Raven Boy by Pippa Goodhart

Published by Catnip Publishing (ISBN 978-1846470257)

‘Legend has it that, if the ravens leave the Tower of London, the monarch and kingdom will fall.’

Set in London in the year 1666, in a city ravaged by the Great Plague, Nick, a young boy, wanted nothing more than to carve out a future for himself and his family.  But, when the worst happened and his mother fell ill with the wretched sickness that kept the people of London trapped within the city walls, Nick has no choice but to run.  He knew for certain what would happen: his mother, like all the infected, would die; the terrifying bird-masked searchers would come, and if he stayed, he, along with every other person living at the boarding house would be locked inside and left at the mercy of the plague and certain death. So, with his much loved little sister he goes on the run.

Nick was desperate to get his sister away from the danger but, after just a few short hours, as sickness crept up inside him, he began to realise that he may be the greatest danger.  Leaving her at the home of the carpenter he had once worked for, where he believed she would be safe, Nick is once more on the run.  Filled with anger and grief, Nick made the choice not to run away from the people he hated so much, but rather to run to them.  He would take the illness to the Tower – right to the doorstep of those he blamed for the many hardships he faced.  He was a weapon. And, he wanted revenge.  Nick planned to destroy the King, Charles II, in the very place the monarch felt safest: within the walls of the Tower of London.

Inspired by the intelligent trickery and cunning of a young raven, one of many who roosted on those great walls and turrets, Nick bluffed his way inside and right into the centre of the King’s Power House.  As Nick’s friendship with this plucky young bird grows, he learns more than he ever thought possible about the world he snuck into and the very people he hated so much.  However, as he battles his demons and begins to view his surroundings with new eyes, he soon faces a new danger.  A danger that rips through the very heart London and threatens all he holds most dear.

Woven from the threads of history, this tale is brilliantly imaginative whilst being expertly grounded within the real events of the time.  It is dusted throughout with historical details and references and portrays the horrifying dangers the people of London faced in a way that Junior-aged children can understand, without dumbing down the issues or shying away from the harsh realities.  Pippa Goodhart has included a superb explanation of the histories used within her story and tells of the inspiration behind Raven Boy, how the narrative stems from the actual events and historical figures and also gives a clear explanation of which aspects of the story are fact and which are fiction.

This would be a fantastic guided reading or class reader for children in Year 5 and Year 6.  There is so much discussion that can be drawn out from the story: the history; the theme of friendship; the result of judging a person without knowing them.  Charles II as a historical figure is a fascinating point of discussion alone, but the events of 1666 would be worthy of further in depth study, leading to countless writing opportunities.  This story would help children to write their own historical narratives, but also contains common story telling traits that children could easily use within their own writing:  a monster to be defeated (in this case the plague), a misunderstood character that is revealed to be something very different than we first expected and a great friendship between a child and an animal.

This is a wonderful story of friendship, loyalty and courage which beautifully shows the reader that a true friend can be found in the most unexpected place and within the most unexpected person. Raven Boy is a thrilling, fast-paced and highly informative story.  A must read!