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Fourteen-year-old Rachel is her school's animal rights project leader and she and her friend are producing a competition entry to highlight the way in which human beings exploit the animal world. She gets a great deal of support from her family: father Pip Harrison, a lecturer at Imperial College, London, mother Kate and her twin, Nick. Kate runs the family business, a toy shop called Cornucopia in Putney, which is where we'll meet Rachel's main (if unsuspected) source of information: five soft toys.

Snowcub by Graham Fulbright

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: What might appear, on the surface, to be a light-hearted story about soft toys has a far more serious and darker thread running through it as it explores the ways in which man exploits animals. Think Gulliver rather than Beatrix Potter. It's a big book to be savoured and considered rather than rushed through.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: July 2021
Publisher: Matador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-#

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The first of the toys (or goodwill ambassadors, as they'll become) that we encounter is the eponymous Snowcub, a polar bear cub made, with love, in Zaozhuang in China, sold through a department store in Munich and brought into the Harrison home in London, where he joins Sock (the owl), Pericles (who's a hedgehog), Chester (a donkey) and finally Morecambe the koala. There's a little bit of antagonism within the group to start with. Distinctions are made between toys which are hand-stitched and sourced through the V&A or the National Trust. Words such as heritage and history are murmured. Comparisons are made between native species and outsiders and there's a conclusion that leaders are homegrown. Snowcub has to work to earn his place within the group.

And he is a worker: he quickly masters seeing and reading, thanks to sharing Rachel's books. He also masters telepathy and becomes a dream-sharer with the other four ambassadors. It's these dreams which allow the quintet to metamorphose into live birds and animals in many different parts of the world - and there really is as great a variety as you could wish for. You're going to explore the world. Some visits are there for a little silliness, some provide background but most are deadly serious: the exploitation of the animal world is widespread and getting worse.

I had no problem with accepting the soft toys as sentient beings: I have a natural predisposition in this area but this shouldn't detract from Graham Fulbright's mastery of character development. Snowcub is the ambassador around whom the story revolves but he's not the leader of the group. Fulbright's skill is not only in the development of the individual characters but also of the way in which the dynamics of the group change and develop. It was easy to be invested in all five and to care about what happens to them - and to animals in general.

You will care less about human beings, as do the animals. They have no respect for us: I think, said Sock, none of us would dispute that the animal world is subject to lack of respect at the hands of twinsticks, bipeds, perpendics, unnaturals, unnakeds, malodorous, anthrops, hominids, call them what you will.

The curse of the book reviewer is that they get to read a book straight through, perhaps going back to reread certain sections, as I did several times. Snowcub is a book to read slowly, to savour, to return to many times. It might sound worthy, as though it's going to play heavily on your mind but Fulbright neatly balances this with some unconventional writing which had me laughing out loud on occasions. He plays well with language. There's the famous Spanish Donkey, Otay. (Think about it.) I liked the two birds, Alpha and Omega - Alph and Meg to their friends. It's not just words we play with either: Nick is keener on numbers than language. I found myself playing with the number thirty-seven - which is not something I thought I would ever write!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. It was a long read and occasionally uncomfortable but it repaid all the effort.

You could shelve this book alongside How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World by Henry Mance. One might be fiction and the other non-fiction but they deliver the same message.

Booklists.jpg Snowcub by Graham Fulbright is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2020.

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