An animal story with a difference Keeper of Secrets, Sarah J. Dodd’s debut, explores our relationship with wild animals and how nature can sometimes help to heal grief. This is a perfect, thoughtful winter read.
When eleven year old Emily arrives at Badger Cottage with her vet Dad shortly after the death of her mother she does not think that it will ever be like home for them both. Feeling lost and lonely and with her father coping with his own desperate sense of loss Emily is in need of friendship and kindness. In the midst of a local battle between a local conservation project to rewild the lynx in the woods and the local farmers who are against the initiative, Emily forges a friendship with a baby animal. She then has a mystery to solve and misunderstandings with new neighbours to negotiate and Emily gradually finds her life changing in ways she had not anticipated.
This story of grief, loneliness, friendship and compassion is told with a quiet understanding of young readers who may share Emily’s experiences or perhaps some of them. As an exploration of coping with grief and loneliness this is both kind and reassuring. Emily is quiet and sad but brave and resourceful too. Sometimes quiet books such as this one convey messages that speak to many children and the themes of re-wilding and country life are topical and interesting to young readers. It would prompt an interesting discussion on the different attitudes of those living in rural and urban neighbourhoods to nature and our relationships with it too. Both the characters and the conflict are written in a believable manner that adds to the understanding.
Sarah Dodd has combined an involving plot with a sensitive study of the effects of grief and loneliness in a book that is both accessible and enjoyable. It is an impressive achievement and I can see this book being popular with the upper primary age group and perhaps used as a class reader. The setting in a snowy, wood as Christmas approaches, beautifully captured in the writing, lends the story to a winter evening read and this would be a perfect book to curl up with.
I should like to thank the publishers, Firefly Press for my review copy. Keeper of Secrets was published in September 2021 and is available to purchase online at bookshop.org The publishers have created a comprehensive range of teaching resources which can be downloaded on their official website here.
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