| This is a great little book – one I’m so thankful to the author for bringing to my attention. It’s essentially self-published, but don’t let that put you off. It’s an exceptionally polished presentation – my only minor quibble regards typesetting: an unusually large inset for the first line of each paragraph.|
As a short chapter book about bullying and pacifism, set at the time of the First World War, it presents moral and behaviour conflicts in a manner that makes it eminently accessible for children of primary school age. It would make a very good group read.
The author is a primary school teacher and says (his experience is one I can share from my own time working with this age range), “I believe there are many very capable readers in upper key stage 2 who are put off by longer novels but who do want to read challenging and interesting subject matter.”
The book is presented as the first in a series of “BigShorts” – short novels for strong readers, that Wootten intends publishing and promoting through his website. If subsequent titles are as good as this, ACHUKA will be happy to help promote them.
The writing is clear, visual and uncluttered. The characters are finely delineated – the bully, the victim, the pacifist father, the strict schoolteacher, the friend & accomplice – but all very believable. The conflict between the main character’s parents – his father the conscientious objector, and his mother who has to bear the brunt of fellow women’s resentment that while their husbands are away fighting hers is at home shirking – is one of the best aspects of the book.
Female readers might want George’s friend, Emma, to play a more forthright role in subsequent adventures.
Oh, and there is animal interest, in a cat named Azar.
The formula is a good one.
The author’s publishing website: http://www.antonywootten.co.uk/EskdalePublishing.html
Sally Gardner, ill. David Roberts
A truly amazing retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, ‘The Tinder Box’, turning it into a nightmare experience, as seen through the eyes of a war-damaged soldier of the seventeenth century. Gardner uses all the key elements of the original but richly embellishes and re-realises them. The dogs of the three chambers – rather docile, obliging creatures in Andersen’s original – become all-conquering wolves here.
As well as the tinder box, in this book the soldier receives a set of dice which have a significant role in the story. The princess of Andersen’s copper castle – named Safire by Gardner – appears briefly and life-alteringly to Otto right at the start of the story, as he is making his escape from the battlefield.
The middle part of the novel, when Otto is holed-up at an inn, yearning to be reunited with red-headed Safire, reminded me somewhat of Andrés Neuman’s Travellers Of The Century which, for anyone who knows that book, will signal the fact that this is no ordinary teenage werewolf fantasy.
The quality of the writing is superb and is a joy to read aloud. That said, it’s a shame that copy-editing and proof-reading did not pick up a couple of instances of comma-splicing, a particularly jarring example appearing near the start of Chapter Thirty-One, just as the novel is building to its climax.
David Roberts’ atmospheric illustrations are primarily in black-and-white, with judicious use of red from time to time. They have been perfectly placed and page-set by the book’s designers.
This beautifully-produced hardback would make a splendid gift for mature 12+
In an Author’s Note at the end of the book, Gardner explains why she chose to set the novel in the period of the Thirty Years War, whilst her primary inspiration was a series of conversations she had with soldiers recently returned from the war in Afghansitan.
Certain to be shortlisted for several awards.