Reviews /

The Storm and the Minotaur

Authored by Lucy Strange
Illustrated by Pam Smy
Published by Barrington Stoke Ltd

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The Storm and the Minotaur is set in the days when it was normal for the children in working class families to be sent to work at a very early age, from about 8 years old. In this case George, age 9, is going to work in the pit with his Dad and his uncle. The story opens with George and his Dad visiting the mine the day before he is due to start work:

‘The mouth of the coal mine is in front of me. It is just as black and terrifying as I you might imagine’.

George is a clever boy and he has stayed at school for an extra year. He can read and write and loves stories. Working in the mine is not the occupation he wants – and he dreams of opportunities when he is older – he knows he has an obligation to his family to earn much needed money. The evening before George goes down the mine, he finds a book that had been hidden in a secret hideaway in his bedroom. It belonged to his Uncle Mal who had died in a mining disaster many years ago. After a frightening day in the mine, just as awful and claustrophobic as George imagined it would be, George takes out Uncle Mal’s book and reads the tale of the Minotaur, trapped in the labyrinth and the children sent in never to return.

In short disaster strikes in the mine following a rainstorm. The exits are blocked, machinery is not working and all are trapped. Told to wait to be rescued, George realises his sister Hannah is further in the mine operating the trapdoors. He rushes back to find his sister and the other children working with her. The others have tried to escape but George knows there is no way out the way they have gone. Remembering a conversation with his Dad about a large crack in the rock that led to a waterfall and cavern, George leads them through his own labyrinth helped by his sighting of the Minotaur. A very symbolic sighting one could say.

The story has so many facets and things to discuss. It is based on a true story of a mining disaster in 1838 when many children (listed at the end of the book) lost their lives. This is a fitting memorial to them. The disaster led to the 1842 miners act that banned children under 10 from going down the mines.

It is a treat to review a Barrington Stokes title. I am a great admirer of their work and the skill of condensing quite intricate stories into so few words. I cannot praise this book enough. It deals with lots of very tricky situations and issues in a calm and empathetic way. The wonderful black and white illustrations by Pam Smy further enhance the words used by Lucy in this marvellous tale for upper Key Stage 2 readers.

Longlisted for the Young Quills Award 2024 For Readers 8-11 Years Category