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Book Review: Moonflight

If you want to foster a love of reading in a young child, give them this book


Gill Lewis, illustrations by Pippa Curnick

David Fickling Books, 306 pages

Being a grandfather is in some ways a double-edged sword. On the one hand, old age has draped itself around my shoulders like a not-always-too-friendly cat, on the other hand I had the entirely unexpected opportunity to investigate a few aspects of children’s literature, and what a pleasure it turned out to be.

The book under review will soon be in our granddaughter’s hands, but before we sent it off, I hugely enjoyed reading it to make sure that it is suitable for 8-10-year-old children, and by golly, what a good yarn it is.

Rats, so it seems, aren’t just rats. The seventh-born rat of a seventh litter is destined for adventure, danger and perhaps death, but timid little Tilbury Twitch-Whiskers, the seventh-born ratling of his mother’s seventh litter, living with his family among London’s Dockyard Rats, does not know it.

Or at least, not yet. Together with his sister Nimble-Quick he spends happy hours unsuccessfully trying to fashion a flying wing described two hundred years ago by a heroic rat called Bartholomew, revered by the Dockyard Rats. In spite of his curious mind, his mother has convinced him that his health is too precarious to leave his parental home for the outside world, as all young rats must do.

Fate soon catches up with him of course. He is not alone in his unexpected travels but is accompanied by his much more adventurous and strong-minded sister and soon by other rats, most of whom, were they human, I’d rather not invite over for a beer.

The reason for Tilbury’s daring exploits is the possession by the Dockyard Rats of a cursed black diamond, stolen two hundred years ago by Bartholomew who, realizing the implications of his theft, locked it in an impenetrable golden cage, together with instructions to return the gem to its rightful owners, whose identity of course only becomes clear at the end.

So far, so good, pretty standard fare for a kiddie’s book, I think – not that I am an expert on children’s (or any other) literature - but from here on the story gets really interesting, not only for the twists and turns in the plot line (which should keep kiddies on the edge of their seats with excitement), but underlying the thrilling adventures there are deeper messages which I hope my granddaughter will understand.

Tilbury, timid as he is, shows that a hero does not have to be strong and fearless – on the contrary, true heroes are those who defy dangers in spite of their fears.
The way Nimble-Quick and Rose are treated by, among others, Zekali (“There is nothing more troublesome than a clever she-rat with an idea”) sends a clear message about mysogyny and equality of the sexes; the Sand Rats’ rejection of the diamond neatly brings to the fore that material possessions aren’t everything.
Tilbury discovers Bartholomew’s past, which should help little readers realize that many great figures have feet of clay but may still be admirable.

For me, the most important idea the book brings home is to never blindly trust authority, partly as personified by the corrupt and self-indulgent Dockyard Rats Elders, but most of all when Tilbury realizes this: “The felinrats had ruled with fear… but the Golden Rats ruled with words. Maybe silencing someone’s voice was the most powerful weapon of all.”

There is death in the book, and although no gory details are given some parents may want to prepare their child for this.

If you want to foster a love of reading in a young child, give them this book.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 



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