William Nicholson was the playwright who wrote “Shadowlands” and “Gladiator” so it may surprise you to read that The Wind Singer is a children’s book (or at least young adults). It is a dystopian fantasy, centred on Kestrel and Bowman Hath, twin sister and brother who live in the city of Aramanth with their mother, father and baby sister. In Aramanth everyone is ranked and housed according to their success or otherwise in examinations. From the first toddler test to check whether a baby can identify colours and is out of nappies to the advanced tests for the father of the family.
The Hath family live in the Orange sector which we would identify as being for blue-collar workers although they are obviously intellectually superior but don’t toe the line. Kestrel is strong and independent and always protects her sensitive, fey, twin brother Bowman. The whole Hath family are closely tied by love and are torn apart by a mistake made by Kestrel. She and her brother realise that the city will only become whole and normal if they can find the missing part of the Wind-Singer a strange tower erected by another race thousands of years before. Their quest takes them on a long journey accompanied by Mumpo, a very simple boy who loves Kestrel. Their journey, bravery and adventures make up the rest of the story. It sounds predictable but it is a compelling read and this is both a complete story in its own right and part one of a trilogy with very different, more demanding events in the next two books.
I think this is essential reading for today’s constantly tested young people, especially the children of competitive parents, but it is also a very enjoyable read for any adult who enjoys a fantasy read.
The Wind Singer at Amazon UK
For many years I had the joy of purchasing books for school libraries, mainly for the 7 to 13 age group. I read most of the books aimed at the 10+ group and delighted in many of them. Today I am looking back to a few gems.
Philip Reeve in his book Mortal Engines has created a glorious steampunk world which is utterly believable. Set in a future after the 60 Minute War, cities like London are on wheels acting as predators, feeding on smaller towns. Young engineering apprentice Tom and his unlikely companion Hester, an assassin, survive and mature as they travel from one dilemma to another. I was captivated by their world and rewarded by the follow up books.
The Wind Singer by Hollywood playwright William Nicholson is a dystopian novel inevitably compared with The Hunger Games although The Wind Singer was written several years earlier. Twins Kestrel and Bowman live in the well-ordered city of Aramanth which has lost its soul. They and their parents are all examined regularly on their studies and ability and this decides their rank in society. This is identified by the colour of their clothing and dictates their house and possessions. After Kestrel rebels, supported by her family, she and Bowman set out on a dangerous journey in search of the voice of the Wind Singer. Eminently suitable for children who enjoy fat books it is equally enjoyable for an adult reader.
Celia Rees writes books which make you think. Witch Child is a popular book told in the words of a young girl who emigrates to America in the 18th century after seeing her grandmother hanged for witchcraft but for me Celia’s best book is Truth or Dare. Told alternately in the words of 13 year old Josh and his mother Joanna it concerns the mysterious death of Joanna’s brother Patrick when he was a boy. Josh discovers that his uncle, Patrick, was considered strange by others, that he was obsessed by UFOs and that his mother feels tremendous guilt about his death. There is a developing friendship between Josh and the older girl next door, sadness while his grandmother lies dying and an exciting twist in the tail.
Lian Hearn has written several books in her Tales of the Otori set in a fantasy, magical Japan. Across the Nightingale Floor introduces us to 16 year old Takeo, heir to the Otori Clan who learns the skills of martial arts in order to stay alive. He meets Kaede, with whom he falls in love, but there can be no future for them together. The book is full of adventure, thrill and emotion.
Jamila Gavin is most famous for her epic Coram Boy which tells the tale of one of the orphans in Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital in 18th century London. It is a dark, sad story involving, murder of children, slavery and exploitation but there is also hope and happiness. She has also written a trilogy of books about a brother and sister who left India in 1947. The Wheel of Surya tells the story of Jaspal and his sister Marvinder who are caught up in the riots of Partition between India and Pakistan. Homeless and penniless (rupeeless?), they set out to find their father who had gone as a student to England at the end of the Second World War.