When people ask me why I think it’s so important to read I could literally talk for hours about the joys of reading. How it can take you on journeys to weird and wonderful worlds without ever having to leave the comfort of your sofa and offer an escape from whatever you may be feeling. One of the really amazing things that it can encourage is empathy. It allows us to step into other shoes and experience how life and circumstances can affect them. ‘Swan Boy’ by Nikki Sheehan is one of those books which deals with grief and pain in an unusual but poignant way. It gives us an insight into Jonny and his family who are struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of a father and a husband. Not only has the axis of their world been shifted by his death but the family are forced to move away from their home and schools and so the problems begin.
Jonny is thrust into the role of father figure with his Dad gone and his Mum working long hours to keep the family solvent. He’s trying to help his Mum, look after his brother and deal with the school bully Liam Clarke who is trying to make his life hell. But when Jonny gets help from an unusual source, a swan who tries to protect him from Liam, his life takes a dramatic turn and life begins to change in the most unexpected ways. Cast as a lead in the school production of Swan Lake Jonny is challenged to be brave and embrace the role. But with the constant threat of the bully’s revenge hanging over him can he overcome the odds and succeed?
‘Swan Boy’ did initially remind me of Billy Elliot but dancing is only one aspect of this incredible story. The characterisation is just wonderful, each of the characters layers are gradually revealed, to give us an honest portrayal of their emotions helping us to understand their own story. Jonny’s young brother Mojo is the most surprising, you feel that he’s just a small child who doesn’t seem to understand that his father has died yet this is so far removed from the truth. An emotional rollercoaster of pain, grief and despair yet it is remarkably uplifting leaving the reader left with a sense of wonder and joy. Blending magic with everyday life Nikki creates a truly wonderful story filled with courage, hope and the importance of being yourself even when this seems impossible.
‘Swan Boy’ would be an excellent choice to share with Year 6 children and should definitely be in every primary and secondary school library.