About the Book:
A beautiful, illustrated adventure story with a classic feel, about a quiet boy and a talking crow on an extraordinary hot-air balloon ride to the Arctic.
“Matthew stood on the snowy peak and stared out at the world spread before him. Every picture in his books had been limited by the size of the page, contained within frames. Here, there was no frame. Here, the picture didn’t end. Beyond those icy plains, the sea, and beyond the sea, a land that floated on the ice, drifting northwards. Matthew put the binoculars to his eyes and saw valleys and cliffs and rivers all made of snow. Everywhere was white.”
Matthew has dreamed and read and thought about the North Pole for as long as he can remember. And he has done it secretly. It is a place that cannot be tarnished by the world in which he lives – a world in which he struggles to find answers and make friends, while everything seems to come easily to other children.
But one day, a crow called Lewis Carmichael lands at Matthew’s window – a crow who believes in Matthew in the most simple and ordinary ways. Soon, the unexpected voyage of a lifetime begins, and it will change everything…
An unforgettable adventure story from award-winning children’s book author Sofie Laguna, with enchanting illustrations by Marc McBride.
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released 31st August 2021
I don’t read a lot of children’s books these days now that my own three are all on the cusp of adulthood. I do miss reading aloud children’s chapter books, fantastical adventures that had all of them pleading for ‘one more chapter please’. All three of mine would have loved this story if it had been read to them when they were younger and it’s this knowledge that has me rating it with five stars, thinking of the story from the point of view of a child filled with wonder, rather than coming to it as an adult. When you’re a child, you don’t think of the logistics of flying to the North Pole in a hot air balloon, nor do you question the existence of talking birds. You just settle back and enjoy the ride. Oh, to be young again! I actually would have really loved this book when I was a kid too, thinking back. I was really into stories like this, adventures that took you out of the real world. The less realistic, the better. And I loved talking animals. That was a deal breaker when I was a kid.
I’m deliberately not going to pick this story apart and examine all of the themes and their proposed meaning. Rather, I’m just going to recommend it to parents and grandparents as a beautiful chapter book for children to read themselves or have read to them. Readership skews ages eight to twelve, give or take depending on your child’s reading ability and interests. In essence, the story is about a boy (Matthew) who feels like he is less than everyone around him. He feels the burden of his parents worry for him. They want him to go to the park to play, yet don’t want him to stay there too long in case something happens to him. In going on his adventure to the North Pole, Matthew is forced to take care of himself, make decisions, do things that his parents would normally do for him, and when faced with danger, no one is holding him back to protect him, he is left to use his judgement and protect himself. When Matthew returns from his adventure, it’s with a new sense of confidence within himself, a shedding of fear, in a way, and possessed with a motivation to experience things that he would previously have backed away from. There is a gentle reminder to parents who may be reading the book that children are like sponges, they absorb your energy, be it positive or negative. It’s hard not to think the worst is always around the corner. Yet children really do need to play and explore and just exist without bearing the burden of that worry for as long as they can. Goodness knows, once they reach adulthood, it’s all that’s facing them for the rest of their lives.
Illustrated by Marc McBride (Deltora Quest, World of Monsters) the story is brought to life in the most magical way. The illustrations are just exquisite, beautifully detailed and absolutely captivating. The book itself is truly gorgeous, printed in blue ink, both text and illustrations, a lovely touch that sets it apart from other chapter books. A compromise between being a colour picture book and a black and white chapter book, if you like. It must have been such a wonderful thing for Sofie and Mark to collaborate for this book and for Sofie to see her story come to life with each illustration Mark created. The magnificent Aurora borealis double page illustration definitely stole the show. A poster version of that to accompany the book would be a brilliant gift pack idea. I do highly recommend this book if you have children in your life. It is sure to become a treasured favourite for many.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
SOFIE LAGUNA’s many books for young people have been published in the US, the UK and in translation throughout Europe and Asia. She has been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Awards, and twice been awarded Honour Book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). She is also a highly acclaimed author for adults. Sofie lives in Melbourne with her husband, Marc McBride, and their two young sons.
MARC McBRIDE is the illustrator of Emily Rodda’s New York Times bestselling Deltora Quest series, which has sold over 18 million copies worldwide and has become an anime TV show. He has illustrated more than 200 book covers and 10 picture books, including writing and illustrating World of Monsters. Marc has exhibited with the New York Society of Illustrators, been shortlisted for the CBCA Awards and Aurealis Awards, and has won the Aurealis Awards twice.