Skellig by David Almond

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Skellig by David Almond

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Skellig is David Almond's debut novel. With it, he earned the reputation of being the magical realist for children. It's a wonderful book, but a challenging one and even the most confident readers would probably need to be at least ten before they were ready for it. It's a sensuous, magical book and a fantastic introduction to David Almond's work.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: August 1998
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1444914758

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Note: Wow. I wrote this review more than a decade ago. Since then, Skellig has been chosen as a Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book. It's been adapted into a play directed by Trevor Nunn, an opera, and a film starring Tim Roth. It's sold more than 1 million copies. David Almond wrote a prequel, My Name Is Mina, which was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. And now it's been reissued in a beautiful 15th anniversary edition, clothbound and including essays, William Blake poems and a short story. It's an heirloom edition. Really. Reading back this review, I know it doesn't do Skellig justice. If you haven't already, you should read it. Whoever you may be.

Onto the review...

Michael's life is turning upside down. His mother has just had a baby - a new sister for him. But she was an early baby, far too early, and she's very, very ill. She's is in and out of hospital and there is a great fear she might die. His mother and father are distraught and they're living in a tense atmosphere of fear and worry. They're a close family but it's hard to keep it all together under such circumstances and sometimes Michael feels lonely and left out. Then he feels guilty for being so heartless. Making matters worse is that they've just moved house, right across town. Michael elected to stay at the same school but he needs to take a long bus ride to get there and he can't just walk out of his house to join a football game with his friends any more. The house is in need of complete renovation too and it seems to Michael as though all his familiar comforts have deserted him.

And then, one day, Michael goes into the derelict garage at the bottom of the garden. It's an adventure - he's not allowed down there at all for the structure is dangerously unstable and could collapse at any time. While he's exploring Michael discovers another derelict - it's a man living in the garage, feeding himself on the flies and spiders he finds within. It's Skellig. Skellig begs him to tell no one that he's there and instinctively Michael senses that there's something strange, something special about this scruffy, ragged man and he keeps the secret from his parents. He tries to help Skellig, although he's half afraid and half excited, bringing him medicine and food and drink.

One evening whilst sneaking food down to the garage he tries to help Skellig to a more comfortable position and discovers that he has wings on his back. What is Skellig? Is he a man? Or an owl? Or an angel? Michael doesn't know but he knows he can no longer help Skellig alone. He can trust only Mina with his secret. Mina is the child of their eccentric new neighbours. She and her mother are rather unconventional and Mina doesn't go to school, she's educated by her mother under the guidance of the writings of William Blake. It's interesting to see that a strictly formal education is questioned in Skellig and rather than found wanting is found incomplete. Older children and adults will see that I think. Mina is fascinated by birds and she's fascinated by the surreal and she's happy to try to help Michael help Skellig.

And then Michael's baby sister becomes very ill:

I closed my eyes and tried to discover where the happy half of me was hiding. I felt the tears trickling through my tightly closed eyelids. I felt Whisper's claws tugging at my jeans. I wanted to be all alone in an attic like Skellig with just the owls and the moonlight and an oblivious heart. And then Dad's car came, with its blaring engine and its glaring lights, and the fear just increased and increased and increased.

I think that's perfect writing for children. See the short sentences? Now you have to read it aloud - can you feel the rhythm of the words? THAT'S how you write for children. But also - there is an emotional impact there that will strike children and adults alike. The funny parts are just like that too, just as good. In his author's note David Almond says: Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic. I think that stories are living things - among the most important things in the world. Well, I think he's right but I also think that gives you a better clue to his writing than I ever could. It's modern and his children certainly live in today's world but it's also magic. Skellig feels like an old story, one that's been told for countless generations, one that's a part of an oral tradition, part of folklore, part of all those stories that are older than any of us, it feels like it's one that's been finally written down for the generation of listeners who want to read too. The scenes of Michael and his friends playing football will strike an immediate chord for anyone with sons yet those where Michael and Mina dance in the air with Skellig are mystical, poetic, dreamlike and the magic is made stronger because the story is anchored so firmly in the real world. If you'd like an adult reference then I suppose perhaps Almond is the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of children's literature.

I cried at Skellig, I laughed at Skellig, I started reading it and I didn't put it down until every page was turned and read. When I finished it I did a great big sigh. I felt like the cat with the cream. This one is still going to be read by my grandchildren and their children too.

Alan Garner's The Owl Service is another magical book for the early teens.

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annavictoria said:

me and my classmates love the book we actually read it everyday with our teacher and we use it for our presentation.We wish it has part2.

Jill said:

We're really pleased about that, Anna. All the best to you and you classmates from all of us here at Bookbag.

priankap95 said:

skellig is da bst book eva i normal dnt read books

crazyangelbab03 said:

This review is great infromation base on the book!

cute_ducking_chick said:

Wow that book was great my whole class 7P(Cayman Islands-Cayman Prep and High School Set 1 in English)read the book we all loved it and could read it over again!

Jill said:

Read it again, then read all his others! They're all equally as good.

hollycwhite said:

the book is so COOL! i read it so many time and yet it's still magica

Hollie, aged 12 Lincoln

j.j_monkey said:

i loved the book it was realy good. i read it at school and then i brought it. you could feel the way michael was feeling and really understand him and how he felt.10/10 !

murenacat0612 said:

i really liked the book. I thought it was going to be boring in the begining ( by looking at the cover) but i did not know what awaited me inside it. It was the most spectaculous book i have ever read. So never judge a book by it's cover. Me and my class all loved the book and tought it was exiting and at the end of the lessons we did not want to leave thanks to the very good story the book had inside it. I really liked the way Mina is, and i thought coot was very funny. I wish skellig stood with Michael and Mina again. Plase i think it is not only me that wants Skellig 2. I hope it comes soon. Even if it does not congratulations for the exelent book David Almond.

thehot1 said:

i think skellig was very interestnig i didnt get some of it and they didnt actuly say that skllig was an angel untill you read the blub but over all it was worth reading!!!!!!!!!!!

Sarah Grout said:

I'd just like to say how much i am enjoying the book Skellig as we read and review it at school I feel that david Almond is very creative iand i hope to follow in his footsteps one day. Skellig is mysterious and adventrous and i would definatley recommend it to readers of my age.

Sarah Grout age 12

Jill replied:

Oh, that's great. It's a wonderful book, isn't it? Read the other books Almond has written - they get even better after Skellig!

Annie Warman said:

We have just finished reading Skellig in English class at school. I really enjoyed it too. But most of my friends thought it was rubbish, i dont know whether they are just saying it to be "cool" or whether they really did think it was rubbish. I love David Almonds style of writing and i am going to see if i can take another book by David Almond out of the school library when we get back to school.

Jill replied:

They are wrong and you are right! I think you would like Kit's Wilderness or Heaven Eyes next!

Lucia said:

My Class read this book, and its brilliant! A year ago, I read 'My Name Is Mina', but I didn't realise until today that Mina from skellig, was that mina! David Almond is a brilliant writer, and I would recommend his books.

Christopher said:

The novel skelling is such a good book, the book takes you on a adventure and you will want to read it over and ovef again. I read it at my school with my mates and we would of rated it 10 out of 10.