Reviews /

Wild Oak

Authored by C.C. Harrington
Published by Chicken House

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Wild Oak: It is 1963, and Britain is in the grip of a prolonged spell of snow and freezing ice. Wild Oak Forest in Cornwall is threatened by plans to sell it, and in London, Maggie is under notice from her father that if she doesn’t stop stammering she will be sent to a school which will ‘deal with’ her speech difficulty.  Her daily life is a series of torturous encounters with teachers who see her as disobedient and troublesome because she avoids answering in class and sometimes gets very angry because she can’t communicate.  At home, her mother understands, but her father, a stern and unbending man, thinks she needs to be sent away to Granville Place school, where she will get ‘treatment’.

Maggie’s only solace is her menagerie of small creatures – a mouse, a spider, some woodlice and an injured pigeon.  Eventually, Maggie’s parents decide to send her to spend some time with her grandfather, a local doctor in Cornwall who lives in Wild Oak Forest, where her mother knows she will be cared for kindly with no stress about her stammer, although her father warns that if she still stammers when she has had some time away, she will, indeed be sent to Granville Place. While Maggie is undergoing these trials, in a rich part of London, a socialite woman buys a snow leopard cub, Rumpus, from a Kensington department store – something that could be done in the 1960s. But when she finds that he needs special care and is an ‘unsuitable’ pet, she pays for him to be transported to the countryside and released. Separated from his twin sister Rosie, he is lost, confused and miserable as he is abandoned in Wild Oak Forest.

This absorbing and moving story brings Maggie and Rumpus together, secretly at first, but later with Grandpa Fred’s support. At the same time, Grandpa is fighting the local landowner who wants to sell the forest for development. One of the strengths of this story is that it tackles conservation issues honestly, acknowledging that not everything can turn out as Maggie, or readers, might have wished but nevertheless offers hope for the future.  A book to be enjoyed by readers from 9 or 10 years upwards and which will start many a discussion when shared with a group of young readers.