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Lizard is an orphaned green-eyed boy living in a room above Mak’s Tailor Shop in bustling, noisy Chinatown. His guardian, Uncle Archie has disappeared and his friend Lili protects him from the boys on the street who call him ‘half-half boy’ because he is part English, part Chinese. It is 1940 and in the British colony of Singapore the Malay, Indian and Chinese population live under the rule of the British Empire. Imperial Japan has invaded China to the north and Singapore is bracing for invasion. When Lizard steals a box from the Raffles Hotel for one of the local crime bosses, he doesn’t know that it contains a Japanese code book, wanted by both Japanese and British spies. What follows is a tale of spies, intrigue and adventure in the lead-up to the Japanese invasion of Singapore. This is a story of spies, kidnapping, solving a mystery and finding a lost family member. It also explores themes of race, empire, friendship and belonging in Singapore in the final years of the British Empire.
1. What can you tell about the plot, characters and setting of Lizard’s Tale from the front cover?
2. As a class explore the place the novel is set. Locate Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and India on a map of the world. Now share a map of Asia from before 1939. Compare this map with a modern day map. As a class identify what has changed and what has stayed the same.
3. Lizard’s Tale is set in Singapore about 80 years ago. Some of the places in the book still exist. Using search terms such as ‘historic Singapore photographs’ look up images of historical Singapore online and create a poster. You may wish to include Chinatown, Raffles Hotel, Changi Prison, Malay stilt houses, emporiums and the Singapore harbour in your search.
4. Lizard’s Tale is a spy story. As a class or in groups list words and images you associate with spies and spying. Talk about codes and how, and why, coded messages might be used by spies.
1. ‘Lizard looked down at his old wet shirt, his toolarge shorts and his dirty feet. His satchel hung in front of him and he clutched it tight as shame at his shabbiness bloomed hot in his chest’ (p.6). Why does Lizard feel so ashamed when he meets Georgina for the first time? Describe Georgina. Do you like her?
2. ‘Lizard forced himself not to think about his uncle when he was on a job—Uncle Archie would be disappointed if he knew Lizard did jobs like this’ (p.16). Lizard lives in Chinatown where he sometimes works for the crime boss Boss Man Beng. Imagine you are Lizard. Write a letter to Uncle Archie about living in Chinatown and the work you do. Explain why you are doing this work.
3. As you read, collect words that are unfamiliar. Then look up their definitions and create a glossary. Your words could include: Gunjin, Hokkien, Houseboy, Hijab, Kagi, Singapore Sling, pink faced snow monkeys. Compare your list to the glossary on pages 307 and 308.
4. Make a menu using all the food Lili and Lizard eat on their adventures in Chinatown. Draw a picture of each dish.
5. What are Sir Wilbur Willoughby’s plans for Lizard at the end of the book? Why does he fail? Do you think Lili did the right thing by telling Uncle Archie that Lizard was going to be put into the Changi detention centre?
1. Create a relationship chart with Lizard at the centre, plotting all the significant people who come into Lizard’s life during this story.
2. Choose a character and describe how he or she changes over the course of this book. Use the following sentences as an example.
• Uncle Archie’s strengths and weaknesses are….
• Uncle Archie’s problem is…
• Uncle Archie solves the problem by…
• Uncle Archie changes over time…
3. Who is your favourite character from Lizard’s Tale? Write about why you like him or her.
4. Some of the characters have nicknames (for example Lizard, Boss Man Beng, Buck Tooth and Brylcreem). Make up nicknames for some of the other characters, for example Uncle Archie, Roshan, Lili and Georgina.
Weng Wai Chan was born in Singapore and moved to NZ with her family at the age of eight. Her first book Lizard’s Tale won the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior fiction in 2020. Chan is the chair of the Auckland Branch of the NZ Society of Authors.