Title: Sky Dancer
Author: Gill Lewis
Series: – –
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Age Range: 9+
Joe has always loved the moorlands above his home: the wildness, the freedom, the peace. But since his father died, everything has changed, and the moors are no longer a place of refuge.
Now the whole community is divided over the fate of the hen harriers that nest up there in the heather – and Joe is stuck right in the middle, with a choice to make, and a huge secret to keep. Joe can’t do what’s right for everyone. But can he find the strength to fight for what he really believes in?
Expert storyteller Gill Lewis presents a beautiful tale of loss, expectation, and change – with an important and thought-provoking environmental message.
Source: Review copy from Oxford Children’s Books via Amazon Vine
I am a huge Gill Lewis fan and have had a life-long passion for birds of prey, so when I saw that her latest book tackled the issue of hen harrier persecution in England, I was very excited to read it. This is a tricky subject, with passionate supporters on both sides, but I think Lewis did an excellent job of making her argument without too much preaching. And yet, it all made me feel unbearably sad – and this from a book with a hen harrier called Hope.
Joe is a conflicted boy. On the one hand he loves the moors and everything that moves across them, on the other his father spent his life managing the landscape for the benefit of red grouse. It was because of a hen harrier that his father ultimately died, and yet, Joe doesn’t think his father ever loved him and doesn’t really blame the bird for what happened. His brother is angry, his mother is working all hours and he’s largely left alone with all these emotions that he can’t quite work out, alienated from his friends and feeling persecuted by one teacher in particular. He’s grieving and confused and caught up in a conflict that doesn’t care about individuals and is only looking at the bigger picture. It makes Joe’s life a bit grim at times, yet there’s also wonder to be found.
The two sides of Joe’s life are beautifully presented in his friends, Ella and Araminta. Ella is new to the moors, she’s a city girl who doesn’t know a thing about the countryside, yet she’s also full of enthusiasm and love for the moors and hen harriers in particular. Araminta is an old friend, daughter of the landowner who employed Joe’s father. She’s rich and rather rude, but there’s more to her than her privileged upbringing and I loved seeing the three of them slowly come together over the issues they faced.
It would have been easy to have made this book an Us vs Them tale, with conservationists on one side and landowners on the other, one all good and the other all bad, but Joe is right in the middle of everything. He’s been brought up to revere the shooting, but he doesn’t always agree with it, and when he hears the arguments of his friends he does question things he thought he always knew.
The adults aren’t shown as entirely black and white either. In fact most of them are pretty murky. Araminta’s family are rich and entitled, but Joe’s conservationist teacher comes across as pretty uncaring towards him considering everything that’s happened. In fact the wider debate is only told in general terms, because this is a book about Joe and his grief and finding a way to a brighter future.
It’s another excellent read from this author, although the wide open ending left me sad because I wanted to know what Joe would do next. That aside, this is a perfect read for any animal loving readers – young and old – especially those with an interest in conservation. If you know any young readers like that, chances are they’ve already discovered Lewis’ books. If they haven’t, though, then a treasure trove awaits.
Sky Dancer is Out Now.
Visit Gill Lewis for more details.