Here are the occasional reflections of a joyful traveller along the strange pathways of fantasy and adventure. All my reviews are independent and unsolicited.

I started this blog intending to write only about children's fantasy ('magic fiction') but have since widened my scope to include any work of children's fiction that I have read and enjoyed. Fantasy will still probably predominate, as it remains a favourite genre, but I cannot now resist sharing thoughts on other wonderful books too. (MG and occasionally YA.)

Here you will find only recommendations, never negative reviews. If I read a book which I feel is less than wonderful (which happens far more often than not) then I simply don't write about it. This blog is, rather, a celebration of the most exciting books I stumble across on my meandering reading journey, and of the important, life-affirming experiences they offer. It is but a very small thank you for the wonderful gifts their writers give.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods



An odd read

In many ways this is an odd book. But odd in good ways. In fact odd in quite wonderful ways. 

Take its front cover for a start. The arresting, but possibly disquieting third element of the title might suggest that this story is creepy, sinister, even macabre. An odd subject for a children's book perhaps? However, a few gravestones apart, the predominantly pastel-coloured and 'naive' illustration seems to belie this. It is, in fact, this visual impression that more accurately reflects the book's contents, despite the fact that coffins, graves, and indeed corpses, do indeed feature very prominently. That's not to mention the flying fish. But I'll come to those. 

Odder still. If I hadn't learned that this UK publication was written by a lifelong Australian resident then I would certainly have had it down as a novel of continental European origin. This is not only because Allora, it's colourfully evoked village, and its inhabitants are Italianate in name and character; the story itself has a 'feel' of belonging to a European tradition of children's fiction. It has much of the Fairy Tale about it, in essence and in telling; something which seems to resonate back much more to the world of Grimm than to the Celtic/Norse tradition which tends to underlying British/US fantasy. There is certainly nothing that I recognise as specifically Australian about it; there is no Patricia Wrightson here. Nor is there the everyday realism of the many books about children with 'issues' that so dominate shelves in bookshops, in many of these countries. None of this is in any way a problem. This book is what it is, and what it is is original and very special.   It is a book that does not appear to be trying to be 'populist'. And much credit to it for that. I sincerely hope that it will be popular nonetheless. 

A whimsical read

The story, too, is suffused with a level of 'magic' which is actually closer in my mind to whimsy. Allora is famous for its fish; fish that fly right out of the sea in huge numbers and land in the streets and on the roofs of houses, so that its inhabitants always have plentiful free food. This phenomenon is never explained or justified. It just is. Similarly the presence of a magnificently coloured, shimmering bird that flies only in circles. The tale is seeded with impossibilities, large and small, which are however, in the context of the story, simply accepted for what they are. I suppose you could label it 'magical realism' for children. However, to me, that does not quite capture the book's distinct charm. Like the bird,  it is better not to try to capture it at all. 

An important read

Perhaps the most significant element of this tale, and central to its importance, is the acceptance of death as a natural and normal part of life, albeit sometimes a very  sad one for those left bereaved. Although there is much death in this story it is never presented as morbid or frightening. There are no ghosts, ghouls or ghostbusters here, no zombies and no 'otherworld' to be visited. There is just sadness and loss that is, however, balanced, in the end by warm memories and thankfulness for life. So much here is important and ultimately healthy for children to know and to think about. 



A compelling read

The story of lonely, bereaved man, dealing daily with death, and an isolated, frightened boy, comforted only by the company of a wondrous bird, is about finding love, consolation and hope. In the end it is totally its own story, written sensitively and quite beautifully. It is a far more entertaining and enjoyable story than this brief synopsis might suggest. It is also a far more engaging one. For such a superficially simple tale, its element of suspense, of  desperately needing to know what will happen and how things will turn out, is remarkably strong. 

Like I said. It is an odd story but not odd in a bad way. It is refreshingly, delightfully, thrillingly odd.

It is an impossible story, but a totally believable one, and one that captures a great deal of important truth. It is a story where countless small impossibilities finally add up to one hugely impossibility - and everything becomes hugely possible.  It is huge with the possibility of hope and love and magic, the hope and love and magic that is Matilda Wood's wonderful book. It is a tale where even a coffin is a vessel of hope, sailing towards a glittering future, across a sea where stories become real. 

The wonderful illustrations by Anuska Allepuz echo the veneer of superficial simplicity that ovrerlays considerably potency and profound sensitivity. 

