Beyond the footsteps of the greatest explorers and up past the reach of the trustiest maps there lies a kingdom called Erkenwald.
So begins this tale of magic and mystery. Erkenwald is in the grip of the evil Ice Queen who has created Winterfang Palace, 'a shimmering fortress carved entirely from ice'. Determined to control all the tribes of the land, she sets them one against the other and then imprisons them in her palace, consuming their voices in a bid for immortality. The children, however, remain hidden, beyond her grasp- except one.
Eska, frozen inside a cursed music box, has no memories of where she has come from, who she is or why the Ice Queen so desperately wants her voice. Flint, a young member of the Fur tribe, is on a mission to rescue his mother from the Ice Queen's palace. When he finds Eska and saves her, together they begin an amazing journey to find an ancient song with the power to defeat the Ice Queen.
From the first page, this is a magical, beautifully crafted story. The prologue sets the scene perfectly, encapsulating Erkenwald's history and capturing the reader's interest instantly. This is a story offering so much to discuss and enjoy from the very beginning. Abi Elphinstone has created a world which cries out to be explored further- the map at the front could easily be added to as the adventure progresses, locating the obstacles which the children must overcome before they can achieve their goal.
Eska and Flint are wonderful characters, full of life. Flint struggles with feeling like an outsider, a user of magic, whose skills are not like those of his tribe and he has to re-evaluate ideas about others that he has grown up with in the face of what he learns. His devotion to his little sister, Blu, is heart-warming - and her character is a complete joy. Stubborn, sweet and loyal, Blu often offers words of wisdom and guidance without realising, offering a very positive portrayal of a child with Down's syndrome. Eska is brave and determined, trying to make sense of a challenge she does not fully understand, yet never faltering. Even the children's animal companions are full of personality- Pebble, the ever-hungry fox cub and Balapan, the eagle.
There is so much to recommend this story- and I am very excited to be using it with my class. Quite apart from offering endless possibilities for discussion and inspiring work, it is just the sort of book which captures the imagination and leads to wonderful story times (or independent reading!). Abi's teaching ideas are also very useful- the insights into her thinking and writing 'as an author' are invaluable! We teachers might tell our children things, but as one of my class told me, 'It's not we don't believe you, but you didn't write the book- she did!' And I'm so glad she did!
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone, cover illustration by Daniela Terrazzini
Simon and Schuster ISBN: 978-1471146077