Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reading: Skellig by David Almond

Nick Hornby on an Art and Literature podcast made a speech titled Why All Fiction Should Be Young Adult Fiction.  It was a very fascinating speech and it introduced me to the novel I am about to review - Skellig by David Almond.  Hornby claimed that Skellig is the best book in children's literature today and I can definitely see the appeal the book has not only to adults and writers like Hornby but to children as well.

“‘See how school shutters you,’ she said.  ‘I’m drawing, painting, reading, looking.  I’m feeling the sun and the air on my skin.  I’m listening to the blackbird’s song.  I’m opening my mind.  Ha!  School!’” 
Skellig is about a young boy named Michael who has just moved to a new home.  His baby sister has just been born but is premature and very ill, leaving Michael in a state of extreme confusion and isolation.  A shed sits in the back yard near the garden and Michael goes inside despite his parents warnings that the foundation is unstable when he comes across a man who is soon called Skellig.  The only person Michael shares this information with is his neighbor Mina.  Together, Michael and Mina help Skellig and in the process they get to know him while all the while getting to know each other and themselves.

“‘It’s for confident readers,’ I said. ‘It’s to do with reading age.’  ‘And what if other readers want to read it? … And where would Williams Blake fit in?’ said Mina.  ‘ “Tyger!  Tyer! Burning bright/In the forests of the night.”  Is that for the best readers or the worst readers?  Does that need a good reading age?’  I stared back at her.  I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to get back over the wall and go home again.  ‘And if it was for the worst readers would the best readers not bother with it because it would be too stupid for them?’ she said.”
I can definitely see why this book is considered the best of the best of children's literature.  The issues it tackles are very large and adult and yet Almond crafts the story in a very child-like way and forces the reader to question life and the things that are involved in it.  Almond's writing is very simplistic which very much mirrors Michael's mindset and therefore makes the story that much more complicated because we see Michael struggling to find answers that his young mind just can't grasp just yet.  Can't we all relate to that struggle in some way.

“‘Sometimes we just have to accept there are things we can’t know.  Why is your sister ill?  Why did my father die?’  She held my hand.  ‘Sometimes we think we should be able to know everything.  But we can’t.  We have to allow ourselves to see what there is to see, and we have to imagine.’” 
Another thing I liked about this book was what it said about education and the supernatural.  I will never give into what some say - that children's literature is not worth an adult's time.  On the contrary, Almond seems to be writing a narrative that outright goes against the public school system and is speaking out against it through the retelling of Michael and Mina's story with Skellig.
The story seems to speak to the reader about the nature of belief and why we believe in certain things.  Almond is calling the reader back to innocence - to see the angelic wings on the ugly supposed demons in our lives.  He is calling back the readers inner child.
Overall, this was an excellent read.  While I really enjoyed it, I can't say it is the outright best children's literature book I have ever read.  I've read plenty of children's books that say just as much about life as Skellig does, just different subject matter.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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