You will have to search long and hard for a book with more heart. I am sure it will give comfort and joy to many children for many years to come. 

Long may its fish fly. 




Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge



Comics for ever!

Any who have read the recent memoir from seminal author Alan Garner*, indisputably an adult of  the highest literary sophistication, will be aware that his childhood reading included many comics, The Knock-Out, The Hotspur, The Beano, and several others. In fact these publications constituted a major part  of his favourite reading. Other important contemporary children's writers are also on record as acknowledging the important influence that comics has on their development as readers - Dave Rudden, Gareth P Jones and Dave Sheldon amongst them. There is a salutary lesson in this for many parents and teachers. Of course influential adults have a responsibility to work towards extending and broadening children's reading, by making books available, by talking about them enthusiastically, and, more than anything, by reading to them. But to scorn comics as 'not proper reading', to suppose that they are not a route that will lead into a lifetime love of books, is often a serious mistake. My mantra as a teacher was always that if we want children to read for pleasure, it is essential that we allow them to read for pleasure, that is for their own reading pleasure, wherever they find it it. Comics are reading, and since they give reading pleasure to many children, long may they continue. **



Graphic is good

The same sort of antipathy is sometimes extended to graphic novels, also too often dismissed as inferior reading and discouraged in favour of 'real books'. In this case any inclination to steer children's reading away is even more misguided; the best graphic novels provide a rich and immersive reading experience, with sustained, complex plots, well-developed characters and often sophisticated narrative structure. The emphasis on pictures only serves to stimulate and develop imagination, not negate it, and the text/image interplay can need just as much inference and deduction in its reading as many purely text fictions. For those children who take  to this format (and many do) it provides a way into story that is both worthwhile in itself and develops many transferable reading skills. Fortunately there are excellent graphic novel versions of stories from many highly popular children's authors, including Rick Riordan, Eoin Colfer, Jonathan Stroud and even Philip Pullman. Parents and teachers should not underestimate the power of such publications to pull many children into independent, sustained reading for pleasure. 

However at present there seem to be rather less high-quality, original graphic fantasy novels written for children (MG or 7-12, say)***. Most of the best creators of this genre seem to aim mainly for a somewhat older audience. ****

Most welcome

All of which preamble leads me to say how warmly I welcome Estranged a first graphic novel from artist Ethan M. Aldridge. It is hard to imagine anything fitting the need for original graphic MG fantasy more ideally. Rather than a cartoon-in-book-form, as are  some of the offerings that do exist in this format, Estranged really is a true, high quality novel in graphic presentation. Its multitude of watercolour drawings are quite stunning, making the whole volume an aesthetically sumptuous item in its own right. However both the story and its telling are outstanding too. The basic plot of two boys, one human and one 'fae', exchanged at birth and  therefore each living somewhat uncomfortably in a world not his own, is perhaps not the most completely original ever. However the rich, complex characters are skilfully presented and developed as is the intricate and highly engaging storyline. The boys' companion, Whick, a delightful 'golem' in wax candle form, is an inspired creation. Villains and monsters are suitably terrifying, too, and, as befits this genre, there is action aplenty. However, there is warmth, friendship and and reconciliation too. Although the principal protagonists are boys, room is found for a strong girl character. Worlds are beautifully created and sustained and the juxtaposition of the real and the fae is convincingly handled. For example, the sudden intrusion of a contemporary subway into the fairy kingdom is both shocking and exciting.  The book's central theme of being at home and not at home in the world,  of the estranged finding and becoming who they really are, is an important universal one, and its celebration of friendship and family is ultimately heartwarming. 




This is a book which I am sure will excite and engage many children, and provide much reading pleasure.   UK readers (and others) should certainly seek out this US publication, which hopefully will also be published here (and elsewhere) very soon. 

Footnote:



For children  who want better to understand some of the more distressing realities of the world in which we live, there is a quite outstanding graphic novel Illegal (see my post from November '17). There is also an excellent and very moving graphic novel of The Beadwinner, based on the original book by Deborah Ellis and the film by Nora Twomay. 

