Izzy and Asha live in the city and don’t have a space to call their own. A space where they can practise with their skateboards without the Skull brothers watching them. A space where they can escape from the difficulties at home. When they find their way into the derelict gasworks the girls think that they have found the perfect place but something else has already made this their space. Something different, unexpected and wild. An injured wolf that needs their help. As Izzy, Asha, Izzy’s younger brother Connor and his friend Jakub try to plan what to do to save the beautiful animal they discover a world they had forgotten existed and a feeling within themselves that they thought they had lost for good. They discover a world of freedom and wildness.
This is a thought provoking story highlighting the need for children to experience nature first hand, to be able to roam free and to notice the wildlife hidden in the urban landscape. This natural bond between children and nature is in danger of being lost and Barrington Stoke, Gill Lewis and the charity Rewilding Britain have joined forces to work together on bringing this issue to the notice of the world. The story itself is wonderfully told, vividly creating the hidden world that the children discover together. Each character responds to the situation in subtly different ways and I particularly liked Connor’s enthusiasm for each new discovery and his happy drawing of everything as if he wanted to capture it forever. The children are resourceful and show commitment to what is important to them as they fight to save the landscape from developers and create instead a nature reserve to be shared by the local community. The various strands of the story incorporating family life’s worries and the wildness the children so enjoy are brought together in a climax that is resolved beautifully. I think this is a wonderful story drawing attention to an important issue and accessible to many readers. This would be a great book to prompt discussion and further learning.
Q & A With Author Gill Lewis
I am very happy to welcome Gill to my blog today where she will be answering some of my questions about Run Wild, the inspiration behind the story, her love of wildlife and how her readers can get involved in the protection of the natural world in their own communities
LL: The theme of Run Wild is a very important one and your books have featured wildlife in many forms. How do you hope reading books such as yours will make a difference to young readers?
GL: I hope the book will let readers realise that they belong in wild space. So much of our wild space is in designated national parks. It sets nature as something that happens elsewhere; somewhere you have to go to. It becomes something other, and can make people feel they are excluded from it. I hope my books allow readers to see themselves in wild space, be it urban, suburban or more rural areas. Within these areas, space can be given over to wildlife. We have this obsessive desire to keep things neat and tidy; cut hedgerows, mow lawns, have tidy weed-less borders. Even worse are AstroTurf lawns. The constant weeding and strimming strips gardens of useful feed plants and shelter places of many insects and birds. It’s time for children to take over the garden, reclaim the wild and to know that they are part of the landscape, not separate from it. Imagine across the country if every garden and roof terrace and park had wild space. Just imagine what we could have.
LL: The derelict gasworks hide a natural landscape that offered so much to the children in the story. Was this setting inspired by somewhere you know or visited as a child?
GL: My love of wildlife began on a piece of suburban scrubland. I grew up on the outskirts of Bath. We had a long steep garden where brambles and grasses were allowed to grow wild and untamed at the far end. Beyond the garden, through a hole in the fence, lay The Woods. They weren’t really proper woods, but council owned land that had been left to grow wild and straggly. I used to go to The Woods with my friends. It was a place away from parents and the safety of our gardens. The only rule was to be home in time for tea. The Woods to us seemed vast and endless. In truth they were probably less than an acre. The uneven wooded land was pitted with old bomb craters from WWII. There were secret tunnels through brambles into the heart of thickets where we would share sherbet dips, taking turns to lick the lolly. It was a wild place of wild creatures: the musky scent of fox, blackbirds, sparrows, crows, and cooing collared doves. We found frogs and toads in the water that ran from the hills through the storm drain. We knew we should never enter the storm drain because a dragon lived there. It howled with the wind on dark nights and ate children who unwisely ventured in. (At least that’s what we had been told). There were other tribes who frequented The Woods and we often had to battle with them, flinging our mud pies and insults. If there were more of them than us, we would flee back to the safety of our gardens. If there were more of us than them, we would chase them out and claim The Woods as our own. It was a place to be ourselves. It was a place to be wild. Nearly forty years on, The Woods no longer exist. Where the brambles ran wild, there are now houses with neat, trimmed gardens. I suspect even the dragon has gone. So where do the children who live in these houses play now? There is the park, but the green space is monitored and tidy. The road where we once ran and practised our bicycle stunts is now lined with cars and too dangerous to play in. There is less space for children to play and roam, to simply be. And if children lose the chance to immerse themselves in wild space they lose the opportunity to connect with it and feel a part of it, and that will have a huge impact upon future generations. Like the plants and the animals, children need wild space to grow too.
LL: The wolf is very much at the heart of Run Wild. Wolves have featured in children’s stories for many years. Did you choose it for this reason? Did you consider another creature as the focus point?
No. It was always a wolf. Wolves have been part of folklore of many countries over the centuries. They have been vilified. They were persecuted to extinction in many countries, but are now making a come back in places such as Spain, France and Germany. Many people now feel a deep connection and affection for wolves. Maybe in our safe and dulled lives, wolves offer that sense of wildness that belongs somewhere deep within ourselves. Maybe the domestication of the dog offers us a view into a wild animal we have a familiarity and bond with. I think it is probably this reason why the wolf chose me to write this story, rather than me choosing the wolf!
LL: I have long admired Barrington Stoke’s books as they are so accessible for many children. As this is your debut for them did you have to adapt your writing style in any way?
GL: I was delighted and really honoured to write for Barrington Stoke. I really struggled to read as a child. I don’t recall any testing for dyslexia back then. All I remember is that I couldn’t progress from the Ladybird Books. Many people have nostalgia for the Lady Bird reading scheme, but I just remember frustration. The stories were so dull to me, about a boy and girl buying shoes or having a picnic in the garden and I wanted to read about fantastical adventures. I somehow felt that I was excluded from being able to go through the wardrobe with Lucy in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It turned me off books until I found the Tintin adventures where there were great stories and accessible text and illustrations. I wish the Barrington Stoke Books had been available when I was a child as they offer a wide variety of great stories in such an accessible way.
I didn’t have to adapt my writing style too much writing Run Wild. The editorial process was very interesting. Some of the sentence structure was simplified, and the story had less word count than my other novels, but the heart of the story never changed.
LL: Would you ever consider writing a book without an element of the natural world within the plot?
GL: Hmm! I think there will always be an element of the natural world within the plot even if there isn’t an animal central to the plot. I can’t imagine my life without it, so I think it goes into my stories.
LL: Have you any advice for children who would like to get involved with the protection of wildlife and nature in their local environment?
GL: There are lots of interesting projects especially through the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. I think the biggest impact can be through starting off with what is around you. Whether it is a balcony window box, a garden or a communal space there is always somewhere you can allow to become part of the wild. If you have a garden let one area go wild: put in little pond, let the nettles and brambles grow. Don’t mow all of the lawn, allow a wildflower meadow to flourish. You’ll be surprised how quickly the wild things come. Add nesting boxes, logs piles and stone piles. Build a hedgehog shelter. If you make a den it can be an escape; a place to just be, to daydream, to read books, draw or snooze and watch the clouds or stare up at the stars. Wildlife should not just be contained within nature reserves. It should be part of our everyday world.
Thank you very much, Gill, for taking the time to answer my questions with so much detail and enthusiasm. I loved the stories of life in ‘The Woods’ which took me back to my own childhood. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Run Wild prompted more of today’s children to experience that magic themselves!