This was better than home.
This stanza begins with an indisputable short sentence. The implication here is that perhaps the child’s life at home is uninspiring and does not have the "Enthralling books" that fill the classroom. "Enthralling" tells us the speaker is easily absorbed by literature.
The classroom glowed like a sweetshop
The use of the simile is very effective, as sweetshops are places full of colour and wonder for children; they offer temptation and delight. The comparison therefore suggests that the classroom is full of things to trigger the children's interest and imagination.
The minor sentences "Sugar paper. Coloured shapes." extend this idea. Duffy creates a listing effect here as if she is documenting the surroundings. These are simple things, but they are enough to transport the child into a magical world, just a Mrs Tilscher listed places along the Nile in Stanza one.
Juxtaposed with this positive and secure environment is the mention of a very different side of life. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were serial killers who were active in the early 1960s. The reference here is particularly hard hitting as their victims were children. The ‘Moors Murderers' black and white images, which appeared in newspapers, contrast starkly with the colourful sweetshop classroom.
faded, like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake.
The power of this loving environment is such that these figures can almost be wiped away, reduced to a "smudge" on the page. The children in Mrs Tilscher's class cannot be harmed. And yet, she cannot erase evil completely. Its mark is still there on the pages that inform their lives.
But no matter. What concerns the child is the "good gold star" left almost as if a fairy had put it there by their name. Then another sensory line: "The scent of a pencil slowly, carefully, shaved." The adverbs here prolong the line, mimicking the slow act of sharpening a pencil, a universal memory of childhood.
A xylophone's nonsense heard from another form.
The personification of sound once again closes this stanza. Xylophones are common in primary schools and "nonsense" implies that whoever is playing it is young and hasn’t mastered it yet. This is fine, however, as the experience sounds fun and appealing.