Notes:

*See previous post. 
**This perhaps applies even more than ever now that outstanding publications like The Phoenix Comic are available, attracting as it does some outstanding writers and artists, and promoting high quality storytelling. 
***Alhough there are some excellent spin-offs from the previously mentioned Phoenix Comic. 
****An absolutely outstanding example is Alexis Deacon's Geis, highly imaginative and visually stunning. This planned trilogy is up to its second book and I eagerly await its conclusion. However, it is essentially for a teenage + (YA) readership.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Where Shall We Run To? A Memoir by Alan Garner



'I saw how the roads joined and made one big road, and I could ride from our house anywhere, to my great-grandad at Tamworth, if I wanted, and all the way to the sea.' (After being given a cyclists' map, in 'Bike', p 149)

Footnote 

In many respects this post is something of a footnote to the one I wrote in June (see First Light: A Celebration of Alan Garner).

However that may not give an altogether fair impression of the importance (and quality) of this latest title. Alan Garner, now well into his 80s,  has not published an original new book since 2012*.  Until now that is. So the arrival of  Where Shall We Run To? has to be remarkable, another milestone in the career of an author who changed radically our understanding of what children's literature can be, and who changed it incalculably for the richer. He is a writer who forged much of what children's fiction has since become in the furnace of his remarkable imagination, his intelligent insight, and his deeply grounded awareness of heritage. So even  though he has not written anything that could remotely be called a children's book for more than forty years now, any new book of his still has to be a remarkable event. And such it is. 

What Where Shall We Run To? is not, is a new masterpiece - at least not on the level of earlier, stronger contenders for this particular accolade. But that does not prevent its being a sparkling little gem, and a most welcome addition to his oeuvre. Perhaps, in this respect, it is something of a footnote too, albeit far from an inconsequential one. 

Childhood on The Edge

The book itself recalls a number of episodes and incidents from Alan Garner's childhood, before, during and just after WWII. At the end are also a small number of further 'updates'. Told with superficial simplicity and directness these anecdotes are not presented in strictly chronological order, but together build a picture of his life, temperament, personality and preoccupations over the period until he leaves what we would now call 'primary' school, having passed a scholarship to Manchester Grammar.

What these vignettes are, more than anything is, compellingly vivid. This is primarily because, Alan Garner does not appear to be reflecting in retrospect, but rather captures the voice and mind of the child he was. He see again through his own much younger eyes, he understands only as he understood then, he notices only what he noticed at the time. He relives each moment of school, home, hospital, air raid practices, excursions, simple joys and minor traumas as the boy he was then. So we relive each moment with him. 

Weathercock



Of course, being Alan Garner, such simplicity is deceptive and the skilled hand of a great author still guides the writing. Carefully, cleverly he builds his mosaic of incidents into a complex picture of being, belonging and becoming.

At heart, the importance of this little book is not so much the particular incidents it recalls - but in what lies behind and beneath them Through everything, runs Alan Garner's iterative theme of family and place, and of the inextricable link between the two. That his predecessors have lived in and around Alderley Edge for generations , that they know it's landscape and have indeed helped form it. They not only tell its stories but live them. All of this is integral to who Alan Garner is and what he writes. It coloured his first book, it colours this one, and it has coloured almost everything in between. 

In one story, Alan and his father: 'climbed onto the Rock** . . . People had skrawked their initials in big letters in the soft part, dozens and dozens and dozens of them. But my father said my grandad. . . cut his whole name in Real Writing, the only Real Writing anywhere on the Edge. . . My father didn't know where it was, but he knew it was there. One day, I found it and showed him, and he was that pleased he took his cap off.' (p 111)

In essence, this little memoir can perhaps best be looked on as a post-script to the Stone Book Quartet***, now extending that saga of the author's Alderly-dwelling family through to himself, to his own childhood. 

And for any who doubt that this was at least part of his intention, there is unmistakable reference back to Mary riding the weathercock in The Stone Book:

'The weathercock was bright gold because my father had gilded it fresh after the war ended. The steeplejacks had lowered it down for him, and I sat on its back. I hadn't thought it was that big.'  (p 166)

Running 

Ultimately his book brings an end to Alan Garner's past, and opens up a future which is nevertheless built, inescapably and invaluably, upon the foundations of that past. Alan leaves his 'artisan' heritage by going on to Grammar School. But of course we know that he was to remain an artisan at heart; he just grew up to make in the medium of words. 

He closes the main body of his memoir:

'John and I held hands and ran. We ran from the playground, jumped over the brass, and were out; out under the sky and the white fluffy clouds with the gold and the glint of the weathercock burning to the wind.' (p 178)

His title for this book says much of the rest. It is an ending which heralds a beginning, whilst still celebrating a continuity. Like all Alan Garner's writing it is unfettered possibility grounded in long belonging. Roots are not chains; they nurture new leaves. 

