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'Sky Chasers' is a wonderful adventure story, set against the backdrop of France at the time of Louis XVI. A colourful cast of characters- human and animal- tell the story of the Montgolfier family and their race to be the first to fly a hot air balloon. Magpie- a pickpocket- and her rooster. Coco, find themselves caught up in their world, all the way to Versailles and the King and Queen of France.

Magpie is a delightful, lively, brave and intelligent character who, despite all the circumstances stacked against her, is determined to do the ‘right thing’ and shows great loyalty to those around her. Her enquiring mind and determination to help allow the reader to see the development of the invention through its successes and set backs through her eyes. Each character from the family to the servants and even the King and Queen of France is well developed and engaging, such is Emma Carroll’s skill.

There is much to explore and enjoy in this book, making it the perfect starting point for work with a class. It offers the joy of looking at an area of non-British history not dictated by the curriculum, opening children to the world of aviation history, pioneers in this field, the science and technology behind flight as well as France poised on the brink of revolution. Plenty to research and explore about the family and their country at this time! In the notes at the back, it says that the flight in front of Louis XVI and his court took place in 1793 which should read 1783. Eagle eyed children may spot this; the book clearly opens in March 1783!

Prejudice about class, race and gender are all observed by the wonderful Magpie in the story. The King's casual attitude to the lives of his subjects, Magpie's unacknowledged contributions to the experiments, assumptions made about people- all ripe for discussion, debate and challenge. Attitudes to animal welfare could also be discussed.

'Sky Chasers' would also make a wonderful starting point for science and technology lessons about balloon flight, materials and their properties, atmospheric conditions and offers brilliant opportunities for truly working scientifically. Imagine a great balloon challenge! 

The story is quite beautifully told and moves along at a pleasing pace, full of excitement and action. There is something for everyone to enjoy in these pages as the complexities of family relationships sit amid the historical details and scientific discoveries. Adventure and excitement make this a rich tale based on a true story.

Sky Chasers   Emma Carroll

From a prize-winning idea by Neal Jackson

Chicken House     ISBN: 978-1910655535