There’s a book that keeps disappearing from its spot on the A-J shelves of our local high school library.
A small novel that somehow has been smuggled through the security bars at the library exit. It’s had to be replaced at least three times.
So why this particular book? Is it the beautifully designed cover in tones of blue, white, black and fawn shafts of light and movement? Or maybe the Celtic lure of its title, or the intriguing blurb on the back cover? Or is it the magic of the story itself?
Skellig (1998) was British author, David Almond’s first story for children. It’s written in first person viewpoint of a young boy, Michael who is unhappy when his family moves to a ramshackle house in a new neighbourhood.
Michael’s parents are distracted because his new baby sister is gravely ill and this adds to his feelings of isolation and loneliness. But then he meets the unusual Mina, home-schooled and a loner, a girl who quotes William Blake and knows everything there is to know about birds.
Their lives change forever when Michael wanders into the derelict shed in his back yard and discovers under the rubbish, a crumpled, shrivelled creature that could be human or beast or both:
‘I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out, and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered in dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shone the torch on his white face and his black suit.’
Michael confides in Mina and they move the strange creature into a safe place. As the barely alive part-human/bird/angel responds to Michael’s gentle care both he and Mina are drawn into the wonder that is Skellig.
This brilliant novel has won many awards, both UK and international. It’s also been made into a play and this year a movie was made from the story.
David Almond said once that he wanted ‘to write for a readership whose minds are still fluid and flexible, readers who are able to easily mix reality and imagination’. But you don’t need to be a child to be captivated by the story of Skellig. His skill as a writer is evident in this thought-provoking, haunting tale of friendship, love, life and death – a book to own and treasure. Just like all of Almond’s books.
Not that long ago I checked the shelf again in The Gap High School library … and yes, the copy of Skellig had disappeared. No, I’m not the culprit!
Other books by David Almond include Kit’s Wilderness, Heaven Eyes, Secret Heart, The Fire Eaters, Counting Stars, and Kate, the Cat and the Moon, Clay.