Some books are filled with events and action and these are great. Some tell a simplistic story that often has such emotional threads running through it that the reader just wants to follow the characters on their personal journey. Dragon Skin makes you want to read; makes you care.
Pip is a strong-willed girl living in Western Australia. She spends her time alone in the outback exploring with a heavy heart. The sadness she feels is due to her friend, Mika, who no longer lives in the town. Throughout the book, in the form of flashbacks, we learn about their relationship and how Mika taught Pip how to view the world with excitement and a curious nature. Just as well he did, as Pip finds a weak, new born dragon and she instantly knows that this is her secret; a secret to protect this creature.
It is a story of love, loss and letting things go. Quite mature themes for a children’s book but Karen Foxlee structures it so well that the picture is built clearly. Pip’s mother is in an abusive relationship which provides Pip with another sense of urgency in the form of escape and a contrast of how someone can make you negatively feel. One really clever device the author uses is to share a stream of mum’s internet searches to show how things are developing throughout the book which start off with:
Then become darker:
On a personal note, this book linked to my own childhood. I often mention books in schools needing to be mirrors that the children see themselves, or windows to view others. Strangely for myself, this story did both as I was born in the region the story takes place in, yet moved to the UK without forming any real memories of Australia. It was fascinating to read about the environment I could have explored, more like the lead character.
Now for the teacher bit. When children enter Y6, teachers need to find texts that are mature and complex in their structure. Dragon Skin is ideal for this. With the flashbacks, multiple character arcs, themes such as grief and domestic abuse, it provides a real platform for creating real readers in class. As an aside, from the teacher nerd viewpoint, it has a great deal of vocabulary that will be alien to children in the UK. It would be interesting to see how children respond to identifying the meaning of words such as ‘galah’ and if it corresponds with current reading research.
A book of sadness and loss, of kindness and hope, but most importantly of heart.