Julia Green, Seal Island

Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0192735569

Ten year-old Grace is having her first holiday without her family, staying with her grandmother at her home on Seal Island in the Hebrides. She’s looking forward to lots of exploring, and especially hopes she will see a baby seal. The oldest of four children, she revels in her grandmother’s undivided attention. She relishes the freedom to roam on her own, experiencing a way of life very different to her city existence, and she develops a wonderful friendship with island boy Col. But not everything is idyllic. Her grandfather died just a year ago, and Grace finds his absence hard. She discovers her baby seal, but it is wounded and in danger, and Grace is frightened and has to make difficult decisions. Col’s father’s fishing boat goes missing in a dreadful storm.

Julia Green’s evocations of nature and Hebridean life are excellent. She is strong on characterisation too. Grace is an extremely likeable protagonist: very upbeat, but also sensitive. Her grief for her grandfather and the gradual way in which she comes to terms with his loss are movingly portrayed. Col is a complex individual, with immense love and respect for his home and its animals, and a reluctance to talk about his feelings. Grace’s grandmother more than fulfils storybook expectations. She provides Grace with all the love, time, food, stories and liberty any child could want.

Seal Island has a timeless, atmospheric quality. It will be very popular with key stage 2 readers, girls especially.