‘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?

Teaching fronted adverbials with picture books – ‘with’

Image from North, by Nick Dowson, Illustrated by

Click here for a PowerPoint with scans, examples and notes from a range of picture books – Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister, The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson, Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, Fox by Margaret Wild, Fly, Eagle, Fly! by Christopher Gregorowski and North by Nick Dowson.

Ask children to look out for this way of adding an adverbial in their reading books, during Guided Reading sessions too.

Picture book author recommendation: Kathy Henderson 1 of 3 – The Little Boat

If I had to compile a Top Ten Teaching Picture Books I’m not sure which Kathy Henderson title I would choose because they serve very different purposes.

I love The Little Boat (illustrated by Patrick Benson, one of my Top Ten Teaching Picture Books Illustrators) for teaching what a sentence is.  I’m not fond of children being told that they should put a full stop at the end of a sentence when they might not yet have grasped what a sentence is.  Having done years of Literacy intervention I can say that, as we all know, there will always be children who get to Year 6 not understanding what a sentence is.  And of course the lower you go through the year groups, the more children there will be.

The Little Boat shows an author making a sentence last for a whole book – well, the text certainly starts with a capital letter, but there is no full stop at the end of it.  There are no full stops at all.  Each section of text is in fact defined by the picture that matches it, like this:

The picture here is not complete: what you can see above is the left-hand half of a double-page spread, and the right-hand side continues the illustration, illustrating all the detail mentioned in the text.  That’s the format of all the pages.

What I find so useful in terms of instruction is that it shows how a sentence can be anything the writer wants it to be.  Kathy Henderson makes hers a series of simple ideas – here, ‘the boat sailed out’ – combined with a great number of adverbials that both add detail and move the story forward.

You could use this section in pieces written on to pieces of paper- *start teaching* here’s the main idea (one colour), here’s a bit (in a second colour) that tells you where it went, here’s a bit (second colour) that tells you more about where they went, here’s a bit (second colour) that tells you where it went next, etc.  How many pieces does the author use to describe this picture?  Let’s put the words on the part of the picture that they go with.  Let’s draw the bits from the writing that we can’t see (like ‘the skim of the wind’ and ‘the silvery fish’) on the picture by Patrick.  Look how Patrick puts all of Kathy’s words in the picture.  Look how Kathy puts her ideas on different lines.  Let’s put these bits of sentence in a line.  Let’s put the part of the picture that goes with them above. *end teaching*

Then you could experiment with punctuation.  *Where could we end this idea?  How do we show the end of an idea?  If we put a full-stop here, how do we have to show that we’re beginning a new idea with the next word?*

Some of the pages mirror the list-type, close-to-speech writing of children who haven’t yet moved away from using ‘and’ to join ideas.  The text above continues:

and it bobbed by

a tugboat chugging home

from leading a liner

out to sea

and it churned in the wake

still further out

of a giant tanker

as high as a house

and as long as a road

Here, you could ask *which ‘ands’ could we take out and replace with a full-stop?*  You could then repeat with children’s own previous writing.  I like to make it explicit that *grown-up authors can change the rules because they have had lots of practice and they’re very skilled, but you still have to follow the rules*.

All of this instruction makes feedback so much more meaningful: you’ve explained what a sentence is, deconstructed and reconstructed it, mapped it against a picture – and if feedback references all this teaching it makes it less a mantra *Don’t forget to put full stops at the end of your sentences* and more of an activation of previous concrete learning.

P.S.  Where the Wild Things Are can be used in a similar way, though it does have more full stops.