Review: The Closest Thing To Flying

BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations

Book Title: The Closest Thing to Flying (available here)

Author: Gill Lewis

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publication Date: February 2019

Most Suitable For: Years 4-6

Reviewed By: Jane Carter, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education

Gill Lewis is a skilled and engaging story teller who manages to weave through her stories some of the biggest issues of the day. This book is no exception. It is hard to believe quite how Gill Lewis has managed to bring together such diverse and challenging issues in one book: the origins of the RSPB and with it, the plight of exotic birds; the role and rights of women in society both now and in Victorian England; the life and struggles of refugees in modern Britain; friendship and bullying and how the kindness of a few can make a difference to many. If this wasn’t enough, if you are interested in cycling then this book is also likely to be a winner!

The story focuses on two girls with an unlikely and unusual ‘friendship’ forged across a hundred years through a diary that Semira finds in an old hat box containing a strange hat with a beautiful green bird on it which she is mysteriously drawn to. The green bird awakens something in Semira’s memory about her past. Semira is a refugee from Eritrea who lives with her mother but they are controlled by a man because of his promises to sort out their immigration status.

Henrietta lived in the Victorian era and was the child of a wealthy family who owned a feather importing company, buying the feathers of exotic birds to make hats. Henrietta’s aunt, unbeknown to Henrietta’s parents, introduces her to a group of women who are campaigning for the prevention of cruelty to birds and through this, Henrietta hears of the debate about the rights of women to vote and to determine their own lives – including even things as simple as riding a bike. Semira reads all of this in Henrietta’s diary and many of the issues that touch Henrietta are mirrored in Semira’s life. The diary gives Semira courage to face up to the bullies in her and her mother’s life and in so doing, reconnects with her own past through friendship, cycling and a lot of courage.

Curriculum Links:

History – suffragette movement; history of the RSPB; Victorian England

Geography – the hunting and killing of exotic birds for their feathers; Ethiopia and Eritrea.

PHSE – refugees; bullying; friendship


You can order The Closest Thing to Flying online or from your local bookshop or library.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending us a review copy of this book and to Jane for reviewing it.


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