Harklights, the debut novel by author and illustrator Tim Tilley, tells the story of the power of nature and our role in maintaining and preserving the natural spaces around us. Wick, our story’s hero, is a resident of the Harklights Orphanage. However, the reader soon learns that there is more than meets the eye at this dark, dreary and lifeless institution. Its sinister proprietor, Old Ma Bogey, uses the children’s labour in the home to mass-produce and package matches that are distributed across the land for profit.
One night at Harklights, an unexpected arrival ‘drops’ into the yard of the orphanage. This delivery ends up changing Wick’s path as he is soon whisked away to the forest to live with the Hobs, pint-sized protectors of the woodland. Wick himself is trained into the role of ‘Forest Keeper’ as he is charged with the role of protector of the wood. Will Wick find a forever family with the Hobs? How will he find a way to protect his new friends and the forest from the mysterious and foreboding danger that looms ever closer?
The themes of nature, conservation and family weave effortlessly through the novel, with stunning illustrations to bring this organic adventure to life. Tilley, an avid nature-lover himself, provides an accessible story for younger readers to delve into, with rich opportunities to open up discussions about how we can look after our natural world. ‘Nature has ways to repair itself.’ (page 284) The themes of growth and regeneration shine brightly in this green novel with a clear call to action for its readers, asking them to carefully consider how to conserve and preserve our natural world.
In the endpapers of the novel, Tilley challenges his readers to become ‘Forest Keepers’ themselves by getting involved with the Woodland Trust (www.woodlandtrust.org.uk) and the Wildlife Trust (www.wildlifetrusts.org). This would be a wonderful way to bring the story’s events to life in the classroom by challenging learners to get involved in their own Wildlife Watch. With ideas such as making a wild corner in the garden, building woodpiles for insects and planting bee and butterfly-friendly flowers, readers can become stewards of nature, playing an active role in conservation and protection for the future.
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