That Alan Garner grew to be an outstanding runner is well attested in First Light. This new little memoir is a book that every admirer of his writing will want to read, and come to see as not so little as it seemed. 

Although not specifically a work for children, I think many will be fascinated by his evocative stories. It is also a book that teachers will find useful if their class is studying the UK in WWII. Some of the vividly written vignettes will certainly help to bring to life something of the experience of children living through those dark days. 


Notes:
*His 2016 collaboration with Mark Edmonds, The Beauty Things, is fascinating and illuminating reading, but is based on conversations between the two, conducted over a number of years, and cannot really be considered an original Alan Garner book as such. 
**Castle Rock, part of The Edge itself. 
***In my view, this quartet really is a strong contender for being considered his masterpiece. 

Friday, 10 August 2018

The Lost Magician by Piers Torday



'Life wasn't golden or perfect, he knew that now.'  (p 68)

More than it seems 

Piers Torday has himself indicated that his new book is something of a homage to C S Lewis' Narnia. It is however, far more than just this. It is an enormously clever and important addition to children's literature which uses this reference to explore themes and reach depths that children's books of that immediate post-war period rarely if ever did.

The book opens with intriguingly enigmatic, although possibly sinister,  information about a secret project the  aim of which is claimed to be to 'to end human conflict, once and for ever.' It is an important hint that what is to follow might not be exactly what it appears. 

However, what  does immediately follow is the most wonderful pastiche, not only of the Lewis books, but of the whole world of earlier 20th century children's 'adventures', from Nesbit,  through to Blyton and beyond. This story is set just after, rather than during WWII, and the four Hastings siblings, Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and, youngest, Larry, who are packed off to remote country house owned by a mysterious 'professor', are almost-but-not-quite the Pevenseys. The send up is in no way mocking; rather it is deeply affectionate, even reverential. It is is nevertheless both immensely clever and highly amusing. The language, style and sentiment of the 50s are all caught quite beautifully, yet the twinkle in the author's eyes is evident in almost every sentence. As someone who was steeped in just this era of children's books in my own younger days, I found myself smiling and chuckling throughout the opening chapters 

'Then (Simon) swapped the magazine for a pack of playing cards from the ottoman. "Right, you two. If we aren't to have our tea, then we are jolly well going to have some gin rummy." And he began to shuffle.' (p 9)

There are nods to other particular books too.  You can even play 'spot the reference'.

'Larry continued up the stairs, Grey Bear bumping behind him.' (p 10)

I did wonder whether these things might be lost on young readers, but there are many bright, sparky  children out there who will I'm sure 'get it' and not be put off by what might otherwise  seem just a very old-fashioned opening. It will almost certainly help, though, if they have already read at least The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  and preferably also a few other 'classic' children's books from before and just after WWII. Although this pastiche segues reasonably quickly into much more of a complete reimagining of the Lewis book, this applies to the rest of the work too. 

Children of war

It is not long before the book starts  to show more of its depth. Just when you begin to fear the story focusing on young Larry's first discovery of a magical library is becoming too twee for words, the author not only switches the focus to his sister, Evie, but darkens its colours chillingly by introducing her haunting memories of wartime London. 

'Some things were much harder to explain. Like that day in Maguire Street. After the bomb. What she saw lying in the road in front of her. What she saw again and again, every night, in her nightmares.' (p 40)



Unlike many of the actual children's fictions of the 50s, not far below the surface of this superficially cod version, is the grim reality of the war that has just ended. For these children, London in the Blitz, with its persistent fear and its horrendous sights, was no dream. To Patricia, as well as to Evie:

'It had all been horribly, horribly real. And the proof was her, how she now thought, spoke and acted. Like a grown-up.' (p 67)

And Simon is affected too:

'You could be the fastest runner in the school, like him, but no one could run fast or far away enough to escape a war. . . . Even when you thought it was over, and you thought you had survived, you felt a pain in your chest, and there was a monster incubating inside. ' (p 68). 

