January gave us a double dose of David Almond. Not only did we get to grips with My Name is Mina, published in 2011, but we also read Skellig - the 1998 Whitbread and Carnegie prize-winning book to which Mina is the prequel. Both books led to some intense and wide-ranging discussions.
On the whole, the vote was in favour of Skellig as a more satisfying read for both boys and girls: it has substance, strong and sympathetic male and female characters, and plot momentum. The stylised girl's diary approach and typefaces used in My Name is Mina were less well received and we commented on the missed opportunity to introduce some drawings into the text. We had different opinions about whether Mina's character was realistic and whether her home schooling experience - an apparently well-tempered and idealistic partnership between mother and daughter - was credible. We appreciated Almond's description of Mina's day in the Pupil Referral Unit - but we were drawn into a discussion about whether some pages in Mina felt more like a writer going through some technical exercises to demonstrate his craft than moving the plot forward.
We discussed the poetry and art of William Blake; the tightly woven metaphors relating to birds and flight; the references to the classical Underworld with Persephone's journey acting as a simile for birth; the island of Skellig Michael and the archaeopteryx. We talked about reading age labelling for books. We enjoyed many of the thought-provoking ideas that Almond's books must inspire in children: particularly the dust particles of skin and people's breath lingering in the atmosphere. (11 year old son to Mum, after going to bed: "Mum, am I getting dusty when I lie in bed at night?")
Our next book takes us into the mediaeval Arthurian fantasy world of T H White's The Sword in the Stone (1938).