A powerful and dramatic tale from the bestselling and award-winning author, Dick King-Smith.
DICK KING-SMITH was a Gloucestershire farmer until the age of 45, when he gave up farming to become a primary school teacher. Now a bestselling full-time author, his work has received many awards including a Bronze Medal for the Smarties Prize of 1997 for All Because of Jackson and the Children's Book Award in 1995 for Harriet's Hare. In 1992, he was also voted Children's Author of the Year. In 1995, his top-selling title The Sheep-Pig was developed into a box-office movie, BABE, introducing hundreds of thousands of youngsters to his work.
Far less accessible than King-Smith's animal-centered novels targeted at younger readers (Babe: The Gallant Pig; Harriet's Hare), this heavy-handed allegory set in hierarchical Godhanger Wood features the mighty bird, Skymaster, as a Christ figure. Skymaster attempts to protect his woodland brethren from the trigger-happy gamekeeper. From the start, the densely written narrative offers repeated, graphic descriptions of death, as when the man's spaniel retrieves the rabbit he has just shot (the author describes the hare's guts as "a little festoon of warm innards whose coils still wriggled and slid uneasily"). Readers who move beyond a sequence of these violent scenarios come to the story's larger focus: Skymaster tells Loftus, the most trusted of his "12 followers" about his birth, which was followed by a visit from three birds carrying offerings and led by "strange lights" in the sky to locate the newly hatched fledgling. With the exception of Loftus, the development of this large cast of characters is superficial, and repeated shifts in viewpoint and in time frame from one paragraph to the next exacerbate the problem. Skymaster's sacrifice of his own life ("He died that I may live," says Eustace, the owl who "disobeyed him" and whom Skymaster swoops down to save) and fleeting reappearance to Loftus in an apparition are meant to signify rebirth ("Cuckoo! The spring is here!" cries one bird). Yet with the absence of fully developed characters, most readers will be confused about what the mysterious bird means to the other inhabitants of Godhanger Wood and find this tale more upsetting than hopeful. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)
Gr 5-8‘In a dramatic departure from his usual humorous fare, King-Smith presents a dark, brooding, message-laden tale of a mysterious bird that sacrifices his life to save another bird (and all of the animals) from an evil gamekeeper. A golden eagle appears suddenly in Godhanger Wood and attracts a following among its inhabitants. They call him the Skymaster and are in awe of his wise words, kind deeds, and mixture of fierceness and compassion. This novel makes frequent allusions to the story of Christ and portrays the Skymaster as a Christ-like figure. For instance, his closest followers are a group of 12 birds and when he relates the story of his hatching, he tells of 3 great birds that brought him gifts. Much of the symbolism will be lost on young readers. The characters are painted in such broad strokes that they have little depth, resulting in a lack of emotional investment on the part of readers, so even climactic moments like the Skymaster's death have limited impact. With little character depth and not much story to carry the sophisticated language and heavy symbolism, this book will have slight appeal for most readers.‘Arwen Marshall, New York Public Library