Reviews /

Moonflight

Authored by Gill Lewis
Illustrated by Pippa Curnick
Published by David Fickling Books

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Moonflight: It is a truth universally acknowledged that the seventh-born rat of the seventh-borne litter is a rat in want of adventure.

With the literary allusion to one of the best opening lines in literature in its opening line, the adventures of Tilbury Twitch-Whiskers and his sister Nimble-Quick begin. The problem is that Tilbury doesn’t know that he wants adventure, and his mother is so worried that he might be short-lived that she says he is her eighth-born and sets about mollycoddling him. Being required to stay in the chandlery in Tilbury Docks, where he lives with his extended family, his world is limited, but it does allow him to befriend Marmalade Paws, the large ginger cat in the basement who teaches him ancient cat languages, and to spend time attempting to create a flying machine – both skills which will be extremely important to their survival. Early on, we are introduced to the famous black diamond, the Cursed Night, kept locked in a gilded cage and only exposed for one hour on either side of the lowest of low tides. Its return to its rightful owner forms the core of the story.

It becomes apparent from the beginning that the braver of the two ratlings is Nimble-Quick.  She wants to explore the world beyond Docklands and is the catalyst for everything that follows. The final chapters – and I won’t spoil the story – highlight the inequalities in the worlds the two ratlings experience, and Tilbury fully realises how wrong this is. It is a definite rite of passage for this particular ratling, and one that may well spark debate amongst young readers as those inequalities become more and more apparent.

Gill Lewis does not shy away from darker elements of storytelling: there is danger, there is murder, there is betrayal, there is self-sacrifice – which might make it unsuitable for the younger KS2 reader – but there is also humour and a satisfying ending. Some humour relies on knowing or having experienced parts of London, which might limit its impact for those unfamiliar with the capital.

Pippa Curnick’s illustrations are excellent: it can’t be easy to convey emotion and attitude in rats with a few strokes of a pencil, but she achieves it brilliantly. There is a discussion to be had in the illustrations alone.

It is always a pleasure to read a new Gill Lewis novel, and this is no exception. Her fans will be delighted, and no doubt those new to her writing will rapidly want more. This would make an excellent book to read aloud to your Y5/6 class, purely for the pleasure of a tale well told, with enough cliffhangers to keep pupils engaged and a chance for a good debate springing from the final chapters.