The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh

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The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Exciting without being scary, this had me wishing I'd spent my schooldays on board a ship setting sail for the Caribbean!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781780273945

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The school ship Tobermory is off on another adventure! Well, I suppose really I should say it's open for another term of school, but this is a school unlike any other, so really, it is an adventure. Ben and Fee are back on board with their friends, and this time the ship is setting sail for the Caribbean. There are dangers to be faced along the way, and of course a band of pirates to be dealt with too! But in amongst the excitement are also issues recognisable to all children, such as bullying, forming friendships, and learning new things.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, so I was looking forward to seeing how Ben and Fee were getting on. One thing I really like about these stories is that the children make mistakes, and sometimes they are quite drastic mistakes! They get things wrong but, delightfully, they keep on trying to do better. I like their imperfections, as it makes them seem more realistic as characters, but I also like the way they deal with their mistakes, accepting the errors and then acknowledging that they will do better in the future, an important life-skill to learn! I also really like the discussions around friendship, or general day to day life that crop up in the book. In the same way that Mma Ramotswe makes life observations that ring so very true, or make you think about things a little differently, there are times when the characters here, or sometimes the author, make an observation that again, is something worth remembering. For example, Ben and Fee discuss how awkward it must be if you end up with two friends who don't like each other, and Fee ponders how you might then have to have morning friends and afternoon friends, so as to alleviate the issue. I also like the way the two characters think about who all their friends are, and their differing strengths and characteristics, for example, how someone's kindness is perhaps their most important strength.

My one small issue with the book was a scene where a group of the children are on land, in Scotland, and hiding from some bad people. They discover a storm drain, and they all run in there to hide. Having lived next to a large storm drain I know, from repeated warnings, that they can be extremely dangerous and that as children we were told never to go inside to play or hide. I think the mother in me was just a little worried at the ease with which these children slip inside, without any thought of danger, which might seem a little silly considering that in other parts of the book they are climbing the rigging or diving from the mast! Still, it was something that worried me.

There aren't any scary parts to the story, or rather I should say that all the action and adventure is dealt with in a very steady, secure way, so although you feel the excitement, you also feel confident that things will be okay, so this is a good read for children who are a little more timid but want a story to stretch them further. It has all the elements of a boarding school story, but with the interesting twist of being set at sea. There are some rather nasty bullies on board, of course, and interestingly they often do get away with their bad behaviour, as they're clever enough to bully without leaving evidence, much to the children's dismay. Still, at the end of this story there is a little joy for the readers involving some quicksand, so the bullies don't entirely get off scot-free!

The illustrations by Iain McIntosh are very well done, with some smaller character pictures, and then other full page panel images, picking out key scenes from the story. They make the books more accessible for those who are making the move onto longer chapter books but who miss having pictures to help interpret the story, and they also just add a little something extra generally, helping readers know what a moray eel looks like, or what a sextant is. His illustrations have a distinctive style, and they work very well with the story. This is a good book to share as a bedtime story with a chapter a night, but is also good for those building in confidence with their own reading, to curl up with and enjoy by themselves.

If you're new to the Tobermory school ship then this is where you need to begin this is where you need to begin or for another alternative school adventure then you should take a look at The Worst Witch to the Rescue by Jill Murphy.

Buy The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh at

Buy The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander McCall Smith and Iain McIntosh at


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