A Song of Gladness: A story of hope for us and our planet, the latest offering from Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emily Gravett, begins with a conversation between Michael and a blackbird in his garden. He explains the sadness humans are feeling from the effects of the Pandemic. This sparks an idea in Blackbird, which is passed around the globe through the barks, bleats and belches of the world’s wildlife until the ‘globe echo(s) with the joy of’ song once more.
As we have come to expect, Morpurgo tells this tale with careful empathy, wrapping a profound message up in poetic language and vibrant illustration. Gravett’s full-page illustrations boldly depict the destinations of the song on its travels, with the twisting musical stave dancing and weaving across the pages. It is interesting that on one page, back in the garden, the music has disappeared: it would be worth exploring this illustrative choice with a class.
Due to the straightforward plotline, this story is much better suited to KS1 as a guided or class read. However, in a KS2 classroom, the illustrations lend themselves as a quality stimulus for pupils’ own writing, both fiction and non-fiction. There are opportunities for telling the stories of each animal, for informative, researched pieces about each creature or habitat, and for persuasive or balanced arguments about conservation and environmentalist ideas, to name a few.
Although I appreciate the aim of this text is to offer joy and hope during what has been a dark time for many of us, I was left feeling slightly uneasy at the romanticised perspective of the Pandemic. For many pupils, probably more than we will ever know, 2020 has been a dark year and this text would present a view discordant to their experiences. Having said that, this does then offer a powerful opportunity for discussions about equality and equity, if handled carefully and tactfully. After all, we may not all be in the same boat but we are in the same sea.
The message within this text is a reminder that we are not alone, however, disconnected we may feel, due to Covid-19 or modern life. This is never made more clear than in the line, ‘Our song is your song, your song is our song.’ The song of nature, which we belong to, has the power to connect us all ‘in glorious harmony across the universe’, if we let it.
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