Review: The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley

The Wild Way Home

This book is an extraordinary feast for the senses. A story about the power of family, it also feels like a celebration of the ancient woodland of the British Isles, with a deep love of nature permeating every description of a majestic tree or the instinctive behaviour of a forest animal. The language resonates with nature-related similes;  examples include the description of footprints in the sandy riverbank: “bird prints, like little letters in another language.” ancient flowers are “massive and speckled and wrong, like tongue-out faces with wavering tentacles.” Meat cooked in the smoke of a fire is “so tender I hardly have to chew and it’s delicious, like ham would be if ham was less pink and more wild.”

 Charlie Merriam loves Mandel Forest which stands at the edge of his home and town, and knows every inch of it, having played there with his two best friends, Lamont and Beaky since their early childhoods. On the eve of his twelfth birthday Charlie finds a deer’s tooth on the forest floor which he picks up to add to his “Mandel Museum”. The following day Charlie goes to visit his much longed-for, newborn baby brother Dara only to find that his parents are devastated as Dara faces a life-saving heart operation. Unable to cope with the anguish, Charlie runs to the forest, from where he glimpses the multiple windows of the distant hospital looking like a fly’s compound eye, each seeing things from a slightly different perspective. 

This is appropriate to Charlie’s sense of disorientation, when, after squeezing the deer tooth tightly in his hand he finds himself in altered surroundings. Although the familiar landmarks are recognisable, the forest seems wilder and the colours and sounds have taken on a greater intensity. Then he spots the body, face down in the stream…

Somehow, Charlie has time-slipped back to the stone-age! As he forges a relationship with Harby, the stone-age boy he rescues from the stream, he begins to realise that both of them are running from emotions too powerful to deal with. The primitive instincts for survival, for companionship, home and family are all explored.

The sense of a landscape linking the distant past with the present day is beautifully imagined in this emotional story, with the ancient Spirit Stone standing as the totemic link between past and present. The tale also conjured for me an evocation of a more carefree past when children spent their summers playing outside and roaming independently rather than being glued to a screen or tracked by worried parents through their digital devices. 

This is an exciting and thought-provoking tale, with some deeply emotional moments and some episodes of heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping, jeopardy. I would recommend it for readers in Year 6 and beyond, perfect for readers who have loved The Last Wild trilogy by Piers Torday, The Explorer by Katherine Rundell  or Stig of the Dump by Clive King.

I am grateful to Bloomsbury Kids UK for approving me to read an e-ARC of this story on #NetGalley

Review: Codebusters by Dan Metcalf

IMG_3165

This book is an entertaining, easy read which opens a door to cryptography for a Key Stage 2 readership. It is produced by Bloomsbury’s Black Cats imprint, a set of fast-paced stories with illustrations throughout, designed to appeal to even reluctant readers.

Jackson Hilbert has to move schools, to Bletchley Grange, mid-term and decides to re-invent himself as “Jax” a popular footballer rather than the maths geek he was viewed as at his last school. However, he just can’t stop his competitive edge getting the better of him in a prime number challenge in his first maths class, and following a little code-cracking he is recruited by the “codebusters”!

Before his first week at Bletchley Grange is over, he is embroiled in deciphering a trail of clues alongside Jasper Newton, Michelle Chang and Charlie Babbage, to discover the whereabouts of a stolen school trophy. With guidance from the super-intelligent Captain Sir Alastair Horacio Turing PhD, this team of smart kids pool their talents to take on the challenges that the mysterious ”Elgar” has set for them.

I love the way that the author, Dan Metcalf, has played with the names of his characters and introduced ideas such as the Caesar cipher, which could spark an interest in the discipline of cyber-security in young readers. For those intrigued by secret codes, more information and some fun worksheets can be found on the author’s website: danmetcalf.co.uk I would certainly recommend this book as an entertaining read for children of 8+ and a great cross-curricular resource for accompanying aspects of the Key Stage 2 computing curriculum.

Review: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

Good Thieves

I am always slightly worried when I review a new book by Katherine Rundell that I won’t be able to do justice to her talent, but here are my thoughts on The Good Thieves.

Although I bought this book on publication day, I saved reading it until I was actually away on holiday so that I could enjoy it without distractions. It certainly rewarded the wait!

Firstly, it is an absolute page-turner, hooking the reader from the opening line

“Vita set her jaw and nodded at the city in greeting, as a boxer greets an opponent before a fight”

and refusing to let you go until Vita has executed her bold plan. She arrives in 1920s New York, with her mother to discover that her beloved and recently bereaved grandpa has been cheated out of the ancestral home,  Hudson Castle, by Mr Sorrotore – a mafiosi figure. As the opening line suggests, Vita is a fighter and sets out into the unfamiliar city to confront the villain and demand restitution. Of course, such a direct approach from a child has no effect other than to anger Mr Sorrotore, so Vita must employ other means to reclaim the castle and its contents.

