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The Butterfly - a reading-writing diary

The second one – Gabriel Tallent and Neil Gaiman’s noun phrases

· reading,noun phrases,Neil Gaiman,Gabriel Tallent,grammar

First, I have to update on a truly traumatic reading experience, in Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling. I knew (as mentioned last time) that it was going to be a sweaty-palmed ride. I didn't know it would mean a sleepless night and a race to the end in order to avoid a marital dispute. My husband can't sleep while my light is on. I can’t sleep when my heart is thumping with impending menace. What a terrific and terrifying book.

In the meantime, the audio experience of Neil Gaiman reading me his own Stardust offered beauty and brilliance and some of the best words in the world. A new catchphrase has entered my house, adopted from this fabulous scene in which three dark Lilim women divine the falling of a star from the sacrifice of a stoat:

Gaiman’s reading of the scene is vivid, and I listened numerous times to savour those similes. The child’s pyjamas – so unexpected, yet perfect; the ‘wet jewels’ of the offal – dazzlingly gruesome. ‘Entrails?’ I’ll now enquire of my children, putting on Gaiman’s best witchy voice. But don't worry - my offering is merely porridge, or baked beans.

Wouldn’t that be a great extract to use in the classroom? Engaging and flamboyant, graphic and simply narrated. The interview with Gaiman at the end of the audiobook version (a lovely bonus) offered some thought-provoking reflections on choosing which words to include, and to reflect on the words chosen here, you might pare it back, stripping out the noun phrases to leave the nouns to try their best on their own. That will leave you, for example, with just a board and a knife, a hand and a voice, which you can then re-build with different adjectival choices in order to evaluate those made by the author. It’s a great activity for working out which words really carry the scene into our heads and let us visualise all the gory details. And I know some young writers who'd love to have a go at their own Lilim scene, giving you a great little learning sandwich - meaningful grammar delivered between slices of rich reading and writing.

Jane Branson is an independent education consultant and teacher trainer with a passion for getting children and young people to enjoy and excel in reading and writing. She’s also a mum, an aspiring author, a school governor and a cat-lover.

The books mentioned in this blog:

My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent, Fourth Estate

Stardust, Neil Gaiman, Headline Audiobooks

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