Book Review: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell


From the moment that I read it’s opening sentence:

“Like a man-made magic wish, the aeroplane began to rise”

I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary book. Once again Katherine Rundell has written a gripping adventure which at times makes you read so fast that you forget to breathe, but simultaneously compels you to skid to a halt to re-read her beautifully constructed sentences. It would appear that she will never resort to a cliched description when her seemingly endless imagination can create images such as a distant father being described as “wrapped tightly in his pinstripe days.”

I don’t want to include any plot spoilers, but the story concerns four children who find themselves plunged into the depths of the Amazon jungle following a plane crash. The children are wonderfully believable and I think young readers will readily identify with them.  Fred, the oldest of the four, shoulders the responsibility of leading them out of the jungle. Fierce and determined Con (short for Constantia, but she’ll kill you if you use her full name) hides her feelings behind an armour of sarcastic comments. Lila devotes most of her energy towards caring for her little brother Max and frankly, Max would try the patience of a saint!

The first part of the novel focuses on the children’s desperate quest to survive, whilst the latter part sees their personalities develop and broadens to cover themes of courage, ecology and love. The descriptions of the “food” consumed by the children are sufficiently grotesque to delight any child and churn the stomach of most adults!

This is a book that I would have loved to read aloud to my own children (had it been available when they were 8 or 9)and I would think that many parents will love the chance to read it to their children. I can imagine it becoming a hugely popular class reader and I’m sure that every school library will require several copies! Confident readers tend to enjoy reading the more gruesome passages aloud to any available adult in my experience!  Additionally, the cover art and black and white illustrations throughout by Hannah Horn just add an extra layer of beauty to this exquisite book.

Katherine Rundell’s writing is set apart by her ability to observe the beauty in places and people and her apparent urgency to communicate the importance of wholehearted engagement with the world to her readers. She manages to do this with such a light touch that her stories are thoroughly enjoyable and never appear preachy. I would certainly add The Explorer to my top 10 children’s books list.

If you enjoy this book as much as I did, look out for:

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Stories for Mowgli by Katherine Rundell

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