You know a children’s book is good when you accidentally read it all in one go from the moment it arrives in the post. I kept telling myself to stop reading “Elen’s Island”, by Eloise Williams , as it would be more special to read it through the first time with the kids, but it was such a page turner that I’m afraid I couldn’t…
When her parents send her to stay with a grandmother she hardly knows for the summer, Elen is furious. Gran lives on a tiny island and doesn t want her either – it s not an easy start. Gran’s idea of childcare is to give Elen a map and tell her to explore. Who is the odd boy on the beach with a puffin? After saving Gran in a storm, Elen finds a picture that she s sure is a clue to hidden treasure. She investigates and finds a very different treasure from the one she expected.
When I did eventually manage to share this lovely book with my kids they also really enjoyed it. We read it together as a chapter book, a chapter or two a night, as it always takes far longer to read a book aloud than to yourself, as I’m sure you know. We also popped it in our bag to keep us entertained whenever we had the opportunity to read it. Now, we have finished reading it together, Rebecca is re-reading it to herself and it makes a lovely independent reader for her, which I hope lots of schools will be adding to their class libraries. The charming illustrations are by Gabby Grant.
We immediately sympathised with Elen being sent to stay with her Grandmother on an Island in Wet, West Wales, whilst her parents are seemingly off on a sunny, child free holiday. Elen travelling on a train with a chaperone for this parent-free summer adventure made me think fondly of some of my other favourite books over the years including- Carrie’s War, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The St Clare’s/Mallory Towers boarding school series by Enid Blyton and the more recent Harry Potter.
We empathise with Elin and her worries, and we think of lonely times or big changes that we all go through at some stage in our lives, maybe starting a new school or moving away.
The characters are likeable and believable. We have all met a chatterbox like Sally! Some of the other characters are not immediately friendly to Elen, such as “the boy” on the boat, but that adds to the reality of the story. As in real life, the more we get to know them, the more we warm to them and they warm to Elen, making, hopefully, lifelong friendships.
The book has lots of great examples of descriptive writing which paint a picture of Aberglad in our minds.
“The sky began clearing from grey to the brightest, cleanest blue. A rainbow hovered over the town. Children chattered in the streets and strings of brightly coloured bunting flapped into the breeze. They sky was as sparkly as a crystal when they walked down to the harbour.”
I think we will be doing some paintings based on the book on rainy days in the summer holidays. I’m hoping it will encourage the kids to write a descriptive paragraph, including metaphors, about some of their favourite places to visit too.
Elen travels to the Island on a small boat with Captain Evans at the helm. When she arrives at her Gran’s there are still more questions than answers- what is the smelly “liquid magic” she brews and why is she so secretive about her ornate box?
The next day Gran leaves her with a hand drawn map and the instructions, “Go and explore if you can be bothered.” Gran’s map is actually illustrated by Guy Manning. I love books that contain maps. I remember borrowing a book from the library that had maps, mirror writing and a message in a bottle all in the story- that was all very exciting for me and I would still re-read it today if I could only remember the title!
Of course, Elin is bothered enough to go and explore the Island, taking her eager readers with her. She makes her way to “Strumble Sands” and once again bumps into the unwelcoming “boy”. On this meeting, he had his friend with him, a puffin called Captain Beaky. They eventually come to bond over Captain Beaky and we feel relief that Elen finally has an Island ally.
Soon the storm comes. Storms at sea are always scary but also exciting, for Elen this disturbance makes the Island and her Gran even more of a mystery to her than before.
She finds a photograph and poem and sets out to find the truth about her treasure.
Many minds make one heart and together the Island friends unravel the mystery and even possibly plan a solution.
As Elen and her friends decorate the cave and try to make the magic come true and help Gran, it has inspired the kids and I to make lots of garden crafts in the holidays.
You will have to read the book to find out if the magic worked and if there is a happy ending, but I can promise you that you will be gripped and there are twists and turns along the way- I love it when things aren’t quite as you first assume in a story, don’t you?
It is a magical, heartwarming tale. We love it as we relate a lot as it describes our area as we live near the sea and love visiting our local islands. Equally, it would be a great read for those who are yet to experience this seaside life or those who only have the opportunity to experience this coastal childhood whilst on holidays. It is useful for me as a parent because I am always trying to reinforce to my kids the reality that not everyone lives by the sea. For some people these experiences are all new and I want them to appreciate that as well as realise that they still have a lot more of the world to explore.
I still remember the moment in Mount Infant School, when my teacher read a Mr Men book in which one of the Mr Men characters travelled a long way to visit the seaside. She showed us a map and that was to be an important geography lesson for me as I realised for the first time in my life that of course, not everybody lived by the sea.
Rebecca would like me to point out that the words “one” and “direction” appear in the book together, which she was excited to see because of a certain favourite boy band!
Eloise Williams, who now resides in Saundersfoot released the book on World Book Day of this year. For us, heading into the summer holidays and with plans of vising our county’s islands, it is the perfect time to have discovered it.
As I mentioned earlier, it has given us lots of inspiration for activities to entertain the kids during the free time. After you’ve read this book, you may want to do the following activities too:
- Draw or paint a picture of the fictional Aberglad and the Island.
- Go to a beach and describe what you see, hear, taste and touch. Try to include similes and metaphors if you can!
- Go on a walk and make a map of the area, so your friends/family can explore it too.
- Decorate a memory box or treasure chest to store all your favourite memories from your summer adventure.
- Choose a word and write an Acrostic poem.
- Make a tin or jar garden lantern. Put a candle in it and see how pretty the garden looks in the dark.
- Make a shell garland to hang in your garden.
- Make a sea glass garden hanging decoration.
- Make CD hanging decorations.
Elen’s Island can be bought for £5.99 from Firely Press and is the perfect Summer read.
Our photos as we read the book are taken at Martin’s Haven where you can catch the boat to Skomer Island and also at Gelliswick Beach, Pembrokeshire.