A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.I don't know about you, but I get really jump-up-and-down-excited when I discover a modern book that fits the criteria of 'living' - a book with excellent imaginative writing, original ideas, inspiring thoughts and an exciting plot.
I love it when I find a book that is loved by both Jemimah and her parents in equal measure. To find a book that is appropriate for her reading level is a bonus; as is a book with wonderful illustration and good sized print. If the book is somewhat related to Japan, it just gives it so many brownie points that we would seriously consider jumping out of our socks. Seriously.
Jemimah and I have been feeling bored. Probably me more than her, I'll admit, but when I get bored then it is super easy to pass that ennui onto her. Our problem is that we've ended up with a whole heap of historical fiction free-reads all together at the end of the year. All of them are really good books, but I'm afraid we've had enough of the American War of Independence to last us...well until the end of term, I'd say.
Of course, this type of boredom is easy to cure - just add in a few modern books into the mix. Instant cure-all, we've found. But what to read?
In a case like ours, the book had to be modern. And it needed to be living. It needed to be a gripping story about something - anything - except history. Or war. Or log huts. Or Boston.
Ah, isn't it great that living books are still being written?
Enter Michael Morpungo's Kensuke's Kingdom. How can you fail to get excited by a book as good looking as this one? Especially when this how it starts:
I disappeared on the night before my twelfth birthday. July 28 1988. Only now can I at last tell the whole extraordinary story, the true story. Kensuke made me promise that I would say nothing, nothing at all, until at least ten years had passed. It was almost the last thing he said to me. I promised, and because of that I have had to live out a lie. I could let sleeping lies sleep on, but more than ten years have passed now. I have done school, done college, and had time to think. I owe it to my family and to my friends, all of whom I have deceived for so long, to tell the truth about my long disappearance, about how I lived to come back from the dead.Michael's mum and dad work at the local brickworks. Until the letter, that is. The letter that tells them that they both used to work at the local brickworks. That kind of letter.
But there is another reason for speaking out now, a far, far better reason. Kensuke was a great man, a good man, and he was my friend. I want the world to know him as I knew him.
Anyhow, so what do you do when you both discover that you both used to work and now you don't? You buy a boat, don't you? Of course you do. A Peggy Sue. And then you learn to sail her, and then you sail off around the world. That's what I'd do if I received a letter like that. Truly. It's what Michael's parents do too.
And then one night, the night before Michael's 12th birthday, he falls overboard.
Along with his dog.
And his soccer ball.
As you do.
The terrors came fast, one upon another. The lights of the Peggy Sue went away into the dark of the night, leaving me alone in the ocean, alone with the certainty that they were already too far away, that my cries for help could not possibly be heard. I thought then of the sharks cruising the black water beneath me - scenting me, already searching me out, homing in on me - and I knew there could be no hope. I would be eaten alive. Either that or I would drown slowly. Nothing could save me.Only something does save Michael, because when he awakens, he's all alone on a tropical island. Or is he? Because somebody's bringing him breakfast every morning. And fresh water for Stella Artois too.
Kensuke's Kingdom is a magical novel. It is exciting and enthralling and peaceful and polite and adventurous. It it teaches you about friendship, and trust, and loyalty. I absolutely recommend it to you and your kids.
Best of all, there is not even a whiff of Benjamin Franklin.
Hokusai 葛飾 北斎 gets a mention though.