Nura and the Immortal Palace

Nura and the Immortal Palace
Walker Books

Clever, ambitious Nura lives in the fictional Pakistan town of Meerabagh. Since her father died she has worked mining mica to help support her family – her mother, her three younger siblings and herself. In the mine too, toils her best friend Faisal, often teased for his stutter by other child workers. Nura’s mother dreams of sending her to school, but Nura is more interested in treating herself to gulab jamun from her wages and more important saving up to send her younger siblings to school so they can break free of the family’s cycle of poverty. She also wants to find the legendary Demon’s Tongue buried deep within the mines; so doing would certainly solve all the family’s money issues.

When a terrible accident happens burying among others Faisal, Nura goes to the rescue and in so doing she digs too deep causing the earth to collapse over her friend. Digging even deeper, even further to save him, lands Nula in the realm of the jinn, at the opulent Sijj Palace, a jinn hotel. There she finds Faisal, and the two face trickery from the evil jinn, who offer luxuries untold and attempt to manipulate human children into labouring for the hotel; indeed nothing is as it seems. Can Nura outsmart the jinn, thus saving herself and her friends?

Into her wonderful storyworld building, in addition to friendship and magic the author skilfully weaves observations on child labour and poverty, and systems that maintain inequality that are relevant today. The narrative is fast paced and full of action, and with a wealth of lyrical imagery, this superb fantasy shines like the mica glistening in the sunlight that Nura mentions as the story starts. The cover illustration by Hazem Asif is fabulous too. I can’t wait to see what this debut author writes next.

(In her note at the end of the thought-provoking book, she talks of both child poverty in today’s world and of the importance of education as a way of escape from poverty, discrimination and war.)

A Different Dog

A Different Dog
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

When I taught children in KS2, Paul Jennings was one of our favourite authors. His short stories from Unreal, Uncanny, Unbelievable etc. and with younger audiences,The Cabbage Patch Fib, were always much requested both as class read alouds and for individual consumption.. I’ve not kept up with his output of late but was instantly drawn into this one and read it in a single sitting.
It’s a novella, quite unlike any Jennings’ I’ve read before and for such a short book, it spans a great many themes including poverty, loss, cruelty, bullying, trauma and its effects, determination and resilience.

The boy narrator is something of a loner; he doesn’t speak and is tormented by other children. The story opens with him dressing himself in his mother’s pink parka, adding a black bin bag on top and setting out to take part in a charity fun run, determined to win for his mother’s sake especially.

En route to the venue in treacherous weather, the boy sees a road accident and although he is unable to save the driver of the van, he is determined to see the dog to safety.

His subsequent journey, both physical and mental is gruelling yet ultimately uplifting.

Compelling and tersely written – every word counts –this is a book to hold you in its thrall even after you’ve put it aside. Geoff Kelly’s black and white illustrations are atmospheric and powerful.

This is a book that deserves to be shared and discussed widely in school, at home, by teachers and other educators, those who work as speech-language pathologists, (I was interested to learn that the author has worked in this field) and in particular, it offers rich potential for a ‘Community of Enquiry’ type discussion.

I’ve signed the charter