Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis

Before I tell you about Scarlet Ibis - a book I read in one sitting and which I loved - can I ask you to take a minute to read my review of Wild Wings also called Sky Hawk and also by Gill Lewis.

Scarlet and her brother Red live with their mum in very precarious circumstances. Mum is unwell and care of the family falls to young Scarlet.  Her immediate concern is for the family to pass an inspection by the welfare lady Mrs Gideon.  "Mrs Gideon is the social worker who comes to spy on us.  Red calls them all penguins. I know what he means.  They're like the penguins at the zoo, the way they strut about, yabbering and poking their beaks into everything."

Aside from penguins, Red loves birds,  He is a boy with behaviour issues but contact with birds calms him.  Each month, Scarlet takes Red to the zoo so he can spend time with the birds  Red has a huge collection of feathers.  He can name the bird for every feather. Right now he is keen to find a feather from the Scarlet Ibis.

As Red reaches for the precious feather, which he has seen in the bird enclosure, he slips and falls and Scarlet knows bad things must surely follow :

"He is not looking at the bird any more. His eyes are fixed on the pool of green water. In the middle, slowly turning in the breeze, floats a single feather.  It's a long flight feather, bright scarlet and tipped with black.  ... He points to the door next to the scarlet ibis enclosure. No Entry. Staff Only....  I can see Red standing at the pond edge, staring at the feather. .. My heart is thumping inside my chest, because I know that we are now in deep, deep trouble."

I had to stop reading at this point and take a break.  I was so worried for Scarlet and Red but actually the kind zoo keeper saves the day and all is well - but only for a short time.  Trouble really comes in the form of a house fire and Scarlet finds herself in foster care, separated from her brother and with very conflicted feelings about her mother.

If you enjoy fast paced books, with strong characters who demonstrate compassion, resilience and determination - you will love Scarlet Ibis.  A big thank you goes to the Grade six student from my school who returned this book last week with the comment "I loved it."

You might like to read this review. Here is a video interview with the author.  Scarlet Ibis was awarded The Little Rebels prize in 2015. I now need to investigate some of the other titles short listed for this new social justice award.   You might also enjoy reading these reviews by students.

After reading Scarlet Ibis you could read The Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff and Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech.  An older student might like to read The Illustrated mum by Jacqueline Wilson which also deals with issues of mental illness.

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