This is a wonderful tale from Charlotte Lo, it’s utterly feel-good contemporary but has the nostalgia and freedom of vintage children’s stories like Swallows and Amazons, The Famous Five but without any problematic elements.
I know this is going to be a popular book with my girls and likely reread to bits when they get to the 7-9 in betweeny stage/ though it does have an enduring appeal beyond this too.
The humour, the grit and gumption of the children, the tenderness of the family’s struggle and the hope and determination to build a better future leaves the reader with a glow in the heart.
Luna has two wishes on her 10th Birthday; to have a pet (preferably a donkey) and for her dad to smile again. Both of which are pretty difficult as our story begins in a tiny London flat where the children’s father has descended into depression triggered by grief for his mother, mum is desperately trying to keep the family afloat moneywise and a landlord delivering an eviction notice.
In a moment of desperation, Luna enters a competition as an eccentric billionaire wants to giveaway a private island off the coast of Scotland and against the odds they win beginning an adventure with rickety boats, bats in the kitchen, yoga on the beach, a brother in a sheep competition and the determined battle to make a new start.
The harbour shrank behind us. With every wave we created, the island grew bigger and bigger. The trees became greener and the beach more golden. My heart beat faster.
The world that Charlotte has created has all the heady windswept and sun baked freedom of the best adventure stories, and the escapades that the family get into in the course of the novel range from exhilarating to cheeky to jaw dropping and then interactions with the local Scottish community are wonderful heartwarming. One of my favourites has to involve the ice cream van adventure.
Charlotte writes with genuine warmth and affection for her characters from the perspective of 10 year old Luna. The moments of dread and worry for their father juxtaposed against the big sister mortification at her little brother’s goat-escapades and the zeal to achieve their goals.With Margot’s Amelia Earhart aspirations and ability to galvanise to a task and Fabien’s delightful joy and embracing wholeheartedly what makes him happy makes a trio of lovable characters the reader wants to succeed and by the end of the book many may wish for their own private island.
Prickly seeds stuck to my T-shirt like Velcro, and a nettle stung my ankle. our island was a tangle of weeds, colourful flowers and zippy insects. It seemed like the field stretched on for ages, but suddenly the land tumbled away, and all I could see was the glittering water ahead.
Whilst it has a universal appeal this is particularly perfect for that difficult 7-9 stage in between the more illustrated early readers and the thicker middle grade but is often the realms of formulaic chain books (which have their place for building confidence through familiarity).
Nosy Crow have formatted this book very cleverly using an enlarged sans serif typeface which has the dual effect of making the book thicker to lessen the trepidation of moving on to thicker MG and easier for those still new to longer stories to read.
The whole thing sounded amazing… My heart fluttered with excitement.
One of my bookwishes is always for stories like this- the escape the RatRace ‘return to the land’ Durrell’s ‘My Family and other Animals’ type books, especially those where the people don’t necessarily have the money/former career to fund this. I think this maybe because we kinda did this on a small scale -not an Island though!
My mum and I would talk about what we would do when we won the lottery and it always involved moving away from London, buying a plot of land to fit us all and grow things. When Littlefae was born, it changed me- and my mum wondered if we could achieve our dream without winning the lottery. It’s massively scaled down, but we relocated, we have chickens and grow things and so this kind of book speaks to me that our efforts could be positive for the girls, although maybe not as much freedom as these children!!
Indeed the children get up to things that young readers may gasp at the characters having such freedom but it has all the echoes of the classic adventure books just without the questionable attitudes to race, gender, class and punishment- making this a great pairing with Clifftoppers by Fleur Hitchcock that has that similar dreamy nostalgia rooted in a strong modern mindset.
I love the concept behind this and I would love to see more adventures on the island, to see how the children grow and develop in this new setting.
We Won An Island by Charlotte Lo is published by Nosy Crow