I was hooked by this story from the very first page; there’s something magical about Susanna Bailey’s lyrical prose that gently draws you in and keeps you turning the pages right through to the end. The narrator is Luke, led by his mother to believe that holidaying on a remote Scottish island with his photographer mother is just the thing to help them get over a break-up with Luke’s dad. The place promises outdoor summer delights, she tells him.
The boy’s first reaction is far from favourable – the island children seem hostile, but he does strike up a conversation with a girl who introduces herself as Meghan -Meg for short – and says she lives in a dilapidated boathouse on the beach. He later hears of her absent parents – marine biologists – and that she’s residing with her Grandad who seems rather muddled, calling the boy David, mistaking him Meg says for her own father. A puzzle for sure, thinks Luke. Even more puzzling is when Grandad later says, as he looks skyward, “Remember laddie … Remember the Otters’ Moon.”
Next day, despite her instructing him not to, Luke follows Meg to a distant rocky outcrop where there are puffins. Displeased at his appearance, she realises Luke is determined to stay at this hidden place and tells him that there are also otters in Puffin Bay, although nobody but she knows of their return. She tells him too that her parents both disappeared without trace off this coast.
With a hint of hostility, a friendship develops between the children, Luke also raw about the absence of his father, becomes more observant of and concerned for, his mum; and he wonders whether Meg’s situation, with its strange secrets, is as bad as his own. Slowly, slowly he starts to change his mind about the island: perhaps it isn’t quite the boring place he first thought.
Then the two children (“city boy” and “island girl”) manage to rescue an injured orphan otter pup, incapable of surviving on its own and they name it Willow. But it’s no easy task taking care of the creature and preparing her to go it alone in the potentially dangerous waters.
Just to complicate matters, Luke learns that his new baby sister is very poorly and needs an operation to survive. Shortly after though, it’s Luke’s survival that is in question and there’s only Willow to depend upon.
As the wonderful, poignant story ends, the visitors prepare to leave the island, but we see that some things endure: hope, friendship and love can transcend the most challenging circumstances.
The Tipple Twins and the Gift
Matador Children’s Books
The Tipple twins are the only identical twins in England, all other twins having mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again. Also mysteriously disappeared is the twins’ elder sister Caitlin, whom nobody has seen for two years.
Suddenly, out of the blue, who should arrive but their Uncle, Aunt and their daughter. The parents announce that they’re off to to Egypt, demanding that Beatrice stay with her cousins as she’s been discovered using magic at school, hence the hasty exit. Then comes the news: all three girls are to start at Chumsworth School, a very dark place so Boo, their ‘pet’ ghost informs the twins.
On arrival they’re greeted with warnings about avoiding a certain room thirteen, the whereabouts of which nobody seems to know. They quickly learn that the head, Miss Snippings, has a particular aversion to identical twins. With the feeling of a hidden presence watching them things get increasing strange . Then Miss Snippings announces that the end of term play will be about the Salem Witch Trials. When she discovers that identical twins have just joined the school, Jenna and Jessica know that big trouble lies ahead. Already they’re being victimised by their head teacher; but who is she really? And what does she want with the twins?
Occasionally nightmarish, but not overly so, this atmospheric story is full of foreboding but there’s some humour too; for KS2 readers who like their fiction dark and mysterious.