#MGTakesOnThursday: Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest by Vashti Hardy, illustrated by George Ermos

Banner design by Mary Rees, Cover image by George Ermos, published by Scholastic 2021

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. When I have time, I love to use this meme to review books which somehow slipped down my TBR stack when they were first published, or perhaps are books that I shared with my (now adult) children before I began blogging. Please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Vashti Hardy

Illustrator: George Ermos

Publisher: Scholastic

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

Me and my grandpa Eden like to experiment

page 11

This book in three words:

Imaginative – Scientific – Mystery

I remember this first Harley Hitch adventure arriving last year to a fanfare of outstanding reviews from bloggers whose opinions I always value, and being quite frustrated that I was at a particularly time consuming phase of my librarian qualification and simply did not have time to read for pleasure. Noticing that it is on the reading list for this summer’s Gadgeteers reading challenge, I remedied this oversight today and discovered that those reviews were spot on. Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest is an outstanding work of science-based fiction, written by an author who has an assured sense of how to captivate a middle grade readership, entertaining them whilst also delivering sound scientific principles along the way. Vashti Hardy’s story is perfectly complemented by the stunning grayscale artwork of George Ermos, who captures her brilliantly imagined world in precise detail. The Botanical Guide illustrations on the endpapers are a thing of beauty.

Just in case there is anyone who has not read this story yet, I am not going to describe the plot in too much detail for fear of spoiling your enjoyment. The quote that I used above foreshadows the plot brilliantly…this is a narrative based on scientific experimentation and discovery, teaching prospective young scientists the values of research and resilience without the slightest hint of dogmatism. It is populated by a core of great characters. Harley Hitch is a smart, kind, somewhat impulsive and accident prone girl who wants nothing more than to win the Pupil of the Term award at Cogworks, the technical school she attends in Forgetown. She lives with Grandpa Eden and Grandpa Elliot, who are kindly and supportive in encouraging her to do the right thing, admit mistakes and never give up. Harley strikes up an unexpected friendship with new boy Cosmo after her former friend, turned mean girl, Fenelda ensures that they both get into trouble on the first day of the new school term.

On discovering an unusual and invasive new fungus in the Iron Forest whilst carrying out a detention task, Harley persuades Cosmo to help her with an experimental biocontrol. Against his better judgement, he goes along with Harley’s un-researched plan…with ecologically disastrous effects. The story contained many elements that kept me utterly hooked; from the unusual fauna and flora of the Iron Forest, to a rebel robot uprising and even a terrifying specimen of my least favourite animal species! This is a story which I would have loved myself at 8/9 years of age and which I highly recommend to all readers of 8-11. The story rattles along at a great pace, chapters are short and the frequent illustrations give plenty of pausing space for readers who are in need of the occasional break in text. If you are encouraging a KS2 child to join in with the summer reading challenge this year, do encourage them to read Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest.

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