This book came to me with the request that I review it for the blog, so, here we go… It’s a children’s book, 400 plus pages with charming illustrations, so more for your advanced reader than a cautious one.
My thoughts as I started reading, were about how much I would have loved this book as a child. I struggled to find things to read – rapidly too good a reader for books that were allegedly age appropriate, but not really equal to the emotional content and assumptions about knowledge that go with more adult books. This is a clever, wordy, book, emotionally pitched to be suitable for children. So if you’ve got a clever kid who still needs space to be a child, this is for them.
In terms of themes, the book handles our relationship with the rest of the natural world. It does this through an adventure story with talking animals in it. On the whole, it’s closer to Animal Farm, Watership Down and Matlock the Hare than to the fluffy animal stories that dominate children’s literature. That creatures eat creatures is not ignored. It’s a book about re-enchantment, and about getting over human arrogance to re-establish a more healthy and realistic relationship with the natural world.
Along the way, the tale is funny, surreal, magical, charming, full of unexpected things, and generally entertaining. It provokes some serious thinking, without being preachy, and the characters – human and animal – are well rounded. Once I got into it, I had trouble putting it down.
The story features one thing I tend to find annoying – a prophecy. At the beginning it is pretty much laid out as to what the family are going to have to do. Initially, this put me off. However, the challenges they face are unexpected even though we’ve been told what’s coming – it’s the shape and nature of the challenges that really matters here. Even though it’s fairly obvious where the plot is going, how it gets there is not, and as a consequence, it’s very readable. Younger readers may be reassured by the way in which the apparent peril is flagged up as not being entirely fatal ahead of time. My child self would have been spared many an anxious and restless night by this.
It’s a particularly good book for Pagan children, who will no doubt enjoy the magical possibilities, and the underlying philosophy. Put it on your reading list after Narnia, and before Lord of the Rings.