LONGLIST REVIEW: The Secret of Black Rock

Erin Pike lives in a small fishing town that lives under the shadow of a mysterious island legend. Erin longs to see Black Rock, but the Fishermen and women tell her scary tales of the creatures she might encounter there. Erin’s passion for adventure drives her daily to her mother’s boat where she hides, hoping she won’t be discovered until her mother has set sail so that she can discover the legend for herself and the secrets that the Island holds.

Erin finally outwits her mother and stows away onboard her fishing vessel, but she is not prepared to be out at sea and soon finds herself overboard without being noticed. The ocean envelops her in its inky blackness and it seems that hope is lost. Fortunately for Erin, her tumble into the sea has woken Black Rock, who it appears is much more than a craggy island. Black Rock is himself a creature of the sea, a habitat for hundreds of forms of underwater life.

Erin is astonished by the secret of Black Rock and is desperate to share these wonders with everyone back at home and she persuades Black Rock to take her back to shore. Once at home, Erin’s attempts to explain the marvels of the Black Rock fall on prejudiced ears. The grown ups do not believe her and want to destroy what they believe is a monster. In the dead of night, Erin rows out in her little dingy to warn Black Rock, in an attempt to keep him safe.

Foolishly, the people of the fishing town bring huge metal ships with drills to destroy the rock and Erin finds herself bravely standing as a human shield to protect her new friend. She is not alone in her attempts to protect the rock and the creatures of the sea join her, offering protection to their beautiful Island friend. Finally, the fishermen realise their mistake- Black Rock isn’t a monster at all, but a wonderful habit for the creatures of the sea.

This story ends, as all good stories should, with a happy ending, as Erin and her family make Black Rock their new home. They build a lighthouse in order to keep the rock safe from anyone else who may mistakenly sail too close or threaten to destroy the environment the island provides.

This is beautifully illustrated junior graphic novel by author and illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton. Each illustration holds a wealth of feeling and detail. Whilst this book was originally written for a young audience, the message is relevant for all ages and could be used with all ages.

Ideas for using this book in the classroom:

  1. View with book without the text and have children attempt to write their own version of the story.
  2. Research creatures found either in rock pools or inhabit rocky islands and write about them.
  3. Write in character as Erin. Describe the wonders of Black Rock and persuade the people of the town to protect the Island and not destroy it.
  4. Take a look at Flying Eye’s interview with Joe Todd-Stanton. Find out what inspires his work. Start a sketch book in order to gather inspiration for creating a weird character that could live in your school environment.
  5. Create a legend of your own about a creature that lives in your town. Add an environmental twist to your story. How will your monster help the environment and why should it be protected?

The Secret of Black Rock Joe Todd-Stanton

Flying Eye      ISBN: 9781911171256

You can read another review of 'The Secret of Black Rock' here.



Thirteen year old Owl doesn’t know why her mother gave her such an unusual name, but believes she must be called Owl for a reason. Her anxieties about her identity are added to by the absence of a father in her life. She must have one, everyone does, but her mother’s vague responses to Owl’s questions add further to her frustrations. When she was younger, Owl’s mother would tell her fairy tales to quell her barrage of questions, but now she is older, the childish answers simply do not satisfy her.

Owl’s worries deepen when frosty crystals appear on her body and she demands to know more about her father. Her mother’s answer is unbelievable- how can her father be the supernatural being Jack Frost? At first, Owl’s best friend, Mallory, is no help in supporting her with this unbelievable revelation as she has problems of her own, but the new boy at school seems unfazed and more understanding. Alberic explains that he is also one of the Fay creatures, like Owl, and reveals to her the existence of the Elementals, immense beings with the power to change the seasons. Jack Frost, ruler of winter; the Earl of October, ruler of Autumn; Boreas, God of the wind; the Queen of May, ruler of spring and Mother Earth, the leader of Royal Court.

‘They’re big characters - kind cruel, wild, nurturing, all the things you’d expect from nature’.

When Owl realises that the Elementals meet in the Old Druid Wood every few months, she is determined to find out more about her father. As Owl gets to know him, she uncovers an elaborate plot to discredit and banish Jack Frost and that she is positioned at the heart of it. The Elementals have joined forces to take their revenge on Jack for his encroaching frosts on their seasons and will battle for power to break through the icy grip of winter that Jack leaves in his frosty wake. Not only does Owl struggle with each of these incredible revelations, but she also struggles to get a grip on her own new found ability to control ice- this gift threatens to overpower her and change her forever.

This debut novel by Amy Wilson is full of ancient beings and icy magic, blending fantasy and the everyday perfectly. It is a brilliant, engaging read that hooks you in and pulls you along. Perfect for more mature Primary school aged children, exploring ideas about identity, friendship and loyalty, it sits perfectly in our moving on category. This is absolutely a book to fall in love with.

A Girl Called Owl   by Amy Wilson, illustrated by Helen Crawford-White

 Macmillan Children’s Books     ISBN: 9781509832460


 He’s the product of a secret government research centre. A multi-million dollar canine super spy computer. Yes, a dog! Technicians have invested years of experimental research in him, but he’s just not up to the job, He’s too easily distracted on spy missions and still prefers to chase squirrels rather than focus on the assignment he has been programmed to perform. So he’s due to be terminated, but Chipper has a plan.

That plan includes twelve year old Jeff, recently orphaned and living with his Aunt Flo at her lakeside fishing resort, Shady Acres Camp. He hates living there, not least because Flo treats him like a servant - clean this, fetch that; he misses his parents and his old life with them.

When Jeff and Chipper’s stories collide, the real chase begins. The Institute are not happy that their canine super computer has run a way and they want it back no matter the cost. They have sent their top agents to track him down and if they can re-engage the GPS in Chipper, they will be able to pinpoint his exact location. Chipper and Jeff are in grave danger, but who can they trust? Chipper knows to much about the dark experiments going on at the Institute and that knowledge will put everyone in danger.

This is a pacey children’s thriller full of high speed chases, technology and a touch of humour. Written by Canadian author, Linwood Barclay, an experienced adult crime fiction writer, this is his first book for a younger audience. There are hints throughout the book that guide the flow of the story, but not so obvious as to spoil the suspense. The characters are well written and right from the first page readers will be championing Chipper to escape and maintain his freedom from the evil grasp of the Institute.

A book built on the question ‘what if’. What if you could put a super computer inside a dog? What if the dog was still distracted by the normal things that attract dogs? What if he escaped? What if you found him?

A great book that will have upper KS2 children on the edge of their seats!


Chase      Linwood Barclay

Orion     ISBN: 9781510102194