The Hunt for the Nightingale by Sarah Ann Juckes
|The Hunt for the Nightingale by Sarah Ann Juckes
|Category: Confident Readers
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng
|Summary: Moving, adventurous, and full of heart, this is a lovely story interlaced with interesting facts about birds.
|Date: January 2022
|Publisher: Simon & Schuster
|External links: Author's website
Jasper is a little boy who has some struggles, and whilst we're never told why exactly, we can see that he has anxiety and panic attacks, and has difficulty dealing with change and big emotions. His big sister, Rosie, has been a huge support to him, talking him down when things were difficult, encouraging him, and writing a book with him, all about birds, that he can read when he gets scared to help him calm down. His parents seem completely caught up in their business, and so it is Rosie he always turns to. Even though she has gone away to University now, she has promised him that she will still be there when he needs her. But now he can't find Rosie. She hasn't come home when she said she would, and she isn't answering her phone. His parents won't speak to him or when they do, he doesn't understand or take in what they're saying. Nothing seems to be right, and the only way he feels he can find any peace is if he can find Rosie, and if they can find the nightingale and listen to its song, as they do together every Spring.
Being written from Jasper's point of view makes the story immediate and personal. I really liked Jasper, and felt very invested in his journey. His parents, meanwhile, leave a lot to be desired! As the story reveals itself, you begin to see the truth behind what is going on, but still, they come off pretty badly for much of the book! But absent parents help in a solo adventure story such as this, as it gives time for Jasper to actually set off on such a journey, and remain undiscovered for so long. He actually packs his bag relatively sensibly - I liked the list of items, which included a whistle for emergencies. And yet, it is still the packing of a little boy, since the only food he has is some nut bars, a banana and a chocolate biscuit bar!
I enjoyed all the bird facts, from Jasper and Rosie's book, scattered throughout. One of my favourites was that the collective noun for jackdaws is a 'clattering'! Jasper experiences a lot of nature as he ventures on his journey, and so you really feel yourself out there in the elements with him (worrying quite a bit, if you're reading with your parental head on!) but also experiencing his wonder at the world. The illustrations, by Sharon King-Chai, are woven throughout and are really lovely, bringing the many different kinds of birds to life. I do love chapter books that still include illustrations. I've often wished grown-up books would include illustrations too! They don't make the story feel at all babyish, and would be an encouragement to the more reluctant reader who still doesn't fancy an entirely text-based story.
There are lots of little segments of writing breaking up the text too. Like Jasper's packing list for the items he takes on his journey. And as well as facts about birds, we get notes, snippets from the news, an advert for a lost dog, other people's 'rules' about things such as walking in a field of cows and other bits and pieces. They make sense within the book, because of Jasper's character and his desire for order and to make sense of what's happening around him, and they also help with the flow of the story, breaking things up, moving things along, and maintaining interest as you read.
I have long been of the opinion that children's books are not, and should not be seen as exclusively for children, and this is a very good example of one of those books that is a moving and poignant read for readers of any age. It has action and adventure, it has humour and sadness. I felt transported throughout, completely caught up in Jasper's journey and really, really hoping that he would be okay. As an exploration of grief, it's beautiful. It's written with a great deal of understanding and gentleness, full of knowledge about birds and wildlife, and ends on a note of hopefulness. Definitely recommended.
You might also enjoy this different, but equally lovely book all about birds and birdwatching too Twitch by M G Leonard.
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