Monday, 18 January 2016

The Seal's Fate, written by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by Victor Ambrus, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

Full Size CoverThis is a beauty of a book both as a physical object and as a short story with depth and punch.

            Thirteen year old Bobby Parish is faced with a choice, to follow his family and community’s wishes that he kill the baby seal in front of him, or to disappoint them and to follow his conscience and let the seal live.  Set in an Irish fishing village when a ‘plague’ of seals is breaking nets and eating the fish on which the people’s livelihood depends, Bobby’s dilemma is real and urgent, and resonant for all of us facing situations in which right and wrong are not clear to see.  I’m not going to give the story away, but I will say that the end of the book made me cry … in a good way. 
            Eoin Colfer has written this story in bite-sized chapters, but his writing is in no way compromised in order to fit the Barrington Stoke brief of writing for eight to twelve year olds who struggle with reading.  Swearing is there, as in real life, and challenging vocabulary is also there (‘quay’, ‘rapport’, ‘telepathic’, ‘effluent’, for example), but supported by clear context.  Supported too by the design of the book.
            Chunky and handsome, this book feels and looks special.  The good quality (slightly grey rather than the usual Barrington Stoke cream) paper is nicely heavy to hold, and the cover is trimmed with shiny gold.  Victor Ambrus’s illustrations are in full colour throughout, and we’re treated to full colour endpapers that set the fishing village scene before the story even starts.  The whole production is generous, giving plenty of space for the text to be set out clearly, and use is made of page turns to dramatic purpose in the way more commonly seen in picture books. 
            I loved Hester Burton’s historical novels illustrated by Victor Ambrus when I was a child, and my heart flipped when I recognised his style on this book’s cover.  It’s so good to see him illustrating still, and at his very best, into his eighties. 
            This book is one of Barrington Stoke’s new Conkers imprint, bringing top storytellers and illustrators together to create high quality and very readable books.  I look forward to seeing and reading more of them!  


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