On Minnie Wadlow’s island giants look after human children until the age of twelve, when a kiss from child to giant turns their faithful servant into a stone statue. This is essential work for keeping the island’s buildings intact as the infrastructure continues to crumble due to mysterious earthquakes that plague the island’s inhabitants. So, what will Minnie do when she realises that she is not ready to lose her giant, Speck?
Giant, the latest offering from Nicola Skinner, is a breathtakingly poignant masterpiece. Like other great fantastical stories before it, readers will find themselves plunged into a world that feels so vivid it is as though they have always known it. Skinner’s prose is funny and disturbing, original and captivating. As in her previous publications including Bloom and Storm, Skinner’s playful characterisation is a highlight of the book. Minnie is deftly depicted as ‘a small feeble girl who’d slither about in your arms like a slippery trout if you tried to hug her. This was on account of the greasy sun cream she was always slathered in, even when it rained.’ There are a raft of loveable characters, including Twist the escapee jackal and Robin Scragg a ’thin and grubby and solemn’ boy from the Rubbler District, who both join Minnie on her odyssey to uncover the island’s truth.
Despite the playful language and imaginative setting, this book packs some serious punches as Skinner tackles unnerving concepts head on. Providing an undercurrent throughout the plot are the ongoing implications of colonisation and totalitarianism, where in this unequal society giants are forced to live either as servants or are cast out to the No-Go Mountains. The threat of the dungeon hangs over the island’s residents where any human or giant who doesn’t adhere to the rules of the Giant Management Company can be thrown into on a whim. And throughout the book the measures that are taken to keep everyone in their correct place provide a terrifying insight into the role of nationalism, propaganda and misinformation.
This may sound rather heavy for a book perfect for the end of Year 4 upwards, but in the big-hearted and wildly inventive hands of Skinner such themes are skilfully and subtly explored. It is love, however, that is the real driving force behind this story – particularly the love story between Minnie and her giant Speck.
A mesmerising triumph, this book would enrapture a class as a read-aloud and has enough meaty themes to make a great whole class text. There are wonderful opportunities for writing, drama, art and map making that spring to mind as well as moments for philosophical social justice discussions. Giant has all the makings of a children’s classic and I can’t wait for generations of primary school children to fall in love with it.
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