Seed is Caryl Lewis’s first English novel for children. However, in Welsh-language, she has won Wales Book of the Year twice for her literary fiction and the Tir na n-Og Award for best children’s fiction and is also a screen writer. This pedigree is evident in the skilful manner in which the author quickly engages the reader in this hopeful story told with a dry wit and a kindly wisdom.
Marty doesn’t have much; his school uniform consists of items donated by the school bearing other people’s names and his most precious possession is a tiny model of the Eiffel Tower given to him by his Dad who Marty has not seen since he was four. Marty’s mum on the other hand has far too much; she compulsively hoards stuff and their home is packed floor to ceiling with paperwork, broken household appliances and bags of clothes and there are piles of rubbish in the garden. Marty’s mum will not leave her house and he constantly makes excuses for her to others in an effort to hide the truth and protect both his mum and, he hopes, his home. As Marty’s birthday approaches Marty’s grandad, proud owner of a local allotment, gives Marty a small seed as a present. This seed prompts an adventure both surreal and wonderful.
This story is in some ways a contemporary fable or fairy tale. The seed, rather like the magic beans in Jack and the Beanstalk, produces a plant which grows at a phenomenal rate invoking awe and wonder in all that see it. The ever optimistic Grandad is sure the pumpkin it grows into can transport them to dreamed of places, in a similar way to the pumpkin coach which took Cinderella to the ball. Children will recognise these links to treasured stories and that familiarity will increase their sense of involvement. As a reader one also experiences the link between the increasing size of the pumpkin with the gradual rise of hope in Marty’s mind. He starts to believe in himself, in others and ultimately in a seemingly impossible dream.
The growing friendship between Marty and Gracie is beautifully drawn. Gracie is deaf and wears a cochlear implant, her parents are separated and her Dad with whom she lives is an overworked businessman with little time left for his daughter. These two children, in some ways both parentless, form a little family with Marty’s grandad and although eccentric he provides the love and support that both children need. Caryl Lewis has included themes of mental health, inclusivity, divorce, and bullying in a story that is full of humour. That is difficult to execute well but Seed does it beautifully. This would probably appeal to fans of Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jenny Pearson and Lisa Thompson. There is gentle encouragement within the surreal adventure and it would take an extremely hard hearted person not to be willing this trio along on their mission by the final third of the book. The ending fits well with the tone of the whole story providing hope but not a magic fix to all life’s problems despite the sometimes fantastical feel to the adventure.
This would be a fabulous book to read aloud to children in Upper KS2. Sometimes a class book does not need to have curriculum links or ‘tie in nicely with our topic’. Sometimes it needs to encourage children to believe in themselves, to be kind and to have hope in the future. Seed does all of this extremely well.
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