Larry's bear may be an echo of Pooh, but it is actually 'Grey Bear', indelibly coloured with the ashes of the Blitz. Unlike the essentially naive and innocent Pevenseys, Piers Today's children have already had something of their childhood taken by the war. They have each had to find an accommodation to horror; Larry escapes into stories and fantasy, Evie obsessively seeks answers, Patricia has had to learn to be older than her years and Simon has developed a coldness, a hardness of heart:

'The sun's out . . . and all the Germans are buried under rubble or dangling from a rope, so ---'  (p 69)

In stark contrast too, whilst the discovery of Narnia happens in the context of a game of hide-and seek, the Hastings children are driven into their fantasy land to escape the shocking invasion of the old house by armed troops. The juxtaposition of militaristic aggression with fairies in tree houses, and the constant tension, in what follows, between Enid Blyton tweeness and the real horrors of warfare are uncomfortable, but importantly challenging. They reach in towards the heart of what this book actually is. 



Read and never read

The fantasy world, which the Hastings children enter, through the books of a magic library, is 'Folio'. The library may once have been that of  the titular Lost Magician, and the  children need to find him. However, they soon become embroiled in a futile war between characters representing fiction and others representing facts. Over both, looms the even more sinister threat of those who 'never read'. It is a telling parable for our our time, and carries important messages for the children (and adults) of any time. Yet, at its height, the Folio story is every bit as exciting and compelling as many a more straightforward fantasy.  There is delightful humour too, not least from a laconic rainbow unicorn - a cross, as it were, between Rainbow Bright's Starlight and Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide. 

However it is the interplay between actual war and fantasy war that is one of the book's most interesting and compelling themes. The treatment of a randomly met assortment of highly recognisable fairy tale characters as wartime combatants, victims and refugees (including, significant appearances by Tom Thumb and Goldilocks' The Three Bears) seems initially incongruous, but as the story develops it all becomes strangely and disturbingly powerful, as if an Alan Ahlberg book had been graphically illustrated by a WWII war artist. Can victory in one world really bring peace to the other?

In many ways, the narrative development of The Lost Magician closely echoes that of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But is its author simply 'writing a new story over the old' (p 189) ? No, he is himself more of a magician than that. Piers Torday shows here how something old can be turned into something totally fresh and provocative, without in any way diminishing the original. It is not a replacement for, or simply an adjunct to, the C.S.Lewis book , but an important complement to it. This reimagining serves to throw the contrasts as much into focus as the similarities  The differences are important, so recognising them is important too. 



Narnia, not Narnia

Even though many children read and enjoy it simply as the fine fantasy that it is , and do not necessarily take much account of the Christian allegory that is its true essence, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is as much of its time as The Famous Five. The Pevensey children are basically 'nice'  (apart from Edmund, who learns to be nicer); their fantasy adventure is essentially simple, good v evil, with good triumphing thanks to Aslan. PiersTorday's child characters are more 'real', deeply affected by the world in which they have grown up; the issues of their fantasy adventure are both less simplistic in themselves and more immediately  related to the children's world, and our own. 

Additionally, in another contrast to its illustrious predecessor, girl characters are, here, just as prominent in the action as the boys. There are messages too that encourage boys to 'dare to be different'*, which in itself is no small thing.  

'What would his father say? Larry wasn't a pansy. He meant . . . he wasn't any old pansy. He was the brightest, bravest and most glorious pansy on a flying rainbow unicorn, and he was going to show them all.' (p 255)

Piers Torday succeeds in giving his tale a very classic children's fantasy structure. But then that is because The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which it echoes, is perhaps the archetypal children's fantasy of them all.  However this book fully deserves to stand alongside its classic predecessor as the 'Return to Narnia' for our own times. It will be a particularly welcome addition for those who revel in the celebration of imagination, the promotion of reading and the value of libraries. 

Of our time, for our time 

Yet there is rather more to The Lost Magician even than this. The framing segments, extracts from that security file concerning the intriguing but rather sinister 'Magician Project', continually mystify the reader, not least because of their feeling of incongruity with he rest of the narrative. By the story's close, however,  they have added another crucial layer to the book and shaken the reader out of any feeling of  Narniaesque coziness. Even though living in Folio has apparently helped the Hastings children forget the  traumas of the actual war, even though they have earnestly been seeking the magic that would secure a peaceful future, the world to which the they return . . .  Well, no spoilers. Suffice to say that the shocking ending adds another level of true, if deeply disquieting, importance to an already fine book. 

In his Last Wild series,  Piers Torday pitted a world of rampant technology and aggressive acquisitiveness against that of nature; here he explores the threat that much the same world (our world?) poses to literacy in general and fantasy in particular. He has much of great resonance to say about it too. Those who have hailed him as one of our foremost contemporary writers for children are not far wrong. 

