Soonchild by Russell Hoban

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Soonchild by Russell Hoban

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Sixteen-Face John attempts to retrieve the World Songs so his Soonchild can be born. Funny, scary and beautiful piece of magic realism with illustrations that are as much a part of the story as the words are. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Walker
ISBN: 1406329916

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Longlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2013

Sixteen-Face John needs all sixteen faces to cope with his many fears. He's an Inuit shaman but all that shaman stuff got a bit too much - especially considering the fear thing - and so these days in the North, he spends more time drinking Coca Cola and watching TV than he does shamanising. It's less anxious that way. But there's a problem. John's wife, No Problem, is pregnant, and their Soonchild is refusing to come out. John must go on a dream journey to rescue the World Songs if Soonchild is ever to be born.

On this journey, John meets animal spirits, ancestor spirits, and dies three times. And he learns the Blue-Green Password. But will this be sufficient? Will he bring the World Songs back?

Oh, I loved, loved, loved this story. Russell Hoban's text is witty and surreal and, well, just perfect. Alexis Deacon's illustrations are wild and strange and almost hypnotic. And the two knit together to create more magic. At one point, the pictures take over the narrative altogether and it's just wonderful.

It's about how strange and how scary the world is but how beautiful, too. It's about reminding us that we surely owe a debt of respect and honour to those who have gone before us but, equally, that we also owe a debt of hope and a future to those as yet unborn. It's about being afraid and facing our fears, but it's also about laughter and song and love. It talks about dying but it's mostly about living. Soonchild might be the only one there is, as Deepguy would say, but it's the kind of book that will bring something different to everyone who reads it.

You don't see books as wonderful as this one every day, so make sure you read Soonchild. One thing's for sure: Russell Hoban, who died last December, will be much missed.

Some have said that Soonchild isn't really a book for young adults. Well, it is and it isn't. It's a book for everyone. I'd read it to young children - all folk tales are scary. I'd read it myself for pleasure. It has to be packaged for someone. Why not young adults? And if the label doesn't bother you either, you'll also enjoy Fup by Jim Dodge (adults), Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan (adults); The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean (little kids); A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (middle kids), and A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton (little kids).

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Buy Soonchild by Russell Hoban at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Soonchild by Russell Hoban at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Soonchild by Russell Hoban at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Soonchild by Russell Hoban at

Booklists.jpg Soonchild by Russell Hoban is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2012.


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