I’m taking a moment to review a non-picture book (as I’ve said before, this is my review blog so I can do what I like on here!)
If you’ve read the entries on my other blog you will know that it’s been a real struggle to get my son Toby to read. But I have pretty much cracked it by introducing family reading time. Here’s a bit about the success of it:
Toby was looking for something new to read. I have a TON of 9-12 books. I love them. But as I was scanning the bookshelf my eye was drawn to my ‘still to read’ pile. The top of which was Going Home by Cliff McNish.
I got a proof copy for this because (as I told the Orion rep in the bookshop many times) I LOVE Cliff’s stories and have read all of them. I love his fantastical ideas, I love the nastiness and being scared witless. Breathe: A Ghost Standing is brilliantly terrifying. Savannah Grey is deeply chilling. And that is why I couldn’t bring myself to read Going Home. Because it is a happy story (not what I’m used to) AND about animals (not normally my thing).
I still hadn’t read it by the end of the year but when Toby asked for a book it suddenly seemed like a good idea. He could read it and then tell me whether it was worthwhile. Toby loved this idea – that his opinion was super important and that he could discover the characters first. He’s the perfect age (8) for it too.
So read it he did. And he was hooked. He made us walk home faster so that he could get on and read a chapter – he will only ever read one chapter a day of things. Not even the most exciting book can get him beyond that at the moment. He kept talking about all these characters, forgetting that I didn’t know the story. Pretty soon Jess and I were well acquainted with the cast – Ralph, Fred, Mitch, Bessie and others. Ralph in particular.
I knew he was really into the story but I didn’t know how much until he reached p141. I didn’t know it was p141 at the time – I just knew that he was bawling his eyes out. No book had touched Toby in this way before and I asked him what was wrong.
‘Ralph didn’t get to go home. And the title of the book is Going Home, so I know he must get to go home at some point. But it wasn’t today. It just wasn’t today.’
I am going to remember what he said forever. Because while it wasn’t massively nice seeing him cry it meant one thing: that the story was real to him. He’d had that moment when the story is so strong that you feel part of the story itself and what happens to the characters makes or breaks your day. He discovered the true reason we all read: to be connected to a wonderful story.
When he finished it he handed it to me with a smile. ‘You’re going to love it,‘ he said with confidence. And he was right. I don’t like animal stories particularly and I didn’t know if a Happy McNish Story would work. But work it does. And a few chapters in I was amazed about how much I’d come to care about those dogs, and how much of doggy character Cliff feeds into each one. I also knew the point at which Toby cried because I was crying too. Mitch is chosen over Ralph by Rowena and Sandra, even though Sandra’s daughter Claire is besotted with Ralph. This comes after so many setbacks that it’s exactly as Toby says – you know, given the target age group and the title that the ending must be OK, but by this point you’re starting to doubt it. You are so caught up in the moment of the story that there is nothing else.
I feel silly to have waited so long to read it. Cliff is massively talented – of course it was going to work. But I’m so pleased that Toby got to be the first in our family to read it. And that it turned out to be That Book – the book where Toby truly discovered a love of reading, and the special, magical connection you have with characters and fellow readers and the author too.
So thank you Cliff. You made my son cry. Thank you.