The Big Read: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Home learning focus

Using the novel The Lie Tree you will learn how to explain how a writer builds tension and share your opinion about the characters.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos of actor Dolly-Rose Campbell reading extracts from the book

  • three activities

Learn

The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree is a fantasy novel set in the patriarchal, scientific society of Victorian Britain. The main character is Faith Sunderly, whose father dies of unknown causes after the family relocate from Kent to the remote island of Vane. These extracts are from the beginning of the book when the family are travelling by boat to the island. Faith’s father is referred to as the Reverend or Erasmus, her mother is Myrtle and her uncle is Miles (her mum’s brother).

Watch actor Dolly-Rose Campbell read an extract from The Lie Tree.

Think about the following:

  • Have you read any other writing in this style?

  • How does the writer use language for effect?

Dolly-Rose Campbell reads an extract from 'The Lie Tree' by Frances Hardinge.

Now watch Dolly-Rose read another extract from The Lie Tree and think about the following:

  • What questions does this extract generate for you as a reader?

  • What do you want to find out more about?

Dolly-Rose Campbell reads a further extract from 'The Lie Tree'.

Practise

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

Extract 1

The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth, Faith decided. Not fine, clean Dover teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting crookedly amid the wash of the choppy grey sea. The mailboat chugged its dogged way through the waves, greasing the sky with smoke.

‘Osprey,’ said Faith through chattering teeth, and pointed.

Her six-year-old brother Howard twisted round, too slow to see the great bird, as its pale body and dark-fringed wings vanished into the mist. Faith winced as he shifted his weight on her lap. At least he had stopped demanding his nursemaid.

‘Is that where we are going?’ Howard squinted at the ghostly islands ahead.

‘Yes. How?’ Rain thudded against the thin wooden roof above their heads. The cold wind blew in from the deck, stinging Faith’s face.

In spite of the noise around her, Faith was sure that she could hear faint sounds coming from the crate on which she sat. Rasps of movement, breathy slithers of scale on scale. It pained Faith to think of her father’s little Chinese snake inside, weak with the cold, coiling and uncoiling itself in panic with every tilt of the deck.

Faith's father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. Published by Macmillan Children's Books.

Activity 1

  1. Read extract 1 and think about the writer Frances Hardinge's style of writing.

Many of images and description are around the theme of teeth.

  1. Revisit the extract and skim and scan for these images.

  2. Write a short summary that references the writer’s images associated with teeth and explain how the images work together as a description.

Extract 2

Between two crates she found a hiding place from which she could see her father and uncle a mere three yards away. Seeing her father without being seen felt like a special sacrilege.

‘To flee my own home!’ exclaimed the Reverend. ‘It smacks of cowardice, Miles. I should never have let you persuade me to leave Kent. And what good will our departure do? Rumours are like dogs. Flee them and they give chase.’

‘Rumours are dogs indeed, Erasmus.’ Uncle Miles squinted through his pince-nez. ‘And they hunt in packs, and on sight. You needed to leave society for a while. Now that you are gone, they will find something else to chase.’

‘By creeping away under cover of darkness, Miles, I have fed these dogs. My departure will be used in evidence against me.’

‘Perhaps it will, Erasmus,’ answered Uncle Miles with unusual seriousness. 'But would you rather be judged here on a remote island by a couple of sheep farmers or in England among persons of consequence. Erasmus, one of the most widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decreed you a fraud and a cheat. Unless you want to subject Myrtle and the children to all the barbs and trials of scandal, you cannot return to Kent. Until your name is clear, nothing good awaits any of you there.'

Activity 2

  1. Read extract 2, in which Frances Hardinge builds tension by using a mixture of description and dialogue.

The dialogue used conveys the characters and also moves the plot on.

  1. Complete the tables below by choosing examples of description and dialogue that build tension within this extract.
Dialogue exampleExplain how this builds tension
'To flee my own home!’ exclaimed the Reverend. ‘It smacks of cowardice, Miles.'
'By creeping away under cover of darkness, Miles, I have fed these dogs. My departure will be used in evidence against me.’
'Unless you want to subject Myrtle and the children to all the barbs and trials of scandal, you cannot return to Kent. Until your name is clear, nothing good awaits any of you there.'
Description exampleExplain how this builds tension
…she found a hiding place from which she could see her father and uncle a mere three yards away.
Seeing her father without being seen felt like a special sacrilege.

Activity 3

  1. Read extract 2 again and consider the characters of Faith’s father, the Reverend or Erasmus, and his brother-in-law, Miles.

  2. Using what you have read so far, and what has been implied, write a paragraph with your predictions about what will happen to these two characters and what they might do.

Top tip!

Think about the following questions to help you write your paragraph:

  • Is Faith’s father (the Reverend or Erasmus) weak or sinister?

  • Is Miles a dominant pressure or the Reverend’s loyal right-hand man?

There's more to learn

Bitesize Daily lessons
KS3 English
Frances Hardinge