Chapters 0-6

In the opening chapters of The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, we’re introduced to the main characters – Calma Harrison, Kiffo, and The Pitbull. Calma is a bright but occasionally lazy student. Her reason for being friends with Kiffo isn’t immediately obvious at the beginning of the chapter, particularly given the repulsive way she describes him at the beginning of the novel. Gradually, Jonsberg starts to reveal the reason for their friendship using a series of flashbacks that are peppered throughout the novel.

Jonsberg also starts to reveal a little about Calma and the relationship she has with her mother, which revolves largely around their refrigerator.

Kiffo is described as rowdy and rough. At the beginning of the novel, Jonsberg describes him tormenting the earnest Miss Leanyer. When The Pitbull arrives at their school, it would seem that Kiffo has met his match.


Write a paragraph describing Kiffo. Your work should be supported by short quotations from the novel. Before starting to write, it might be a good idea to skim the first few chapters looking for quotations that help to describe Kiffo.

When you’re asked to write about the characters in a novel, it’s important to use textual evidence, short quotations, that help support your discussion.

The paragraph below is a description of the narrator from The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull. Throughout this description, you’ll notice that short quotations from the book have been used in sentences to support the discussion.

In the opening chapter of the book, author of The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull Barry Jonsberg establishes the main character Calma Harrison as intelligent, witty and rebellious. Although the opening chapter is mainly about the eponymous Kiffo, it gives us an insight into the character of Calma. The simile exercise that she completes about Kiffo reveals that she has a keen sense of humour, describing his hair as a corn field trampled by “drug crazed dingoes in a cyclone.” Later in the chapter, her English teacher mentions her “quirky and, at times, immature sense of humour.” Calma’s use of language also helps to establish her as an intelligent character. Throughout the opening chapters, she uses words like “superficial” and “mediocrity” which suggests that she’s very articulate and intelligent. In her school report she is described as “exceptionally talented”. In the opening chapters, we also get a sense that although she is intelligent, she is a bit rebellious and doesn’t apply herself as well as she could. In her report, her teacher says that she wants to see a “marked improvement in her attitude.” In the opening chapter of the novel Kiffo and the Pitbull, Jonsberg establishes Calma as a witty, intelligent and rebellious character—through her use of language and the descriptions of her.

When you’ve finished writing your paragraph about Kiffo, read the post Writing about Texts and think about what you need to do to improve your writing.


At the beginning of the novel, Calma write a report for her English teacher Ms Brinkin. Based on what you know about Kiffo at the beginning of the novel, write a funny and sarcastic report about his progress in the style of Calma Harrison. You could write a report for any subject – like Mathematics, History or Physical Education. Try to keep the tone lighthearted and funny rather than mean, focusing on Jarryd’s reputation as a lout.

Here’s an example:

Student’s Name: Jarryd Kiffing

Teacher: Ms Brinkin

Subject: English

Grade: D-

Attitude: Not enough letters in the alphabet.

Comments: Midway through the semester, Jarryd Kiffing hit rock bottom. And he’s been digging ever since. Instead of improving his literacy skills, Jarryd divided his time equally between picking idly at pieces of gum stuck to the underside of his desk and firing spitballs at other students. He demonstrated considerable skill and ingenuity in this area, fashioning a spitball gun from an old ball point pen. He should be commended for the dexterity with which he fashioned these tiny blobs of pulp and saliva. Jarryd’s spelling has improved considerably this semester. The graffiti on his desk reflects a varied and colourful vocabulary. I also enjoyed reading the amusing limerick that he wrote on the front of Calma Harrison’s workbook. His understanding of language techniques, such as metaphor and simile, also improved considerably. He described my class as ‘boring as hell’ and referred to me as ‘the old cow’ on more than one occasion. Keep up the good work, Jarryd!


Using a dictionary, define the following in your own words: mediocre, antiquity, monotone, dysfunctional, metaphor, vermin, neuron, plaintiff, simile, hoarse, rhetorical question, protagonist, disembowel, glower, double negative, ominous, ropeable, ruminate, nonchalant, insubordinate.


When you’ve read the first six chapters and completed the above activities, have a go at this short quiz on The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull.

Key Quotations

• ”Kiffo is as intellectually challenging as a meeting of English teachers.” p.2.

• “But if I’ve learned one thing over the last month or so, it’s that judgements are very dangerous things.” p.3

• “determined to waste her considerable ability” p.3

• “It was nothing less than his solemn duty to give them a hard time.” p.6.

• “Jarryd Kiffing, fifteen, uglier than a bucketful of butt-holes, flaming red hair, bandy legs, really bad in all lessons, a waster, a noon, disruptive, childish, violent at times, often cruel, class idiot, proud of his cultivated image of stupidity, part-time criminal. My friend.” p.18.

• The test Kiffo is given in class was “unfair”. p.30.

• “You fail to appreciate the effect of a dysfunctional family unit operating within his socio-economic background upon an intellect that has never been given the opportunity to flourish.” p.30.

• “The Kiffing household does not treasure academic success, nor does it encourage excellence in anything other than excessive drinking and flatulence.” p.31.

• Kiffo admits that his father beats “the hell out of him”. p.42.

• “We were friends.” p.43.

• “Kiffo could be a real bastard.” p.45.