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Books Set On Scottish Islands

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5 favourite children's books set on Scottish islands...

Barbara Henderson is the author of The Chessmen Thief, an atmospheric Viking adventure set on the Isle of Lewis, and of Wilderness Wars, a modern eco-thriller set on a fictional Island off the Isle of Harris.  Her energetic school visits have taken her across Scotland and beyond and as a drama teacher, she loves to get young people on their feet!

Here Barbara chooses 5 favourite children’s books set on Scottish islands…

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Geraldine McCaughrean
Chapter book

The Carnegie medal winning novel is set in 1727 on St Kilda – and on a rock stac in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where a group of boys and their leader find themselves abandoned to the elements. It is a gripping survival story which reeled me in from the first sentence: ‘His mother gave him a new pair of socks, a puffin to eat on the voyage and a kiss on the cheek.’

Tamsin Mori & David Dean
Chapter book

The Weather Weaver is the first book to be published by Tamsin Mori. A self-declared childhood nomad, Mori’s love of her maternal home of Shetland is evident from the start.

Finding herself dumped on the Isle of Shetland while her parents work away on a research vessel, Stella soon finds that life with her recently bereaved Grandpa does not match the sunny memories of her earlier childhood. As she grapples with her Grandpa’s never-ending anger and disappointment she is befriended by the unlikely figure of Tamar, an eccentric old woman. Afraid to appear rude, Stella sets off on the seemingly unfeasible mission of catching a cloud, little realising how dramatically her life is about to change…

The story tackles the effect of bereavement and separation with sensitivity, without feeling like it has been sugar-coated in any way. Mori delicately weaves the story as Stella faces her own fears and rebuilds the relationship she once had with her Grandpa, gaining strength in her self-belief along the way. Mori also manages to balance the reality of life as we know it, with that little bit of magic spun throughout, leaving the reader (or at least this one!) gazing at the clouds, wishing they could weave the weather too.

In schools, the story would be good as a basis for a discussion on the basis of myth and legend or as a PSHE opener on the possible effects of bereavement or separation on those left behind. This would also make a great book to keep pupils hooked at the end of the day with just enough mounting peril to keep them wanting more without scaring those more sensitive souls.

My only complaint of the book is the number of late nights I succumbed to as I really didn’t want to put it down! I don’t know if Mori plans to write a sequel, but I truly hope so.

Mairi Hedderwick

This is the first of the Katie Morag Stories which went on to become a successful series (and TV programme too). It’s easy to fall in love with Hedderwick’s beautiful illustrations, and the characters feel like old friends. Struay may be a fictional island, but the books are inspired by the author’s own years of living on the isle of Colonsay. Perfect island escapism in words and pictures! All the stories are great, but I have a huge soft spot for Katie Morag and Tiresome Ted.

Lindsay Littleson
Chapter book

This book was the winner of the prestigious Kelpies Prize for new Scottish writing and, set on the Isle of Cumbrae in southern Scotland, it deserves much wider attention. Lily’s family is less than perfect, but when she hears a ghostly voice warning her not to go to the island, things get messier. A beautifully written and funny adventure, but with depth and heart.

Barbara Henderson
 & Sandra McGowan
Chapter book

Set in the Viking era, The Chessmen Thief is an intriguing tale of 12-year-old Kylan’s quest to return to his mother having been captured by Norsemen when he was just 7 years old. However, with everything the Almighty keeps throwing his way, will he be able to make it?

Kylan – a thrall, a slave for a harsh and unforgiving craftsman – thinks all hope is lost and he will never get the opportunity to return to his home, the Southern Isles, to find his mother. His memory of her is beginning to fade, except her fiery red hair and an important message she gave him as she was whisked away… ‘The Isle of Lewis. It’s your home Kylan. Never forget it.’ When an opportunity presents itself, Kylan knows he has to summon all of his courage to ensure it doesn’t slip through his fingers. The Lewis Chessmen – which his master reluctantly let him help carve – are his only hope. However, great craftsmanship gains attention, including that of Sven Asleifsson, a cruel and barbaric Viking known throughout the realm.

Based on the real-life Lewis Chessmen (a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis), The Chessmen Thief is a great addition to existing Vikings-themed booklists – it does not shy away from subject-specific vocabulary, however, is an easy read and therefore may be a suitable choice for lower year groups within Key Stage 2. Barbara Henderson has carefully crafted the plot around the chess motif and the story is not overwhelmed with action and gore, as can often be the case with books written about this era. The narrative includes enough action to keep the reader engaged, however provides enough space for readers to wonder how the story will progress.

The book would particularly complement history topics for those teaching in Scotland, providing opportunities to find out about the Viking era closer to home.

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