And let us all desperately hope that the lost magician really is still there, looking out from his (or her) library window. 


Note:
*See my review of Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different, from April 2018.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Turning by Emily Whitman


Illustration Vashti Harrison

'Hail creation. Wave-riders, shore-striders, sung by the Moon into being!' (p 74)

Turning a tale

It is August already and my list of contenders for 'Books of the Year' is getting gradually a little longer. Here is one that absolutely must be added. It is a book for the young reading connoisseur, leisurely and lyrical. Its atmosphere and images are often breathtakingly beautiful, a story that fires the imagination and grips the heart. It takes you swimming with seals, surging, twisting and diving through the wild oceans, then hauls you onto rocky shores under a cold and magical moon. 

The Selkie legends are found most commonly in the folklore of the remote Scottish isles, but have counterparts in other northern sea-strong cultures too. These stories seem to have a particular pull and potency for both writers and readers. A fair few children's books have a Selkie theme or influence, covering everything from simple retellings of the traditional stories to adaptations and complete reimaginings. They range, too, from pictures books and children's novels into YA fantasies, and, indeed, into many adult books. However, I have come across no finer example than this one. It is truly magical. Like the Selkies themselves, it manages at once to be about characters so human you weep for them and creatures of the ocean, that are familiar and yet so completely other.  You swim with them, wild and free in the vast ocean, and rest, peaceful, with them on the pebbled strand. This book's magic is the magic of nature as much of myth, of the sea, of the sky, of the waves and of the wind. Like the pull of the tide, its magic is that of the moon. 

Longing for turning 

The Turning is a tale which hangs childhood on the cusp, on the shoreline between land and sea, between reality and dream. It is the first person narrative of Aran, a boy born to a Selkie mother and human father. Although he has lived  his full life with his Selkie clan, in the ocean and on its margins, he is for the present fixed in human, 'longlimb', form. He yearns desperately for the arrival of his his seal pelt, the 'turning' which will allow him to become his full Selkie self. Later, finding himself abandoned to a strangely unfamiliar life on land, he  gradually learns that there are some wonders, as well as horrors, involved in being human.  Finally, a soul-wrenching crisis forces him to face who he truly is and wants to be. 

Moving and turning

The true wonder of Emily Whitman's book is that, in her hands, this apparently simple story becomes completely involving and deeply compelling. She tells it in translucent, magnetic prose, and captures the thoughts and feelings of Aran  so convincingly that the reader is swept through the waters of her story on a tide of compulsion. Our need to know what will happen to him is every bit it as strong and desperate as his own need to understand who he truly is. 

Not since I first read Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom, do I remember developing quite such an intense emotional empathy  with a young character. I truly lived through this story with Aran. I shared his thrill in swimming the cold ocean (even though such an activity would have no appeal at all in my own life). I joyed with him in a first true human friendship. I quaked inwardly at the dreadful turn of events which devastated his life and ripped his dreams apart. 

Turning inside out 

There have indeed been many children's novels about Selkies. There have been even more about a young person's journey towards finding their true self. There can have been few of either more affecting than this one. It is a work of rich imagination and superlative language, a very fine novel indeed. 

If you want Aran's story to be just a story, it can be. If you want it to be more, it can be about every child who longs to belong, but fears that they do not. It can be about anyone who has two identities, two lives, which are both their true self. In a way we all live where the sea meets the land. As the author says at the conclusion of her final note: 'We've all got the ocean inside us. beautiful, mysterious, and untamed. Like Aran we are two everythings.'  Why else do we so often wish to spend our precious holidays sitting on the shore? 

It is a truly beautiful book; one that I cannot commend highly enough. 

Although there are indeed many times when you can't, and shouldn't, judge a book by its cover, there are also times when you can. This is one of them. The story's etherial loveliness, its hope and its desperate longing, its familiarity and its otherness, its duality and its wholeness, are all caught quite perfectly in Vashti Harrison's mesmerising cover art. Moon magic.  If you love the outside of this book, you will love the inside too, and vice verse. 



'Stories were places where two worlds met, swirling around each other like ribbons of foam.' (p 224)


I hope this American author's wonderful new addition to the canon of children's literature will be published in the UK very soon. Meanwhile any extra effort needed to get hold of the lovely US edition will be richly rewarded.