Featherlight by Peter Bunzl is a compelling adventure inspired by real-life heroines Grace Darling and Ida Lewis.
Deryn lives on Featherstone Island with her parents. Her father, the lighthouse keeper, must keep the lamp burning to warn boats of the treacherous rocks. When her parents travel to the mainland for the birth of a new sibling, Deryn is entrusted with keeping watch alone, apart from an injured bird she befriends. Things don’t go as smoothly on the mainland as expected, and after being alone for two nights, Grandma arrives to help. When disaster strikes and the lamp runs out of oil, Deryn must seek help from an unlikely source to try and save a boat in peril.
There are many things I loved about Featherlight. It is perfectly paced with plenty of action to keep the pages turning. The balance of action to the description is well judged too. The language used paints a vivid picture of the island, and Peter Bunzl’s vocabulary choices are rich and never compromise the reading experience. Figurative language is a strength:
I watch the boat get smaller. Fear flaps around inside me like a ragged sail in a storm. The tiny lantern on the boat’s prow floats like a firefly in the darkness as dad steers between the rocks. (page 10)
Deryn is a strong and self-sufficient heroine who displays bravery while acknowledging her fears. This makes her a super role model. Her solitary life contrasts sharply with most children’s experiences, so it would be interesting to develop empathy by thinking about the pros and cons of being the only family on an island. In our modern world, it is hard to believe a young girl would be left alone on an island with no way of communicating with the outside world, but this gives plenty of scope for discussion about how technology impacts human behaviour. I loved the reference to the traditional story, The Firebird, and further exploration of the story would add depth to a novel study. The lighthouse setting is one that children may be familiar with through stories such as The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cat. Delving into the history of lighthouses using the factual section at the end could provide a springboard to further learning. Anneli Bray’s black and white illustrations support readers who find sustained reading tricky, and they help build a picture of the world Derwyn inhabits.
Featherlight is a perfect book for an extended novel study in Lower Key Stage Two. It is short enough to read and, importantly, reread to deepen understanding, and there is much scope for developing reading skills and developing stamina. As well as depth within the text, there is scope for going beyond the book and making connections to The Firebird as well as the real-life heroines described in the author’s note.
You can listen to Peter Bunzl talk to Nikki Gamble about his Cogheart series of books #InTheReadingCorner
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