How to review a book as clever as this one without giving away its secrets has given me pause for thought. Perhaps it could be summed up like this…I read this in one sitting, utterly captivated, and as I read the final sentence I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again. It asks questions about the human understanding of the concept of time, questions about our natural world and about our influence on events. It will encourage children to think and to care. All this in less than 200 pages!
Christopher Edge’s recent books for children have combined science including space travel, black holes and virtual reality with adventure and, sometimes, with hard hitting emotion. Charlie Noon’s story begins like so many before it with the words, “Once upon a time” but then asks what exactly is ‘a time’? The author then introduces the three children who one day decide to find out what lies hidden in the heart of the woods near their village. At first they enjoy the rural idyll and the descriptions of the natural world around them are evocative of long hot summers of childhood. However Johnny, one of the three has told them about the legend of Old Crony, a monster who lurks there unseen. As darkness falls rapidly and the three children become lost the tension mounts as the secrets of the wood, the dangers and the puzzles, whatever their cause, slowly increase the children’s fear of the unknown.
The storytelling in this book is so skilful that I was completely unprepared for some of the breathtaking events and surprises. What at first feels like a traditional adventure gradually evolves into something both thoughtful and thought provoking. By setting this story deep in a wood the reader is reminded of scary woods in other children’s stories. Who among us has not at one time gasped at the idea of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood or hidden in terror at the thought of the witch in Hansel and Gretel both set in similar woods to these that Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny explore. These familiar fears return as you read. However Christopher Edge balances this with descriptions of a natural world that can also be a solace and a place of great beauty. We witness this through the eyes of Charlie, a child who is knew to the great outdoors and this will mirror the attitude of some of the book’s readers.
It is the playing with the idea of time and our place in it that I found most intriguing. I love the way that this author uses story to introduce children to scientific concepts and feel sure that it will capture young readers’ imaginations in the same way that it captured mine.
The development of the three main characters throughout the story is well done and these children feel very real. The plot is masterly in its twists and I absolutely loved the ending. This is a children’s book of intelligence and emotion and highly recommended. The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is a book that will make children think and ask questions but will encourage them to care and to take notice of the world around them too.
Thank you very much to Clare Hall-Craggs and Rebecca Mason and Nosy Crow Publishers for providing my free review copy and the beautiful finished book with its stunning cover by Matt Saunders.
If you are new to Christopher Edge’s books I can highly recommend The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day