Michael Morpurgo (text), Briony May Smith (illus.), The Giant’s Necklace, Walker Books, Oct 2016, 80pp., $19.99 (hbk) ISBN 9781406357127
SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to tell you how it ends because I think you need a heads up before reading this to younger readers. But do keep reading – it’s a lovely book.
My twins have just turned eight and, aside from the occasional classic, most of the books they read are either picture books or novels with pink covers. To be fair, they are a bit more diverse than that, but you get the idea. So I must admit I got a bit of a shock when I realised the young girl in this story dies. Whoa.
The Giant’s Necklace is a beautifully-crafted story by award-winning author Michael Morpurgo. It begins with Cherry on holiday at the beach with her family, sitting around the kitchen table, threading shells onto a necklace. She wants to make it long enough to fit a giant. There’s friendly teasing between Cherry and her four older brothers – it’s obvious they adore her – as they get ready to walk to the beach for a swim. As it’s the last day of the holidays, Cherry is keen to collect enough shells to finish her necklace, so her parents let her stay at the beach after the rest of her family head back to the house to tidy up. Here’s when my “mum alarm” starts going off. The child is left at the beach alone!?! The author tells us the family have holidayed there for years, Cherry knows the way back and it’s secluded, there’s no-one else around. But I’m still horrified she’s left alone. Right there is a prompt for a discussion with my kids about beach safety. Particularly with how the story progresses. It starts to rain, there is a storm and the tide comes in…
I’m glad I read this book myself before sharing it with my children. That’s not to say I won’t read it with them – I think one of my girls would be completely fine with it. The other though, I expect, may have trouble sleeping afterwards, so I’m holding off for now. Less sensitive children, I’m sure, would be fine.
The Giant’s Necklace is an engaging adventure. Cherry’s character is given depth almost immediately, and she is both likable and easy to relate to. When she does die, it is not immediately clear that she is dead. There’s no horror or pain. If you want – or need – to explain death to a young child, this book would be a lovely way to do so. There are plenty of illustrations to break up the text and, at the start, they show a young, happy girl with her family. The pictures of the storm are quite dark (as storms are), but the following illustrations feel hopeful. And then it’s daytime again and the illustrations are colourful when it becomes clear Cherry has died. There is grief, but it’s without fear. This book is a perfect prompt for a conversation about death, but it also stands alone as a great story too. I’d just lean towards the older end of the recommended 7-12 year-old audience.
Reviewed by Carissa Mason