Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis
|Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Tanja Jennings|
|Summary: A poignant story of an unbreakable bond between brother and sister, imbued with the therapeutic power birds can have in soothing troubled souls. It teaches the lesson that you cannot judge a book by its cover and that understanding and patience are essential when relating to someone with Asperger’s syndrome.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 203||Date: May 2014|
|Publisher: Oxford University Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Longlisted for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Scarlet and her half-brother Red have a dream - to watch flocks of Scarlet Ibises fly above Caroni swamp in Trinidad where her father comes from. They have a special bond. He is autistic and loves collecting birds’ feathers, feeling a sense of calm when he recites their names. She has caramel coloured skin while Red has white. They live with their mother in a flat but she has suffered from mood swings of late. Scarlet saves up to take Red on regular trips to the zoo where he feels safe. Red is fostering a baby Pigeon and waiting for it learn how to fly.
When the unthinkable happens and Scarlet is separated from her family she is forced to adapt to a new environment. The trouble is she feels incomplete without Red. Where is he and why do adults keep saying ‘it’s complicated’ when she asks to see him? Is it because their skins are of a different colour? Why does her mother appear to be impassive about the situation? Resolving to find her brother and heal their broken home, Scarlet vows to care for his fledgling pigeon nicknamed ‘Little Red’, and embarks on a risky rescue mission.
With Scarlet Ibis Gill Lewis explores a new territory of social realism, reminiscent of Jacqueline Wilson, as her story involves mental illness, behavioural problems, the role of social workers and the foster care system. Gill is a visual writer painting pictures with her words when she describes the wonder and poetry of birds in motion. Using the analogy of flight she emphasises the importance of individuality and freedom. Her characters are rounded, each with their own story to tell beneath their everyday lives. Gill is careful not to create stereotypes and emphasises the importance of valuing someone for who they are not what they might initially appear to be. This is the case with the mysterious bird lady Scarlet meets who brings new meaning to her life but has her own secret sorrows to bear.
The narrative is told in the first person giving the reader the ability to get closer to Scarlet and picture the world through her eyes. Intelligent and passionate, she uses acting and reading as a form of escape. Angry and frustrated with what she sees as the intractable attitude of her social worker, she struggles to make sense of what is happening. She is torn between the promise of a new life with a caring foster family and the memory of what she once had. Above all she knows that Red needs her just as much as she needs him.
Does it have a happy ending? You will have to read it and see. Like Gill's Sky Hawk, White Dolphin and Moon Bear it deals with loss and the hope of new beginnings and it focuses on how prejudice can lead to social injustice. There is also the theme of the outsider because Red is locked inside his own world that only Scarlet can understand and the bird lady has created a safe place which the public look on with disdain. The book's overwhelming message is that everyone needs to belong and feel a sense of family whether they are bird or human.
For more bibliotherapy try 'Kathryn Erskine’s poignant and beautifully observed Mockingbird, a memorable story of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome coping with tragedy and learning how to see her world in colour. If you would like to read more about the therapeutic power of birds in times of adversity look no further than Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis or the true and emotional story of POWs discovering the joy of ornithology, Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann.
You can read more book reviews or buy Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis at Amazon.com.
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