The Big Read: The Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

Home learning focus

Using the novel The Clockwork Sparrow you will learn how to explain the use of sarcasm and to write creatively.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos of TV presenter Scarlett Moffatt reading extracts from the book

  • three activities


The Clockwork Sparrow

This is an historical, mystery and adventure book set in 1900s Edwardian London. Sophie has just started a new job at Sinclair’s Department Store. Later in the novel, when Mr Sinclair’s clockwork sparrow is stolen, Sophie is under suspicion and the mysteries unfold.

The first extract takes place on Sophie’s first real day at work and she has just fallen over in front of the other girls who work there.

Watch TV presenter Scarlett Moffatt read an extract from The Clockwork Sparrow.

Think about the following:

  • What do you learn about Sophie?

  • How do the other characters interact with Sophie?

Watch Scarlett Moffatt read an extract from 'The Clockwork Sparrow' by Katherine Woodfine.

Now watch Scarlett read another extract from The Clockwork Sparrow and think about the following:

  • What do you learn about Billy?

  • How does Sophie view Billy in this extract?

Watch Scarlett read a further extract from 'A Clockwork Sparrow'.


You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Extract 1

A third took in Sophie, and made a ridiculous curtsy in her direction. ‘Forgive us, Your Ladyship. We didn’t see that you were gracing us with your presence.'

‘Aren’t you going to introduce us to your young man?’ added the dark-haired girl in an arch tone, making the others laugh even more.

The boy’s cheeks flushed crimson, but Sophie tried her hardest to look indifferent. She had heard this kind of thing many times already during the two weeks of training that all the Sinclair’s shop girls had undertaken. She had realised that she had started all wrong on the very first morning, arriving wearing one of her best dresses – black silk and velvet with jet buttons. She had thought she ought to be smart and make a good first impression, but when she arrived, she realised that every other girl in the room was dressed almost identically, in a plain, dark skirt, and a neat, white blouse. The rustle and swish of her skirts had made them all look at her, and then begin giggling behind their hands.

‘Who does she think she is? The Lady of the Manor?’ the dark-haired girl, Edith, had whispered.

The next morning she had come carefully dressed in a navy-blue skirt and a white blouse with a little lace collar, but it was already too late. The girls called her ‘Your Ladyship’, or if they wanted to be especially mean, ‘Your Royal Highness’ or ‘Princess Sophie’. All through the training, they made game of the way she spoke, the clothes she wore, the way she did her hair, and especially whenever she was praised by Mr Cooper or Claudine, the store window-dresser.

She had tried hard to look unconcerned, and not to let her feelings show. Papa had always said that in times of war, the most important thing was never to let the enemy see that you were intimidated. Remembering this she saw his face again, almost as if he were standing right in front of her with his bright, dark eyes and neat moustache. He would have been pacing up and down on the hearth rug in his study, the walls hung with maps and treasures he had brought back from distant lands, relating one of his many stories about battles and military campaigns. 'Keep calm', 'keep your head', 'keep a stiff upper lip': those were his mottoes.

Enter a world of hats, perfumes and mysteries around every corner, including the theft of the priceless clockwork sparrow. Meet the brave Miss Sophie Taylor and Miss Lilian Rose who vow to bring the villains to justice. Published by Egmont.

Even though the book is set in the early 1900s we can see parallels with today and how people form a judgement based on first impressions. In this case, the girls are forming a judgement on Sophie based on their first impressions of her.

There are some examples of sarcasm in the extract.

Find two examples of sarcasm and explain the impact this has (why the writer used sarcasm, what it tells us about the character who uses it, what it tells us about the character who is the subject of the sarcasm).

You could organise your ideas in a table.

Example of sarcasmWhy does the writer use sarcasm?What it tells us about the character who uses itWhat it tells us about the character who is the subject of the sarcasm

Activity 2

Extract 2

Now, she turned away and went out into the passage, the boy trailing behind her. He looked so miserable that she felt a twinge of guilt for having assumed that he would make fun of her, when, in fact, it seemed that they were in the same boat.

‘I shouldn’t pay any attention to them,’ she said.

The boy tried to smile. ‘I really wasn’t spying on you – honest, I wasn’t,’ he said anxiously. ‘I just wanted to finish my serial. I didn’t even notice you were there. It’s the latest Montgomery Baxter.’ Seeing that she looked blank, he went on: ‘It’s about a detective. He’s only a boy, you see, but somehow he always solves the crime and outwits the villain, even when no one else can.’

He beamed at her enthusiastically and, rather to her surprise, Sophie found herself smiling back. ‘I just had to find somewhere out of sight to finish it, so Mr Cooper didn’t catch me reading. Anyway, I’m sorry I tripped you up,’ he finished.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Sophie. She held out her hand politely, like Miss Pennyfeather had taught her. ‘I’m Sophie Taylor. I’m in the Millinery Department.’ She had already learned that using her full name, Taylor-Cavendish, would do her no favours here at Sinclair’s. It was safer to stick to plain old Taylor.

‘Billy Parker, apprentice porter,’ he explained, accepting her hand and giving it a firm shake.

‘Parker? Then are you –?’

‘Related to Sidney Parker? Yes. He’s my uncle, worse luck,’ Billy said, grimacing. ‘Oh cripes, and here he comes now,’ he murmured in a lower voice, hastily stuffing the creased story-paper into his pocket as a man came striding towards them along the passageway.

Like everyone else at Sinclair’s, Sophie already knew exactly who Sidney Parker was. He was Head Doorman, in charge of the whole team of doormen and porters, and Mr Cooper’s right-hand man. Tall and handsome in a bullish sort of way, he was impossible to miss in his immaculate uniform. With his hat perfectly brushed, his buttons gleaming and his glossy black moustache always smoothed into place, he couldn’t have been more different from his untidy nephew.

Sophie has formed an impression of Billy. However, once she realises who he is related to, she is very surprised.

Write a paragraph in response to the quotation below, taken from the text.

With his hat perfectly brushed, his buttons gleaming and his glossy black moustache always smoothed into place, he couldn’t have been more different from his untidy nephew.

Using Extract 2, what evidence is there to support the idea that Billy and his uncle are vastly different?

Remember to quote from the extract to support your opinion.

Activity 3

Read or watch both extracts again.

In Extract 1 the girls at Sinclair’s shop form an impression of Sophie based on their first interaction with her. Sophie does the same with Billy in Extract 2. Should first impressions count?

Write a paragraph in response to this statement:

‘First impressions are lasting impressions.’ Do you agree or disagree?

Top tip!

Write creatively! You could consider your impressions of books, places, people or something else.

You may have evidence that both agrees with and opposes the statement.

You could use the following phrases to introduce opposing ideas:

  • on the other hand

  • others claim

  • one could also consider

  • in contrast

There's more to learn

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