Xanthe & the Ruby Crown: Xanthe’s Nani lives at the top of a tower block in Nottingham: a flat that holds many memories for both grandmother and granddaughter. One summer, when Xanthe is spending time with Nani, it becomes apparent that Nani’s memory is beginning to decline. Xanthe is determined to help and uses their combined love of history and archaeology to hatch a plan. Assisted by a ghost-like cat who appears in Xanthe’s hour of need and helps her uncover rich secrets from her Nani’s past, as well as friends Romeo and Pria, she sets out to create a museum of Nani’s childhood memories in Uganda. It is the objects from Nani’s past though that enable Xanthe to share a powerful connection to her grandmother – ‘seeing’ her past whilst handling the objects. No spoilers here, but this book has a very satisfying ‘full circle’ theme.
Drawing upon Jasbinder Bilan’s own childhood growing up in Nottingham, as well as a desire to shed light on the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin in 1972, this book is rich in history. As a result, it feels very modern and relatable for young people navigating a world of balancing friendships and family. This, paired with sensitive handling of topics such as dementia and Idi Amin’s rule of Uganda, provides a strong platform for conversations with Year 5 and Year 6 children about identity.
Despite these mature themes, the book feels light and pacey. The contrast of humour, fantasy (a cat who seems to appear out of mid-air and exists in the past and present) and modern friendships make Bilan’s fourth book a memorable one. Paired with a beautiful front cover, I imagine Xanthe’s story will be widely read by many children in the coming months and years.
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