 In the course of planning her heist, to steal back the rightful belongings of her family, Vita enlists a team comprising Arkady (a circus performer with a gift for training animals), Sam (a trapeze artist) and Silk (a pick-pocket who has fended for herself since childhood). They combine their skills with Vita’s deadly aim and gift for planning, to take on the villainous gang.

The author effortlessly portrays the contrast between the glamorous, brightly-lit, night-life of the wealthy inhabitants of the city and the dark, dangerous underside where some of the wealth is generated. The writing fizzes and sparkles with wit and energy, and as usual there is no hint of a cliche anywhere. Instead the unique style rewards the readers with original descriptions. For example, a seagull, “gave the scandalised cry of an angry duchess” when hit by one of Vita’s stones! (If you are a long-time fan of Katherine Rundell, you will find the statutory “Belgium joke” on page 63).

I love the way that Katherine Rundell is able to capture a child’s sense of outrage at injustice, and their determination to take agency to put right a wrong. I think that many young readers will recognise this aspect of themselves as they enjoy this hugely entertaining adventure, which for me brought back memories of the classic Emil and The Detectives. The descriptions of Vita’s refusal to allow her physical disability to hold her back are inspirational and the overall feeling of love and hope make this story a rewarding one. Finally, I should mention the gloriously stylish cover and interior illustrations by Matt Saunders, which further enhance the quality of this book.

Overall, a wonderful MG adventure which I will be recommending to all upper KS2 pupils. For adults wishing to read aloud in class or as a bedtime story, be prepared for pleas of “one more chapter”!
This #Book13 of my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books. I have enjoyed taking part in the challenge for the first time this year as it has encouraged me to blog more regularly and has introduced me to a new community of fantastic book bloggers. I am sorry that I won’t meet my target of 20 reviews, but this is partly due to the fact that I’ve read a number of “grown-up” books and even a rare YA novel this summer, but limit my blog to MG and Early Years reviews.

Review: The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle

Lost Tide Warriors

Tick, tock, tick, tock; time is running out for the Stormkeeper!

Returning to Arranmore, the wild and magical island that remembers everything, is such an all-consuming experience that I barely noticed the two long journeys, on one of the hottest days of the year, during which I devoured this book.

Fionn has taken over the role of Stormkeeper from his granddad, Malachy Boyle, but he is struggling under the weight of responsibility to the islanders, desperately seeking to find and control his magic and haunted by the constant, tormenting refrain of the evil Sorceress Morrigan inside his head. The winter solstice approaches and with it Morrigan’s promise that she will rise again to spread her evil reign across the world. When the ferries begin arriving at the harbour filled with dead-eyed Soulstalkers, Fionn realises that he must face his destiny despite his insecurities, but who can he trust to assist him?

Time is also running out for Malachy Boyle, as his candle burns down and his memories are lost to the encroaching darkness of Alzheimer’s. The bond between Malachy and Fionn is the central core of this magnificent book, perfectly summarised when Fionn asks his grandfather how he manages to be so brave in the face of a final battle with Morrigan’s army of Soulstalkers,

“Because I love you more than I fear them, Fionn.”

In the sequel to The Stormkeeper’s Island we learn more of the mythology of Arranmore, as Fionn and his friends, Sam and Shelby, and family, burn Malachy’s candles in their quest for a strategy to defeat Morrigan. In the face of opposition from arrogant and domineering Elizabeth Beasley, Fionn races against time to search for the Tide Summoner, a magical conch shell which will call the Merrows, a fearsome army of ferocious sea creatures. Can he harness his magic and overcome his uncertainties in order to battle the blackest evil. Will he learn that he cannot work alone and realise the power of cooperation and teamwork against a seemingly indestructible enemy? 

Conjured with lyrical beauty by an author of true majesty, this story is simply breath-taking.  It is heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, tissues are required!! Through the voice of Malachy Boyle the book overflows with wisdom, but allies this with a self-deprecating humour so that profound truths are accompanied by phrases like, “another fridge magnet.” This is one of those books that seeps deep into your heart and causes your eyes to leak.

I am deeply grateful to Scott Evans @MrEPrimary and the team at Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing for organising the inaugural Primary School Bookclub Live event with Catherine Doyle. It was an amazing experience to hear her talking about the real island of Arranmore, her family’s stories and the inspiration behind the Stormkeeper quartet. I cannot wait for book 3 to be published!

 

This is #Book7 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.