Sometimes, as you start reading a new book, you forget that you know the writer personally, finding yourself instead in the grip of a wonderfully well-written story. Who is it by? you vaguely think. Who? . . . Oh! . . .Of course! It’s So-and-so’s book! How nice! I’d forgotten that . . . What a pleasure!
Which is what happened as I read JACK FORTUNE AND THE SEARCH FOR THE HIDDEN VALLEY, a novel for 8-12 year olds, written by Sue Purkiss, co-editor of the Awfully Big Blog Adventure.
Inspired by the lives of 18th century plant-hunters, Sue has written a fast-moving historical adventure story. Jack Fortune, the young hero, is energetic and interestingly naughty. Bored and with no school to attend, he can’t resist devising tricks - ones that made me laugh - mostly on his stern widowed Aunt Constance and her guests. He is immediately likeable and trouble!
Jack accidentally causes real damage, so Constance summons her scholarly bachelor brother, Uncle Edmund, as it is his turn to take responsibility for his nephew. Uncle Edmund refuses.
Not only is he unused to children, but he is about to set off on his first plant-hunting trip to India. Jack, hearing this exciting news, wants to go along with Uncle Edmund and Aunt Constance, unable to take any more, agrees.
Jack and his uncle – and the reader – experience a new life full of challenge and interesting people and places. They sail to Calcutta, cross the great plain and travel through the jungle before reaching a high mountain kingdom with a hidden valley. All the way, Jack and his uncle face setbacks and dangers: vagabonds, wild animals, “mountain sickness” and, at last, reports of a huge, legendary being who attacks intruders to the Hidden Valley. Moreover, an unknown traitor is spoiling the expedition party’s food supplies and causing problems with local villagers. Who wishes them ill? Is it Sonam, their guide or Thondup, the heir to the throne, whom Jack has begun to admire?
Sue Purkiss’s plot moves along with plenty of pace and action and just enough description to fix the story in its historical time and place, and without overloading her young reader’s enjoyment. She also touches lightly and skilfully on darker issues such as servants and colonisation, but lets the bold adventure end as happily as it should.
However, I felt the book was about more than the plant-hunting quest: Jack and Uncle Edmund make a wonderfully odd and warm partnership, and the hardships met on the expedition teach them more about the other. Bookish Uncle Edmund slowly reveals his bravely determined nature and his passion for plant-hunting - especially for the blue flower that will restore the family fame and fortune. Meanwhile, faced with real demands and responsibilities rather than tea-parties and polite manners, Jack becomes the boy hero he was meant to be and is even able to accept his own inherited artistic gifts.
I liked JACK FORTUNE AND THE SEARCH FOR THE HIDDEN VALLEY very much because, despite the difficulties Jack and his Uncle face, the adventure is a positive and hopeful experience and one that might encourage children to look beyond everyday life and issues in school and out into a wider world.
Alma Books have also created some downloadable activities to support of this title: http://almabooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Jack-Fortune-Activity-Book.pdf
as well as an interview with the author Sue Purkiss: http://almabooks.com/interview-sue-purkiss-author-jack-fortune/
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