Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kit's Wilderness by David Almond

In my pursuit of books that might draw my daughter into reading, I was lucky enough to find this wonderful book. It's categorized as young adult, but it's very readable for us older folks too.

Kit's Wilderness tells the story of thirteen year old Kit Watson and his family, who move back to their ancestral town of Stoneygate in Northeastern England. It's an old mining town, seemingly haunted by the children who died in mine disasters in the early 1800's.

Kit meets the moody, troubled John Askew, whom he shares a connection – they both have the same names and ages of two boys who died in the mines over a hundred years ago.

John and a few other children like to play an game called “Death”. In the game, the one chosen for “Death” becomes entranced, sees apparitions, and is then swallowed by nothingness. Kit is drawn into the game as well. After Kit is chosen for “Death”, he's haunted by the ghost children, playing at the edge of the river, or in the “wilderness” near the mines. The reader is left to decide if the “ghosts” are real, a form of hypnotism, imagination, or dreams.

Kit's grandfather, who is succumbing to Alzheimer's Disease, tells him stories about the ghosts, and what it was like working in mines. One story in particular is about Silky, a ghost boy that never made it out of the mine for burial. The “old timers” in town considered Silky to be a good ghost, and they would say he would protected the miners who've lost their way deep in the mine. The stories, along with the ghost of Silky, form a strong bond between grandfather and grandson.

I don't want to give out too many spoilers, but I will say the story leaves some loose ends to your imagination. This might not go over well with kids that are too reliant on the instant gratification of TV, where storylines are spelled out like a treasure map for a two year old.

I enjoyed this book immensely. A little ghost story, a little growing up story, a little bit family. It made me feel good. Warm. Like Christmastime in front of a warm hearth. With family.

I pictured the grandfather in the story being similar to my mother's grandfather who worked in the mines, here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I don't recall the exact stories – they were things mentioned in passing by my mother - just bits and pieces floating around my brain. I seem to remember the ring he made her from a stone found in a coal mine. Fool's Gold maybe? How the children as young as eight (sometimes younger) worked in the mines. I know there's more. I hope that someday my Mom, her brother and sister will write those down for us. To my knowledge, we don't have any stories that take place in Northeast PA, like Kit's Wilderness.

David Almond's first novel, Skellig, was a huge success. It won the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children's Book Award, and has been made into a movie by Sky1.