I have been a huge fan of Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s writing since discovering Millions and reading it aloud as a bedtime story almost 20 years ago. His children’s stories are as appealing and enjoyable for the adults who might read them aloud as they are for the children who listen to them, or read them independently. He is an entertainer, who hooks you from page one and sets you down gently at the final page where you might think “that was fun” and rush off to play football or you might start to think about the clever way that he has wrapped a modern dilemma in a coating of humour and warmth and passed on some of his gentle brand of wisdom in the process.
Noah’s Gold is told in the form of (unposted) letters home from eleven-year-old Noah, who has inadvertently stowed away in the luggage compartment of the minibus taking his older sister Eve on a school geography trip. The irony of geography teacher Mr Merriman missing the intended destination of the Orinoco Wonder Warehouse “the internet with a roof on” because he has put too much faith in the SatNav is just the start of a series of mishaps associated with modern technology which power the story. The drama and humour increases with every epistle, as the group of children stranded on an uninhabited island after their minibus plunges off a cliff and their teacher vanishes, face a series of challenges whilst learning to live without modern technology. Noah blames himself for breaking the internet and his attempts to find the location of the re-set button for the submarine transatlantic internet cable, whilst convincing the older children that they are on an island treasure hunt, take readers on a joyful journey of discovery.
I am not going to describe any more of the plot because I don’t want to ruin a moment of your enjoyment of the way in which this narrative unfolds. I adored the way that the children’s characters are revealed. They each have their unique personality traits but are fully rounded and believable in their conversation and actions. Noah is small in stature but huge-hearted, always fair and determined to do the right thing. Eve is an individual who exudes inner confidence and natural leadership. Her persuasiveness can be overwhelming at times but when family duty calls, she proves herself to be the big sister that everyone would want in a time of crisis. School Council representative Lola, who wears the school first aid kit like a badge of honour, takes on the responsible adult role. Ryland, the screen-obsessed gamer appears to be rather self-entitled at first but grows into a team player as he realises the value of real friendship compared to his online “tribe”. Dario with his scientific approach to everything likes to establish the “fun fact” in every encounter whilst Ada exhibits awe and wonder, seeing the magic in everything she observes on the island of AranOr.
As the children adjust to life without the internet and are no longer distracted by their screens, they all begin to observe and appreciate the natural beauty of the island. They work together and learn to communicate and collaborate. In one particularly touching scene they all use the old-fashioned handset in the island telephone box to “talk” to their families in order to share their worries. As well as communication, the importance of sharing food runs through the story, from Noah’s realisation at the start that the sandwiches he has made for Eve might be a danger to a nut-allergy sufferer to his knack of cooking up a feast for six famished children from scavenged tins and wild food; a skill honed by his family’s reliance on food banks. Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s use of child-friendly food imagery adds another layer of delicious insight into Noah’s character, so at one point he finds himself “perched on a tiny rock the size of a Colin the Caterpillar chocolate cake” and describes the front end of the wrecked minibus as “concertinaed like a melted Viennetta”.
I loved absolutely everything about this book; the way the plot unfolded, the children’s characters, the villains, the humour, the illustrations by Steven Lenton, the strong sense of family and the discovery by a group of children, from a school named in honour of St Anthony of Padua, of the most valuable treasures in life. I highly recommend for anyone of 9+, to be enjoyed at home, in school or public libraries and in the classroom. Noah’s Gold is without doubt one of my favourite books published during 2021.