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Skellig by David Almond

David Almond’s children’s novel SKELLIG (1998) begins when Michael and his family move into a new house. In the crumbling garage at the end of the overgrown garden Michael discovers a mysterious young man, filthy and hungry, living under a pile of rubbish.  Michael and his friend Mina befriend the man, feed him and keep him secret.  But who is he? where has he come from? what are those things growing from his shoulders? Is he an angel? At the same time there is anxiety about Michael’s nameless, newly-born baby sister who hovers between life and death throughout the story. Beneath a deceptively simple, but exquisitely written and lyrical, surface there’s a lot going on.  There’s much about evolution and flying, William Blake and dreams, Chinese take-aways, prehistoric birds, blackbirds, owls and angels.  Not a great deal happens plot-wise, but it’s emotionally deep, and the book leaves echoes and teasing questions in the mind.  It was a clever idea of Almond to have Michael’s young friend Mina a bright, knowledgeable girl, enabling him to bring in references to Blake and Greek legends which underscore the book’s mythic elements.  Throughout the book the reader asks ‘who or what is Skellig?  We don’t find out the name of the new baby till the novel’s last word. This is a beautiful book, probably a classic. It won the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread prize. It was filmed with Tim Roth as Skellig.

I find it slightly odd that you have mentioned this book, Michael.  The other day when I was working at our local library and information centre I was specificall asked to look for Skellig which someone must have requested.  I didn't think to have a read of it though.  Despite others' reservations I think there are some great children and young adult books out there, very thoughtful and full of exciting language and often quite magical, both literally and figuratively.  I very much liked Holes by Louis Sachar, for instance.  And there are some excellent NZ authors in the field. I have just read Margaret Mahy's Memory for our book club (for the second time, as I recalled it so affectionately from an earlier read and we wanted something by this much-loved and recently-dead author); it was about a troubled teenager who ends up caring for an old woman with dementia who he comes across wandering at 3am.  A lovely study of how people of different ages, temperaments and experience can connect to some degree (and with some very humorous moments, such as when Jonny opens the fridge searching for something edible and sees in front of him a dead sparrow, which makes close the fridge door very rapidly).

Hello Caro,
I never stopped reading children's books when I became an adult and still read several a year. M.

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