By Gill Lewis
Published by Oxford Children’s Books
ISBN 978 0 19 274925 3
Vast areas of northern England and Scotland are empty moorland, where only vegetation like heather and hard grasses grow. When the heather is in bloom, these moors are extremely beautiful, and they are home to all sorts of wildlife – especially wild birds.
The moors are the habitat of the grouse, a wild bird with a plump body and feathered legs. Grouse shooting is a sport on the moors, and considered big money; every year there are protests by wildlife groups trying to ban the activity. Grouse moors are carefully managed during the year by gamekeepers, whose job it is to control predators like foxes and birds of prey who would kill baby grouse if given the chance.
Gill Lewis’ new novel, Sky Dancer, plays out on and around a grouse-moor in England. Lewis is becoming the go-to writer for teen readers wanting stories that combine thrills, nature and new experiences.
Few readers opening Sky Dancer will ever have visited a grouse-moor, but they will feel they have when they get to the end of Lewis’ story. The moors play an important role in the action, and Lewis takes her readers there with great expertise and a wonderful cinematic eye.
Joe has always loved the moorlands, where his father was head gamekeeper at Hartstone, one of the oldest grouse-moors in England, before he died of a heart attack. Dad had been sent to prison for the illegal shooting of a hen harrier, a protected bird of prey that lives on grouse moors, and which gamekeepers see as a great threat to grouse chicks. Now there is only Joe, his mum and his brother Ryan, who wants to be head gamekeeper at Harstone like their father.
Hen harriers are the enemies of any gamekeeper, and the local community at Hartstone is divided over the fate of those that live on the moor. When Joe finds an orphaned hen harrier chick and decides to raise it, he finds himself in the middle of both a personal and community tug of war. Should he do what is right for the community, or should he fight for what he believes? Joe finds himself caught in a conflict that seems to have no solution.
Sky Dancer is a powerfully written wildlife story with a strong sense of place and community. Lewis does not moralise about the question at the centre of the story, and sentimentality plays no part in the tale she is telling. But readers will certainly have formed their own opinion about the plight of grouse and wild birds of prey when Joe’s story dramatically comes to a close.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org