In the tradition of Tarka the Otter via The Animals of Farthing Wood, The River Singer’s is a delightful and timely addition to the oeuvre of animal-centric fiction for children. Tom Moorhouse has stepped forward to pick up a story-telling mantle that has all but been discarded since Dann’s titles have all moved to Print on Demand. Moorhouse heralds a triumphant return to animal realism and a voice who could quite easily lead the field for an entire new generation of readers.
Sylvan is a Water Vole, born and bred to follow the ways of Sinethis; The Great River. All is not well on the river though and it soon becomes Sylvan’s duty to lead his family on a perilous quest to find a safe, new place to live. This is a tale packed with excitement, tension, sadness and humour. It is at times sedate and tranquil and at others turbulent, but like the Great River flows rapidly ever-forward to its incredibly satisfying conclusion.
An action story this is, but it also offers much more. There is a terrific wealth of information about the natural world contained within these pages. In a time when our children need to be made more and more aware of the threats that face our wildlife it is refreshing to see a story that teaches about the animals and their environment without directly introducing a human danger. We are allowed to view the animals in their ‘natural’ state and learn how they would operate in a habitat devoid of our direct influence. Of course the main danger in this story does have its links to humans, but that is something the readers can discover for themselves once an interest in the natural world has been kindled.
One other element that I would like to draw attention to is that of gender. This story may be ‘led’ by the eldest male in the litter, but Sylvan is by no means in control of his two younger sisters. Boys and girls need good role models in contemporary fiction and Moorhouse manages to both educate his readers about the natural interactions of male and female Water Voles, whilst at the same time ensuring that girls are shown they have equal roles in leadership and boys are shown resolve, respect and that protection doesn’t equal control.
A little poetic licence, plenty of nerve-wracking danger and wonderfully believable characters, this is a highly realistic fable. A Duncton Wood for children.
The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse
Oxford University Press
Released October 2013, £10.99
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