Ahoy landlubbers! Here’s an adventure to gladden the hearts of animal-lovers and pirate-fans in equal measure. Featuring talking, inventive animals and a dastardly pirate crew this story is like a hybrid of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and a cartoon series called Noah’s Island that my kids used to love! It is illustrated throughout with gorgeous black and white drawings by Ciara Flood which present a classic feel to the story.
Twelve-year-old Jim lives a charmed life on a desert island surrounded by a menagerie of fabulous animals who have raised him since he washed up on the shore as a baby, in a rum barrel. The extensive cast of animals who live with him in the island’s lighthouse are wonderful, each has a distinctive personality and I’m sure that all readers will find their own personal favourite. I was torn between Oskar, the paternal, spectacle-wearing, orangutang with his blend of kindness and inventive engineering skills, and the consistently “hangry” raccoon, Ravi, who adds a dash of humour when situations get hairy!
Despite his harmonious existence, Jim betrays a sense of curiosity for the world beyond the island and at twelve years old is desperate to know more about his human family. There is a slight edge of tension between him and Oskar, whom he suspects, knows more than he has revealed. With a pirate ship spied on the horizon and the tungsten filaments stolen from the three lightbulbs which keep passing ships away from lethal rock formations, as well as disguising the island’s existence, Jim has to embark on a race against time to restore the lighthouse beam before dark. Accompanied by Ravi, three rigging rats, a millipede and a parrot, Jim sets off on an action-packed quest across the less hospitable parts of the island, encountering an intriguing selection of wildlife. Without wishing to give away any spoilers I will just say that the cut and thrust of the action will leave readers as breathless as a pair of sword-fighting pirates.
The Animal Lighthouse is a thrilling work of imagination with elements that are sure to be popular with children of 8+. The underlying themes of what constitutes family and the lengths that family members will take to protect one another, along with the ecological harmony of animal and human existence, are deftly woven into the narrative. There is one note of caution that I would sound to librarians and teachers: one of the pirate crew repeatedly uses the word “bleedin'” as an intensifier in his dialogue, which I believe is more commonly used in Ireland than in England. I think it might cause some comments from parents of children at the younger end of the age range for whom this story would appeal, so it’s worth knowing about in advance. That said, this is a swashbuckling yarn which ends on a note which leaves me hungrily anticipating a sequel.
I am grateful to Liz Scott and Guppy Books for my gifted copy of The Animal Lighthouse in exchange for my honest review.