Sunday 19 March 2017
BLUE JOHN by Berlie Doherty Reviewed by Adèle Geras
I very often have to start my reviews with the disclosure that I know the writer. In this case, it's even worse. Not only is Berlie Doherty a very old friend, I've also been published by Barrington Stoke, albeit a long time ago.
They are a ground-breaking company, dedicated to making things easier for those with reading problems, such as dyslexia. In the late 90s, their books with their characteristic off-white pages and clear type, together with stories that didn't lose in excitement from being simply written, were like a breath of fresh air.
They've broadened their output in the last few years and this book is one of a series called LITTLE GEMS. I remember BLUE JOHN as a picture book, long ago, but I've forgotten the details of the text so can't say exactly how much it's been changed it for this edition.
What remains is the story, which is a wonderfully evocative and poetic text, about a kingdom of darkness where the Queen makes a son out of the blue of the glacier and the gold of the sun. She calls him Blue John. As he grows, he wants, as all sons want, more than just his mother's love and the darkness he's been accustomed to. When he sees children exploring the caves, and meets a girl with a moss green ribbon in her hair, he is entranced and they dance together before the Queen of Darkness discovers them and calls him home.
She takes him back to the cave and rocks him in her arms:
"...she hummed a song that was like the murmur of ice stretching in sunlight. She rocked him in her quiet arms. Soon the deep sleep of her enchantment washed over him. His eyes closed and the purple-blue of their colour seeped into the stones. The golden yellow of his hair poured like the light of the sun down the walls of the cavern."
The girl comes looking for her dance partner but cannot find him. She goes into the cave and finds instead a blue and yellow stone, and takes it for herself. She can feel something like a heart beating in it and recognises her friend in what she's holding in her hand.
There is, of course, a real mineral called Blue John and Doherty has given a simple and beautiful reason both for the way it looks and for its very existence. There's also a factual note about it printed on inside of the back cover.
The illustrations are simple and striking and add to the beautifully-written story in an interesting way.
I think this will be a very welcome addition to many bookshelves and I recommend it for anyone who likes folk tales and legends.
Pub in pbk by Barrington Stoke Little Gems.
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