‘The Lost Happy Endings’ by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy – Ideas and Resources


I taught in Reception yesterday – writing a four-word sentence, one idea, all words decodable using satpni, repetition using a writing frame…. And at the other end of the spectrum is this – writing in a literary style, using adverbials to add nuance.  I can’t say that I have a preference for teaching writing in a particular phase, but I enjoy the sense that the one approach (in Reception) is building to the other.  It seems distant when working with Reception children, but from the beginning, even when writing short, repetitive sentences with a controlled vocabulary, we can give them a sense of what a sentence is, the conventions for showing how they start and finish, and how they, the writer, can control them.

Writing in this distinctly literary register is of course not the only outcome we are looking for.  (And by ‘we’ I mean professionals who want to teach children how to write well, not some ever-changing end of primary-age outcome).  We want children to be confident in all registers.  The narrative prose of, say, Malorie Blackman, as well as the different kinds of non-fiction writing.  But I do think there is a particular value in exposure to and writing of literary texts.  And I believe, having seen proof of it over years of intervention with struggling pupils, that every child can write them.

Texts written in this style provide access to a world that only exists when words are put together according to its rules.  It’s unfortunate that the current iteration of the curriculum insists on the teaching of ‘fronted adverbials’ and in doing so has created mockery and resistance within the profession to something that is useful and important.

For this resource, I’ve selected four sentences from the text that include adverbials starting with an adjective (or adjectives, or modified adjectives).  I’ve structured it so that the position of the adverbial can be either fronted, embedded or after the main idea – children can see it in all three positions and decide which works best.

The resource continues with a selection of sentences with adverbials starting with adjectives, again in the three different positions.  They are all taken from texts written in a more or less literary style.  As ever, the resource is fully-editable so that you can pick and change as you wish.

I’ve drawn on texts some of which are out of print.  But if you are lucky enough to work in an institution that will let you get hold of them, or you want to buy them for yourself, I would urge you to do so – they have endless uses as well as being works of art.

The Power of Reading unit for this text has a (very) long list of perhaps nebulously connected books that they suggest you draw upon.  One of them is another book by Carol Ann Duffy, ‘The Tear Thief’.  It reminds me of ‘Jinnie Ghost’ by Jane Ray (illustrator of ‘The Lost Happy Endings’) as well as ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ itself.  They all have mysterious, magical interventions at children’s bedtime.  Jub and the Tear Thief carry sacks with almost-numinous contents.  The Tear Thief and Jinnie Ghost are not human, and they travel in and out of houses along an urban street visiting different children.  The moon plays a central part in ‘The Tear Thief’ and is integral to the appearance of ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ and ‘Jinnie Ghost’.

However, ‘The Tear Thief’ lacks the narrative and stylistic cohesion of ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ and ‘Jinnie Ghost’.  The writing style is not consistent.  I think Carol Ann Duffy was aiming for more of a story-teller register, sounding closer to speech, but she frequently lapses into a literary style along the way.  The way the story is structured is also problematic: somehow we don’t know if the Tear Thief has good or bad intentions at the beginning; and when the mother says to her son, ‘Stop crying or the Tear Thief will hear you’, we don’t know if the thief is some kind of bogeyman or not.  We don’t find out soon enough why she is collecting the children’s tears.  In ‘Jinnie Ghost’, in contrast, we discover very soon that the ghost is easing the difficulties that children encounter in their dreams, and this is continued consistently until the end in a lyrical but still relatively-sparse style.

Then we have a very weak problem – a little girl has lost her dog – when none was really needed.  It would have worked better if the focus had been on the way that the Tear Thief uses the children’s tears to create the moon’s beauty.  On the last page there is an attempt to pull these elements together – the moonlight, the found dog, a baby crying – all in a full-blown literary style.  The beautiful writing does not compensate for the stylistic and narrative problems.  I wonder if a Year 6 class could notice this?

East of the Sun West of the Moon – illustrations by P J Lynch

Mysterious Traveller image
From ‘Mysterious Traveller’

The resource here focuses on the work of the illustrator P J Lynch.  It starts with a couple of links to websites with information about him, but the bulk of the presentation is a comparison of his illustrations in two books – East of the Sun West of the Moon and Mysterious Traveller.  For those following the Power of Reading unit, this relates to Sessions 1, 4 and 6.  For anyone else, the resources is, as ever, fully-editable to suit your needs.

The comparison is between illustrations for stories with two contrasting settings, the first book being set in Norway, the second in Mali.  I’ve started the exercise of comparison with slides showing the geographical location of these two countries as well as their climates.  P J Lynch does a great job conveying the two contrasting climates in his beautiful and impressive landscapes.

The presentation then proceeds with a variety of ways of comparing the illustrations in the two books.  The first is a comparison of photos of the landscapes of the two countries (yellow backgrounds for Mali, blue for Norway) which can be closely related to the stories.  The next two slides (peach-coloured) provide a starting-point for a comparison of the style and effect of the illustrations in the two books.  The last two slides (pale green) give suggestions for comparing in terms of both similarities and differences.

Favourite Fairy Tales cover

(Another book illustrated by P J Lynch, published in 1985 – found in a charity shop while I was working on this post…)

A non-fairy tale heroine: Queen Anahit of The Golden Bracelet

Queen Anahid

The resource here is for using with ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’.  It is intended for a Year 6 class, though a comparison with an un-alike text is not explicitly suggested in the Power of Reading unit.  The story the resource is based on, ‘The Golden Bracelet’, has similarities with the Norwegian story but it is mostly the differences that underline and draw out the fairy tale features.

It is a US picture book set in ancient Armenia and based on a story written down in the 19th century by Ghazaros Aghayan, an Armenian writer.  I was trying to think of Lost Husband stories and kept coming back to this one.  The thing is, though there is a lost husband, the story as told here is not a fairy tale.  It can be found in an Aghayan collection called ‘Fables and Fairy Tales’ and it tells more like a fable in this version by David Kherdian.

The story has been animated (in Armenian) recently, and from the clips online it seems that there is a lot more magic in it than in the Kherdian version.  However, I’m going with the Kherdian book as a down-to-earth comparison with ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’.

Anahit animation
A still from a 2014 animation of The Golden Bracelet story, ‘Anahit’


The picture at the top of this post illustrates very well the difference between Anahit and the lassie of ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’: Anahit is a queen with practical tools at her disposal.  The point of ‘The Golden Bracelet’ is that Anahit values practical action above all, and it is this that saves the day.

There are lots of different ways to approach a compare/contrast exercise.  Click here for mine, which sets the magical against the realistic.

P.S.  Anahit gets the ‘Rejected Princesses’ ( or Women too Awesome, Awful, or Offbeat for Kids’ Movies) treatment here, with the sub-heading ‘The Queen Who Made the King Get a Job’.  It also has a link to the entire animated film.