Our wonderful volunteer John has recommended this week’s Read, Skellig by Reader patron David Almond.
This lyrical tale of a mysterious creature in the cobwebs is a profound book. Michael’s world is unsettled, his baby sisters are ill and his parents are desperately worried. Michael finds Skellig in the crumbling garage of his new house. But what exactly is this strange being that speaks of Arthur-Itis and ‘27 and 53’; who describes the foul beverage brown ale as ‘the sweetest of nectars’? What is he doing hidden away in the corner of a dilapidated building?
The narrative is compelling from the offset. It subtly feeds the reader little life lessons and promotes ideas about art and love. The messages are not didactic but are delivered with gentleness, as fragile as a butterfly wing. The books sensory descriptions for me, act as a simple exercise in mindfulness, encouraging the reader to think and appreciate the things around us.
Michael’s friendship with neighbour Mina who he confides in about the strange beast becomes his ally. She educates him about her alternative experience of education, being home schooled.
‘How can a bird that is born from joy/sit in a cage and sing?
To go to school in a summer morn,
O it drives all the joy away,
Under a cruel eye outworn;
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay!
I find that this element in the book is parallel to the experience of actually sharing a story within a reading group and how it is far removed from some of our restrictive experiences in education.
Humans are storytelling beasts and have been gathering together to share a story, instruct and entertain each other since cavemen days. Only now we do it here at The Reader around a cup of tea and a biscuit. In the groups something magical happens, a sort of alchemy, all are contributing just by simply being there and by, but not always necessary, sharing life experiences, thoughts and reactions. This energy serves to navigate the shared reading experience and make it something special. It can be freeing.
The book was the winner of The Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award and the Carnegie Medal when published in 1998.
David Almond, a patron of The Reader, believes that writing although difficult at times can feel like a kind of magic. ‘Stories are living things –among the most important things in the world’. I am certain that this tale will live on and continue to touch and grip readers for many years.