The first time we ever came across the author Gill Lewis was last year when someone kindly recommended her book Sky Hawk. The kids and I read it together and loved everything about the book. We actually used it as one of our English Literature books (you can download a free pack to go with the book). Everything about the story just really resonated with both of my kids. They loved the way she wove an animal story into a story about human relationships, they really felt the sad moments (someone died) and rejoiced in the happy moments. I knew we wanted to get more of her books, but with all the lockdowns happening, reserving books from our library and getting the ones that are really popular has been a bit challenging. But in the end patience won and last week we managed to get two more of her books – Scarlet Ibis and White Dolphin. We are going to use White Dolphin as our next English Literature book (we started it today) and we are reading the Scarlet Ibis for fun.
Wow. What a story. Not quite what I was expecting, I thought there would be more about the birds like in Sky Hawk, but even thought there isn’t, this story is brilliant. It one of the stories that every kid should read. It is a story about human relationships, about thinking you are alone and then finding people who care, it’s about not expecting the worst of people just because they are different or are from a different background and its about a sister’s love for her brother.
Scarlet (who is 12) and her brother Red live with their mother who is struggling with a mental illness. Scarlet is basically running the house, looking after her mother and her brother. She is the only person who her brother really trusts and she clearly has an incredibly strong relationship with him (her brother Red is autistic). Her brother loves birds and collects bird feathers. After a special day at the zoo (where her brother started talking and clearly had an amazing day) he ends up getting sick and needs to stay home from school. While he is home their mother falls asleep smoking and sets fire to the flat. Scarlet comes home from school to find her home destroyed and she is separated from her mom and more heartbreaking she is kept from her brother.
The story continues to follow Scarlet as she tries to put her new life together, in foster care with a new family. The family are kind and wonderful to Scarlet but she misses her brother and is very worried about him, so she sets out to find him. I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story but there is a happy ending in that Scarlet and her brother end up together, but I must mention they end up living with the new foster family and do not go back to their mother.
I do not know much about the care system in the UK but I really admired the way the author wrote about everything that Scarlet was going through. There was an honesty but at the same time a sensitivity about it. I also thought the way she wrote about Red’s autism was authentic, it showed the challenging side as well as the incredible kindness and attachment that autistic kids do have (I really appreciated this).
I thought this story dealt with some sensitive topics in a very real but kind manner. I think it is an excellent book for kids aged between 10 – 13. One that both of my kids will be reading and one that I highly recommend.