The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline

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The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline

Category: Children's Rhymes and Verse
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A really lovely surprise, this – surely there aren't too many illustrated poems about falconry with the heart and grace of this quick read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 40 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Walker Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781406376692

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I don't know why I was surprised by this book – I've read enough volumes for the young audiences to know that as far as subject matter is concerned, pretty much anything goes. But this is about falconry, of all things – the use of a once-wild and still pretty much free-spirited bird of prey to hunt down animals, either for the heck of it or for the pot. An attractive girl and her father get their hawk ready, and leave the castle with all the equipment in tow – bells to hear the landed bird and what it's captured, the hood to act as blinkers for it on the way there, the lure if necessary. The story concerns just one trip out, girl, father, hound – and hawk. But while that may surprise you as a subject matter of choice, it was the whole artistic approach that won me over here…

For one, this is not strictly a story, but more a narrative poem. Beyond the first few words, every spread has just four lines – the first two of which firmly rhyme, while the fourth always brings us back to mention of the castle. It's a fairly old-fashioned style, I guess, but a really compelling one, and the rhythm doesn't get in the way once of allowing us to enjoy the 'plot'.

The castle is also prominent in the pictures, too, as a kind of middle-ages Neuschwanstein affair – until, that is, the bird is aloft, and it's down to pure natural beauty. Before then we see the hawk as something quite majestic, but also poised, a tool almost, roughly the size of the girl's head. This is ye olden times, and from the snoozing guards down to the hawk's bath, everything is conveyed in fine style. But the bird itself, boy – it's full of character, drama and a suitably contained power, all coming through in wonderful colours and details. The artwork here really is something to savour.

But there's also a third thing on the page. Each spread has a box-out, tucked away in a corner with non-fictional detail, informing us of the science, history and truth of falconry and the birds involved. (There's also a fact-filled yet personal essay from the author to close, whose own father was a falconer). I never once tried to read these while absorbed in the verse and the visuals, but they were certainly worth reading when I returned to page one and began again. And that's my final comment – this book is really easy to want to resume from the start. Yes, it has the most simplistic storyline, but it's beautiful, and intelligently presented, and – yes – surprising, so I really do suggest it for your attention. It certainly caught mine.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This isn't the first time we've had no option but to admire the artist's work – there was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo and Bagram Ibatoulline also.

Buy The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline at Amazon.com.


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