Ordinary Jack

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By Helen Cresswell

This is the opening extract from a classic humorous novel written in the 1970s by the late author, Helen Cresswell. It is taken from the first of a series that focuses on the Bagthorpe family. Its realistic family theme allows children to identify with Jack and his desire to shine within his talented family.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS for ages 9 to 11 March 2008

Before reading

  • Ask the children to describe a typical family. Who might they expect to be in the extended family? Discuss different types of families, including ones with absent parents and step-families.
  • Explain that this story, written in the 1970s by Helen Cresswell, is the first in a series of books about the Bagthorpe family. Can the class think of other books written in series about a family or group of people?
  • Discuss the main character in a favourite book. It is often a boy or a girl of the reader’s age, who has to deal with situations while interacting with their family. Talk about how this allows the reader to identify with the characters and situations they find themselves in. Make a note of any books of this type read and recommended by the class.

During reading

  • Having read the first five paragraphs, discuss how the author establishes viewpoint. What techniques does she use? Analyse the use of tenses and pronouns.
  • How are we told how Jack is feeling, and what he is thinking, throughout the extract? List feelings portrayed – eg, envy, resentment, jealousy.
  • The author includes many figurative phrases – eg, a second string to his bow, the devil take the consequences. Guess meanings and clarify them.
  • Check understanding of unusual vocabulary – eg, eclipsed, prodigiously, diligence.
  • Explain that the author uses a variety of punctuation, including complex use of inverted commas (eg, double quotation marks within dialogue). Point out the use of apostrophes within the dialogue to indicate contraction.
  • Highlight the use of dialogue conventions, including synonyms for ‘said’ and sentence structure within direct speech sections. (See Poster 2 How to write dialogue in Literacy Time PLUS for Ages 9 to 11 March 2008.)
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