Magpie is an orphan living off her wits as a pickpocket in the back streets of Annonay in France when a chance encounter with a boy dangling from the sky changes her life forever. She goes to the rescue and finds herself afloat too and for the first time ever she forgets about hunger and cold and feels strong, brave and truly alive. By impulsively rushing to help Pierre, Magpie finds herself involved with his family, the Montgolfiers, who are in a race to be the first to invent a flying machine. As events unfold Magpie and Pierre are sucked into a world of danger, spies, duels and royalty.
Inspired by Neal Jackson’s winning entry to The Big Idea Competition in 2014 this is an exciting adventure full of thrills and intrigue but hope, determination and friendship too. Emma Carroll’s skill as a writer ensures that she makes historical events from more than two hundred years feel fresh and relevant to today’s young readers.
Set in 18th Century France at the time of Louis XVI this enthralling story has a simply wonderful cast of characters, both human and animal. Magpie and her pet rooster, Coco and Pierre and his much loved duck, Voltaire, are endearing and entertaining and their developing friendship and growing trust is well written and believable. I love Magpie. She is intelligent, resourceful, brave and despite her background kind and caring too. As the story progresses the way in which Magpie quietly observes and learns from things around her means that the reader accompanies her as she discovers scientific details that will help in the family’s quest to be the first to soar into the sky. This is a fabulous way of incorporating science into children’s fiction and readers will learn the basics of flight without realising it. There is a wonderful baddie too and she and the clever plotting and secrets gradually revealed add to the suspense.
The author’s attention to historical detail, as ever, is great and the book brings to life a period of history that today’s children probably know little about. The inclusion of Marie Antoinette is brilliantly and amusingly done. I think this story would encourage children to find out more about the period, an added bonus of good historical fiction for this age group.
Emma Carroll incorporates the underlying themes of loyalty and a sense of belonging with care and this is a thoughtful read in addition to an exciting one. This is a must have for primary school libraries and classrooms, ticking all the boxes. For various reasons I had been suffering from a bit of a reading slump and this book, although for children, engaged me and got me back on track so I’m grateful to Emma for that too. This is a great book for ages 8 – 80.
Last but definitely not least a word of thanks to David Litchfield for the fabulous cover which captures the spirit of the story so well.
Another fabulous historical novel by Emma, this time set in World War Two, is Letters from the Lighthouse which I have reviewed here