This is a powerful tale of monsters and grief, family and love, memories and what we make of them. Reminiscent of books such as Five Children and It and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, fantasy and reality are closely interwoven, strongly sparking the imagination while sensitively tackling the theme of grief.
I’ll be honest: I did not expect to enjoy this book. I am not always a fan of fantasy and the blurb on the back left me a bit indifferent too. However, even in the face of my doubts, I really enjoyed this book. Penny and David have moved to a new house in the forest with their dad following the death of their mother. It is not long before they realise that there are strange things going on both in the house and, more threateningly, in the forest around. This is confirmed when they meet Pog, a friendly furry creature of the First Folk, living in the attic and charged by his people to protect the portal between their world and another much darker one, in which all sorts of monsters lurk. Cracks are opening that threaten to engulf not only them but the world they live in. Penny, David and Pog must overcome their own burdens and engage in a battle with the dark side.
This is a gripping adventure story filled with tension and suspense supported by a foreboding setting. The description of the creatures that lurk beyond and the battle scenes at the end of the book are among some of the most graphic I have read in children’s literature. While utterly gripping, perhaps my only (minor) criticism of this book is that the ending seems a bit rushed, especially as the plot through the rest of the book takes its time. Which takes me on to one of the books greatest strengths: Kenny’s brilliant handling of the theme of grief. Penny, David and their father’s grief is raw and palpable; Kenny does not hold back from depicting its raw sadness and fury but makes it accessible through the cute, courageous and caring character of Pog who lightens the mood just when it’s needed and adds some much needed humour and hope. Kenny’s portrayal of the characters and their personal and shared journey through their pain is so intimate that, at times, I felt I ought to look away in respect of their privacy. This, along with the children’s slow acceptance of Pog, a creature initially quite ‘other’ to them, makes this a rich text for developing children’s empathy skills.
There are some things to consider as a teacher before recommending this or using this book in class. Firstly, the theme of grief which sits at the heart of this book. Secondly, some of his creations from the other side are quite terrifying as are some of the graphic fight scenes towards the end of the book – if you have sensitive children in your class, it would be worth considering this before recommending or reading it to them. For these reasons, I would suggest this is a book best suited for children over the age of 9 or 10.
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