Skellig by David Almond

About Skellig by David Almond (from Commonsensemedia): Michael's family has just moved to an old fixer-upper. But his baby sister is in the hospital with a heart problem, and Michael feels devastated and helpless.

When he sneaks into the crumbling garage, Michael finds a stranger named Skellig living (or apparently dying) there, a man immobilized by arthritis, subsisting on insects and spiders, and surrounded by owl pellets. While helping him, Michael discovers that the man is oddly light and has strange growths on his back that maybe wings.

As Skellig begins to inhabit Michael's dreams, he and his new friend, Mina, help Skellig into an abandoned house. There Skellig seems to have an odd relationship with the owls, who bring him food. And as Michael's mother keeps vigil by the baby's hospital bed, Michael begins to feel his sister's heart beating within his own, and Skellig appears in his mother's dreams as well.

My thoughts

I really love this book. Any initial disgust one has about Skellig's outer ugliness is erased as his true character slowly reveals itself. It reminds me of the movie City of Angels because it seemed to me that Skellig was an angel ... but definitely not fitting into the image of stereotypical cherubs, but with a darker (though not necessarily sinister, maybe realistic?) side to it. But then the book never claims that Skellig, the creature languishing in Michael's garage, is an angel.

The writing is beautiful, interwoven with snatches of Blake's poetry. The imagery is also beautiful, as if one were half-awake, with a dreamlike quality. One scene I remember vividly is the description of how, in a moonlit room, Michael, Mina and Skellig join hands, slowly twirling ... and in a haze they realize they are slowly floating - no, flying - in the air on their newfound wings. It sounds corny when I write it like this, but Almond's imagery has a sense of grandeur and mystery.

The book takes us alternately through Michael's worry for his sick baby sister, his relationship to the smart-alecky home schooled Mina, and their deepening friendship with Skellig.

It is a simple yet profound story of the importance of friendship and family, and of the unknown ... and accepting that life will always have its unknowns. As Mina says: "Sometimes we just have to accept there are things we can't know."

There is a lot to talk about with kids ... drawing, birds (owls in particular), evolution, arthritis, poetry (William Blake), art. There is also the occasional funny line, such as references to Chinese food as food of the gods.

I urge you to read this strange book. It is good for kids and adults alike. Did I say ... I love this book?

(This book won the Carnegie Medal in 1998 and the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award. In 2007 it was selected by judges of the CILIP Carnegie Medal for children's literature as one of the ten most important children's novels of the past 70 years.)

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall