Crater Lake comes with the strap line: Don’t, ever, fall asleep. Sage advice for the children in this story, but I think it is highly unlikely the reader would fall asleep whilst devouring this thrilling new title from Jennifer Killick. On the contrary the well constructed plot keeps the reader turning the pages with haste in order to find out what happens next as the story hurtles towards the thrilling conclusion. With chapter headings such as ‘Soup or Blood’ and ‘In the Dark Dark Wood’, you can rightly expect some chills and thrills in this school adventure story which is perfectly pitched for upper key stage 2.
Our unlikely hero, Lance has issues of his own to deal with and yet he bravely leads his schoolmates (the lucky few who have not succumbed to slumber) away from danger. His adversary, Trent, the head boy and school bully is a cautionary character for anyone who thinks they are better than their peers. He ignorantly continues to choose ‘Overlord’ in the repeated games of Geek, Robot, Overload (which is a clever take on rock, paper, scissors), which of course makes him very easy to beat. The vulnerable situation the children find themselves in highlights the failings of those who back at school are top of the pecking order. Trent’s inflated ego and sporting prowess are of little use and being good at football is not going to help the children escape the terrifying fate that has befallen their classmates. One of my favourite quotations is simply this:
‘I don’t see how the ability to kick a football is even relevant here’. I inwardly cheered for Lance!
followed up with
‘this is a life or death situation, so normal leadership hierarchies don’t apply’.
I don’t actually think the qualifying statement was necessary, but it is an important message in the story and one you wouldn’t want children to miss. The point is reinforced in Lance’s triumphant speech when he references the limited ways in which children are valued in an academic system.
The nocturnal journey of Lance and his friends reminded me of disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure. The characters face a similar dilemma: stay put and wait for help or venture out and save yourself. I was also reminded of Elen Caldecott’s thrilling The Mystery of Wickworth Manor – also set on a Year 6 residential trip and of course Miss Hoche, the demonic assistant headteacher, pays homage to Gillian Cross’s Demon Headmaster. The cast of characters with their different traits: the cautious Chets and headstrong Adrianne are akin to the members of Mystery Inc of Scooby Doo fame; a modern day Secret Seven, each with their own contribution to make. This should provide someone for most children to relate to. The backstories do seem a bit contrived but offer a range of experiences from first relationships and foster homes to preparing for the end of the world! Although each has a dominant personality trait, the characters are believable and well rounded and the creative international names are a million miles away from the traditionally white British: Janet and George. The ‘bugged-eyed’ victims have echoes of Village of the Damned but the horror is very light touch and far less frightening than, for example, Christopher Edge’s Twelve Minutes to Midnight series. Think the Goonies meet the cast of Jumanji 2!
Crater Lake includes themes of friendship and trust and a strong message to be true to yourself, have confidence in your instincts and abilities and be your own person. All excellent growth points for reading this story, particularly for children who are at that stage of self discovery, where their esteem can need a gentle bolster in the right direction.
My advice – suggest to Year 6 they read this one after their residential! Look out for the sequel: Crater Lake, Evolution .
You may be familiar with Jennifer’s other children’s books: the ‘Alex Sparrow’ and ‘Mo, Lottie and the Junkers’ series.
More about the inspiration for this story and a way to introduce it to the children in your class from Jennifer in her writing starter.
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