I savoured every moment of this first stand-alone novel by one of my favourite children’s authors. This book typifies why children’s books matter. Every page is full of courage, kindness, acceptance and hope wrapped up in a thrilling adventure. This is a very special story for children of all ages and one that I believe will stand the test of time.
From the opening lines of the prologue with its fairy tale feel readers are transported to the snowy kingdom of Erkenwald, a majestic land of icebergs and soaring cliffs where polar bears and wolves roam. Inspired by the beauty of the Arctic this is a world brought vividly to life and yet the stunning landscape is marred by evil as it has been torn apart by a wicked ruler. The Ice Queen, a truly terrible villain, is ruthless and the people of the land must stay hidden or they risk becoming prisoners in her Winterfang Palace.
It is children who bring hope to this troubled land. As the story unfolds it is Eska, a girl who is freed from her cursed music box, Flint, a boy who loves inventing and believes in the magic that others have abandoned, and little Blu, Flint’s younger sister, whom we follow on their quest to find the special song with the power to defeat the wicked Queen. Those who have read Abi’s Dreamsnatcher trilogy will be familiar with the excitement and drama that she includes so brilliantly in her stories and in Sky Song the epic nature of the children’s journey and the dramatic setting make the action scenes feel almost cinematic in their appeal. There are scary moments too but this is all handled at an appropriate level for the book’s target audience.
One of the things I think young readers will like about Sky Song is the way in which the child characters, despite the peril they face and the tasks they undertake, remain very much the children they should be. This undoubtedly adds to the sense of involvement for the reader who is more likely to readily identify with the characters. This is a book full of the wildness the author so loves and may well encourage her readers to make the most of the natural world around them. The relationship between the children and some of the creatures of Erkenwald is a thoughtful and appealing feature of the story.
The adventure is wonderful and has a feel of some of the stories I loved as a child particularly in the echoes of the Narnia books. I was gripped by the excitement of it and yet the quality of the writing and the thoughtful underlying themes of the book encouraged me to slow down and appreciate every page. Eska, Flint and Blu show great courage and bravery throughout the story and it’s lovely to follow the developing friendship between Eska and Flint. However even more important, I feel, is the way in which trust and acceptance are described and displayed. The tribes of Erkanwald have grown to fear and mistrust each other and yet as the story develops we watch as characters learn the importance of acceptance, understanding, kindness and trust.
‘’I think gentleness is a mighty word because you have to be strong of heart to be kind’’
At its heart this is a story about finding your voice and using it for good. No matter how small or insignificant you may feel each small voice makes a difference if you use it well and combine it with others. This is a comforting message for children and an important one for us all in today’s world.
‘’I don’t think people stop evil by staying hidden. I think they stop it by standing out.’’
Lastly this is a book bursting full of hope in dark times. In the book’s acknowledgements Abi Elphinstone has written about the personal background to this story. Her own experiences have added much to this special book. When I started to read this story I was feeling a little downhearted and worried and though I will never have to battle with wolves or defeat an Ice Queen as I turned the last page my heart felt lighter and I felt able to face challenges with more optimism. A children’s book had worked its magic.
Thank you very much to Abi and her publishers, Simon and Schuster, for sending me this review copy.
Scheme of Work linked to Sky Song
Abi Elphinstone, a former teacher, has generously created a scheme of work that teachers may use with pupils aged 8 – 12 linked to the book. This covers many different aspects of the story including the life of Innuits, research projects on Kazakh Eagle Hunters & climate change to language analysis tasks, PSHE links & tips on crafting dialogue. It is freely available to download from Abi’s website
The wonderful character of Eska is based on a Mongolian Eagle huntress named Aisholpan. Abi visited Mongolia when carrying out research for the book and you can read more about their adventures on Abi’s blog
In 2016 a documentary was produced about Aisholpan and you can read a fascinating article from the Guardian containing a link to the film’s trailer here
The stunning book cover illustrated by Daniela Terrazzini and designed by Jenny Richards deserves a special mention as it is just perfect and captures the spirit of the story beautifully.