by Michael Morpurgo, published 2003
“Until now, except for occasional gut-wrenching pangs of homesickness and loneliness, I had by and large managed to keep my spirits up. But not anymore. My beacon stayed obstinately damp.”
I was drawn to this book because I had enjoyed and reviewed another children’s book he wrote, The Elephant in the Garden. In this new children’s book, I was immediately struck with the clarity, simplicity, and beauty of his writing, and wondered how the tale would unfold. I was not disappointed by it at all. It is billed as a ‘survival’ story, and indeed in some ways it is. However, I think the heart of this children’s book is the development of trust, and working with honest feelings of disappointment and loss as they occur. The theme is somewhat sobering for young children, as it involves a Japanese WWII survivor who has chosen to leave the world and remain as a cast-away on an island. The development of Kensuke’s character, and the honest unfolding of trust and letting go, is by far the most inspiring aspect of the story, as we tap into the Asian character of determination and stoicism.
One thing I appreciated about this children’s book is that nothing dramatically scary happens, although the encounter with hunters can be somewhat upsetting. Yet even that is handled well, as we come to recognize once again the need to protect the animal kingdom as best we can.
All in all, a good children’s book. Probably ideal for 4th grade; a nice male counterpart to the Island of Blue Dolphins, also usually a fourth grade book. They would make nice balancing views on survival, and ‘civilization.’