Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?
Coming to this book as a retired primary school teacher, I rejoiced to hear the voices of these 5 different children and to read the response of their families to the school’s fairy tale project; but this story has a wider context allowing us into the homes of families from varied cultures, structures and beliefs in the turbulent context of post-Referendum Britain. Set in outer London at the beginning of a new school year, the protagonists all live within a few yards of each other, but initially have very little knowledge of their neighbours.
As the children bring home a letter about a future performance to involve all the pupils with perhaps the aid of friends or families, an incident occurs bringing two of the girls together. Alka, a quiet beautiful Indian girl spends time with clumsy, self-centred Sky, whose kind, slightly insecure mother, Teresa, attempts to unite the girls. Soon, Nathan, a bright Chinese boy will join them and their co-operation sparks great interest in the project. Nearby, Mandeep lives in a busy, happy household with his delightful grandma and in a small flat live Safiya and her daughter Xoriyo. Although Somalian, Xoriyo has grown up in England, but in this new school she has chosen to remain mute, concealing her intelligence and excellent English Through the experiences of Safiya, we witness the increasing racism and her struggle to relate to Teresa, whose attempts at friendship are awkward and embarrassing.
This is a book of humour, pathos and relationships. It is a story to give hope in our troubled times for understanding and education. Jessica Norrie has great perception and knowledge about the lives of our diverse society and although life is not a fairy tale, the parallels of monsters and happy endings are a lesson for us all.
The Magic Carpet can be found on Amazon UK
Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching creatively in multicultural schools, was published in July 2019, and she is working on a third. She divides her time between London and Malvern, blogging, singing soprano, and walking in the forest and hills.