This is a beautiful book about the transformative power of stories which will in turn be able to offer the gift of consolation and hope to its readers.
Isla and her Mum and Dad have moved to the Isles of Orkney following the death of Isla’s beloved five year old brother, Corey. Isla’s mother’s relatives are from the islands and her father’s family was originally from Africa and the little family had previously lived in Edinburgh. Ten year old Isla is struggling to cope with all the changes; adapting to country life after the city, a new school and classmates but, most importantly, with the loss of her little brother. It is the discovery of the ancient folklore of the Selkies that gradually opens the doors to recovery for Isla. She learns about these strange half human half seal people and the links to the sea that surround the islands. Slowly these stories provide the key to acceptance and the understanding that life will continue for Isla and her family.
This is a beautiful and profoundly moving story that as a reader provoked in me a feeling of stillness. The writing is almost poetic and the weaving together of the different strands is smoothly and skilfully done. Jane Ray’s simply beautiful illustrations are an integral part of the story. It was the wonderful cover that attracted me to the book initially. The family silhouetted against the horizon with the expanse of sea behind is both eye catching and moving. The love between the parents and the child is apparent and yet there is a feeling of sadness too. It made me want to find out more about these people. Throughout the book the illustrations highlight both the emotional impact and also the importance of the sea in the story. Personally I find the sight of the sea soothing and at times of grief or sorrow the expanse of ocean and its permanence can provide comfort. Jane Ray has captured this feeling perfectly. The colours convey both the sight of the sea and the warmth of the family home and the gradually lightening as the family start their recovery.
I liked the kindness shown by individuals in Isla’s recovery in particular the lovely librarians who lend her the selkie story initially and Magnus the thoughtful, gentle boy in her class who befriends Isla. There are many themes touched upon in this gentle book including home, family, loss, grief and the suffering of those fleeing their own homes and countries. The book has been endorsed by Amnesty International for illuminating human rights values.
Tenderly written and beautifully illustrated this story of grief, loss, acceptance and ultimately hope is a quiet but wonderful example of the power of stories. It would be a valuable addition to school library or classroom shelves where it would help children dealing with their own grief or help other children understand a classmate’s experience. It may help adults too.
This website provides details of the origins of selkie folklore which you may find interesting.