‘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.

East of the Sun West of the Moon – resources for teaching children about symbolism in fairy tales

Ell-Nosed Princess
The Ell-Nosed Princess, from P J Lynch’s illustrations for East of the Sun West of the Moon

The Power of Reading sequence for East of the Sun West of the Moon treats it to some extent like it does its other literary texts.  For example, it asks the class to examine the characters of the protagonists (Session 3), with a focus on the portrayal of the heroine (Session 5).

But of course – as the sequence acknowledges – fairy tales ‘preserve key features of an oral storytelling tradition’ and are quite different from literary texts in important ways.

From the blog ‘Fairy Tale of the Month’:

The literary writer spends 80,000—90,000—100,000 words to get the reader to see, hear and feel what the author wants the reader to sense and understand. Characters need to be developed: have names, have clear motives, and follow long, logical, exciting, interesting progressions. The reader is allowed into the heads of the characters and experiences the progressions with them.  Fairy tales are short, compact, and sketchy on details. We never get inside the hero or heroine’s head; we may not even know their names. We see them on the surface. Motivations and logic are optional…

…If we are to measure the fairy tale as an artistic form—not that it cares—we would do better to use the terms we use to describe paintings. What are the images? What does it say to us? What is the atmosphere of the work? What memories does it evoke? What is the impression it leaves behind?

The sequence goes some way to acknowledging this by suggesting a focus on ‘how elements of northern folk tales are conveyed through pictures and language’ in Session 4: Looking closely at pictures.  In the notes for this session it directs the teacher and class to ‘note what the pictures show that the words don’t’.

However, this isn’t quite the point that the quotation above is making: for the reader to respond with feeling to the story, rather than to the pictures that go with the story.  In this case, would the writing of a poem be the best way for a class to end this unit?

It is worth saying that the sequence does not explicitly build towards a final piece of writing.  The last session, Session 10, is called ‘Devising a quest story’ and suggests that any plans devised ‘could be continued as piece of extended writing’.  This seems to be an implicit acknowledgment that the real power of fairy tales is in the reading of them rather than the writing.

Whether you choose to end the sequence with the writing of a poem or a fairy tale, it is an opportunity to introduce pupils to the idea that characters, both animal and human, can represent human qualities and fates.  As Nikki Gamble says in her chapter on Traditional Tales and Fairy Tales in ‘Exploring Children’s Literature’:

..characters in folk tales are archetypal, representing ideas rather than attempts at realistic characteristics.

You can use the PowerPoint here to demonstrate this as a starting point for writing a poem or a retelling along these lines.  Before using it, Year 6 children and even more so Year 5, will need parallel input on symbols and symbolism.

I used this essay by a Jungian psychologist Dr Stephen A Martin for this PowerPoint (which is copyrighted).

Halibut Jackson – ideas for Power of Reading sequence

DashikiSessions 11 to 13 suggest that children design and describe an outfit for inclusion in Halibut Jackson’s shop.  I have to admit I haven’t actually tried this with a Year 1 or Year 2 class – but here’s how I would approach it.

Session 11 suggests using Halibut’s shop at the end of the story as the starting point.  However, I think there’s nothing lost and a lot gained by using the picture children will know from Session 9 – the double page spread with the text ‘Everybody noticed Halibut Jackson’.

Not only is there more to look at in terms of numbers of outfit, it’s also a way of capitalising on one of the real strengths of the book, namely the depiction of both male and female clothing from a range of times and cultures.  The PowerPoint shows eight of these outfits.  Each slide is labelled with key vocabulary and a short bit of writing following the PoR suggestions: what is the item made of, who might wear it, where might they wear it, how would it make them feel wearing it, and what might the reaction to the outfit be?

The text follows a formula which children may but don’t have to adopt in their own writing.  Each slide has the same sentence structure and order of ideas, but don’t expect or require children to repeat it.  Let them take in what they can and reproduce – or surpass! – as they are able.

At the end of the PowerPoint is a template which you could use or adapt for the children to design their own outfits.


The Mousehole Cat – ideas and resources

storm close-up

I’ve been guided by the Power of Reading notes that go with this book.  I personally find the text way too demanding for Year 3, even for Year 4, but it does fit with the current Year 4 Geography unit on coastal areas well.

Session 2 suggests that children highlight words or phrases from ‘Then one year there came a ….’ to ‘But they could not get out’ that convey the fierceness of the storm.  Session 10 and 11 suggest that children write the story in role as Tom.  The ideas below help with both, particularly if the focus of Tom’s story is the fishing trip into the storm.

I’ve done a ‘storm mountain’, which mirrors the shape of a ‘story mountain’ – you can download it here.  It starts with a slide that you can use to compare the climax and the ending of the storm as they are depicted in the illustrations.  The second slide has the mountain showing the shape of the storm: Antonia Barber describes how it begins by trying to breach the sea defences, then reaches its peak when Old Tom and Mowser are fishing, and finally starts to die away as they return to harbour.

I’ve mostly used photos, prints and paintings to illustrate the stages of the storm, with just the two I’ve already mentioned by Nicola Bayley.  I’ve put extracts from the text alongside each stage.  You could put the ‘storm mountain’ in the middle of a larger sheet of paper so that the children have space to note and annotate words and phrases describing the storm (from beginning to end, rather than the shorter section suggested in the Power of Reading notes).

There is another book that describes a storm at sea really well – The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams.  In this part of the story the hero, the Little Wooden Horse of the title, is attempting to swim across the ocean to return to his master.  While swimming, he is chased by ‘sea horses’ – waves – who are angry that he calls himself a horse too.  He is rescued from the sea horses by a passing ship, then locked in a chest by one of the sailors.  The storm comes on while the Little Wooden Horse is locked in the chest and is so strong that the ship breaks up.

