcards from the bush worksheet (PDF 592kb) to design a postcard and write a message on it from a mythical Australian animal such as the bunyip or yowie.
  • Ask them to create on one side of the card an image of what they think the animal might look like.
  • Ask them to write the message on the other side in the rhyming style used on the postcard from the ‘bush fairy’ in Tibby’s Leaf.
  • Encourage them to bring to class any postcards they may have at home.
  • Have them hold a class discussion that analyses the postcards and looks for aspects such as recurring locations or themes, design variations, use of landscape or portrait format in the designs and the sorts of messages that appear on the back of the cards.

Book details

Tibby’s Leaf by Ursula Dubosarsky
illustrated by Peter Bray

ISBN 978 1876944 68 1
198 mm x 130 mm, 64 pp
RRP $11.95

Published December 2008; re-released 2015. This book can be ordered through good bookshops and educational suppliers.


Collection record – ‘Off to the war’ postcard

Find out more about Ursula Dubosarsky

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