This weekend saw the first meeting of the book club of the year, which as always was a great night out. Over the years that we have been meeting we have read pretty much every genre of book; classics, contemporary, sci fi and sly fi (!), poetry, graphic novels as well as novels from different countries and cultures. What we have never done up till this point is read a book that is solely aimed at children, which is how we came to be reading Michael Morpurgo.
When reading this book I reflected very much on the state of children’s literature. Of course when you start out with your kids you will, if you are anything like me, read to them as much as possible and surround them with great fun books so that hopefully they will come to love the written word and all the escapism, adventure and knowledge that good books can provide. As they get older they begin to find their own likes and you end up reading to them less as of course they don’t need you to do this. However this means that you have much less knowledge of children’s books. What I have realised though is that with the likes of Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, JK Rowling, Philip Pullman etc great stuff is being written for our younger ones to discover.
In Shadow I was amazed at the breadth of subject matter that was covered in an intelligent way all wrapped up in a great story. The main character Aman is an asylum seeker from Afghanistan and is detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre awaiting deportation to Afghanistan with his mother. His story unfolds as told through his friend Matt and Matt’s Grandad who go to visit him and begin to understand why he is there and all that his family has been through. So complex themes unfold: why is there a war in Afghanistan, different religions and ethnicities, death and grief, people trafficking, asylum, corruption and war to name a few. Now that might seem a grim read but it’s anything but, Morpurgo handles the story brilliantly and while doing so brings more light to the subject matter than many British newspapers and never patronises his readers.
Of course in reviewing the book the book club was split as it is after all a children’s book and we are looking at it through adult eyes, however what I do know is that children’s literature is in very safe hands if books of this quality are being written for them to discover.