Books we’ve read that we just can’t forget…
The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell
Autumn term, 2017. The Crooked Sixpence had already been out for a year, but that was when I first discovered this little gem. My year 6 class at the time were avid readers, and were desperately pleading with me to put it into the class library, but I kept refusing. I knew that it was a book that should be enjoyed as a group, and so I waited for the perfect time for us to experience it together.
That year, we got through some cracking books: A Christmas Carol, Once (started Then, then quickly realised how harrowing it was), The Secret Breakers: The Power of Three. All of them fantastic in their own right – but by Spring, we definitely felt the need for something that would really trigger the imagination. That was when I pulled out this secret weapon!
I’d never read anything like this book – and I still haven’t. Following Ivy, Seb and Valian’s journey into the Uncommon world of Lundinor, and discovering the secrets of their Grandma’s past, was gripping. The concept seemed so simple, yet it was so effective. Take a common object, like a candle. It’s common use would be to provide light to see things. But in Lundinor, when you blow out an uncommon candle, you turn invisible. This blew the children’s minds and opened up a whole new world of creativity that they had never experienced before. Soon enough, they were coming up with all sorts of uncommon uses for common items. We had rulers that would give orders (they went down the dictator route-of course!), books that whispered secrets, saucepans that un-cooked food so you could discover secret ingredients. The ideas were were endless and it generated a creative buzz in the classroom that was infectious.
The children were hooked from the get go. Laughter erupted when a toilet brush was pulled out as a weapon; cries of disgust at the description of a pustule covered, shrivelled hand; nods of ‘mmhmmm’ during the sibling squabbles between Ivy and Seb; and gasps of shock when The DIrge were finally revealed. This book took them on a journey of a whole range of emotions. It is a fantastic tool to generate discussions from. I’d prewarned the children that there were lots of clues leading up to a big event, so we all became detectives. We would huddle up on the carpet, notebooks in hand, writing down anything that we thought was important, then share all of our thoughts, opinions and predictions with each other. Now, this was a class that didn’t always gel – but you would never have known that during those sessions. That’s the power of a good book – it brings people together.
The main reason for why I have chosen this as my Throwback Thursday hero, though, is it’s value as a model for good quality sentences. As writing co-ordinator, I’ve often been infuriated with some of the texts that we read (I know reading for pleasure should just be about enjoyment!) because they didn’t challenge the children with different writing constructions. I ended up repurchasing this book on Kindle, so that we could all see it on the interactive whiteboard together. As we read each section, we would stop and note down any words/sentences that we liked. I had already taught the children how to use different grammatical features, such as semi-colons and short sentences for effect, but it wasn’t until we began really delving into Jennifer Bell’s writerly choices that I actually started to see them using them properly and within context.
Reading this book gave my children the confidence to be more creative in their own writing choices. We ended up writing a piece inspired by Ivy’s time in the Hexroom. The children had to describe going through one of the six doors and coming face-to face with one of the members of the Dirge. It was collectively our favourite piece that we wrote that year, with every child engaged throughout and proud of their accomplishments. It’s safe to say that ‘The Crooked Sixpence’ has become a staple book in my class reads list, and it’s even safer to say that it never disappoints!