The version I’ve got (The Kingfisher Classics one) has an illustration of the sea horses by Paul Howard.

Little Wooden Horse sea horses pic

Below is the text (edited), which provides good ‘compare and contrast’ opportunities – e.g. the characters of the storm cat and the sea horses, or the relationship between the stormcat & Mowser and the sea horses & the little wooden horse.  There’s a lot of work that could be done on the sounds of the storm, as depicted in the noises that the storm cat/sea horses make.  The description of the movement of the ship is also useful:

With a hundred piercing whinnies and squeals of joy the white horses plunged down the next wave after him, their manes flying wildly.  Others hurried to join them.  Soon the sea was full of the fairylike creatures, all chasing the poor little wooden horse, who had to flee for his life.

“How dare you call yourself a horse!” they shrieked, tossing their heads gaily, delighted with the hunt.

“I may be drowned,” said the little wooden horse, “or killed by these cruel creatures, but a horse I shall die.”

He was now being chased by at least a thousand of the mischievous, proud little sea horses.  Their shrill neighs and whinnies filled the air; they screamed with joy as the little wooden horse before them.  “After him!  After him!” they cried.

Suddenly a dark shape loomed ahead of him, almost hidden at one moment by the great waves, but at the next the whole of its enormous hulk came into view.  A big ship was riding into the storm, right across the path of the little wooden horse.

The sea horses neighed still more shrilly when they saw the big ship, and rode the waves even faster than they had done before.  The little wooden horse could feel the salt spray from their nostrils stinging his painted back.  They had nearly caught him… (he is rescued and taken on to the ship here)

…(he is then locked in the sailor Pirate Jacky’s chest below deck) Another thing which worried him very much was the clamour which he heard through the porthole above Pirate Jacky’s chest.  Outside the sea horses were still charging the sides of the ship till it shook with their buffeting, and he could hear their shrill, piercing whinnies.  The little wooden horse soon slept, he was so tired, but the sea horses followed the ship all night.  Sometimes they were quite silent, plunging in and out of the waves with easy flicks of their silver fins and tails, but towards morning they began to neigh again, waking the little wooden horse with their wild, shrill clamour.

Pirate Jacky left him in the sea chest the whole of that day, but at nightfall the sea horses were still following the boat.  They were wilder now than ever, battering at the timbers till the vessel shuddered and leapt and rolled.  On deck the men were busy, for they expected a bad night.

About midnight the little wooden horse, who had been listening for hours to the gathering storm, felt the ship give a sudden heave, and then roll over so violently that the sea chest slid acros the floor and crashed violently into the opposite beams.  The next moment a second violent roll sent it back again, and thenceforward it could not lie still, but was rolled, shoved, rocked, and buffeted across the planks.  The sea chest was pitched on end, turned completely over, rocked violently from side to side, as the ship swayed, yawed, and wallowed in the teeth of the storm.  The noise was terrible.  There was the wind in the rigging, and such a wind as had never been heard.  There was the hissing scream of the rain, the shatter of thunder, the clattering roar and tumble of the waves.

The noise was so deafening he thought he must die, when all of a sudden there came the loudest crack he had ever heard in his life.  With a desperate shiver the ship stood still – then with one terrible downward plunge she dived to her doom.

Click Little Wooden Horse extract to download this in Word.

The Power of Reading guidance also suggest that children draw what the storm looks like with pastels, as if they were Mowser looking out of her window.

The very beautiful illustration of the storm by Nicola Bayley is a stylised one.  You could supplement it with images of paintings by the 19th Century maritime specialists Charles Napier Hemy, Winslow Homer and Ivan Aivarovsky.

Resources for ‘The Village That Vanished’ – Power of Reading suggestions fleshed out

story mountain picture

These are some resources that I made to flesh out the suggestions on the Power of Reading notes that go with The Village That Vanished.

Without wanting to give way to lazy hyperbole, this is a truly great book in every way.  The illustrations are deeply-felt; the love of the illustrator (the artist Kadir Nelson) for the text shines out of every picture.  They are also technically very beautiful.

Though the pictures do a great deal to convey the meaning of the text, it’s still one that presents a heavy load.

Firstly, I find the structure complicated (I wouldn’t ask children to re-tell this story – also because it’s too long).  I’ve mapped the structure here, with a ‘classic’ story mountain to compare it with.  There’s also an activity that you can do with a whole class using PowerPoint or an Interactive Whiteboard.

Also, the sentences, in terms of language and structure, are demanding.  Here’s a summary, showing how they include more advanced types of punctuation (a colon, hyphens) as well.  Now that (until it changes again…) fronted adverbials are the only kind that matter, I can say that if you’re looking for those, there are some very good examples, particularly of those starting with adjectives (can be hard to model using a good text) and those starting with ‘-ing’ verbs.

Having said that, you could just go through how good the language is in all its aspects (there are some examples of really complex sentences at the bottom of the sentence summary above).  If you want to do that, I’ve saved you the trouble of typing them out in  this document.

Should you wish to focus on fronted adverbials – and you have to, after all – there are some ideas here and here.

The Power of Reading notes suggest:

  1.  writing a prayer, using Njemile’s as a model.  Here’s an EAL-friendly starting point for that.
  2. having a debate about whether or not to leave the village.
  3. deciding which of the characters Njemile, Abikanile or Chimwala is the heroine.

After doing the heroines activity, the notes suggest comparing your one true heroine with other heroines.  You could try the ‘Barefoot Book of Heroines’ by Rebecca Hazel (NB non-fiction) for that.